The seventeenth century debate concerning the ordinance of baptism was not as simple as one might expect. The debate consisted of historical, hermeneutical, and methodological considerations. Perhaps the best way to picture such a controversy is in a series of ever-shrinking circles, the smaller inside the larger. Discussion may have began at the broadest circle, like the plain reading of Scripture, and ended at a tiny circle in the center where the theology of the church fathers or the intricacies of covenant theology were expounded and brought to bear on situation

In The Baptists’ Answer to Mr. Obed [Obadiah] Wills, His Appeal Against Mr. H. Danvers,[efn_note]W. Pitts Jr. & R. Rouldan-Figueroa, The Collected Works of Hanserd Knollys[/efn_note] the nature of the dispute is wonderfully showcased. I’m interested particularly in the Baptist’s interaction with Jerome, who was an early 4th-5th century church father. This shows that the debate between Baptists and paedobaptists was not only one of theoretical theology or biblical theology, but that of historical theology as well. Knollys writes:

You charge Colonel Danvers [in the] Appeal (p. 166) to add the words, “for it cannot be, that the body should receive the sacrament of baptism till the soul has before received the truth of faith,” and say they are not Jerome’s words, but of Mr. Danvers’ adding. But upon examination of that place (Mat. 28, tom. 9, edit. Paris. an. 1546) we find them to be Jerome’s words verbatim, as Mr. Danvers cites them. And we observe in your quotation of Mr. Danvers, in that place you add, “Magdeburg Centuries 4, c. 6, 418,” as if Mr. Danvers had particularly quoted the Magdeburg Centuries there, which indeed he does not; but only Jerome upon Matthew, which double injury we conceive deserves your double consideration in order to a candid acknowledgment.[efn_note]Ibid., 109-110[/efn_note]

It was true. The Baptists, particularly Danvers, did not misquote Jerome or add to his wording. Per our source (cf. footnotes), Jerome’s words do in fact read exactly as Danvers had them.[efn_note]Ibid., 109, cf. fn. 4: “Non enim potest fieri ut corpus baptismi recipiat sacramentum, nisi ante anima fidei susceperit varitatum.” In English, it reads, “it cannot be that the body receives the sacrament of baptism if the soul does not first receive the truth of faith.”[/efn_note]

Leave a Reply