Refutation of Baptismal Regeneration in the early church

This is going to be a work in progress, as time allows; I will be updating and adding and when necessary, editing this.  This is a massive subject from the early church fathers, and it just takes a lot of time.

  1.  “That He may purify the Waters”, Part 1:

Timothy Kauffman demonstrates that the early church did not teach baptismal regeneration, as many usually assume they did.  A surface reading, or isolating phrases, at first appears to support baptismal regeneration.  But studying the larger context, time and time again, shows that the early writer is actually not teaching what Roman Catholics and the Churches of Christ claim. (and Eastern Orthodoxy) At the least, I think Tim Kauffman poked enough holes in the assertion, to make it not so air-tight – the Roman Catholic (and Churches of Christ) claim and common belief that even many Protestants and historians have, that the early church unanimously taught baptismal regeneration.  It no longer seems that clear to me, after reading Tim Kauffman’s material.

Parts 1-6 examines an article by Bryan Cross at the Called to Communion site, on the Early Church on Baptismal Regeneration, and  Part 1 examines the writings of Ignatius of Antioch, Pseudo-Barnabas, the Shepherd of Hermas, and Justin Martyr:

Ignatius of Antioch  (107-117 AD)

See Kauffman’s links to Ignatius of Antioch’s writing of his epistle to the Ephesians, and read section 17 and 18 together.  Kauffman points out that if one wants to say that Christ’s death on the cross literally purified the baptismal waters in chapter 18, then Christ’s anointing in John 12:7 literally breathed immortality into the Church in chapter 17, but the Roman Catholic Church does not teach this.  The emphasis of chapter 18 is on those that believe in Christ and His death on the cross, and that true belief includes His incarnation and virgin birth.  Jesus was baptized, even though He did not need to be baptized, because He was sinless and did not need to repent. Since the cross, or His passion took our sins, it was His suffering and death that cleanses those who repent and believe, and then water baptism is the outward sign, symbol, and seal of the inward reality; and a dedication of ours before witnesses in the church to follow Christ.

Note:  Water baptism is closely tied to repentance in the New Testament (Acts 2:38, Matthew 3:1-12, Luke 3:3-9, 1 Peter 3:21, Acts 22:16) – so while I don’t believe water baptism causes regeneration (as the Roman Catholics and Churches of Christ teach, and also Eastern Orthodox), I do believe baptism is very important (Matthew 28:19), and is part of discipleship and church planting, and is a sign and symbol of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and of entering the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13); and I am convinced that if a person claims to have repented and believed in Christ and then says, “But I will not be baptized” and refuses to be baptized and refuses to join a local Biblical church, that refusal demonstrates that the repentance and faith were not sincere or real.  Following Christ in water baptism is a necessary result and fruit of true repentance and faith in Christ, and this is why it seems to teach baptismal regeneration in some passages of Scripture and in the early church history, because it is a necessary fruit of true repentance from sin and true justifying faith in Christ.

Chapter 17. Beware of false doctrines

For this end did the Lord allow the ointment to be poured upon His head, John 12:7 that He might breathe immortality into His Church. Be not anointed with the bad odour of the doctrine of the prince of this world; let him not lead you away captive from the life which is set before you. And why are we not all prudent, since we have received the knowledge of God, which is Jesus Christ? Why do we foolishly perish, not recognising the gift which the Lord has of a truth sent to us?

Chapter 18. The glory of the cross

Let my spirit be counted as nothing for the sake of the cross, which is a stumbling-block 1 Corinthians 1:18 to those that do not believe, but to us salvation and life eternal. Where is the wise man? Where the disputer? 1 Corinthians 1:20 Where is the boasting of those who are styled prudent? For our God, Jesus Christ, was, according to the appointment of God, conceived in the womb by Mary, of the seed of David, but by the Holy Ghost. He was born and baptized, that by His passion He might purify the water.  (Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Ephesians, chapters 17-18) (My emphasis)

Notice the emphasis in Ignatius in these 2 paragraphs on “the knowledge of God” and “truth” and correct doctrine, which can only happen by learning, teaching, discipleship; and the emphasis on faith in chapter 18.  I have always appreciated Ignatius’ clear statements on the Deity of Christ, “For our God, Jesus Christ . . . “.  The virgin conception and birth of Christ are crucial also, and part of “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” (Jude 3).  But Ignatius does not say Mary was a perpetual virgin.  So, the emphasis here are things that Protestants agree with.  The suffering and the atonement of Christ to His people makes the baptism of His people a “pure” and right baptism (Romans 6:1-7; I Cor. 12:13), based on first learning the gospel and the truth and the knowledge of God, and coming to true faith in Christ alone for salvation.

Pseudo-Barnabas (of Alexandria) (130 AD)

The Shepherd of Hermas (120-135 AD)

You can read Kauffman’s analysis of Pseudo-Barnabas and the Shepherd of Hermas.

I want to focus upon Justin Martyr, because my friend Rod Bennett also wrote about him in his book, Four Witnesses, and claims that Justin taught baptismal regeneration.  See my analysis of Rod Bennett’s book, in 3 parts, over at Beggar’s All.    (in the first part, I link to my review at Amazon on his book, so part 1 had 2 parts.

Part 2 is actually part 3.

There is actually a part 4 here, an analysis more of the spirit of his argumentation with me. 

Also, previously I wrote about Rod’s lecture on “The Four Witnesses brought me Home”.

I did not analyze Rod’s use of Justin Martyr at that time, (focusing mostly on his claims for Clement of Rome and Irenaeus), so this will be eventually added to my critique of his book also, as time allows.

Justin Martyr (died in 165 AD)

Back to the Called to Communion article on Baptismal Regeneration and Timothy Kauffman’s analysis. (Part 1)   The Called to Communion article left out a lot of the full quote of the relevant passage from Justin Martyr’s First Apology, chapter 61.  The quote from section 66 also seems to teach baptismal regeneration.  (more on that later)  From chapter 61, I was surprised that Bryan Cross did not include Justin Martyr’s quote from John 3:3, (the footnotes say John 3:5, but it is also surprising that Justin Martyr does not actually quote John 3:5, where the word “water” is used.) for that verse, John 3:5, is admittedly, on the surface, a strong case for Baptismal regeneration, and is usually used as one of the main texts for the assertion that the New Testament teaches baptismal regeneration.  Just reading Chapter 61 of Justin’s First Apology, it does seem to teach baptismal regeneration.  If one isolates the phrases, “they are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated.”  and  the quote of John 3:3 and “For Christ said . . . “, and the phrase,

“And this washing is called illumination, “, then it does seem to teach baptismal regeneration.

However, taken in the whole section, the emphasis is on the person’s learning, receiving instruction and teaching, repentance, the choice of “in which we dedicate ourselves to God”, “persuaded and believe that what we teach and say is true”, “but may become the children of choice and knowledge”,”who chooses to be born again”, and “has repented of his sins”; And this washing is called illumination, because they who learn these things are illuminated in their understandings. And in the name of Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and in the name of the Holy Ghost, who through the prophets foretold all things about Jesus, he who is illuminated is washed.” – or “he who has been taught and repented, is then washed.”  Kauffman is right when he points out that this does not say, “he who is washed is illuminated”.  Rather it says the one who has been illuminated is then washed.  The washing/baptizing comes after the repentance and learning and praying and fasting, as a symbol, sign, and seal of the illumination of the heart and mind.  The illumination takes place in the learning, understanding, repentance, choosing to follow Christ, then the person who is illuminated (taught, learned, chosen, repented, fasted, prayed, etc.), then they are brought to the water and are washed or baptized.  So it seems that Justin taught that the baptism is like a seal, a sign and symbol of the internal illumination of the mind and heart in repentance, faith, and learning about the doctrines of Christ.

Chapter 61. Christian baptism (Justin Martyr, First Apology)

I will also relate the manner in which we dedicated ourselves to God when we had been made new through Christ; lest, if we omit this, we seem to be unfair in the explanation we are making. As many as are persuaded and believe that what we teach and say is true, and undertake to be able to live accordingly, are instructed to pray and to entreat God with fasting, for the remission of their sins that are past, we praying and fasting with them. Then they are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated. For, in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Savior Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water. For Christ also said, Unless you be born again, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.  (footnote says, John 3:5, but it is actually John 3:3) Now, that it is impossible for those who have once been born to enter into their mothers’ wombs, is manifest to all. And how those who have sinned and repent shall escape their sins, is declared by Esaias the prophet, as I wrote above; he thus speaks: Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from your souls; learn to do well; judge the fatherless, and plead for the widow: and come and let us reason together, says the Lord. And though your sins be as scarlet, I will make them white like wool; and though they be as crimson, I will make them white as snow. But if you refuse and rebel, the sword shall devour you: for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it. Isaiah 1:16-20

And for this [rite] we have learned from the apostles this reason. Since at our birth we were born without our own knowledge or choice, by our parents coming together, and were brought up in bad habits and wicked training; in order that we may not remain the children of necessity and of ignorance, but may become the children of choice and knowledge, and may obtain in the water the remission of sins formerly committed, there is pronounced over him who chooses to be born again, and has repented of his sins, the name of God the Father and Lord of the universe; he who leads to the laver the person that is to be washed calling him by this name alone. For no one can utter the name of the ineffable God; and if any one dare to say that there is a name, he raves with a hopeless madness. And this washing is called illumination, because they who learn these things are illuminated in their understandings. And in the name of Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and in the name of theHoly Ghost, who through the prophets foretold all things about Jesus, he who is illuminated is washed.”  (My bolding emphasis)  (See the ccel link to Justin Martyr, First Apology, chapter 61)

For previous link to exegesis of John 3:5 and Titus 3:5, see here. 

Also, see John Piper’s excellent sermon on baptism and John 3:5 and why it does not mean baptismal regeneration.   Both the Roman Catholic Church and the “Churches of Christ” are wrong on this.

Here is also another excellent article of exegesis of John 3:5 “of water and Spirit”.   It demonstrates that “water” meaning baptismal regeneration is wrong.

I hope to continue and comment more on the other parts of Kauffman’s series, as time allows in the future.   For now, I just link to the articles and make a few comments.

2.  Part 2

Part 2 examines

Theophilus of Antioch

Irenaeus (writing around 180-202 AD)

3.  Part 3

Clement of Alexandria ( 215 AD)

Tertullian (180-220 AD)

4.  Part 4

Hippolytus (early 200s)

Origen (254 AD)

5.  Part 5

Cyprian of Carthage (died in 258 AD)

Gregory Thaumaturgus

Pamphilus of Caesarea

6.  Part 6

Kauffman interacts with David Waltz’s Critique on Justin Martyr.  (and others and summarizes.)  I also interacted with David Waltz and others there at Waltz’s blog.

One of my main points is this: (in the comment box at David Waltz’ site)

“And in the name of Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and in the name of the Holy Ghost, who through the prophets foretold all things about Jesus, he who is illuminated is washed.” (from Justin Martyr, First Apology, 61)

You make a big deal that the future tense is not used, but many times we use in English present tense for future intention/meaning, and the Greek present tense also has examples of that. The Farsi language, which I know, has this also, and is very common. If you know another language, you can see this. You can see it in English also, “yes, I am coming to your house tonight” – actually means, “Yes, I will come to your house tonight.”

Overall, Justin seems to treat baptism as the final stage in the process, like a seal. A Baptist can agree with that, as long as the repentance and faith is seen as the point of justification and includes regeneration before baptism, and that water baptism is like a seal and a symbol of internal reality, and part of the obedience that comes after true conversion. Without the follow-through of baptism and joining a local church, one has legitimate grounds for questioning how sincere or real the faith and repentance is.

David Waltz’s critique (on Everett Ferguson’s work (scholar for “The Church of Christ”, and continuation of Tertullian, and others)

“Before we proceed with Methodius of Olympus, the last Ante-Niceæan Father cited by Called to Communion, we thought it would be worthwhile to interact very briefly with David Waltz who blogs at Articuli Fidei and has also commented at this site as well. We appreciate Waltz’s interaction and his willingness to engage on this topic.”  Tim Kauffman

Part 6 also looks at Methodius of Olympus.

About Ken Temple

I am a follower of Jesus Christ. I am a sinner who has been saved by the grace of God alone (Ephesians 2:8-9), through faith alone (Galatians 2:16; Romans 3:28; 4:1-16), in Christ alone (John 14:6). But a true faith does not stay alone, it should result in change, fruit, good works, and deeper levels of repentance and hatred of my own sins of selfishness and pride. I am not better than you! I still make mistakes and sin, but the Lord is working on me, conforming me to His character. (Romans 8:28-29; 2 Corinthians 3:16-18) When I do sin, I hate the sin as it is an affront to God, and seek His forgiveness in repentance. (Mark 1:15; 2 Corinthians 7:7-10; Colossians 3:5-16 ) Praise God for His love for sinners (Romans 5:8), shown by the voluntary coming of Christ and His freely laying down His life for us (John 10:18), becoming flesh/human (John 1:1-5; 1:14; Philippians 2:5-8), dying for sins of people from all nations, tribes, and cultures (Revelation 5:9), on the cross, in history, rising from the dead (Romans 10:9-10; Matthew 28, Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24; John 20-21; 1 Corinthians chapter 15). His resurrection from the dead proved that Jesus is the Messiah, the eternal Son of God, the word of God from eternity past; and that He was all the gospels say He was and that He is truth and the life and the way to salvation. (John 14:6)
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7 Responses to Refutation of Baptismal Regeneration in the early church

  1. θ says:

    Baptism is still the rite for remission of sin, it is not for an already-forgiven soul.
    Repentance alone without baptism doesn’t finalise a sin remission.
    Acts 2:38
    Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.

    • Christians are a people of the covenant. As such, all covenants are entered into by means of a ritual of covenant making. Baptism is the covenant making ritual of the New Covenant, which replaced circumcision. One cannot enter into covenant without a ritual of covenant making.

      There is simply no evidence for “believer’s baptism” from the religious or secular history of the Christian faith. As an example, allow me to point to two issues which vexed the Church … Judiazers and Arianism (there were more, but these two suffice). In both cases, these people were teaching a heresy and it took root in the Church and became a serious problem.

      The response of the Church in both instances was to convene a council and come up with a definitive answer. The Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15) settled the first issue. Nicea settled the second. In a similar manner, heresies such as Monophysitism, Monothellitism, and Modaility were dealt with. These councils are well known in both religious and secular circles.

      Therefore, if “believer’s baptism” was being taught in the first century, then where is the council to determine the truth of baptism. I hope you see my point. There was no council because there was no such thing as “believer’s baptism” until invented many centuries after the Apostles.

      • Ken Temple says:

        There is simply no evidence for “believer’s baptism” from the religious or secular history of the Christian faith.

        Except for the NT, first century; and that continued on in the early centuries.

        “As many as received his word were baptized . . . ” Acts 2:41

        ” . . . having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.
        Colossians 2:12

  2. θ says:

    “samstorms says: First, we see that forgiveness and justification are God’s gift to those who believe. We are justified by faith alone! ….Peter includes baptism in Acts 2:38 not because baptism is related to forgiveness but because baptism is related to repentance. Baptism is critically important not to forgiveness but to faith.”

    Faith that requires baptism is not a Faith Alone.
    A gift of believe that requires baptism is not a free gift.

  3. Ken Temple says:

    You don’t give evidence that you read all of the material and links, as other verses and issues must be brought into the discussion of who to interpret the verse properly.

    Also, there are examples of ‘causal eis” εις – can mean “at” or “because of” or “in light of” in some instances. Repent, and be baptized because of, or in light of the forgiveness of sins. See also Acts 13:38-39. baptism is the result and evidence of true faith and a symbol of the baptism of the Holy Spirit internally. It is external so it does not cause forgiveness.

  4. θ says:

    “Ken Temple says: Also, there are examples of ‘causal eis” εις – can mean “at” or “because of” or “in light of” in some instances. Repent, and be baptized because of, or in light of the forgiveness of sins. See also Acts 13:38-39. baptism is the result and evidence of true faith and a symbol of the baptism of the Holy Spirit internally. It is external so it does not cause forgiveness.”

    Argumentation of using εις as “because of” is rejected by Sam Storm who cited Dan Wallace’s words, “its subtlety and awkwardness are against it”. It is because yet the water baptism is a requirement of forgiveness, not otherwise.
    Mk 16:16. He that believeth and *is baptized* shall be saved.

    If the water baptism were result of forgiveness, consequently Mark 16:16 must be a confusion. Is Jesus the author of confusion?

    Actually, “Forgiveness” is really external thing that comes solely from God. Similar to external Spirit, the atoning power (of purging the sins internally) by water baptism comes externally from heaven, not from the earthy water itself.
    Jesus makes equivalence between the origin of his authority with the origin of water baptism:
    Lk 20
    4 The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or of men?5 And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say, Why then believed ye him not? 8 And Jesus said unto them, Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things.

    In most cases, the Spirit won’t indwell a faithful person who is not yet baptised.

    Forgiveness deals primarily with the power of purging the sins by God, whereas “Justification” deals mainly with person’s internal sins. Hence, justification is measured with the person’s works. The 1st step is just stopping one’s self from sinning again.
    Self-justification is easy, it just requires a humble action of stopping or regretting the sins, no matter how much fun it is.

    A publican returns home getting “more justified” because of his humbleness (regretting of being a sinner), but it doesn’t mean his sin was completely forgiven. It is because he can’t forgive his existent sins in his soul. Sin won’t vanish away by just stopping or hating it.
    As earthy being, a mortal has no power to purge his own sins.
    Lk 18
    13 And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.

    Self-justification is not equal with repentance. As the story of Esau’s tears, a personal regret can’t turn to be a real repentance or God’s forgiveness. Also in the story of Eli’s sons, any sacrifice can’t afford to purge their sins, hence it can never be a sufficient repentance or God’s forgiveness.
    Heb 12:17
    For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.
    1Sam 3:14
    And therefore I have sworn unto the house of Eli, that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be purged with sacrifice nor offering for ever.

    Acts 13:39 talks particularly about justification, not forgiveness. Self-justification can be obtained with doing the good words and humble gestures. But the forgiveness is still a God’s prerogative.
    Mt 12
    36 But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.37 For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.

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