Barry Newman's Blog

January 20, 2010

Biblical Baptism Revisited (part III)

Filed under: Baptism — barrynewman @ 5:36 am

Baptism as Understood in early Christian Writings

It is fairly clear that in the very early days after New Testament times some Christians understood Matthew 28: 19 to refer to a literal water baptism.   References to a baptism in water in the name of the Father, the Son and of the Holy Spirit (or similar) are made by Justin Martyr and are found in the Acts of Peter and the Didache (date?)[1].  However there are also early references in connection with a literal water baptism where the reference to “the name” is restricted to “the Lord” or “Jesus Christ” only, with no mention of “the Father” or “the Holy Spirit” (Epistle of Barnabas, The Shepherd by Hermas and the Acts of Paul and Thecla).  This more limited association of “the name” in these latter references is more consonant with what we observe in the Acts of the Apostles.  In this New Testament text there are two instances of people being baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus and two instances of people being baptised in the name of Jesus Christ. There are no instances of anyone being baptised in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit[2].


[1] My source for quotes from these early works and those to follow is Ferguson, E., Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI, 2009.  The works cited are considered to belong to the 2nd century A.D or thereabouts.

[2] In most of the instances recorded in either the early christian writings or in the New Testament, where reference is made to “in the name of …” it is not clear that these actual words were used in the ceremony.  It may have been that the writer records that it was the concept behind these words that applied to the ceremony rather than the specific words.  However it may well have been that the actual words were indeed used as part of the ceremony in most if not all instances.

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