Jump to Content Jump to Main Navigation

Biblical Studies Baptism
by
Everett Ferguson

Introduction

Baptism was the central rite in the ceremonies of initiation into the Christian church. It required faith, and so was normally associated with a period of instruction and involved a verbal confession of faith, and of repentance, so it was often accompanied by prayer, fasting, and a renunciation of Satan. It was normally administered by immersion in water. After examining antecedents to Christian practice and usage of the words for baptism, this article will consider the baptism of Jesus as foundational for Christian practice, other texts on baptism in the Gospels, the corpus of Pauline writings, the Acts of the Apostles, and other New Testament texts. Then some attention will be given to developments in the early history of the church, especially related to the doctrine of baptism, and particular problems related to the practice of baptism. The literary evidence from the early church in regard to baptism is supplemented by attention to evidence supplied by art and archaeology.

General Overviews

General studies of the early history of baptism not limited to one century or group of writings include comprehensive surveys covering the theology and liturgy of baptism, topical studies of one aspect or theme connected to baptism, and collections of primary sources. Maertens 1962 is a comprehensive historical treatment of baptism in early Christianity. Heiser 1987 concentrates on the development of baptism in the Greek church. The liturgy of baptism is the central theme for Stenzel 1958 and Saxer 1988. Kretschmar 1970, a very comprehensive treatment of baptism in the early church, consciously includes much theology along with liturgy. Johnson 1999 and Spinks 2006 present briefer but comprehensive surveys in English. The most complete study in English is now Ferguson 2009, covering Greco-Roman and Jewish practices, the New Testament, and the Christian development until 500 CE.

  • Ferguson, Everett. Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology, and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This work aims at completeness in coverage of the sources in the first three centuries and becomes more selective, but still representatively comprehensive, for the 4th and 5th centuries. It builds on recent scholarly work and pushes areas of consensus to form a synthesis from which further study can proceed.

    Find this resource:

  • Heiser, Lothar. Die Taufe in der orthodoxen Kirche: Geschichte, Spendung, und Symbolik nach der Lehre der Väter. Trier, Germany: Paulinus, 1987.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Heiser studies the Greek Fathers up to the 6th century, when the Orthodox rite was essentially established. He emphasizes the patristic interpretation of the baptism of Jesus as the pattern for Christian baptism, of baptism as part of the renewal of humanity into the pattern of paradise at creation, and of the biblical images of baptism.

    Find this resource:

  • Johnson, Maxwell E. The Rites of Christian Initiation: Their Evolution and Interpretation. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1999.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This textbook on the history of the rites of initiation includes extensive quotations of primary texts and covers history and theology from an ecumenical perspective. It notes the current status of scholarship on controversial points.

    Find this resource:

  • Kretschmar, Georg. “Die Geschichte des Taufgottesdienstes in der alter Kirche.” In Leiturgia Handbuch des evangelischen Gottesdiensts. Vol. 5. Edited by Karl Ferdinand Müller and Walter F. Blankenburg. Kassel, West Germany: J. Stauda, 1970.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Kretschmar notes that in the early centuries baptism (and not the eucharist) was the central liturgical act of the church. The unifying theme of baptism was the work of Christ, which provided the ground for the “once for all” nature of baptism. He argues that the Syrian sequence of only one anointing, and that before baptism, was present also in Egypt and Cappadocia.

    Find this resource:

  • Maertens, Thierry Histoire et pastorale du rituel du catéchuménat et du baptême. Paroisse et liturgie collection de pastorale liturgique 56. Bruges, Belgium: Publications de Saint-André, 1962.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Maertens follows primarily the Western development through the Middle Ages within a Roman Catholic framework of interpretation. In the early centuries the action of God, liberty of the candidate, and participation of the community were held together in the baptismal ceremonies, but by the Middle Ages the practice of infant baptism meant that the community elements either disappeared or were reinterpreted.

    Find this resource:

  • Saxer, Victor. Les rites de l’initiation chrétienne du IIe au VIe siècle: Esquisse historique et signification d’après leur principaux témoins. Spoleto, Italy: Centro Italiano di Studi Sull’alto Medioevo, 1988.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Saxer gives more attention to the rites associated with the catechumenate and the preparation for baptism than to baptism proper and the postbaptismal rites and provides little on the doctrinal meaning of baptism. The same ritual scheme for the nucleus of the baptismal rite may be discerned in all regions. The detachment of confirmation from baptism was made at different moments in different places.

    Find this resource:

  • Spinks, Bryan D. Early and Medieval Rituals and Theologies of Baptism: From the New Testament to the Council of Trent. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2006.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Spinks’s brief but thorough survey gives, for the early sources, more of the theology while also presenting variant views on disputed questions of ritual practice; for the later sources, where liturgies are preserved, the proportions are reversed. In the West after Augustine, baptism “came to be a baptism from something (original sin) more than a baptism into something (the eschatological community of God).”

    Find this resource:

  • Stenzel, Alois S. J. Die Taufe: Eine Genetische Erklärung der Taufliturgie. Innsbruck, Austria: Felizian Rauch, 1958.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Stenzel’s interest is liturgy, not theology or parallels from the history of religions, and primarily the Western development leading to the medieval Roman liturgy. The earliest sequence in conversion was proclamation, faith, and baptism. Stenzel opposes the interpretation that the baptizand stood in the font when water was sprinkled or poured on him.

    Find this resource:

Topical Studies

Some studies related to baptism that take a broad approach chronologically and geographically develop particular themes or motifs. These themes include typology (Lundberg 1942), symbolism (Baudry 2001), social context (Cramer 1993), the forgiveness of sins (Dassmann 1973), the Holy Spirit in baptism (McDonnell and Montague 1991), confirmation (Neunhauser 1964), and the devil and demons (Kelly 1985).

  • Baudry, Gérard-Henry. Le baptême et ses symboles: Aux sources du salut. Paris: Beauchesne, 2001.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Baudry discusses the symbols of water, burial in a tomb with Christ, oil, light, the sun, white clothing, food, the two ways, and seal. His method is to describe the cultural and religious background that explains and justifies the use of each symbol. These symbols derived from the Bible yet were meaningful to converts from paganism.

    Find this resource:

  • Cramer, Peter. Baptism and Change in the Early Middle Ages, c. 200–c. 1150. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Cramer examines the social context of liturgy and the history of the meaning of sacraments. The combined effect of Augustine’s doctrine of original sin and the practice of infant baptism appeared to make the candidate an involuntary being and made baptism an exorcism, a rite that lost its ethical color.

    Find this resource:

  • Dassmann, Ernst. Sundenvergebung durch Taufe, Busse, und Märtyrerfürbitte in den Zeugnissen frühchristlicher Frommigkeit und Kunst. Münster, Germany: Aschendorff, 1973.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Dassmann finds sin and forgiveness to have been at the heart of Christian piety in the period 250–350, and the key to the interpretation of the earliest Christian art. He sees the baptism of Jesus as the pattern of Christian baptism. Martyrdom was a second baptism for forgiveness. Biblical motifs of forgiveness depicted in art are the Shepherd, the Jonah cycle, the Fall, the resurrection of Lazarus, and Noah.

    Find this resource:

  • Kelly, Henry Ansgar. The Devil at Baptism: Ritual, Theology, and Drama. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1985.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Kelly considers initiation rites in their conceptual and dramatic aspects as they pertain to the devil and demons. From the 3rd century onward, the struggle with Satan was dramatized in an elaborate ritual involving exorcisms and the verbal renunciation of Satan. Postbaptismal rituals were later given an apotropaic interpretation to prevent the return of demons. The three elements of the struggle were rescue, reversal of allegiance, and armament against renewed attack.

    Find this resource:

  • Lundberg, Per. La typologie baptismale dans l’ancienne église. Uppsala, Sweden: Lorentz, 1942.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Lundberg takes up biblical types of transformation and of deliverance His special concern is the imagery of descensus into the waters of death and deliverance from them. This motif connects the wood of the cross with the waters of baptism.

    Find this resource:

  • McDonnell, Kilian, and George T. Montague. Christian Initiation and Baptism in the Holy Spirit: Evidence from the First Eight Centuries. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1991.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The authors use “baptism in the Holy Spirit” primarily in the modern Pentecostal sense, and are concerned to show an expectation to receive charisms in connection with Christian initiation. They treat every bestowal of the Spirit as “baptism in the Holy Spirit,” seeking a middle way that blends Catholic sacramentalism with Pentecostal charismatic experience.

    Find this resource:

  • Neunheuser, Burkhard. Baptism and Confirmation. New York: Herder & Herder, 1964.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Translation of Taufe und Firmung, this major Roman Catholic historical and dogmatic study of baptism and confirmation from the beginning to the modern period finds anticipations in early authors of the later recognition of confirmation as a sacrament independent from baptism. The imparting of the Spirit was sometimes assigned to the postbaptismal laying on of hands, sometimes to the anointing with oil. See also Lampe 1967 (cited under Rebaptism.)

    Find this resource:

Primary Sources

Several compilations of the principal texts on baptism in the early church introduce students to the primary sources. For some time the standard collection has been Whittaker 2003 (first published in 1960, now updated and expanded by Maxwell Johnson). Finn 1992 includes sources often neglected. André Hamman’s collection (Hamman 1967) is widely used in Catholic circles. Benoît and Munier 1994 provides the original Greek and Latin texts as well as French and German translations. Stander and Louw 1988 offers a full discussion, but their extensive quotations justify including the work as a collection of sources. Ferguson 1999 has a shorter collection of texts but includes extensive commentary.

  • Benoît, André, and Charles Munier. Le baptême dans l’église ancienne/Die Taufe in der Alten Kirche (Ier–IIIe siècles). Vol. 9, Traditio Christiana. Bern, Switzerland: Peter Lang, 1994.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This series prints Greek and Latin texts on the left-hand page and the translation on the right-hand page. Texts not in Greek or Latin are given in English and French/German translations. The 218 selections begin with texts from Jewish sources and continue from the Didache through the Council of Nicaea (325) and include some early funerary inscriptions.

    Find this resource:

  • Ferguson, Everett. Early Christians Speak: Faith and Life in the First Three Centuries. 3d ed. Vol. 1. Abilene, TX: ACU Press, 1999.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Grouping the texts according to the ceremony and doctrine of baptism, infant baptism, and immersion and its alternatives, Ferguson also provides commentary on the principal 2nd- and early-3rd-century texts. See pp. 29–64.

    Find this resource:

  • Finn, Thomas M. Early Christian Baptism and the Catechumenate. Vol. 5, West and East Syria. Message of the Fathers of the Church. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1992.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Finn gives more attention to Syriac and Eastern sources than is typical. Finn accompanies his selections with brief introductions and bibliographies. The quotations are arranged in chronological order within each geographical region. Also see Finn’s Volume 6, Early Christian Baptism and the Catechumenate: Italy, North Africa, and Egypt (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1992) in the same series.

    Find this resource:

  • Hamman, André. Baptism: Ancient Liturgies and Patristic Texts. Translated by Thomas Halton. New York: Alba House, 1967.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The collection includes whole or nearly whole texts of major writers—Tertullian, Cyprian, Zeno of Verona, Pacian of Barcelona, Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa, John Chrysostom, Augustine, and Leo the Great. The original French edition, Le bapteme d’apres les Peres de l’Eglise, is now in available in a revised edition (Paris: Migne, 1995).

    Find this resource:

  • Stander, Hendrick F., and Johannes P. Louw. Baptism in the Early Church. Pretoria, South Africa: Didaskalia, 1988.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Although containing more than a collection of texts, the authors include extensive quotations on the sources from the Apostolic Fathers through Chrysostom and Theodore of Mopseustia, with an added chapter on early Christian art. They have a special concern with infant baptism but also give attention to the mode of baptism and the basic concepts of washing away of sins and regeneration.

    Find this resource:

  • Whitaker, E. C. Documents of the Baptismal Liturgy. 3d ed. Revised and expanded by Maxwell E. Johnson. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2003.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The collection begins with relevant selections from the Ante-Nicene Church, starting with the Didache. The later material is then arranged by geographical areas: Syria, the Assyrian Church of the East, Armenia, Syrian Orthodox Church, Maronite rite, Byzantine rite, Egypt, North Africa, Spain, Milan, Rome, Gallican documents, and the Sarum Rite from England. First published 1960.

    Find this resource:

Word Studies

The relevant words are the verbs βάπτω (“dip”) and βαπτίζω (“plunge”), and the nouns βαπτσμός (“dipping”) and βάπτισμα (“immersion”). Both verbs, in addition to their literal meaning, developed metaphorical uses. Baptō came to be used primarily for “to dye.” The intensive baptizō thus took over many of its uses, but in the literal sense it most often referred to the sinking of a ship or the drowning of a person. In a metaphorical sense it referred to being overwhelmed; a common usage was for the effects of drunkenness. Baptismos was the common word for any “dipping,” including Jewish religious baths; Christians adopted baptisma for their rite of initiation. These words were rarely used in Greco-Roman religious contexts. In addition to the standard lexica, note may be taken of the fundamental classical usage examined by Chadwick 1996, the theological study Oepke 1964, the examination of New Testament usage in Delling 1958, and the extensive linguistic study of various words used for baptism in Ysebaert 1962.

  • Chadwick, John. “βάπτω.” In Lexicographica Graeca: Contributions to the Lexicography of Ancient Greek. Edited by John Chadwick, 59–62. Oxford: Clarendon, 1996.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Chadwick expands on and modifies the entry in Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, Henry Stuart Jones, et al., A Greek-English Lexicon with Supplement (Oxford: Clarendon, 1968). The basic sense of baptō is to plunge or dip, usually in a liquid.

    Find this resource:

  • Delling, Gerhard. “ΒΑΠΤΙΣΜΑ ΒΑΠΤΙΣΘΗΝΑΙ.” Novum Testamentum 2 (1958): 92–115.

    DOI: 10.2307/1560097Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Unlike those who conclude that the various metaphorical uses of baptizō indicate a meaning other than immersion, Delling affirms that these metaphorical uses refer to an overwhelming situation. Therefore, baptisma in the New Testament probably keeps the meaning of “plunging.”

    Find this resource:

  • Oepke, Albrecht. “βάπτω, βαπτίζω, βαπτισμός, βαπτιστής.” In Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Vol. 1. Edited by Gerhard Kittel. Translated by Geoffrey W. Bromiley, 529–545. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Baptō means “to dip in or under,” and baptizō is its intensive form. The entry summarizes secular, Jewish, biblical, and early Christian usage of the words.

    Find this resource:

  • Ysebaert, Joseph. Greek Baptismal Terminology: Its Origins and Early Development. Nijmegen, The Netherlands: Dekker & Van de Vegt, 1962.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Ysebaert provides a thorough examination of secular, Jewish, and Christian usage of words for washing and immersion (pp. 12–83); renewal, re-creation, and rebirth; enlightenment; and imposition of hands, anointing, and sealing. Baptisma was a distinctively Christian term for the baptisms administered by John and by Christians.

    Find this resource:

Social-Scientific and Ritual Studies

Studies drawing on insights from the social sciences (anthropology, comparative cultures) and rituals consider baptism in the light of rites of passage and initiation ceremonies. Meeks 1974 discusses Pauline baptismal texts in relation to ancient myths of a bisexual progenitor of the human race. Meeks 1983 notes that Paul’s letters supply much information on the interpretation of baptism, but in order to discern details of the ritual one must proceed in the manner of an ethnographer describing initiation into a modern sect. Lathrop 1994 sets Christian baptism in the context of the cultural symbol of washing. DeMaris 2008 considers the use of water for cultic purposes. Smith 1978 uses comparative liturgy to find a baptismal reference in the Gospel of Thomas 37. Making much use of liturgy, Finn 1997 uses social-scientific studies of ritual to draw out the meaning of conversion in early Christianity.

  • DeMaris, Richard E. “Contested Waters.” The New Testament in Its Ritual World. By Richard E. DeMaris, 37–56. London and New York: Routledge, 2008.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This chapter considers the context of ritual activity of the early church by examining the hydraulic system of Corinth and the use of water for cultic purposes. Baptism is an example of symbolic inversion, for it contrasted with Roman bathing practices by being given only once and involving running water. Control of water was a primary marker of Roman culture.

    Find this resource:

  • Finn, Thomas M. From Death to Rebirth: Ritual and Conversion in Antiquity. New York: Paulist Press, 1997.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This book centers on the idea of conversion in its ritual aspects. Finn studies conversion in pagan mysteries and philosophy, in Judaism, and in Christianity through the 4th century. Among his conclusions is the importance of the images of death and rebirth and of enlightenment for the transformation involved in conversion.

    Find this resource:

  • Lathrop, Gordon W. “The Origins and Early Meanings of Christian Baptism: A Proposal.” Worship 68.6 (1994): 504–522.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The earliest Christian communities used the symbol of washing for entrance into the community and as an identifying practice. This cultural symbol served the purpose of proclaiming God’s grace in Christ, but its Christian use was also a critique of its cultural meaning.

    Find this resource:

  • Meeks, Wayne A. “The Image of the Androgyne: Some Uses of a Symbol in Earliest Christianity.” History of Religions 13.3 (February 1974): 165–208.

    DOI: 10.1086/462701Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Galatians 3:28; 1 Corinthians 12:13; and Colossians 3:10–11 represent a baptismal formula reflecting the myth of reunification of male and female. Ephesians adapts the Adam-androgyny myth to baptism. Gnostic texts speak of a restoration of the androgynous image. The unity of male and female has bearing on the status of women in Pauline churches.

    Find this resource:

  • Meeks, Wayne A. “Baptism: Ritual of Initiation.” In The First Urban Christians: The Social World of the Apostle Paul. By Wayne A. Meeks, 150–156. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1983.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Meeks draws on insights from anthropolgy and comparative religions in covering topics usually treated in studies of baptism. Notable is his chart (p. 156, fig. 1) paralleling the contrasts between the person “in this world” and the novice “in Christ.”

    Find this resource:

  • Smith, Jonathan Z. “The Garments of Shame.” In Map Is Not Territory: Studies in the History of Religions. By Jonathan Z. Smith, 1–23. Studies in Judaism in Late Antiquity 23. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1978.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The Gospel of Thomas 37 contains four motifs—the undressing of disciples, their being naked without shame, their treading on the garments, and their being as little children—that are found together only in baptismal rituals and homilies.

    Find this resource:

Antecedents to Christian Baptism

Although the common use of water in ceremonial purifications in both Greco-Roman religions and Judaism prepared people to find nothing unacceptable in Christian baptism, historical study has shown that the administration of baptism and the meaning ascribed to it were distinctive among Christians.

Greco-Roman Purifications

Water was widely used in the ancient world for religious purification as well as for hygienic and recreational bathing. In religious ceremonies the water might be employed in a variety of ways—by pouring or sprinkling it, or by dipping in it. The perspective from the history of religions is presented by Leipoldt 1928, and the distinctiveness of Christianity is upheld by Nock 1928, a broad study of the theology and practice of Christianity in relation to pagan religion and philosophy. Nock concludes with explanations as to why Christianity won in the conflict of religions in the ancient world. Nock 1952 specifically addressed the practices of the mystery religions. Metzger 1955 discussed proper methodology in the study of the mystery religions in relation to Christianity. Wagner 1967 and Wedderburn 1987 consider baptism as death and resurrection, with Christ in comparison with pagan thought. A nonreligious background to baptismal practice in bathing customs is argued in Stommel 1959 (cited under Sickbed Baptism and Alternatives to Immersion).

  • Leipoldt, Johannes. Die urchristliche Taufe im Lichte der Religionsgeschichte. Leipzig: Dörffling & Franke, 1928.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Leipoldt surveys Jewish purification washings as background to John the Baptist and the earliest church, and the religious use of water in the non-Jewish world as background to Gentile Christian communities. He emphasizes the parallels and concludes that the mystery religions knew a baptism that was initiatory as well as purificatory. The sacramental meaning of baptism was strong, especially for Gentile Christians.

    Find this resource:

  • Metzger, Bruce M. “Considerations of Methodology in the Study of the Mystery Religions and Early Christianity.” Harvard Theological Review 48.1 (1955): 1–20.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0017816000025037Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Metzger points out the methodological flaws in the reasoning of those who have argued for significant influence by the mystery religions on the earliest church. Although giving minimal attention to baptism (pp. 13, 16), Metzger makes a persuasive case against understanding the Christian sacraments in terms of the mystery religions.

    Find this resource:

  • Nock, A. D. “Early Gentile Christianity and its Hellenistic Background.” In Essays on the Trinity and Incarnation. Edited by A. E. J. Rawlinson, 51–156. London: Longmans, Green, 1928.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In regard to baptism (pp. 97–104) Nock notes parallels with and differences from pagan rites, which were preliminary purifications. The fundamental difference lay in its meaning as “the beginning of a new life” and bringing “an intimate relation with Christ’s death” (p. 100). Reprinted in Essays on Religion and the Ancient World, edited by Zeph Stewart (Oxford: Clarendon, 1972), 49–133.

    Find this resource:

  • Nock, A. D. “Hellenistic Mysteries and Christian Sacraments.” Mnemosyne 5 (1952): 177–213.

    DOI: 10.1163/156852552X00209Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Nock considers mysteries and initiations in classical and Hellenistic Greece and the metaphorical use of mystery terminology in a non-religious context and in Judaism. He traces the Christian development of the idea of sacraments through the fourth century. Baptism and eucharist for Christians were dona data (“gifts given”) and were not indebted to pagan mysteries (Essays 803–811). Reprinted in Essays on Religion and the Ancient World, edited by Zeph Stewart (Oxford: Clarendon, 1972), 791–820.

    Find this resource:

  • Wagner, Günther. Pauline Baptism and Pagan Mysteries. Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1967.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Wagner effectively delineates the differences between Paul’s thought and the practices of the mystery religions.

    Find this resource:

  • Wedderburn, A. J. M. Baptism and Resurrection: Studies in Pauline Theology against Its Greco-Roman Background. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 44. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 1987.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Wedderburn refutes the idea that the mystery religions influenced Christians to think they shared in Christ’s resurrection in baptism. Paul, in Romans 6, was not correcting such a misunderstanding by putting Christians’ resurrection in the future. Colossians 2 and Ephesians are developments of Paul’s thought in Romans and not a reversion to a pre-Pauline theology.

    Find this resource:

Judaism

Christian origins among Jews in Galilee and Judaea make probable that Christian baptism owes more to Jewish than to Greco-Roman practices. Some have exaggerated this dependence, as represented by Gavin 1969. A more nuanced approach in Lawrence 2006 recognizes the variety in Jewish practices. The categories that follow consider the water rites in the Old Testament, Early Judaism, the Essenes and Baptismal Movements, and Proselyte Baptism.

  • Gavin, Frank Stanton Burns. The Jewish Antecedents of the Christian Sacraments. New York: KTAV, 1969.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    First published 1928. Gavin makes broad claims for the similarities of the Christian sacraments to Jewish practices. An example of this is the historically unsupported claim that Christian baptism derived from proselyte baptism.

    Find this resource:

  • Lawrence, Jonathan David. Washing in Water: Trajectories of Ritual Bathing in the Hebrew Bible and Second Temple Literature. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2006.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Lawrence discusses washing in the Hebrew Bible, Second Temple literature, and the Dead Sea Scrolls, as well as archaeological evidence for ritual baths. He classifies the uses of washing terminology as ritual (general, priestly, preparatory for a theophany, and other), metaphorical, or initiatory.

    Find this resource:

Old Testament

The ritual washings in the Old Testament served functions similar to the preliminary washings in Greek religion—providing ceremonial purification before performing religious duties. These washings formed the background to later developments in Judaism and Christianity (Collins 1989). The application of water pertained to human beings and to inanimate objects.

Early Judaism

Old Testament purity regulations continued to be observed, especially by the priests and the Pharisees. The legal interpretations of the Scriptures were codified in the Mishnah about 200 CE. Magness 2002 points out that occasions for sprinkling water mixed with ashes were distinct from washings. Abrahams 1911 and Sanders 1990 show that the “baths” or “washings” of the Law were defined as a full immersion. Neusner 1995 examines the tractate Mikwaoth (“immersion pools”) for its prescriptions about the degrees of purity of water and the quantity of water required to cover a person’s body. Netzer 1983, Reich 1990, and Reich 1999 report on the many of these immersion pools discovered in Jerusalem and modern Israel dating from the first century or earlier.

  • Abrahams, I. “How Did the Jews Baptize?” Journal of Theological Studies 12 (1911): 609–612.

    DOI: 10.1093/jts/os-XII.4.609Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This article replies to the uninformed contention made earlier in the same journal by C. F. Rogers, in an article also titled “How Did the Jews Baptize?” (pp. 437–445), that the requirement was to bathe the whole body without a stress on submersion. Abrahams, from within the Jewish understanding, presents the evidence for a full immersion. Later discoveries have confirmed this conclusion.

    Find this resource:

  • Magness, Jodi. The Archaeology of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Sprinklings at Qumran, as in the biblical texts, occurred after an immersion for removal of impurity (pp. 137–142). Magness gives some of the archaeological evidence for immersion pools of the Second Temple period. The pools at Qumran for purification by immersion were stepped and plastered.

    Find this resource:

  • Netzer, Ehud. “Ancient Ritual Baths (Miqvaot) in Jericho.” In The Jerusalem Cathedra: Studies in the History, Archaeology, Geography, and Ethnography of the Land of Israel. Vol. 2. Edited by Lee I. Levine, 106–119. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1983.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Many of the immersion pools found at Jericho are Hasmonean in date (2nd to 1st century BCE) and are quite large.

    Find this resource:

  • Neusner, Jacob. The Judaic Law of Baptism: Tractate Miqvaot in the Mishnah and the Tosefta. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1995.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This work includes a literal translation of the two versions of the tractate. The major topics discussed are: (1) an immersion pool is formed by still rainwater; (2) drawn water passing through a utensil spoils the water; (3) water mingles and takes on the character of the predominant element; and (4) one must allow the water to touch all parts of the body or utensil.

    Find this resource:

  • Reich, Ronny. “Miqwa’ot (Jewish Ritual Baths) in Eretz-Israel, in the Second Temple, Mishnah and Talmud Periods.” PhD diss., Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1990.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The conclusions of this dissertation in Hebrew are summarized in Reich 1999.

    Find this resource:

  • Reich, Ronny. “Design and Maintenance of First-Century Ritual Immersion Baths.” Jerusalem Perspective 56 (1999): 14–19.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This article summarizes Reich’s dissertation in Hebrew at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem (Reich 1990), describing 286 possible miqva’ot. These come in two types: the single pool variety fed by water from a spring, and the double pool variety (one for storing pure water and the other for the actual immersion). Nearly every excavated mikveh with steps exceeded the minimum requirement of size set by the rabbis.

    Find this resource:

  • Sanders, E. P. Jewish Law from Jesus to the Mishnah. Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1990.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Sanders concluded that among the rabbis everyone agreed that there should be immersion pools large enough to cover a person’s body, but there was discussion on how much water this required and what constituted pure water. See pp. 214–227.

    Find this resource:

Essenes and Baptismal Movements

The identification of the Essenes with the Qumran community responsible for the Dead Sea Scrolls remains debatable, but the majority of scholars accept some connection between them. Beall 1988 comments on Josephus’s description of the daily bath of the Essenes in cold water. Lichtenberger 2000 calls attention to the frequent mention in the Dead Sea Scrolls of the need for purity of heart along with bodily purification with water. Betz 1958 argues that a special significance may have attached to the first bath by one joining the Essene community, but Gnilka 1961 rejects this view. The stepped cisterns at Qumran were likely for the daily ablutions; the other cisterns were for storage of water for other needs (Wood 1984). See John the Baptist for other discussions of the Essene and Qumran practices. Rudolph 1981 discussed the various baptismal movements associated with Judaism, climaxing in the Mandaeans, for whom Segelberg 1958 gives a description of their modern practice of baptisms.

  • Beall, Todd S. Josephus’ Description of the Essenes Illustrated by the Dead Sea Scrolls. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511520297Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Beall provides a commentary on Josephus’s description of the Essenes, including his passage about the daily bath in comparison to information in the Dead Sea Scrolls (pp. 55–57). He rejects the idea that there was a sacramental meaning to Essene baths.

    Find this resource:

  • Betz, Otto. “Die Proselytentaufe der Qumransekte und die Taufe im Neuen Testament.” Revue de Qumran 1 (1958): 213–234.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Betz argues that the bath in the Community Rule was initiatory and different from the daily baths described by Josephus but comparable to proselyte baptism (pp. 216–220).

    Find this resource:

  • Gnilka, Joachim. “Die essenischen Tauchbäder und die Johannestaufe.” Revue de Qumran 3 (1961): 185–207.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This thorough study is a response to Betz, concluding that the first bath at Qumran was not different from other baths and was not similar to proselyte baptism (p. 191). The basis of the community’s practices was an extension of the priestly purifications of the Pentateuch, but with a recognition that true purification came from God’s Spirit and must await the end-time.

    Find this resource:

  • Lichtenberger, Hermann. “Baths and Baptism.” In Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Edited by L. H. Schiffman and J. C. VanderKam, 85–89. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This article discusses the ablutions at Qumran and is a good introductory survey.

    Find this resource:

  • Rudolph, Kurt. Antike Baptisten: Zu den Überlieferungen über frühjudische und -christliche Taufsekten. Sitzungsberichte der Sachsischen Akademie der Wissenschaft zu Leipzig 121.4. Berlin: Akademie, 1981.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Rudolf gives as characteristics of various baptismal sects the use of flowing water, repetition of washings, rejection of sacrifice and the temple cult, and a tendency to syncretism. The presupposition for their development was Jewish washings (as Lev. 15). They represent a strengthened desire for purity linked with ascetic tendencies, a spiritualizing of cult, and eventually a divinizing (as with Elchasai) of water as purifying.

    Find this resource:

  • Segelberg, Eric. Masbuta: Studies in the Ritual of the Mandaean Baptism. Uppsala, Sweden: Almquist & Wiksell, 1958.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    There are more recent accounts of the Mandaeans, such as J. J. Buckley’s The Mandaeans: Ancient Texts and Modern People (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), as well as Rudolph 1981, both of which include discussion of their baptisms, but this study is devoted to their baptismal practices.

    Find this resource:

  • Wood, Bryant G. “To Dip or Sprinkle? The Qumran Cisterns in Perspective.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 256 (1984): 45–60.

    DOI: 10.2307/1356924Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Wood concludes that the Qumran community most certainly dipped, which accords with what we know of the practice codified by rabbinic Judaism in the Mishnah.

    Find this resource:

Proselyte Baptism

Taylor 1955–1956 affirms that proselyte baptism cannot be confirmed before near the end of the 1st century CE. Pusey and Hunt 1984 discusses its origin, and although granting it cannot be confirmed in the early 1st century, considers that probable. Bamberger 1968 and Cohen 1990 describe the ceremony of initiation of Gentiles into the Jewish community as codified by the rabbis. It involved circumcision of males, self-immersion before witnesses, and offering a sacrifice at the temple. The application of baptism to Gentiles and the inclusion of whole families make one think of Christian baptism (the household baptisms in the Acts of the Apostles have been compared to it). Joachim Jeremias, in several works (e.g., Jeremias 1949), argued for the origin of Christian baptism in proselyte baptism, but his arguments are answered by Légasse 1976 and Smith 1982. The baptism of proselytes likely developed from the purificatory baths of Jews then applied as an initiatory act for Gentiles. Less often considered, but given full coverage by Beatrice 1983, is Jesus’ washing the feet of his disciples (John 13:1-11), which was sometimes given a baptismal interpretation in the early church.

  • Beatrice, Pier Franco La lavanda dei piedi. Contributo alla storia delle antiche liturgie cristiane. Rome: Edizioni Liturgiche, 1983.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Covers the rite of the baptismal footwashing and its interpretation as the baptism of the Apostles in the Early Church from the Fourth Gospel until its disappearance in the High Middle Ages, and its replacement with the medieval-modern rite of Maundy Thursday.

    Find this resource:

  • Bamberger, Bernard J. Proselytism in the Talmudic Period. New York: KTAV, 1968.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Bamberger represents the old standard presentation of Jewish practices in the reception of converts to Judaism. First published 1939.

    Find this resource:

  • Cohen, Shaye J. D. “The Rabbinic Conversion Ceremony.” Journal of Jewish Studies 41 (1990): 177–203.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This work is the most thorough modern treatment of the topic of conversion in the formative period of Judaism. Cohen finds the earliest literary account of the rabbinic conversion ceremony to be probably from the 2nd century. Also printed in Cohen’s The Beginnings of Jewishness: Boundaries, Varieties, Uncertainties (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), pp. 198–238.

    Find this resource:

  • Jeremias, Joachim. “Proselytentaufe und des Neues Testament.” Theologische Zeitschrift 5 (1949): 418–428.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The conversion of families, including children, which included their baptism, was an important support for Jeremias’s argument that infants were baptized from the beginning of the church. Jeremias tried to find indications that proselyte baptism, even if not explicitly mentioned, predated the beginnings of the church.

    Find this resource:

  • Légasse, Simon. “Baptême juif des prosélytes et baptême chrétien.” Bulletin de Littérature Ecclésiastique 77 (1976): 3–40.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Légasse makes a full rejection of an influence from proselyte baptism on Christian baptism.

    Find this resource:

  • Pusey, Karen, and John Hunt. “Jewish Proselyte Baptism.” Expository Times 95.5 (1984): 141–145.

    DOI: 10.1177/001452468409500505Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The questions of the antiquity of the rite and of its meaning are not the same. Proselyte baptism developed from a purificatory rite to become, later, a symbol of the start of a new life. The rabbinic interpretation of the proselyte as like a newborn child applies to the whole initiation, of which circumcision was the decisive rite, not just the bath.

    Find this resource:

  • Smith, Derwood. “Jewish Proselyte Baptism and the Baptism of John.” Restoration Quarterly 25 (1982): 13–32.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This article gives a thorough review and answer to the arguments of Jeremias for the influence of proselyte baptism on the baptisms by John and Christians.

    Find this resource:

  • Taylor, T. M. “The Beginnings of Jewish Proselyte Baptism.” New Testament Studies 2.3 (1956): 193–198.

    DOI: 10.1017/S002868850000309XSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    No mention of proselyte baptism occurs before the late 1st century CE.

    Find this resource:

John the Baptist

John the Baptist, or Baptizer, provided the closest antecedent to Christian baptism. John’s baptism was unlike Jewish washings in being an administered act, a repentance baptism for the forgiveness of sins, and performed once. In the last respect it was like proselyte baptism, but it was unlike it in that it was given to Jews and not non-Jews. Christian baptism differed from John’s in its connection with the name of Jesus Christ and its promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit. Books on John the Baptist of necessity give considerable attention to his baptism. Notable are the following: Scobie 1964 initiated the modern study of John the Baptist by American authors. Webb 1991 contends that there was no direct link between John and the Qumran community, and that proselyte baptism is probably post-70. Lupieri 1993 is a good introduction with an ample bibliography on the issues surrounding the study of John the Baptist. Taylor 1997 upholds Josephus’s account of John’s baptism in preference to that in the Gospels. Légasse 1993 lists the differences of John’s practices from those at Qumran and concludes that the Mandaeans did not have their origin among the disciples of John. Chilton 2002 corrects some commonly held views about John the Baptist that he regards as erroneous, but Evans 2002 thinks some of the competing views are complementary. Works dealing with other movements, such as Badia 1980 on the Qumran community, also discuss John’s baptism.

  • Badia, Leonard F. The Qumran Baptism and John the Baptist’s Baptism. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1980.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Badia outlines the similarities and differences of the practices of John and those at Qumran (summarized on pp. 49–51).

    Find this resource:

  • Chilton, Bruce. “John the Baptist: His Immersion and His Death.” In Dimensions of Baptism: Biblical and Theological Studies. Edited by Stanley E. Porter and Anthony R. Cross, 25–44. London: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Chilton denies that John’s baptism was an initiation into a sect and that John intended to establish a sect. He further denies that the offer of remission of sins was necessarily a challenge to the temple system.

    Find this resource:

  • Evans, Craig A. “The Baptism of John in a Typological Context.” In Dimensions of Baptism: Biblical and Theological Studies. Edited by Stanley E. Porter and Anthony R. Cross, 45–71. London: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Evans contends it is not necessary to choose between the competing views of John’s baptism: either parallel to the repeated purificatory immersions or a prophetic, restorative symbolism preparatory for the end time. It is reasonable to assume that Jesus’ understanding of baptism was similar to John’s: an act of eschatological purification, signifying repentance and entry into God’s covenant people.

    Find this resource:

  • Légasse, Simon. Naissance du baptême. Paris: Cerf, 1993.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The biblical texts offer no explanation for John’s change to an administered baptism, but the symbolic purpose that suggests itself is the thought that one cannot accomplish one’s own cleansing. John’s baptism was the direct antecedent of Christian baptism. “In the name of Jesus” was the novelty by which Christian baptism distinguished itself from John’s baptism.

    Find this resource:

  • Lupieri, E. F. “John the Baptist in New Testament Traditions and History.” In Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt II.26.1. Edited by Wolfgang Haase, 430–461. Berlin: DeGruyter, 1993.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Lupieri provides a good summary of the issues pertaining to the study of John the Baptist with extensive bibliographical notes.

    Find this resource:

  • Scobie, Charles H. H. John the Baptist. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1964.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Scobie argues against those who find the precedent for John’s baptism in proselyte baptism.

    Find this resource:

  • Taylor, Joan E.. The Immerser: John the Baptist within Second Temple Judaism. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In discussing John’s relation to other Jewish immersions, Taylor rejects the idea that immersion was initiatory at Qumran. She takes the unlikely position that Josephus’s statement about the purpose of John’s baptism is accurate, and the Gospels are to be reinterpreted accordingly, so that repentance brought the forgiveness of sins (inner purity) and led to baptism for bodily cleansing.

    Find this resource:

  • Webb, Robert L. John the Baptiser and Prophet: A Socio-Historical Study. Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement Series 62. Sheffield, UK: JSOT Press, 1991.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This excellent book discusses the various washings in John’s milieu. There are limitations on Josephus’s account of John, and the Gospels are accurate in ascribing to John’s baptism “forgiveness of sins.” The New Testament texts support John’s baptism as an immersion. Webb makes the disputed claims, however, that the washings at Qumran cleansed from inner defilement, and that John’s baptism was initiatory.

    Find this resource:

Baptism of Jesus

The baptism of Jesus by John in the Jordan River is one of the events from Jesus’ life that on strictly historical grounds certainly occurred, although this is contested. It is commonly recognized that an act that would appear to make Jesus subordinate to John, and that had the implication that Jesus needed purification, would not have been invented. The Gospels present the baptism of Jesus as the time of his recognition of a special relation with God the Father and his reception of the Holy Spirit, after which he began his ministry. Although the New Testament does not present the baptism of Jesus as a model for Christian baptism, later Christian writers often made that connection. Discussions of Jesus’ baptism are also included in works on baptism in the New Testament.

New Testament Texts

The historicity of the baptism of Jesus is affirmed by Webb 2000. One of the few dissenters is Vaage 1996. Studies of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ baptism have been concerned with its relation to the psychological state of Jesus (DeMaris 2002), the symbolism of the event (Feuillet 1958), the justification of the baptism (Chevallier 1986), and the literary analysis of the accounts (Lentzen-Deis 1970).

  • Chevallier, Max-Alain. “L’apologie du baptême d’eau a la fin du premier siècle: Introduction secondaire de l’étiologie dans les réc its du baptême du Jesus.” New Testament Studies 32.4 (1986): 528–543.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0028688500014193Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This article discusses the embarrassment of Jesus’ baptism (especially reflected in Matthew). Other factors, however, influenced reports of the baptism of Jesus.

    Find this resource:

  • DeMaris, Richard E. “The Baptism of Jesus: A Ritual-Critical Approach.” In The Social Setting of Jesus and the Gospels. Edited by Wolfgang Stegemann, Bruce J. Malina, and Gerd Theissen, 137–157. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2002.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    DeMaris explores social-science studies of states of consciousness. He suggests that Jesus’ altered state of consciousness was transferred by the Gospel writers to a baptismal setting. Jesus’ baptismal vision has a stronger claim to historicity than the baptism itself.

    Find this resource:

  • Feuillet, André. “Le symbolisme de la colombe dans les récits évangéliques du baptême.” Recherches de Science Religieuse 46 (1958): 524–544.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Feuillet contends that the dove in New Testament times represented the elect people of God, with messianic overtones. His hypothesis is that the dove was meant to prefigure the principal fruit of the coming of the Spirit, the constitution of a new Israel. The event was not an interior transformation of Jesus at his baptism but had the purpose of pointing to the foundation of the church.

    Find this resource:

  • Lentzen-Deis, Fritzleo. Die Taufe Jesu nach den Synoptikern: Literarkritische und gattungsgeschichtliche Untersuchungen. Frankfurter Theologische Studien 4. Frankfurt am Main: Joseph Knecht, 1970.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This book provides a literary analysis of the texts in the Synoptic Gospels. Four motifs follow the baptism itself: the opening of heaven and the heavenly voice, the bestowal of the Spirit, the figure of the dove, and the heavenly declaration. The postbaptismal scene belongs to the category of “vision,” not theophany or epiphany.

    Find this resource:

  • Vaage, Leif E. “Bird-Watching at the Baptism of Jesus: Early Christian Mythmaking in Mark 1:9–11.” In Reimagining Christian Origins: A Colloquium Honoring Burton L. Mack. Edited by Elizabeth Castelli and Hal Taussig, 280–294. Valley Forge, PA: Trinity Press International, 1996.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    That Jesus was baptized by John rests solely on Mark 1:9–11, and Mark was involved in “mythmaking.”

    Find this resource:

  • Webb, Robert L. “Jesus’ Baptism, Its Historicity and Implications.” Bulletin for Biblical Research 10.2 (2000): 261–309.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Webb presents the arguments for the historicity of Jesus’ baptism and what its implications are for the understanding of the historical figure of Jesus. The theophany is probable but may have occurred later. The baptism was the turning point of Jesus’ life and constituted a prophetic call. Jesus identified himself with Israel’s need for repentance and joined John in calling for a reconstituted Israel.

    Find this resource:

Noncanonical Texts

Bertrand 1973 discusses the interpretation of the baptism of Jesus in the first two centuries. The Jewish-Christian apocryphal Gospels were concerned to explain the baptism of Jesus. Some introduced a new feature not in the canonical Gospels; for instance, Drijvers and Reinick 1988 discusses the appearance of light or a fire on the water, a sign of a theophany and particularly preserved in Syriac sources. Special features of the Jewish-Christian Gospels are discussed by Vigne 1992. Wilken 1972 surveys the Church Fathers elaboration on the biblical texts about the baptism of Jesus. They emphasized that Jesus had no need of purification, but by his baptism identified with humanity and the human condition. By his baptism he sanctified water for the purpose of the baptism of others. Jesus’ baptism became the pattern and basis for Christian baptism. The baptism was the time of the revelation of Jesus as Son of God and his anointing with the Holy Spirit. Some works comment on the treatment by specific authors. Smith 1997 examines the theology of baptism in Irenaeus. Doignon 1972 notes that for Lactantius the coming of God’s Spirit on Jesus enabled him to perform great miracles, and that Hilary of Poitiers discussed the mystery involved in his baptism.

  • Bertrand, Daniel Alain. Le Baptême de Jésus: Histoire de l’exégèse aux deux premiers siècles. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr, 1973.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Bertrand identifies as the oldest and most constant interpretations of the baptism of Jesus the motifs of the descent of the Spirit and the beginning of the messianic ministry of Jesus. Bertrand finds in the early Jewish-Christian sources authentic remembrances and early interpretations of the event.

    Find this resource:

  • Doignon, Jean. “La scène évangélique du Baptême de Jesus commentée par Lactance (Divinae institutiones 4,15) et Hilaire de Poitiers (In Matthaeum 2, 5–6).” In Epektasis: Mélanges patristiques offerts au Cardinal Jean Daniélou. Edited by J. Fontaine and C. Kannengiesser, 63–73. Paris: Beauchesne, 1972.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Lactantius said that Jesus, in his baptism, abolished not his own sins, for he had none, but those of the flesh that he bore. Hilary of Poitiers’ commentary on Matthew said that there was a double mystery in Jesus’ baptism: Jesus had no sin, but he took a body in order to effect human salvation; and the divine sonship was expressed by the descent of the Spirit and the heavenly voice.

    Find this resource:

  • Drijvers, H. J. W., and G. J. Reinink. “Taufe und Licht: Tatian, Ebionäerevangelium und Thomasakten.” In Text and Testimony: Essays on New Testament and Apocryphal Literature in Honour of A. F. J. Klijn. Edited by T. Baarda, A. Hilhorst, G. P. Luttikhuizen, and A. S. van der Woude, 91–110. Kampen, The Netherlands: Kok, 1988.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This article argues that Justin Martyr preserves the earliest form of the tradition that fire appeared on the water; the fire was purifying and was a danger from which Jesus escaped. Tatian introduced the light motif in order to parallel the first appearance of the divine Word at creation (Gen. 1:1–2), with his second manifestation at his baptism, at both of which there was water.

    Find this resource:

  • McDonnell, Kilian. The Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan: The Trinitarian and Cosmic Order of Salvation. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1996.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    McDonnell argues that the declaration of Jesus’ sonship was not necessarily Adoptionist but marked the manifestation of the Son, not the origin of the Sonship. He discusses various motifs associated with the baptism, such as divinization and clothing with the robe of glory. The divine voice and the anointing with the Holy Spirit give a Trinitarian motif to the event.

    Find this resource:

  • Smith, Daniel A. “Irenaeus and the Baptism of Jesus.” Theological Studies 58 (1997): 618–642.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Smith sees Jesus’ reception of the Spirit and the deification of his human nature according to Irenaeus as progressive: beginning with the incarnation, continuing through the baptism, and climaxing in the resurrection.

    Find this resource:

  • Vigne, Daniel. Christ au Jourdain: Le Baptême de Jésus dans la tradition judéo-chrétienne. Paris: J. Gabalda, 1992.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Vigne has many suggestive comments. He distinguishes the Gospel of the Nazaraeans, as orthodox in considering the begetting at the baptism as declarative and juridic, from the Gospel of the Ebionites, for whom it was generative and ontological. He cites a long list of writers to the effect that Jesus had no need of purification but by his baptism provided for human purification.

    Find this resource:

  • Wilken, Robert L. “The Interpretation of the Baptism of Jesus in the Later Fathers.” Studia Patristica 11 (1972): 268–277.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Wilken points out that the feast of Epiphany (6 January), which in the Eastern Church celebrated the baptism of Jesus, was often the occasion for noting that Jesus sanctified water by his baptism and so laid the basis for Christian baptism. The accounts of the baptism of Jesus were often cited in the Trinitarian and Christological controversies.

    Find this resource:

New Testament

The New Testament documents are foundational for later Christian theology. Studies covering the whole of the New Testament have been made from different perspectives: Flemington 1948 finds the origin of Christian baptism in Jewish proselyte baptism, as well as possible traces of infant baptism in the New Testament. Cullmann 1950 connects the baptism of Jesus with his atoning work. Completeness, thoroughness, and careful exegesis have made Beasley-Murray 1973 a standard. For Delling 1963, in spite of the varied occasions in Acts, the normal pattern was for the Spirit to be given with baptism; throughout the New Testament the two basic effects of baptism are forgiveness of sins and the bestowal of the Holy Spirit. Delling brings together the Spirit and the water at baptism by saying that what God works in baptism he does so through the Holy Spirit. Brooks 1987 is popularly written but well researched and thoughtful. Hartman 1997 covers antecedents to baptism (at the beginning of the book) and the Didache and Shepherd of Hermas (at the end), in addition to New Testament texts that form the body of the study. Witherington 2007 is a popular study that considers contemporary theological implications of the New Testament texts. Within the New Testament there are different theological emphases in regard to baptism by Paul, Luke, and John, but they bear witness to a common practice. The following classification includes the writings with the most information on baptism: Gospels (apart from the baptism of Jesus), Paul, Acts, and other New Testament books.

  • Beasley-Murray, G. R. Baptism in the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1973.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Beasley-Murray answers the objections to the historicity of a command from Jesus to baptize (pp. 77–92). In addition to close examination of the texts mentioning baptism, he includes topical studies of baptism and grace, faith, the Spirit, the church, ethics, hope, and baptism’s necessity. A long chapter discusses “The Rise and Significance of Infant Baptism.” First published in 1962.

    Find this resource:

  • Brooks, O. S. The Drama of Decision: Baptism in the New Testament. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1987.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    New Testament texts are bonded by the idea that baptism is the outward act dramatizing the inner decision. The substance of that decision is faith in Jesus Christ as the bringer of salvation. First Peter 3:21 epitomizes the significance of baptism as the moment when a believer publicly announces that s/he has come to know God and to accept his offer of salvation in Christ.

    Find this resource:

  • Cullmann, Oscar. Baptism in the New Testament. Translated by J. K. S. Reid. London: SCM, 1950.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Cullmann suggests that the baptism of Jesus pointed forward to the cross, when Jesus’ death would be a general baptism for the sins of the world. He, in part to support infant baptism, argues that the word “hinder” was part of the liturgical language employed at baptism (Mark 10:14; Acts 8:36). Baptism corresponds to circumcision as the means of reception into covenant with God.

    Find this resource:

  • Delling, Gerhard. Die Taufe im Neuen Testament. Berlin: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 1963.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Delling rejects Josephus’s account of the purpose of John’s baptism because it reflects the views at Qumran. He understands Colossians 2:11–13 as making identical the stripping off the flesh, the circumcision of Christ, and baptism. Palingenesia, in Titus 3:5, means “new creation” or “new beginning.” For Paul the new life that God gives to faith begins at baptism and does not occur without baptism. He misunderstands Acts 22:16 as not involving a confession of faith.

    Find this resource:

  • Flemington, W. F. The New Testament Doctrine of Baptism. London: SPCK, 1948.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Flemington deduces from Luke 11:38 that immersion was not required by the word baptizō (later awareness that some Jewish groups practiced a full bath before their main meal mitigates this argument). He suggests that the connection between baptism, death, and resurrection made by Paul was due to Jesus’ describing his death as a baptism (Mark 10:38). In the primitive church, baptism was the response of believers to the message about Jesus. In Hebrews 10:22, faith and baptism are the inside and outside of the same thing.

    Find this resource:

  • Hartman, Lars. “Into the Name of the Lord Jesus”: Baptism in the New Testament. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1997.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The Greek phrase “into the name of” translated a Hebrew/Aramaic idiom that referred to the deity with regard to whom the rite is performed and indicated the authority behind the rite. Primitive motifs associated with baptism were an eschatological perspective, relationship to Jesus, faith resulting from the preaching, remission of sins, entrance into the people of God, and the Holy Spirit.

    Find this resource:

  • Ostmeyer, Karl-Heinrich. Taufe und Typos: Elemente und Theologie der Tauftypologien in 1 Korinther 10 und 1 Petrus 3. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2000.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    After a word study, this book considers water traditions in early Judaism and Christianity. Water had the theological qualities of saving, judgment, chaos, and medium of death. Baptism with water had the purpose of new life out of death. In the second part, Ostmeyer gives an exegesis of 1 Corinthians 10:1–13 (crossing the Reed Sea) and 1 Peter 3:20–21 (the flood). The theology of the baptismal typology in these passages is the judgment on the old creation and a new creation.

    Find this resource:

  • Witherington, Ben, III. Troubled Waters: Rethinking the Theology of Baptism. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2007.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This popular work surveys antecedents to Christian baptism, John’s baptism, baptism in Acts, Paul, John, Hebrews, and 1 Peter. Witherington offers a theology of water baptism in the New Testament as a rite of passage, a boundary marker. His postscript on “Where Do We Go from Here?” offers theological criticisms that will be provocative for the different contemporary practices of baptism.

    Find this resource:

Gospel References apart from John the Baptist and the Baptism of Jesus

Three texts in the Gospels, in addition to those about John the Baptist and Jesus’ baptism, have attracted special attention: Jesus’ command to baptize in the Trinitarian name (Matthew 28:19), the new birth (or birth from above, John 3:5), and Jesus’ death called a baptism (Mark 10:38–39). The issue of whether the original text of Matthew included the phrase about “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” was canvassed by two early works, Conybeare 1901 (against it) and Cuneo 1923 (for it). Aspects of the literary structure of Matthew’s account are discussed by Kingsbury 1974 and Hubbard 1974. Green 1989 supports the case for Eusebius knowing manuscripts without the Trinitarian formula. Osburn 1989 makes exegetical observations on John 3:3–5, and Jones 1997 discusses the use of water in the Fourth Gospel. Carson 1991 is representative of those who deny that the “water” of John 3:5 refers to baptism; his arguments are answered by Ferguson 2009 (cited under General Overviews). For the metaphorical use of baptism in Mark 10:38–39, see Delling 1958 (cited under Word Studies).

  • Carson, Donald A. The Gospel According to John. Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Carson lodges five arguments against “water” in John 3:5 referring to baptism. Water is used figuratively, as in Ezekiel, to refer to renewal or cleansing. The two elements refer to one birth. See pp. 191–196.

    Find this resource:

  • Conybeare, F. C. “The Eusebian Form of the Text Matt. 28.19.” Zeitschrift für die Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 2 (1901): 275–288.

    DOI: 10.1515/zntw.1901.2.1.275Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Eusebius often cites Matthew 28:19 in a shortened form: “Go, make disciples of all the nations.” Although Eusebius is the only evidence for this short text, Conybeare argues it is the original form, later expanded in the transmission of the Gospel. Several later authors have picked up this position.

    Find this resource:

  • Cuneo, Bernard Henry. The Lord’s Command to Baptise: An Historico-Critical Investigation, with Special Reference to the Works of Eusebius of Caesarea. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America, 1923.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Where Eusebius uses the shortened form, his concern is the universality of Christ’s teaching in contrast to previous religious and civil law. Eusebius’s method of citing scripture is to omit phrases irrelevant to his topic and blend phrases from other passages he considered relevant. In several passages where Trinitarian concerns are evident, Eusebius quotes the text in its usual full form.

    Find this resource:

  • Green, H. Benedict. “Matthew 28:19, Eusebius, and the lex orandi.” In The Making of Orthodoxy: Essays in Honour of Henry Chadwick. Edited by Rowan Williams, 124–141. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511555350Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Green expands the literary argument on behalf of a shorter text of Matthew 28:19. Eusebius quotes the verse in three different forms. Since “Go, make disciples of all the nations in my name” was Eusebius’s preferred way of citing the passage, Green argues that he knew manuscripts with this reading.

    Find this resource:

  • Hubbard, B. J. The Matthean Redaction of a Primitive Apostolic Commissioning: An Exegesis of Matthew 28:16–20. Missoula, MT: Society of Biblical Literature, 1974.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Hubbard contends that a proto-commission was behind Matthew, Luke, John, and Mark.

    Find this resource:

  • Jones, Larry Paul. The Symbol of Water in the Gospel of John. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Water occurs in a variety of contexts in the Gospel according to John. It is often a symbol of the Spirit, but also of Jesus himself, and it appears especially in passages where there is a call for a decision to believe.

    Find this resource:

  • Kingsbury, Jack Dean. “The Composition and Christology of Matt. 28:16–20.” Journal of Biblical Literature 93.4 (1974): 573–584.

    DOI: 10.2307/3263833Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Kingsbury argues that the whole section is a Matthaean composition.

    Find this resource:

  • Osburn, Carroll D. “Some Exegetical Observations on John 3:5–8.” Restoration Quarterly 31.3 (1989): 129–138.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Osburn sets John 3:5 in the context of the whole chapter.

    Find this resource:

Paul

As the earliest Christian writings to survive, the letters of Paul occupy a special place in the study of Christianity. They are prominent in the works on baptism listed under New Testament. This section includes works devoted to baptism in Paul, such as Kuss 1952, Schnackenburg 1964 (justifiably regarded as a classic on the subject), and Betz 1994. It also includes works on special topics or problems in Paul’s writings—for instance, Dunn 1970 explores the Holy Spirit, and Dahl 2000 is about one of the letters in the Pauline corpus, Ephesians. Harrill 2002 elucidates the meaning of being clothed with Christ in Galatians 3:27 from a Roman ceremony by which a young man “came of age.” Wagner 1967 and Wedderburn 1987 (both cited under Greco-Roman Purifications) are important for Paul’s distinctive imagery of baptism as an identification with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Crehan 1950, a treatment of the relation of confession of faith to baptism, could be placed in several categories but is pertinent here, for Paul is prominent in the discussion; Crehan notes, for instance, that the “word” that accompanies the “washing in water” of Ephesians 5:26 is the confession by the person being baptized.

  • Betz, Hans Dieter. “Transferring a Ritual: Paul’s Interpretation of Baptism in Romans 6.” In Paul in His Hellenistic Context. Edited by Troels Engberg-Pedersen, 84–118. London: T&T Clark, 1994.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Betz is open to parallels in a broad sense between Romans 6 and the mysteries, for he emphasizes Paul’s interpretation of baptism as initiation. Although he distinguishes an explanation of the meaning of baptism from a description of its action, he identifies the “likeness of his [Jesus’] death” in Romans 6:5 with baptism, which would be supportive of baptismal immersion.

    Find this resource:

  • Crehan, Joseph. Early Christian Baptism and the Creed. London: Burns, Oates & Washbourne, 1950.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Crehan makes the distinction that Matthew 28 authorized disciples to use the Trinitarian formula in administering baptism, but Acts’ usage of “in the name of Jesus Christ” refers to the part taken by the candidate in confessing faith in Jesus. He interprets 1 Corinthians 6:11 in this way: the washing is unto the worship of Jesus, sanctification is in the Holy Spirit, and justification is before God.

    Find this resource:

  • Dahl, Nils Alstrup. “The Concept of Baptism in Ephesians.” In Studies in Ephesians. By Nils Alstrup Dahl, 413–439. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2000.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In addition to the explicit baptismal passages in Ephesians 4:5 and 5:26, Dahl discusses the presence of baptismal motifs in 1:3ff; 4:17–24; 2:11–22.

    Find this resource:

  • Dunn, James D. G. Baptism in the Holy Spirit. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1970.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Dunn implausibly interprets several passages as referring to a baptism in the Holy Spirit instead of in water. For instance, by translating 1 Corinthians 12:13 as “submerged in the Spirit,” he takes “baptize” as metaphorical, referring to the spiritual transformation by which the Spirit puts the believer in the one body which is Christ.

    Find this resource:

  • Harrill, J. Albert. “Coming of Age and Putting on Christ: The Toga Virilis Ceremony, Its Paraenesis, and Paul’s Interpretation of Baptism in Galatians.” Novum Testamentum 44.3 (July 2002):252–277.

    DOI: 10.1163/156853602320249473Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The toga virilis ceremony in Rome brought freedom from the pedagogue and succession to heirship. The traditional language of “putting on Christ” is interpreted by Paul through the social context of this rite. It explains why Paul understands baptism to bring a new familial identity and greater moral responsibility. This household experience gave the ritual of baptism meaning to Gentiles.

    Find this resource:

  • Kuss, Otto. “Zur paulinischen und nachpaulinischen Tauflehre im Neuen Testament.” Theologie und Glaube 42 (1952): 401–425.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Romans 6:1–11 is the central passage on baptism. On the relation of faith and baptism, Kuss concludes, with reference to Galatians 3:26–27 and Colossians 2:12, that faith can never be excluded, but faith can never replace baptism. The one baptism (Eph. 4:5) is adult baptism, initiatory, and unrepeatable. The specific character of Christian baptism depends on the saving work of Christ.

    Find this resource:

  • Schnackenburg, Rudolf. Baptism in the Thought of St. Paul: A Study in Pauline Theology. Oxford: Blackwell, 1964.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Paul’s characteristic teaching is to connect baptism with the death and resurrection of Christ and draw out its moral consequences. Other distinctive features include relating baptism to the circumcision of Christ (his death) and putting on Christ. Baptism was a fundamental means of salvation, but always as related to the cross of Jesus and as an act of faith. Baptism into Christ was also baptism into the body of Christ, the church.

    Find this resource:

Acts of the Apostles

The book of Acts contains numerous accounts of conversion to Christ, and baptism occupies a crucial part in most of these accounts, so works listed under General Overviews and New Testament should also be consulted. There are fewer works devoted to baptism in Acts than to baptism in Paul, but one thorough and comprehensive treatment is Avemarie 2002, which offers a good summary of the action of baptism and the theological motifs associated with it in Acts. Acts 2:38 is a key text for baptism in Acts and receives frequent treatment, including in Osburn 1983. For the relation of the Holy Spirit to baptism is a special topic of concern, see Dunn 1970 (cited under Paul) and Quesnel 1985. The household baptisms in Acts enter into the debate over the origins of infant baptism (see Michaelis 1964).

  • Avemarie, Friedrich. Die Tauferzählungen der Apostelgeschichte: Theologie und Geschichte. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2002.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Avemarie takes some improbable positions, such as thinking Philip (Acts 8) practiced a Christianized version of John’s baptism that was related to the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus but did not give the Holy Spirit. Some positions are commonly held but perhaps erroneous: Luke 11:38 refers to hand washing and Acts 18:47–19:7 indicates that there was no uniform baptismal practice. Positively, he refutes Cullmann’s 1950 contention that “hinder” was part of the baptismal ritual and shows problems with Quesnel’s 1985 analysis of the relation of the Holy Spirit to baptism.

    Find this resource:

  • Michaelis, Wilhelm. “Lukas und die Anfänge der Kindertaufe.” In Apophoreta: Festschrift für Ernst Haenchen. Edited by W. Eltester, 187–193. Berlin: Töpelmann, 1964.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110843705Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Michaelis shows that Acts 2:39 and the household baptisms are not indications of infant baptism.

    Find this resource:

  • Osburn, Carroll D. “The Third Person Imperative in Acts 2:38.” Restoration Quarterly 26 (1983): 81–84.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Osburn refutes the argument based on the change in construction from a second-person plural imperative to a third-person singular imperative that is designed breaks the connection between baptism and the forgiveness of sins.

    Find this resource:

  • Quesnel, Michel. Baptisés dans l’Esprit: Baptême et Esprit Saint dans les Actes des Apôtres. Paris: Cerf, 1985.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Quesnel argues that the Peter narratives in Acts 2 and 10 (e.g., the conferring of the Holy Spirit tied to the water rite) and the Philip and Paul narratives in Acts 8, 9, and 19 (Spirit not given by the water ritual but by a separate laying on of hands) come from two different sources and represent the different perspectives of Luke and the Palestinian Jewish Christianity in the Peter narratives and those from a Gentile Christian milieu in the Philip and Paul narratives.

    Find this resource:

Other New Testament Texts

The other books of the New Testament do not offer as much information on baptism, but some studies deserve attention. Hebrews 6:2 probably refers to Jewish washings, but various Christian meaning have been given to the “baptisms” of this verse (see Cross 2002). The Epistle of James does not use the words for baptism, but it makes allusions to the act and its meaning (Mussner 1972). The important text in 1 Peter 3:20–21 is the subject of major studies, such as Reicke 1946 and Ostmeyer 2000 (cited under New Testament). Reicke’s main concern is the theme of Christ’s descent to the underworld to proclaim victory over fallen angels and demonic spiritual powers. First John 5:5–8 probably alludes to the baptism of Jesus, but Manson 1947 sees in the passage a reference to the continuing practice of the church.

  • Cross, Anthony R. “The Meanings of ‘Baptisms’ in Hebrews 6:2.” In Dimensions of Baptism: Biblical and Theological Studies. Edited by Stanley E. Porter and Anthony R. Cross, 163–186. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Cross suggests that martyrdom be included in the number of “baptisms.”

    Find this resource:

  • Manson, T. W. “Entry into Membership of the Early Church.” Journal of Theological Studies 48 (1947): 25–32.

    DOI: 10.1093/jts/os-XLVIII.189-190.25Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Manson suggests that the sequence Spirit, water, and blood referred to the order of the baptismal ceremony in the Syriac church of anointing, baptism, and eucharist. This ingenious proposal has not won much favor as an exegesis of the passage, but it is a reminder that the Syriac church, unlike most other regions, had only one anointing, and that before the immersion.

    Find this resource:

  • Mussner, Franz. “Die Tauflehre des Jakobusbriefes.” In Zeichen des Glaubens: Studien zu Taufe und Firmung; Balthasar Fischer zum 60. Geburtstag. Edited by Hansjörg Auf der Maur and Bruno Kleinheyer, 61–67. Freiburg, Germany: Herder, 1972.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    James 1:18 is an allusion to baptism as a new birth. The “word of truth” is the Christian message of 1:21, which must be internalized by removing the old life of wickedness.

    Find this resource:

  • Reicke, Bo. The Disobedient Spirits and Christian Baptism: A Study of 1 Peter 3:19 and Its Context. Copenhagen: E. Munksgaard, 1946.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Reicke’s exegetical remarks include the conclusions that the water of the flood “now saves you” (less accepted than the alternative that “baptism saves you”) and the translation “a pledge to God” (an interpretation better accepted but also less popular than the alternative “an appeal to God”). Noah’s rescue was a counterpart to Christians’ salvation by baptism. The resurrection of Christ gives baptism its saving power. Reprinted in 1984 (New York: AMS) and 2005 (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock).

    Find this resource:

Early Church

The writings of early Christians outside the canon of Scripture sometimes bear witness to the earliest Christian teachings and practices, but they do not necessarily do so. Nonetheless, where they do not, our interpretation of the New Testament must be such that it could lead to the later doctrine and practice. The history of baptism in the early centuries is covered under General Overviews, so the attention here will be on works studying particular authors or writings. They are grouped in two categories: the 2nd and 3rd centuries, and the 4th and 5th centuries.

Second and Third Centuries

Writers and writings from the 2nd and 3rd centuries represent the earliest developments after apostolic times. Benoît 1953 covers all the principal baptismal texts of the 2nd century, finding Pauline baptismal themes absent but Johanine influence apparent. Mitchell 1995 studies the Didache and finds its community was a Jewish-Christian group trying to observe Torah and interested in eschatology, not Christology. Sevrin 1986 gives attention to those judged by the Great Church as heretical. Houssiau 1984 studies baptism in Irenaeus, a Greek author whose work is preserved entire in Latin and Armenian translations. Nardi 1984 discusses the rich baptismal thought of Clement of Alexandria in one of his works. Auf der Maur and Waldram 1981 give full treatment to the emphasis placed on the verbal aspects of baptism in Origen and the Latin authors. Evans 1964 provides the Latin text with English translation and notes of Tertullian’s On Baptism, the first surviving treatise on the subject. Gaudette 1971 points out that, although Cyprian could distribute the blessings associated with baptism among the different acts in the ceremony, he wanted to keep all the acts together in one unified ceremony.

  • Auf der Maur, Hansjörg, and Joop Waldram. “Illuminatio Verbi Divini—Confessio Fidei—Gratia Baptismi: Wort, Glaube und Sakrament in Katechumenat und Taufliturgie bei Origenes.” In Fides Sacramenti Sacramentum Fidei: Studies in Honour of Pieter Smulders. Edited by H. J. Auf der Maur, L. Bakker, A. van de Bunt, and J. Waldram, 41–95. Assen, The Netherlands: Van Gorcum, 1981.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This article is rich in bibliographical references and references in Origen. The authors emphasize the importance in Origen of the word of instruction in the preparation for baptism and of the confession of faith. For Origen, calling on the Trinity in the baptismal formula sanctifies the water and the believer. An important theme for him is the creation of a new person.

    Find this resource:

  • Benoît, André. Le baptême chrétien au second siècle: La théologie des Pères. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1953.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Benoît has a good treatment of the Didache, Epistle of Barnabas, Ignatius, 1 Clement, 2 Clement, Hermas, Justin and the apologists, and Irenaeus. He concludes that there was a common fund of baptismal conceptions, of which the remission of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit were the essential aspects. Some documents speak also of new birth and illumination.

    Find this resource:

  • Evans, Ernest. Tertullian’s Homily on Baptism. London: SPCK, 1964.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Evans’s introduction (pp. xii–xxxiii) covers the baptismal service known to Tertullian and Tertullian’s doctrine of baptism. He understands Tertullian’s “ampler pledge than the Lord appointed in the Gospel” (On the Crown 3) to refer to the triple interrogations and confession rather than the triple immersions. In baptism, God forgives sins and grants the Holy Spirit. Tertullian uses sacramentum in a variety of ways.

    Find this resource:

  • Gaudette, Pierre. “Baptême et vie chrétienne chez saint Cyprien de Carthage.” Laval Théologique et Philosophique 27 (1971): 163–190, 251–279.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In particular, Cyprian resisted a separation of baptism from the imparting of the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands. Cyprian often connected the forgiveness of sins with baptism. He also drew on the language of new birth and regeneration. Cyprian’s theology of martyrdom and his moral and pastoral theology were rooted in his doctrine of baptism.

    Find this resource:

  • Houssiau, A. “Le baptême selon Irénée de Lyon.” Ephemerides Theologicae Lovanienses 60 (1984): 45–59.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Houssiau concludes that the term “seal” in Against Heresies, and especially in Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, probably designates baptism itself. Irenaeus used “anointing” figuratively for the gift of the Holy Spirit, which is bestowed in baptism, and not for a literal anointing with oil. The teachings of heretics were a denial of “the baptism of regeneration to God.”

    Find this resource:

  • Mitchell, Nathan. “Baptism in the Didache.” In The Didache in Context: Essays on Its Text, History and Transmission. Edited by Clayton N. Jefford, 226–255. Supplements to Novum Testamentum 77. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1995.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This article gives attention to the background of the Didache and the origins of Christian baptism. Mitchell concludes that the concessions as to the kind of water and as to pouring in the absence of sufficient water for immersion are later additions to the original document. The prayer in the Coptic version that is sometimes interpreted as referring to an anointing is rather for incense burned at the communal meal.

    Find this resource:

  • Nardi, Carlo. Il battesimo in Clemente Alessandrino: Interpretazione di Eclogae propheticae 1–26. Studia Ephemeridis “Augustinianum” 19. Rome: Institutum Patristicum “Augustinianum,” 1984.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    According to Nardi, water as well as Spirit is the instrumental cause of regeneration in Clement. In the language of Clement, the “seal” is water baptism. The presence of the Spirit at creation and at the baptism of Jesus sanctified all water. Nardi finds elements of the baptismal catechesis in Clement and indications that the preparation for baptism included fasting, prayer, and doing good works.

    Find this resource:

  • Sevrin, Jean-Marie. Le dossier baptismal Séthien: Études sur la sacramentaire gnostique. Quebec: Les Presses Université Laval, 1986.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Sevrin argues that the Sethian branch of Gnosticism, represented in some of the Coptic texts from Nag Hammadi, Egypt, spiritualized the language of baptism to refer to gnosis and illumination but also practiced water baptism as an initiation rite. He interprets the “five seals” in some of the texts as five immersions. He offers a reconstruction of the Sethian baptismal rite from the Gospel of the Egyptians.

    Find this resource:

Fourth and Fifth Centuries

The newly triumphant church created impressive procedures for the reception of the large number of new converts, so that the 4th and 5th centuries were the golden age of baptismal liturgies. Riley 1974 gave a comprehensive study of four major sources for these liturgies. Once more, since this period is covered in a synthetic way in the general works on baptism, the bibliography here features studies of individual authors or regions: Cyril of Jerusalem (Day 2007), Aphrahat the “Persian Sage” (Duncan 1945), the Syriac liturgies (Varghese 1989), John Chrysostom (Roten 2005), the Cappadocians (Ferguson 1997), Ambrose (Mitchell 1962), and Augustine (Harmless 1995).

  • Day, Juliette. The Baptismal Liturgy of Jerusalem: Fourth- and Fifth-Century Evidence from Palestine, Syria and Egypt. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2007.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Day makes full use of comparative material for the practices at Jerusalem. She favors Cyril of Jerusalem’s successor as bishop, John, as the author of the Mystagogical Catecheses, which describe the baptismal ritual, so that only the Catechetical Lectures on the creed belong to Cyril.

    Find this resource:

  • Duncan, Edward J. Baptism in the Demonstrations of Aphraates the Persian Sage. Studies in Christian Antiquity 8. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1945.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Duncan’s copious references from earlier and contemporary Christian writers demonstrate Aphrahat’s continuity with Christian tradition. Aphrahat found a type of baptism in Israel’s crossing of the Red Sea and crossing of the Jordan River. Baptism is the occasion of receiving the Holy Spirit and is a new birth. Baptism is the sacrament of the passion of Christ. By putting on Christ, one is incorporated into the church.

    Find this resource:

  • Ferguson, Everett. “Exhortations to Baptism in the Cappadocians.” Studia Patristica 32 (1997): 121–129.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Gregory of Nyssa preached sermons exhorting catechumens to turn in their names for baptism at the Pascha. The sermons have common themes, covering similar excuses for delaying baptism, extolling the benefits of baptism, warning of the dangers of delay, and describing the confusion surrounding a deathbed baptism (see entries under Special Problems).

    Find this resource:

  • Harmless, William. Augustine and the Catechumenate. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1995.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Augustine is the only Church Father whose works contain examples of all four stages of instruction to converts: preliminary teaching, immediate preparation for baptism, the ceremony itself, and postbaptismal rites. Harmless covers all these with great thoroughness and ample references to Augustine’s works. Augustine emphasized the Scriptures as the textbook for catechumens. The instruction during Lent was time in the womb leading to the new birth in baptism.

    Find this resource:

  • Mitchell, Leonel L. “Ambrosian Baptismal Rites.” Studia Liturgica 1 (1962): 241–253.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Mitchell compares Ambrose and the Apostolic Tradition on the postbaptismal rites that were characteristic of the Western church, especially the postbaptismal anointing that was missing from the Syrian rites. He includes a comparison of Ambrose’s De Sacramentis and De Mysteriis with the later Ambrosian liturgy in Milan. Reprinted in Mitchell’s Worship: Initiation and the Churches (Washington, DC: Pastoral Press, 1991), pp. 75–89.

    Find this resource:

  • Riley, Hugh M. Christian Initiation: A Comparative Study of the Interpretation of the Baptismal Liturgy in the Mystagogical Writings of Cyril of Jerusalem, John Chrysostom, Theodore of Mopsuestia, and Ambrose of Milan. Catholic University of America Studies in Christian Antiquity 17. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1974.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Riley takes a topical approach to the rite of renunciation and profession, baptism itself, and the postbaptismal ceremonies, and under each sets forth the information in Cyril of Jerusalem, Ambrose, John Chrysostom, and Theodore of Mopsuestia. This is a rich, informative comparison of the ceremonies of initiation in the important centers of Jerusalem, Antioch (followed in Mopsuestia), and Milan in the 4th century.

    Find this resource:

  • Roten, Philippe de. Baptême et mystagogie: Enquête sur l’initiation chrétienne selon s. Jean Chrysostome. Liturgiewissenschaftliche Quellen und Forschungen 91. Münster, Germany: Aschendorff, 2005.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This book is a full treatment of all stages of the initiation process to be derived from John Chrysostom’s extensive writings. The verbal renunciation of Satan and adhesion to Christ were essential to the baptismal ceremony. Chrysostom employed the third person formula, “So and so is baptized,” rather than the first person “I baptize so and so.” Quite prominent is Chrysostom’s identification of the baptizand with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. The seal of baptism was a mark of protection and a sign of belonging to Christ.

    Find this resource:

  • Varghese, Baby. Les onctions baptismales dans la tradition syrienne. Corpus scriptorum christianorum orientalium 512. Louvain, Belgium: Peeters, 1989.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This book looks at the various types of anointing across the early centuries in Syria. In the early period there was only a prebaptismal anointing. Varghese identifies four ideas associated with the act: anointing with the Holy Spirit and participation in the anointing of Jesus at the Jordan, protection against Satan and preparation for combat against him, permitting the giving of the name Christian, and a royal and priestly anointing.

    Find this resource:

Special Problems

A special problem involving the interpretation of a New Testament passage concerns the baptism for the dead in 1 Corinthians 15:29. Some practices that arose early in the history of the church received some criticism, such as infant baptism, sickbed baptism and the substitutes for immersion it required, and rebaptism. The first two of these practices had general acceptance, but the majority rejected the necessity of rebaptism for those coming from schismatic or heretical groups if their baptism had been in the name of the Trinity. Infant baptism remains controversial today between those who practice paedobaptism and those who practice believers’ baptism.

Baptism for the Dead

Paul’s enigmatic statement in 1 Corinthians 15:29 has received a multitude of interpretations. Of these, one older and a few of the more recent treatments advancing different perspectives are included here. Maria Raeder is among those who have sought an alternative to vicarious baptism as the meaning of the verse (Raeder 1955). Indeed, Hull 2005 effectively removes any basis for a reference to a vicarious or anomalous baptism. DeMaris 1995 accepts a kind of vicarious baptism, approaching the verse from insights provided by the archaeology of Corinth and by anthropology. White 1997 finds the clue to the meaning of the verse in its context. Patrick 2006, like White 1997, understands the “dead” to be apostles, only actually dead and not figuratively dead.

  • DeMaris, Richard E. “Corinthian Religion and Baptism for the Dead (1 Corinthians 15:29): Insights from Archaeology and Anthropology.” Journal of Biblical Literature 114.4 (1995): 661–682.

    DOI: 10.2307/3266480Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The religious environment of Corinth contributed to the Corinthians employing vicarious baptism as a rite of passage. Since baptism was the ritual of initiation into the Christian community, it could serve also as a funerary ritual for the passage between death and life.

    Find this resource:

  • Hull, Michael F. Baptism on Account of the Dead (1 Cor. 15:29): An Act of Faith in the Resurrection. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2005.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Hull’s interpretation of the verse is “baptized on account of (resurrection) of the dead.” The structure he finds in 1 Corinthians 15 makes verse 29 central to the central section of the chapter.

    Find this resource:

  • Patrick, James E. “Living Rewards for Dead Apostles: ‘Baptized for the Dead’ in 1 Corinthians 15:29.” New Testament Studies 52.1 (2006): 71–85.

    DOI: 10.1017/S002868850600004XSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Baptism in the Corinthian church was an expression of allegiance to honor not only Christ but also the “patron” apostle whose testimony the convert believed. Some of these apostles had died, yet their testimony lived on. Some honored these dead apostles by being baptized in their name. Paul exposes this practice as hypocrisy if there is not a resurrection.

    Find this resource:

  • Raeder, Maria. “Vikariatstaufe in 1 Cor. 15:29?” Zeitschrift fuer die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 46 (1955): 258–260.

    DOI: 10.1515/zntw.1955.46.3-4.258Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Raeder understands the verse to express the desire to be reunited with the dead in the resurrection.

    Find this resource:

  • White, Joel R. “‘Baptized on Account of the Dead’: The Meaning of 1 Corinthians 15:29 in Its Context.” Journal of Biblical Literature 116.3 (1997): 487–499.

    DOI: 10.2307/3266670Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    White offers the following paraphrase: “Otherwise what will those do who are being baptized on account of the dead (that is, the dead, figuratively speaking; that is the apostles)? For if truly dead persons are not raised, what at all are people being baptized on account of them (that is, the apostles)?”

    Find this resource:

Infant Baptism

Infant baptism is first certainly attested at the end of the 2nd century. The evidence of inscriptions (Ferguson 1979) is that it arose in emergency situations when a child was expected to die soon. Recent studies indicate that it was the 4th century before it was commonly extended to those not in an emergency situation (Wright 2007), and that it became routine in the 5th or 6th century. Jeremias 1960 made the strongest case for infant baptism originating in apostolic times, but his historical arguments were refuted in Aland 1963, though Aland nonetheless defended the practice on theological grounds. Didier 1959 collects the principal texts bearing on the subject. Lane 2004 argues that both infant and believers’ baptism coexisted in the early centuries.The relation of infant baptism and original sin is explored by Beatrice 1978.

  • Aland, Kurt. Did the Early Church Baptize Infants? Translated by G. R. Beasley-Murray. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1963.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    According to Aland, early references to baptism rule out its administration to babies, and undoubted testimonies to infant baptism begin in the 3rd century. Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 7:14c precludes infant baptism in his churches. Aland contests whether one can speak of an oikos-formula, but in any case one can question whether it refers especially to children. Infant baptism was introduced when attitudes toward children changed from their innocence to their sinfulness (Cyprian and Origen).

    Find this resource:

  • Beatrice, Pier Franco. Tradux peccati. Alle fonti della dottrina agostiniana del peccato originale. Milan: Vita e Pensiero, 1978.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Considers the connections between infant baptism and the doctrine of original sin up to the controversy between Augustine and Pelagius.

    Find this resource:

  • Didier, J. C. Le Baptême des enfants dans la tradition de l’église: Dossier rassemblé et annoté. Monumenta Christiana Selecta 7. Tournai, Belgium: Desclée, 1959.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Didier arranges the texts in four groups: the first four centuries, Augustine and the Pelagian crisis, from the 5th to the 10th century, and from the 11th century to the Council of Trent. He gives the texts in original Greek or Latin. Pelagianism and Catharism were the two major challenges to infant baptism, in his view.

    Find this resource:

  • Ferguson, Everett. “Inscriptions and the Origin of Infant Baptism.” Journal of Theological Studies, n.s. 30.1 (1979): 37–46.

    DOI: 10.1093/jts/XXX.1.37Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This article translates the early Christian inscriptions that refer to a person’s baptism and give the age at death. In all cases there is a close proximity of the baptism to the time of death. The inscriptions thus show that baptism was not routinely administered shortly after birth but was given in an emergency situation when death was imminent. The desire that the child not die unbaptized is the motivation for the beginning of infant baptism. Reprint in Conversion, Catechumenate, and Baptism in the Early Church, edited by Paul Corby Finney, David Scholer, and Everett Ferguson (Studies in Early Christianity 11; New York: Garland, 1993), pp. 391–400.

    Find this resource:

  • Jeremias, Joachim. Infant Baptism in the First Four Centuries. Translated by David Cairns. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Jeremias presents the arguments for infant baptism being practiced early: family solidarity meant all including children followed the father in baptism, proselyte baptism included children, baptism was analogous to circumcision, elements in the story of Jesus blessing little children are derived from the baptismal ritual, and inscriptions mention the baptism of children.

    Find this resource:

  • Lane, Anthony N. S. “Did the Apostolic Church Baptise Babies? A Seismological Approach.” Tyndale Bulletin 55.1 (2004): 109–130.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Lane reasons that Tertullian “would hardly have neglected to use” the argument from novelty against infant baptism if that were the case. He contends that the inscriptions only record baptismal dates in the case of emergency/deathbed baptism, but this in no way proves that all baptisms were such. Both paedobaptism and confessional baptism have historical support.

    Find this resource:

  • Wright, David F. Infant Baptism in Historical Perspective: Collected Studies. Carlisle, UK: Paternoster, 2007.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This volume gathers the articles Wright wrote over a period of two decades on the subject of infant baptism. Wright proposes that infant baptism was an extension of child believers’ baptism. Apart from Tertullian, there is no evidence that infant baptism was controversial in the early church. Infant dedication in the form of enrollment in the catechumenate was an alternative to infant baptism for some parents.

    Find this resource:

Sickbed Baptism and Alternatives to Immersion

Sickbed (or “clinical,” from the Greek klinē, “bed”) baptism raised the question of the mode of baptism, for it was often necessary to administer it by pouring or sprinkling water on the person confined to bed and approaching death. In the mid-3rd century, Cyprian became the first author to offer a defense of these “abridgements” of baptism in such cases (Clarke 1989). Apart from the singular exception of the Didache, which allowed pouring in the absence of sufficient water for immersion, sickbed baptism was the principal occasion in the early centuries for an alternative to immersion. Despite the evidence to the contrary, Stommel 1959 contends for pouring as the normal mode of administering baptism. See also entries under Art and Archaeology.

  • Clarke, G. W. The Letters of St. Cyprian of Carthage. Vol. 4. Ancient Christian Writers 47. New York: Paulist Press, 1989.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Clarke has the standard English edition, with translation and copious notes of the Letters of Cyprian. Cyprian’s Letter 69 is his defense of pouring or sprinkling in cases of sickbed baptism in response to a Bishop Magnus who questioned the validity of baptisms by aspersion to a person on the sickbed. Cyprian treats the manner of the administration of baptism to those seriously ill as a matter of opinion.

    Find this resource:

  • Stommel, Eduard. “Christliche Taufriten und antike Badesitten.” Jahrbuch für Antike und Christentum 2 (1959): 5–14.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This influential article presents arguments for pouring as the normal mode of administering baptism. Stommel contends that bathing customs in the ancient Near East involved pouring of water over the body. Also argues that proselyte baptism was a bath and not a dipping, the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:17, 32f.) was by pouring, the Didache distinguished between standing in the water and not standing in the water, and interpretations of baptism as burial and resurrection refer to entering and exiting the baptismal pool.

    Find this resource:

Rebaptism

A major controversy in the 3rd century involving baptism concerned the terms under which those baptized in a schismatic or heretical church could be received into the Catholic Church. Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, was a leader among those who insisted that they must be rebaptized (see Clarke 1989, cited under Sickbed Baptism and Alternatives to Immersion). Hall 1987 argues that Stephen, bishop of Rome, and others insisted that the tradition of the church was to accept as penitents those who had been baptized in the triune name by a laying on of hands. One treatise from an opponent of Cyprian (titled On Rebaptism), as covered in Mattei 1993, was devoted to the question. The sources for studying the conflict and the course of the controversy are covered by Sebastian 1997, Kirchner 1970, and Burns 1993. (See also Kretschmar 1970 and Ferguson 2009 in General Overviews.) Lampe 1967 touches on the controversy as part of his larger study of the Holy Spirit in relation to baptism.

  • Burns, J. P. “Social Context in the Controversy between Cyprian and Stephen.” In Studia Patristica. Vol. 24, Historica, Theologica et Philosophica, Gnostica. Edited by E. A. Livingstone, 38–44. Louvain, Belgium: Peeters, 1993.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Burns points out that Stephen and Cyprian differed on where to draw the boundary between the church and the world. The position of Stephen was not so much a concession to schismatics as an assertion of episcopal authority. A schismatic Christian was in some sense in the kingdom of Christ, but for both parties communion with the church was necessary for salvation.

    Find this resource:

  • Hall, S. G. “Stephen I of Rome and the Baptismal Controversy of 256.” In Colloque de Strasbourg, Septembre 1983, sur l’institution et les pouvoirs dans les Églises de l’Antiquité à nos jours. Edited by Bernard Vogler, 78–82. Miscellanea historiae ecclesiasticae 8. Brussels: Editions Nauwelaerts, 1987.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Hall argues that Stephen was reacting to the practice of the followers of Novatian, a counter-bishop of Rome, baptizing those who came to them from other Christian groups, an innovation in regard to Roman practice. He was angry at Cyprian and Firmilian of Caesarea for the support that their viewpoint gave to the practice of his local rival.

    Find this resource:

  • Kirchner, Hubert. “Der Ketzertaufstreit zwischen Karthago und Rom und seine Konsequenzen für die Frage nach den Grenzen der Kirche.” Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschichte 81 (1970): 290–307.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Kirchner discusses Cyprian’s position that someone outside the communion of the Catholic Church could not bestow the Holy Spirit in baptism. Stephen’s view of the objective validity of baptism regardless of the person performing the baptism came to prevail. The issue has contemporary ecumenical implications.

    Find this resource:

  • Lampe, G. W. H. The Seal of the Spirit: A Study in the Doctrine of Baptism and Confirmation in the New Testament and the Fathers. 2d ed. London: SPCK, 1967.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Lampe examines the use of “seal” in the New Testament and Church Fathers (pp. 170–188), and contends that the gift of the Holy Spirit is one aspect of the salvation in Christ, which is sacramentally represented and effected in baptism. The disintegration of the New Testament doctrine led to the separation of baptism and confirmation as separate rites. Cyprian resisted this, and his insistence on the unity of Spirit and water is behind his argument that because heretics do not have the Spirit they must be baptized as well. Stephen understood the laying on of hands in terms of the reconciliation of penitents whereas Cyprian thought of it as part of the ritual of initiation.

    Find this resource:

  • Mattei, Paul. “‘Extra ecclesiam nulla salus’ et puissance du nom de Jésus: Tensions et fractures dans la théologie du De rebaptismate.” In Studia Patristica. Vol. 24, Historica, Theologica et Philosophica, Gnostica. Edited by E. A. Livingstone, 300–305. Louvain, Belgium: Peeters, 1993.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The anonymous treatise On Rebaptism came from one of Cyprian’s opponents in North Africa. The author, by the phrase “in the name of Jesus Christ,” did not refer to an alternative baptismal formula but to baptism as ordained by Christ. He argued that the imparting of the Spirit by the imposition of hands was a separate act from baptism.

    Find this resource:

  • Sebastian, J. Jayakiran. “. . . Baptisma unum in sancta ecclesia . . .” A Theological Appraisal of the Baptismal Controversy in the Work and Writings of Cyprian of Carthage. Ammersbek bei Hamburg, Germany: Verlag an der Lottbek, 1997.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Sebastian analyzes, in addition to the letters of Cyprian, other sources (including the Judgments of the Eighty-Seven Bishops, who supported Cyprian) for study of the conflict over rebaptism. He tries to put these in chronological order and discusses their meaning. Originally author’s thesis, University of Hamburg, 1996.

    Find this resource:

Art and Archaeology

Many works already cited refer to the evidence from art and archaeology for early Christian baptism; therefore this section of the bibliography includes only works devoted to the material remains. The depictions of baptism and the surviving baptismal fonts are valuable supplements to the extensive literary testimonies concerning Christian baptism.

Depictions of Baptism

The frescoes in the catacombs are the earliest examples of Christian art, beginning about the year 200. Leclercq 1925 and Ristow 1965 collect the scenes depicting the baptism of Jesus by John, which constitute nearly all of the early pictures of a baptism. Toward the end of the 3rd century, sarcophagi with Christian scenes on them begin to appear. Some of these include a representation of baptism, collected along with others in Fausone 1982. At a later time baptism occurs on an inscribed gravestone, on ivory carvings, in mosaics, and in manuscript illumination. Jensen 2010 gives the broadest coverage of the iconography and doctrinal applications. The hand of the administrator uniformly rests on the head of the one being baptized. A Trinitarian dimension is often present, with a hand in the sky representing the presence of God and the descent of the dove representing the coming of the Holy Spirit on Jesus. The scenes associated with the depiction of baptism relate to instruction, faith, and salvation. For instance, Kollwitz 1953 discusses the scenes accompanying depictions of baptism. De Bruyne 1962 shows the influence of liturgical practice on the depiction of the baptism of Jesus, such as the hand of John the Baptist on the head of Jesus, a detail not in the biblical accounts. The earliest Christian art is allusive in character, so the presence of water is merely alluded to; efforts were later made at realistic depictions.

  • de Bruyne, L. “L’Initiation chrétienne et ses reflects dans l’art paléochrétien.” Revue des Sciences Religieuses 36 (1962): 27–85.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In this article de Bruyne considers the hand on the head as representing the postbaptismal imposition of a hand accompanied by prayer for the giving of the Holy Spirit, an interpretation that would make this gesture a duplicate of the descent of the dove. He notes that the scenes accompanying the depiction of baptism associate it with teaching and faith.

    Find this resource:

  • Fausone, Alfonso M. Die Taufe in der frühchristlichen Sepulkralkunst. Vatican City: Pontificio Istituto di Archeologia Cristiana, 1982.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Fausone surveys twelve scenes from the catacombs (six of the baptism of Jesus and six of the new Christian). He then studies twenty examples on sarcophagi, grouped geographically. His synthesis of findings analyzes the pictorial composition and the pictorial elements. The rich array of ideas in the iconology includes theophany, remission of sin, new creation, and the Trinitarian significance of baptism.

    Find this resource:

  • Jensen, Robin M. Living Water: Images, Symbols, and Settings of Early Christian Baptism. Vigiliae Christianae Supplements. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2010.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This revised Ph.D. dissertation (first written in 1991) provides the most comprehensive coverage of baptism in early Christian art and archaeology correlated with the literary sources. Jensen discusses catacomb paintings, sarcophagi and stone carving, and minor arts, ivories, and mosaics. She then considers aspects of baptismal imagery in the written documents. Finally, she looks at baptisteries as the architectural setting of baptism and their design and symbolism.

    Find this resource:

  • Kollwitz, Johannes. Das Christusbild des dritten Jahrhundert. Münster, Germany: Aschendorff, 1953.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Kollwitz interprets the baptismal scenes, especially in the catacomb of Callistus, in relation to pictures of the Shepherd, Philosopher, and Fisherman in the same rooms—all expressing the fundamental theme of Christian art as salvation (pp. 26–30).

    Find this resource:

  • Leclercq, H. “Baptême de Jésus.” In Dictionnaire d’archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie. Vol. 2. Edited by Fernand Cabrol, cols. 346–380. Paris: Letouzey et Ané, 1925.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Until recently this article was the most comprehensive presentation of the visual evidence for the early church’s understanding of the baptism of Jesus, and it remains a useful point of departure. The scenes are grouped under the now outmoded rubrics of Western influence and Egyptian influence and then classified according to the artistic medium: frescoes, bas-reliefs, mosaics, ivories, miniatures, and small objects.

    Find this resource:

  • Ristow, Günter. Die Taufe Christi. Recklinghausen, Germany: Aurel Bongers, 1965.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This slim book includes numerous pictures (some in color), with examples from the 3rd century to the 18th century. Although new elements were added over time (personifications of the Jordan, angel witnesses), the main features of the iconography were preserved in the East until the 17th/18th centuries. Translated into English as The Baptism of Christ (Pictorial Library of Eastern Church Art 15; Recklinghausen, Germany: Aurel Bongers, 1967).

    Find this resource:

Baptismal Fonts

The earliest certainly dated (240s) Christian baptismal font was found at Dura Europos in Syria. Kraeling 1967 is the final report on the excavations. In the 4th to 6th centuries, baptismal fonts were usually located in buildings (baptisteries) separate from the assembly halls of churches. The baptismal pools were in many different shapes: rectangle, hexagon, octagon, circle, cross. Dölger 1934 presents the symbolic significance of octagonal baptisteries and fonts. Underwood 1950 looks at the symbolic meaning of six-sided as well as eight-sided structures. Bedard 1951 develops especially the symbolism of resurrection and rebirth. Ristow 1998 has the most comprehensive listing of ancient baptismal fonts (piscinae). Ristow’s information needs correcting at points, as well as supplementing from more nearly complete compilations. Ben-Pechat 1989 summarizes the evidence from Israel. Volanakis 1976 gives, in modern Greek, a discussion of all the baptisteries and fonts in Greece known at the time. Picard 1989 works with the literary texts but correlates them with archaeological sources for southern France and northern Italy.

  • Bedard, Walter Maurice. The Symbolism of the Baptismal Font in Early Christian Thought. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1951.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The literary and liturgical sources provide two main symbolisms for the baptismal fonts: the tomb of death and resurrection and the womb of new birth. The cross-shaped fonts referred to the death of Jesus.

    Find this resource:

  • Ben-Pechat, Malka. “The Paleochristian Baptismal Fonts in the Holy Land: Formal and Functional Study.” Liber Annus Studii Biblici Franciscani 39 (1989): 165–188.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This article is a summary of Ben-Pechat’s doctoral dissertation, L’architecture baptismale de la Terre Sainte du IVème au VIIème siècle: Étude historique, archéologique et liturgique (Paris: Nanterre, 1985). It studies fifty-three fonts before the 9th century and distinguishes nine different types according to the shape of the font’s rim. Ben-Pechat concludes that in the fonts of 60 centimeters to one and a third meters in depth, an adult could have been totally immersed. With eight plates (plates 27–34).

    Find this resource:

  • Dölger, F. J. “Zur Symbolik des altchristlichen Taufhauses.” Antike und Christentum 4 (1934): 153–187.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Dölger calls attention especially to eight-sided baptisteries and fonts as standing for Jesus’ resurrection on the eighth day, and thus for the idea of resurrection and eternal life.

    Find this resource:

  • Kraeling, Carl H., with C. B. Welles. The Excavations at Dura Europos: Final Report 8.2, The Christian Building. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1967.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This volume is the definitive excavation report on the Christian building at Dura Europos, including the baptismal room and its font, which was reconstructed at Yale. The font is 1.63 meters long on the east and west sides, and has a width of 0.948 meters on the north side and 1.065 meters on the south side. Its depth is 0.955 meters.

    Find this resource:

  • Picard, Jean-Charles. “Ce que les textes nous aprennent sur les équipements et le mobilier liturgiques nécessaires pour le baptême dans le sud de la Gaul et l’Italie du Nord.” In Actes du XIe Congrès International d’Archéologie Chrétienne, Lyone, Vienne, Grenoble, Genève et Aoste, 21–28 septembre 1986. Vol. 2. Rome: École Française de Rome, 1989.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Picard concludes that the authors who furnish details of the baptismal rite speak only of immersion. He suggests that where two fonts were in use at the same time—as Geneva, Aosta, and Milan—one may have been for the baptism of men and one for the baptism of women. Fonts were often below floor level so that the candidates descended into the water.

    Find this resource:

  • Ristow, Sebastian. Frühchristliche Baptisterien. Jahrbuch für Antike und Christentum, Ergänzungsband 27. Münster, Germany: Aschendorff, 1998.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Ristow compiled a list of 1,061 known baptisteries and fonts, ranging from the certain to the doubtful, from the 3rd to the 9th centuries. He notes a general pattern of later fonts being smaller than earlier ones, with the exception of Spain and North Africa, where the 6th-century fonts are often larger. At some sites there is a secondary basin, probably for infant baptism.

    Find this resource:

  • Underwood, Paul A. “The Fountain of Life in Manuscripts of the Gospels.” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 5 (1950): 41–138.

    DOI: 10.2307/1291075Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This article deals with pictorial presentations of or allusions to baptismal fonts, representing the ideas of rebirth and of death and resurrection. Appendix B adds “The Six and the Eight in Baptisteries and Fonts: Archeological Evidence.”

    Find this resource:

  • Volanakis, John El. Ta palaiochristianika vaptistīria tīs Ellados. Vivliothīkī tīs en Athīnais Archaiologikīs Etaireias 84. Athens, Greece: Archaiologikī Etaireia, 1976.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Volanakis provides a comprehensive corpus of the large number of surviving baptisteries and fonts in Greece. The basins appear in various shapes, including cross, round, square, octagon, and hexagon. The depth, breadth, and general construction make evident that the baptism was a dipping under the water. The prevalence of infant baptism from the end of the 6th century corresponds to the setting up of monolithic fonts.

    Find this resource:

LAST MODIFIED: 02/26/2013

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780195393361-0004

back to top

Article

Up

Down