Since my last post was quite speculative and controversial, I thought I’d go for a change of pace and talk about something we’re all familiar with, or so we thought. The history of baptism is quite interesting, and much more complex than most people know. Some have questioned the Book of Mormon’s account of baptism which predates Christ. So, I wanted to learn more about the history of baptism, and came across a concept of Mikvah.
Mikvah is a ritual in Judaism. I’ve been trying to track down how far the mikvah (or mikveh) goes back. The Law of Moses talks about ritual cleansing, so it could date back to then, but I’m not completely sure. Currently, Mikvah is used for several purposes in Judaism:
- by Jewish women to achieve ritual purity after menstruation or childbirth
- by Jewish men to achieve ritual purity
- as part of a traditional procedure for conversion to Judaism
- for utensils used for food.
Baptism seems to be related to the ancient Jewish rite called “mikvah”. As we know, John baptized Christ, and at that point it became an important ordinance in Christianity. I find it interesting that if one chooses to convert to Judaism, one must submit to the mikvah as well to complete the conversion process. If you go to this link at Wikipedia, you can see some ancient and contemporary Mikvah fonts which look quite similar to a modern-day Christian baptismal font.
One of the first questions among earlier followers of Jesus was the question of when to baptize. Christ was certainly was baptized at 30. Prior to Christ’s baptism, there is no evidence that he embarked on starting a religion. I think one could make a case that if he had started his ministry at a younger age, he probably would have been baptized at a younger age. His baptism is one of the first events (if not the first) of the organization of his church.
In the early church, it seems there was no uniform age of baptism, and in fact there were two widely divergent views. One line of reasoning said that it should be put off as long as possible, in order to wash away all sins. Because if one didn’t wait until deathbed, and one later sinned, there could be no forgiveness of sins. The Emporer Constantine (Appx 350 AD) often gets a bad rap for waiting until his deathbed to get baptized. However, it was a very common practice for early clergy to support this position. So Constantine was actually following the spiritual advice of the clergy of his day.
So using this logic, Constantine’s baptism makes perfect sense. However, it is not always easy to predict when death will occur, so some people erroneously waited too long, which was also a problem. Since infant mortality was also a big problem, it made sense to baptize infants. It is unclear when infant baptism was first performed, but it could date to this early church period also. The doctrine of original sin was being developed in this early time period also. Of course, people who subscribed to infant baptism felt that sins could be forgiven as long as they weren’t “major” sins, such as sacrificing to pagan gods, adultery, fornication, or a few other sins.
Then there were some who said a major sin could be forgiven just once. The dispute on this doctrine became quite contentious. So, as you can see, when to baptize is not an easy question to answer, and really isn’t addressed well in early christian history.
From that point of view, the Book of Mormon position is quite unique with its’ prohibition on infant baptism. Some people will ask, is 8 years old the appropriate age? According to revelation in the D&C, it is. I don’t have a problem with the age of 8.
I can understand some people’s position, that “an 8 year old can be manipulated to believe anything.” I think that this is a reasonable position, but I don’t think that “9 year olds are in trouble if they die.” From an LDS point of view, I think the sin of the 9 year old would be “answered upon the heads of the parents” for not teaching the child properly. I really don’t think God is going to come down hard on a 9 year old for refusing baptism.
Is 8 years old too young? I can appreciate why some people think so, but it is not really that big of a deal to me. I think infants are too young for sure.
All devout christians teach religion to their kids, and want them to join their church. There has never been a consensus on the appropriate age to baptize, so I respect any Christian religion’s right to specify an appropriate age.
From a spiritual point of view, I believe it is an inspired doctrine. From a logical point of view, I have no qualms about it. And from a historical point of view, the matter is open to debate.
What do you think? Understanding that Constantine was following church policy, do you feel it is appropriate to “cut him some slack”?