It is true that the latter indeed maintains a high view of the Sacrament — and properly so! Yet from this it is clear that faith and regeneration were often construed as preceding Baptism.
This naturally disproves baptismal regenerationism. Thus: the Epistle of Barnabas, the Shepherd of Hermas, Justin Martyr, Theodotus, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and even Tertullian.
Yet especially from about A.D. 250 onward — the uninspired and syncretizing Christian Church began to backslide. Then, for many centuries, she more and more abandoned the true Covenant Theology. Instead, for hundreds of years, she increasingly proceeded to teach the quasi-magical theory of baptismal regenerationism.
Yet even during those darkening dynasties, there were some bright and shining lights. For some of the Post-Cyprianic Church Fathers — at least at times — still conceded the possible existence of faith and salvation in infants, even before their Baptism. Thus: Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa, and now and then even Augustine. Proof of all these assertions now follows.
1. Intertestamental literature denies circumcisional regenerationism
The Tannaim were those Israelitic authorities who expounded the Law of God for a period of about two centuries, starting with Hillel and Shammai (who were born around 70 B.C.). Their
comments on Old Testament Scripture are called the Tanna.1 The latter are invaluable indications of how the Old Testament was interpreted after its close (with the prophet Malachi) -and before the beginning of the New Testament (from Matthew onward).
From these intertestamental Tanna, the Israelitic understanding of Holy Writ right before the birth of Jesus can be seen quite clearly. In the Tanna on Genesis 6:9f, it is clear that these rabbinical commentators regarded Noah's whole family — just like Adam himself before the fall – as already just[ified] prior to the later inception of Circumcision. Indeed, also from the Tanna on Genesis 17:12-14, it is clear that those born in Abraham's household were regarded as already "bought" (and thus as already in the Covenant) even before their Circumcision. Compare too Genesis 12:5; 14:14; 15:2-6; 17:24-27.
It is for this reason that all their males were to be circumcised. Not circumcising those born in the household — or those bought with money as household servants and thus added to the homestead — was indeed a grievous sin. Yet such was not the sin of refusing to enter into Covenant. To the contrary, it was the sin of having "broken" the Covenant already binding upon them all. Genesis 15:18; 17:10-14; Exodus 4:24-26; Joshua 5:6-11.
Now this obviously presupposes the existence of the Covenant with God's people prior to their circumcising (or their non-circumcising) of their own infant children of the Covenant.(cf. Hosea 6:7 with Genesis 6:18f). The later circumcising was to be done through the agency of a Minister of the Word and Sacraments. Genesis 17:23f cf. 20:7 & 21:4. So the adults' non-circumcising of their own children then, in this way constituted those adults' breach of a Covenant already there for them as well as for their children — and already binding upon both them and their children.
The Talmud is a large body of Jewish teachings first written down from the second century A.D. onward. It rests, however, upon generations of prior oral traditions — going back at least to the time of Ezra (circa 450 B.C.).2
In the Talmud,3 prenatal and thus precircumcisional teachability — and therefore regeneratedness — is presupposed. For even prenatal illumination is assumed — when unborn children were then "taught" religious lore. Cf. Psalm 139:15f ; Jeremiah 1:5; Second Timothy 1:6 & 3:14-16.