Monday, March 17, 2008

Green On Infant Baptism Pt. 4

"4. Jesus Accepted and Blessed Children Too Young to Respond

In Mark 10:2–16 and parallels we find a most instructive story which shows the attitude Jesus had to children. Quite likely this incident took place on the eve of the Day of Atonement, for on that evening it was a custom, so the rabbis tell us (Sopherim 18:5), for pious Jewish parents to bring their children to the scribes so that they could lay their hands on them in blessing and pray that they might one day ‘attain to the knowledge of the Law and to good works’. Some parents apparently came to Jesus seeking his blessing. The disciples, perhaps because the parents seemed to be putting Jesus on the same level as the scribes, told them to go away. Jesus was indignant (the word ēganaktēsen is very strong and is nowhere else used of Jesus’ reactions). He said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’ And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them (Mark 10:14–16).

Now at first sight this passage has nothing whatever to do with baptism. Nevertheless from the second century onwards it was used to justify infant baptism. Tertullian shows that the words were so interpreted in his day (de Baptismo 18:5), and the Apostolic Constitutions (6:15) base the practice of baptising children on the words, ‘Do not hinder them’ (a phrase which had a lot of mileage in baptismal discussions; to ‘hinder’ became a technical term for refusing baptism). However that may be, there is no overt application of these words to infant baptism in the Gospel. One would not expect it. After all, Christian baptism had not been inaugurated at the time. Much more important is what the passage reveals of Jesus’ attitude to children. And note that these were little children; the evangelists go out of their way to stress this. Mark’s word is paidion, a diminutive of the word for child. Luke’s is brephos, a word which originally means embryo and comes to mean tiny infant. How did Jesus act towards such little people? This passage makes three things abundantly plain.

First, Jesus loves tiny children. He welcomes them to himself, and he blames those who would keep them away.

Second, Jesus is willing to bless them even when they are far too young to understand.

Third, tiny children are capable of receiving a blessing at the hands of Jesus. Who can doubt that when he blessed them they were blessed indeed?

If these things were so, if tiny children were the objects of Jesus’ love, were brought to him for blessing when they were too young to understand, and were capable of receiving a blessing from his hands, is it any wonder that the passage was later applied to baptism and that it became natural to bring children into the covenant of grace from the very earliest days of their lives?

Before we leave this fascinating passage, it is worth noting that not only did Jesus bless the children, but he made them a model for all believers. You have to become a child, a trusting defenceless child, lying in Jesus’ arms, if you are to profit by the Day of Atonement and enter into the kingdom of God. Far from being exceptions to normal membership of the kingdom, tiny children show us the way in!"

Michael Green, Baptism: Its Purpose, Practice and Power, 50 (Milton Keynes, UK: Paternoster, 1987).

1 comment:

Eric said...


I have a question for you that you may want to address in a blog post when you feel up to it. I'm sorry you are in so much pain.

Here is my question: Why do you think scripture is not clearer on the issue of baptism?

Clearly, God made no mistake. The bible is perfect just the way it is. Therefore, the problem in interpretation in general, and regarding baptism in particular, lies with us.

Let's take you and me as an example. We both hold to orthodox Christian views about God, man, sin, salvation, etc. We both believe in the sovereignty of God over all things including salvation. We both want to see God glorified in all things. We both believe the bible is true and truth.

However, we disagree on the baptism issue (infant vs. believer's). I wonder why scripture isn't clearer. I wonder why we don't see a very clear statement about who alone should be baptized. I wonder why we don't see an infant baptized. I wonder why we only see baptism occur after a person comes to know Christ. I wonder why there are verses that indicate that households are saved, but there is no indication about the ages of the people in the house.

I am in no way questioning the wisdom of God or the truth of scripture. I just find it interesting that the writers of the bible did not make this issue absolutely black-and-white for us so that we would not divide over it.

Any thoughts?