Barry Newman's Blog

March 2, 2012

Baptising in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (part XVIII)

Filed under: Baptism — barrynewman @ 2:01 am

Different practices – different understandings?

We now attempt to indicate how for a number of centuries there appear to have been different understandings of how the Matthew 28: 19 text should be understood.  Reference is made to the views on this matter of a couple of modern authors in particular.

Justin Martyr was born in Flavia Neapolis (modern Nablus in Palestine) and executed in Rome around 165.  In his Apologia addressed to the Emperor, the Senate and others, in explaining the nature of Christian baptism, he wrote, “For in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Saviour Jesus Christ and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water … there is pronounced in the water over him … the name of God the Father and Lord of the universe; he who leads to the laver the person that is to be washed calling Him by this name alone … And this washing is called illumination … And in the name of Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and in the name of the Holy Ghost, who through the prophets foretold all things about Jesus, he who is illuminated is washed.”[1]  It could be that Justin Martyr is referring to a baptismal ceremony in which a triadic formulation is used at the point where the person is baptised but the only name that is “proclaimed in the water” is that of “God the Father and Lord of the Universe”.

The Didache, the date of which (end of 1st century to early 3rd century?), place of writing, and original composition are uncertain, is seemingly written from the viewpoint of Jewish Christians. It states, “And concerning baptism, baptize thus.  Having first recited all these things, baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit in running water.  But if thou hast not running water, baptize in other water; and, if thou canst not in cold, in warm.  But if thou hast neither, pour water thrice upon the head in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”[2]  It is clear in this passage that baptism was carried using the triadic formula.

Irenaeus, a Bishop in Gaul, writing about and against Gnosticism, around 180 AD stated, “Others lead them to water, and baptize them, with the utterance of these words over them, ‘Into the name of the unknown Father of the universe –into truth, the mother of all things, into Him who descended on Jesus, into union, and redemption, and communion with the powers.’”[3] Perhaps little attention should be payed to what certain Gnostics did, although reference to “the name of the … Father of the universe” resonates with what Justin Martyr referred to.  And here it is not clear that “the name” refers to anything or anyone other than “the  … Father …”.

The Apostolic Tradition ostensibly written by Hippolytus of Rome, perhaps around 215 AD, original composition uncertain, refers to a baptismal interrogation, in which the person pursuing baptism is asked, “Do you believe in God, the Father Almighty?”  Upon saying “I believe”, the person is baptised once. The person is then asked, “Dost thou believe in Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who was born by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and was dead and buried, and rose again the third day, alive from the dead, and ascended into heaven, and sat at the right hand of the Father, and will come to judge the quick and the dead,?”Upon saying that he believed he was baptized again.  He was then asked, “Dost thou believe in the Holy Ghost, in the holy church and the resurrection of the flesh?”  He was then baptised a third time upon saying that he did so believe.  Coming out of the water, he was anointed with oil and the words, “I anoint you with holy oil in the name of Jesus Christ.” were then pronounced over him.  Later, when brought into the church, the bishop again anointed him with oil and declared that he has been anointed with oil in the Lord, the Father almighty and Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit.[4] The three immersions may indicate that the person being baptised was baptised in the name of the Father, then in the name of the Son, then in the name of the Holy Spirit.  However one cannot be sure. It does appear that at the conclusion of the final immersion a reference was made to “in the name of ‘Jesus Christ’” even though that was an anointing with oil that occurred after the person made a confession concerning the Holy Spirit and after a third baptism.. It was later that the person who had been baptised was again anointed with oil “in the Lord, the Father almighty and Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit”.

Tertullian of Rome, writing in the early 3rd century A.D, in “On the Soldier’s Crown” stated, concerning the practice of baptism, of persons to be baptised, after professing that they disowned the devil etc., “Hereupon we are thrice immersed, making a somewhat ampler pledge than the Lord has appointed in the Gospel.”[5]  The threefold immersion may or may not indicate that each was in the name of one of the persons of the Godhead.


[1] Justin, Apologia I, 61 in A New Eusebius (ed. Stevenson, J.) S.P.C.K., London, 1965, pp. 65, 66

[2] Didache, VII.1-3 in A New Eusebius, ibid., p. 126

[3] Ireneaus, Against Heresies I, 14.2 (As in Harvey) in A New Eusebius, ibid., p. 132

[4] See Hippolytus, Apostolic Tradition 21, 22 in A New Eusebius, ibid., pp. 155, 156

[5] Tertullian, On the Soldier’s Crown, 3 in A New Eusebius, ibid., p. 183

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