Barry Newman's Blog

January 20, 2010

Biblical Baptism Revisited (part IV)

Filed under: Baptism — barrynewman @ 9:52 pm

Baptism as Understood in early Christain writings (continued)

One should be wary of appealing to these early works or indeed those that came later, for one’s theology.  Hermas seem to believe that literal water baptism is essential for salvation. The Epistle of Barnabas seems to believe that the actual ceremony brings about the forgiveness of sins while Hermas restricts that forgiveness to past sins. In the Gospel of Nicodemus, some of the dead are baptised out of necessity. There is a similar sentiment in the Apocalypse of Peter and the Epistle of the Apostles. Fasting prior to baptism is seen to be a necessity (Acts of John, Justin Martyr and the Didache). There is a growing idea that by the ceremony itself one is sealed with the divine name (2 Clement, Odes of Solomon, The Shepherd by Hermas). Justin Martyr makes a strong though imprecise linkage between the “born anew” material of John 3 and the ceremony of baptism.  He also attaches the idea of enlightenment to the ceremony.  Ignatius, though probably out of a concern for order, stipulates that baptisms should only be performed by a bishop or someone approved by him. Paul in the Acts of Paul and Thecla baptises a talking lion who after being immersed three times, says, “Grace be with you.”

Not everyone would consider all of these practices or beliefs objectionable. However, whatever the limits to one’s objections, this literature indicates that baptism, simply as a ceremony, had come to assume a far more significant place in christian practice than is warranted.  Such an importance by itself could only badly distort an understanding of the gospel and the grace of God.  In my judgement this distortion indeed occurred and occurred rapidly.  That such false views should arise so quickly should not surprise anyone given the evidence of false teaching arising so readily during New Testament times and recorded in the New Testament literature. We have a tendency to hunger for a dependency on what we do rather than what God has done.

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