Thursday, October 11, 2012

Early Christianity: Baptism

            It is likely that around the time of the birth of Christianity Jewish proselytes were expected to immerse themselves in water as part of their initiation.[1] John the Baptist may have introduced some changes in this ritual. Directing his exhortation to repentance and baptism to ethnic Jews was probably his most scandalous innovation.
            By being baptized in water Jesus identified with sinful humans and left us an example of what it means to “fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:14-15). As Jesus prepared his disciples for his departure he instructed them to continue to baptize disciples in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). Acts, the earliest record of the Christian church, reveals that followers of “The Way” were baptized as part of their initiation into the faith (Acts 2:41; 8:12, 36; 9:18; 10:47; 16:15, 33; 18:8; 19:5).
            The early church continued to practice water baptism in the Triune name.[2] This initiatory rite was taken very seriously as a decisive step in obedience to God. Early Christian writers frequently associated water baptism with that most precious and essential of gifts – forgiveness of sins.[3] Baptism was assumed as a universal Christian practice.[4]

[1] Ferguson, Backgrounds of early Christianity, 434–35; Stanley E. ; Evans Porter, Dictionary of New Testament background : a compendium of contemporary biblical scholarship (electronic ed.; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000).
[2] “And concerning baptism, thus baptize ye: Having first said all these things, baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living water.” Didache VII, ANF VII p. 379;
[3] “…that baptism which leads to remission of sins…we indeed descend into the water full of sins and defilement, but come up, bearing fruit in our heart, having the fear [of God] and trust in Jesus in our spirit” Barnabas XI, ANF I p. 144; “…there is no other repentance than that which takes place, when we descended into the water and received remission of our former sins.” Shepherd of Hermas Commandment IV.3, ANF II p. 22
[4] “Let your baptism be your arms” Ignatius to Polycarp VI, ANF I p. 95