Saturday Afternoon Book Review

This is the first installment of what we hope will become a feature of this blog: a solid book review on Saturday afternoon. This review, by Marius Nel (pastor in the Dutch Reformed Church and a Research Associate in the New Testament department at the University of Pretoria in South Africa), is on Everett Ferguson’s big book on baptism: Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology, and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries

Baptism in the Early Church – History, Theology, and Liturgy in the first Five Centuries – Everett Ferguson

Reviewer: Marius Nel

 Everett Ferguson’s magnus opus is a comprehensive historical study of the doctrine and practice of baptism in the first five centuries of Christianity.  Ferguson’s focus is primarily on early Christian literary sources, though he also gives attention to the depictions of baptism (mostly of Jesus) in various art forms, as well as the architecture of a number of surviving baptismal fonts and baptisteries.  He attempts to be as complete as possible for the first three centuries and “representatively comprehensive” for the fourth and fifth centuries (xix).  The primary strength of Ferguson’s excellent study is its comprehensive focus on all the available primary literature, while also surveying (chapter 1) and engaging (in numerous footnotes) the relevant secondary literature.

Part One covers the antecedents to Christian baptism.  Ferguson begins with a discussion of Greco-Roman pagan washings for purification and the role of water in the Mystery Religions (chapter 2).  He concludes that while the use of water as a means of purification was common in the religious activities of Greeks and Romans it did not fulfill the same religious role as in Christianity (25).  Washings for example, were a preliminary preparation for the initiation into the Mystery religions, while it was the center of initiation into the church (29). 

Chapter 3 focuses on the literal and metaphorical meaning of words from the Bapt-root in Classical and Hellenistic Greek usage.  The verb Baptizō literally meant “to dip” (usually referring to a thorough submerging of an object in a liquid).  Metaphorically it meant “to be overwhelmed by something” (for example the influence of wine) (38, 59).  Pouring and sprinkling were distinct actions that were represented by different Greek verbs.  

Chapter 4 examines Jewish washings, baptismal movements and proselyte baptism
as a more immediate context for Christian baptism than possible Greco-Roman
antecedents (60).  Ferguson comes to the conclusion than Jewish
baptismal practices cannot be taken as the direct antecedent for Christian
baptismal practices.
  Not only
is the precise chronological relationship between the Jewish baptism of
proselytes and the Christian baptism unclear, but are there also a number of important
differences between them (although Jewish proselyte baptisms were also one-time,
full immersions, they differed from Christian baptism in being self-administered
(81-82)).  The heart of the
rabbinic conversion ceremony of proselyte
males was also circumcision and not baptism. 

In chapter 5 the primary sources for the baptism of John the Baptist is
surveyed.  From the New Testament
it is clear that the practice and meaning of John’s baptism had some overlap
with both Jewish and Christian practices. 

l Like Jewish proselyte baptism it was a
one-time immersion.  It differed however
in being offered specifically to Jews. 

l John’s baptism
shared the theme of purification with Jewish
ceremonial washing
practices, but differed in being an act of prophetic
symbolism (85) that prepared Israel for the coming Lord by calling for
repentance and granting forgiveness of sins (88-89).  The baptism of John was also not self-immersion (95). 

l It differed from
Christian baptism in being a
confession of sin rather than of faith in Jesus (89).

Theologically the baptism of
John expressed conversionary repentance, mediated forgiveness, purified from
uncleanness, foreshadowed the ministry of an expected figure (Jesus), protested
against the temple establishment and was an initiation into the “true
Israel” (93). 

In part two Ferguson turns
his attention to baptism in the New Testament.  He begins by identifying the prominent motifs in canonical
and noncanonical interpretations of the
baptism of Jesus
(chapters 6 & 7) namely; the descent of the Spirit
(the possible fulfillment of Isa. 11:2), the beginning of the messianic
ministry of Jesus, the identification and revelation of Jesus as God’s beloved
son, the sanctification of water for baptism (109) and Jesus’ identification
with humanity (112). 

From chapters 8 till 11 Ferguson discusses the various New Testament baptismal
texts in canonical order.  In
regards to the Gospels he focuses
primarily on Matthew 28:19 (133), the references to Jewish purification rituals
in Mark. 7:4 and Luke 11:38, before arguing that John 3:5 is indeed a baptismal
text (142-145).  Ferguson (in
agreement with Kuss) summarizes Paul’s
understanding of baptism as presupposing preaching and faith, occurring in the
name of Jesus and mediating the eschatological gifts of salvation, forgiveness
and the Holy Spirit (147).  Paul’s
characteristic teaching relative to baptism is to connect it with the death and
resurrection of Christ and to draw out its moral consequences (164).  While human cooperation (faith) is
presupposed by baptism the decisive action it testifies to come from God alone (165).  In Acts
conversion accounts ordinarily include a mention of baptism.  Where any details are given an
immersion is either implied or consistent with what is said (Acts 16:33).  Baptism was also not self-performed but
rather done in the name of Jesus. 
It was preceded by the preaching of the Gospel and promised forgiveness of
sin and the coming of the Holy Spirit to the person being baptized.  Acts shows little interest in who
performed the baptism (185).  Of
the rest of the New Testament only 1
Peter makes a truly significant contribution to the understanding of baptism in
that 1 Peter 1:3 and 23 refer to believers being begotten again by the resurrection
of Jesus (193). 

Ferguson summarizes the New Testament witness to the practice of baptism
as follows: (i) there is no certain
indication of infants or children being baptized. (ii) Baptism is adult baptism,
initiatory and unrepeatable. (iii) It is connected to the eschatological
baptism of John, but has its specific character in the saving work of Christ.
(iv) Baptism grants the one baptized access to the eschatological community of
salvation. (v) It affects salvation, forgiveness of sins, freedom from the rule
of sin and death, purification, and washing. (vi) It gives the Holy Spirit and (viii)
a part in the death and resurrection of Christ (Rom 6:3-4). (ix) Baptism names
Christ and is rebirth. (x) It has an instrumental character and is closely
bound with the paraenesis of daily life whilst being the gracious action of
God. (xi) Not much detail is given in the New Testament on the manner in which
baptism is given, though immersion in running water seems to have been the norm.

Part Three surveys baptism
in the Second Century by focusing on the Apostolic Fathers (chapter 12),
Christian Pseudepigrapha and Apocrypha (chapter 13), the Greek Apologist (chapter
14), the Pseudo-Clementines and Jewish Christianity (chapter 15), Jewish and
Christian Baptisms (chapter 16), Marcionites, Gnostics and related groups (chapter
17), Irenaeus (chapter 18), and Clement of Alexandria (chapter 19). 

The material Ferguson presents testifies to the developing diversity and general pragmatism of baptismal practices and theology in early
Christianity during the Second Century. 
The Didache for example allowed
for the use of collected water if running water could not be used, and the
pouring of water over the head of the one being baptized if there was
insufficient water for a full immersion (204-205).  2 Clement has the
first baptismal use of “seal” in reference to baptism (208).  In the Acts of Paul we find the self-baptism of Thecla (230), a baptized
lion (231) and the earliest explicit testimony to triple immersion (231).  A baptismal anointing is first attested
amongst the Gnostics writings (282).  It is interesting that the Valentinian baptismal procedure did not
differ significantly from that of the great church (289).  Irenaeus
could be earliest reference to infant baptism (308), while Clement of
Alexandria emphasized the period of instruction before baptism (315) and used
regeneration, sign, bath, seal and illumination as important images for baptism

Part Four addresses the

Third Century up to Nicaea (325).  It
begins with the writings attributed to Hippolytus (chapter 20) and focuses on
Tertullian (chapter 21), Cyprian (chapter 22), the rebaptism controversy (chapter
24), Origen (chapter 25) and various texts from Syria (chapter 26).

While the major controversy in the mid-third century was not over the
baptism of infants, but over whether the church should accept the baptism
administrated by heretics and schismatics (in short: Stephen of Rome said “yes”
and Cyprian of Carthage “no” – chapter 24) the third century is
important for understanding the origin and early development of infant
baptism.  Tertullian (in the late
second century) refers to the baptism of small children as something already being done.  He is also a witness to the role of
sponsors who would guarantee that the baptized children would be brought up in
the faith (364).  While Tertullian
did not explicitly oppose paedobaptism, he did regard it as unnecessary (366).  It
is important to note that after Tertullian we do not hear of any general opposition
to the baptism of infant children
(626-627).  Origen (about 246) however does refer to questions about the
practice of infant baptism and the argument that was used against it, namely
that infants had no sins to be forgiven by it (368).  Origen’s innovation was to extend baptismal forgiveness to the
ceremonial impurity associated with childbirth.  He could thus argue that while infants had no sin they were
impure and therefore needed to be baptized (369).  Cyprian and his fellow bishops concluded that infants should
be baptized before the eight day (370). 
A verdict accepted by sixty-six
bishops indicate a well-established and accepted practice of paedobaptism in

The general instruction to parents to baptize their children however
only begins in the late fourth century, while infant baptism only became the norm under the influence of Augustine in
the fifth century (627-628).  There was also no agreed theology underlying
infant baptism between the Greek and Latin churches
(632), which gives the
impression of a practice preceding its theological justification (cf. 369).  The displacement of dipping by pouring only
began at the end of the fifteenth or the beginning of the sixteenth century

Inscriptions on tombs leads Ferguson to the conclusion that there was no
common age at which baptism was administrated, and that there is no evidence
that infants were routinely baptized
shortly after birth.  There is
however ample evidence for the prevalence of emergency baptisms (377). 
For Ferguson the understanding of John 3:5 by the second-century church (as
demanding baptism as a recruitment for entering heaven) lead to more and more
emergency baptisms of ill children. 
The practice of emergency baptism is therefore for him the genesis of
the practice paedobaptism (contra Jeremias – who argued for Jewish proselyte
baptism and family solidarity; Aland – who saw its genesis in the acceptance of
the doctrine of original sin and Wright – who took it as the extension of
believers’ baptism to younger and younger children – 377-377).

Part Five gives an
overview of the understanding of baptism in the Fourth Century by making a
circuit round the Mediterranean, beginning with Egypt before moving on to
Jerusalem (chapter 29), Syria (chapters 30 & 31), Antioch (chapters 32-34),
Cappadocia (chapters 36-38), Milan (chapter 40), Italy (chapter 41) and Spain (chapter
42).  Ferguson also has an excursus
on the polemic regarding the delay of baptism (chapter 39).  Part five makes it abundantly clear
that the Fourth Century furnishes us with
the fullest information of any of the early centuries on the richness and
variety of Christian practice of baptism

associated with baptism in the Fourth Century were: Fasting (506), footwashing
(492, 639), the ceremony of ephphatha
(the opening of the ears – 636), sanctification of the water (507, 525, 653),
exorcisms (476, 523, 538, 604), invocations (576, 638) and the renouncement of
Satan (477, 566), pre- and/or post-baptismal anointing (540, 575), putting on
new clothes (498, 515, 526, 543, 561, 594, 640), the celebration of Eucharist, eating
milk and honey after baptism (467, 679). 
Baptism was only in a few instances not by single (668) or triple
immersion (479, 567, 584, 607), but by sprinkling and pouring (456-458, 669).  Baptism was commonly received in the
nude (466, 477, 541, 649) and understood
as enlightenment or illumination (474, 560, 572, 655, 673), becoming a member
of the church (522), bestowing the Holy Spirit (530, 573), regeneration (571),
receiving forgiveness of sins (556, 573), purification (557) and as death and
burial with Christ (654).  Martyrdom
was also seen as a baptism by a number of writers (591).  Numerous Old Testament episodes were also
understood as types of baptism (490, 500, 586, 614, 641) while various connections
were made between baptism and circumcision (497, 500, 544, 560, 577, 589, and
671).  The role of sponsors for
children also became more common (521, 536, 545, 578) as well as appeals to
parents to baptize their children (568; 577; 594).  Baptism was usually administrated by a bishop and in some
instances by a deacon (664), but not by any women (568).

Part Six follows the pattern
established in the previous part in doing a circuit around the Mediterranean in
the Fifth Century.  Egypt (chapter 44),
Syria, Armenia (chapters 45 & 46), Asia Minor, Constantinople (chapter 48),
Ravenna, Rome (chapter 49), Gaul and North Africa (chapters 50-52) all receive
attention.  In this era most of the liturgical practices associated with baptism in
the Fourth Century continued to be elaborated on
.  A number of adaptations
were however made in order to accommodate the increasing practice of infant
(699, 717-719, 722-723, 788). 
Augustine’s coupling of infant baptism and original sin served as the
foundation of his and others’ reconstruction of baptismal practice that was to
dominate the western churches for subsequent centuries (804).  Another interesting shift was to a first-person-active
formula (“I baptize”) in the Coptic and Latin rites in contrast to
the third-person-passive form (“x is baptized”) that was used in Greek
and Syrian rites (698).  

In part seven Ferguson
examines the baptisteries and fonts in the East (chapter 53) and West (chapter 54).  He arranges the material roughly
according to the geographical expansion of Christianity and then in the
approximate chronological order within each country (821).  He comes to the conclusion that the design
of baptismal fonts made baptism by full
(or in some cases immersion by kneeling in the font) the normal
baptismal practice (849-850).  The
last chapter gives a number of Ferguson’s conclusions regarding baptism in the
early Church.


This magisterial
study by Ferguson will deserveably be the
standard work on early Christian baptismal practices and theology for a long
time.  It not only provides a detailed
and clear account of how rich and varied baptismal practices were in the first
five centuries of Christianity, but also a compelling thesis for the origin of
paedobaptism.  Ferguson argues that
the most plausible historical explanation
for the origin of infant baptism is to be found in the practice of the emergency
baptism of terminally ill children. 
Dying infants and children were baptized so that they would be assured
of entrance into the kingdom of heaven according to a literal understanding of
John. 3:5.  In time emergency
baptism developed into precautionary baptism, before paedobaptism became the norm
in the fifth and sixth centuries (857).

l Ferguson’s methodology
raises the question of the precise relationship between the historical descriptive task, as
undertaken by him, and the normative theological task of discerning
contemporary baptismal practice.  Are the earliest (post New Testament) practices and doctrines
still normative for the contemporary
church or does theological insight and practice mature over centuries (like the
doctrine of the Trinity)?  There is
also an inherent danger in Ferguson’s approach, necessitated by the scope of
study, of focusing on selected parts of
various ancient writers’ documents in isolation of their broader theology
.  While Ferguson does analyze most of the
important writers at some length, numerous documents are understandably only
briefly considered. 

l Ferguson’s
comprehensive survey of the first five centuries allows him to give coherence
to the available baptismal evidence, while also addressing some anomalies
therein.  Christian literary
sources (backed by secular word usage and Jewish religious immersions), for
instance overwhelmingly supports full immersion as the normal baptismal practice. 
Exceptions for a lack of water and sickbed baptism were however made
(857).  If this was the case the
question arises when is a baptismal practice (for example sprinkling instead of
full immersion) wrong and unacceptable (even heretical) instead of a practical
matter to be decided by faith communities in terms of their own specific
context?  Put differently: what is the relationship between the sign
(water) of baptism and what it signifies (redemption and regeneration for
To what extent can
the baptismal sign be minimized (as in partial immersion, pouring or sprinkling)
before it loses its theological significance?  Early Christian text (like the Didache) seems to imply that
the precise volume or nature of the baptismal water did not determine the
validity of a baptism (204-205). 

l In his final
chapter Ferguson comes to the conclusion that: “There is general agreement that there is no firm evidence for infant
baptism before the latter part of the second century.  This fact does not mean that it did not occur, but it does
mean that supporters of the practice have a considerable chronological gap to
account for.  Many replace the
historical silence by appeal to theological or sociological considerations”
(856).  Ferguson’s conclusion
underlines the importance for denominations who practices paedobaptism (for
example on the grounds of covenantal theology like my own Dutch Reformed
denomination) to take the theological
task of continually reflecting on the meaning of baptism seriously.  I
would however argue that both credo- and paedo-baptist continually need to reflect
on the theological and sociological meaning of baptism
.  Present agreement with a historical
practice (for example baptizing only believers) does not automatically imply full
agreement with the theology and exegesis underlying the same practice in the early
church (who found numerous typological references to baptism in the Old
Testament).  Not all denominations who
reject paedobaptism for instance consider infants and children to be innocent
of sin (as Tertullian argued), or conversely not all who baptize infants
believe in the doctrine of the original sin (as Augustine did).  Every Christian generation must therefore
articulate their own theological understanding of the meaning and manner of baptism
for their unique context and time in the light of Scripture.  Questions that must be reflected on
anew are: (1) Why was there a surprising lack of controversy in regards to the
development of infant baptism in the Early Church?  (2) Why were there almost no meaningful liturgical
adaptations for the baptism of small children?  (3) What is the precise theological position of infants and
children in regards to faith, salvation and church membership?

l I am not totally
convinced by Ferguson’s arguments that there is no certain indication of infants or children being included in the
baptism of entire families in the New Testament (cf. Acts 10:1-48, 11:14;
16:15; 18:31 and 1 Cor. 1:16) (185). 
I would rather argue that we have no clear prohibition of the baptism of children in the New Testament, the high probability that children were
baptized along with their converting parents in Acts, and no indication of the treatment of children born subsequent to their
parent’s conversion.  Ferguson however
argues that when Luke meant to include children he did so specifically (as in Acts 21:5).  The problem with this line of argumentation is that women
are only specified as being baptized alongside men in Acts 8:12 (footnote 51,
page 185).  Are they thus also not included by Luke in his household conversions when
they are not specified as being present
?  How should reference to “all of his family” in Acts 16:32-33 thus be understood?  As only referring to men since Luke does
not refer specifically to women or children?  Or the entire
household of Crispus (Acts 18:8)?  Does
Ferguson’s footnote 38 (page 178) also mean that if ancient authors did not
specifically greet children in their letters none of the households they otherwise addressed contained any?  Is it socio-historically plausible that
in a context where life expectancy was in the low thirties that all of the households that converted to
Christianity in Acts had no infants or children?  Ferguson’s criteria for determining if children and infants
were present in households also presupposes that Luke would have applied the same criteria for receiving baptism
to the entire household – adults and infants (178). 

In conclusion there is no doubt in my mind that Ferguson’s brilliant study
has open up new avenues for the Biblical and patristic research of baptism
practices and that it will lead to a fresh theological reflection on the
meaning and manner of baptism.  It
should therefore be read and studied by all who are serious in reflecting on
the richness of the Christian baptism.


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  • I just read through Nel’s fine review of Everett Ferguson’s book on Christian baptism. His fine review made me want to read the book that has been on my shelf for several months. Ferguson was my professor for several semesters of church history. Consequently, when I saw that he had written this massive book on baptism, I wanted it even though I knew it would be sometime before I would be able to read it. Ferguson’s rigorous scholarship on this subject is such a contribution to the church as a whole.

  • Craig

    I hope this new feature catches on. Looking forward to it.

  • Mark Farmer

    Thank you, Marius Nel!

  • Phil W

    Marius, thank you for your thorough review.
    You wrote: “I would rather argue that [1] we have no clear prohibition of the baptism of children in the New Testament, [2] the high probability that children were baptized along with their converting parents in Acts, and [3] no indication of the treatment of children born subsequent to their parent’s conversion.”
    I think that everyone can agree with points 1 and 3. But neither of these points argues in favour of infant baptism. (Obviously, they are also not arguments against infant baptism.) So your only remaining argument is point 2. But how do you know that the probability is “high”?
    When reading about the household baptisms in Acts, remember that the argument isn’t between “infant baptism” and “adult baptism”, but between “infant baptism” and “believers’ baptism.” I don’t know how old a person has to be to believe (12? 7? 3?), but Acts 18:8 says: “Crispus, the synagogue ruler, and his entire household believed in the Lord.” It does not say: “Crispus believed in the Lord, and therefore his entire household was baptized.”
    In Acts 16:32-34, we read: “Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God–he and his whole family.” Note that the “all his family” doesn’t apply only to the baptism but also to those who heard the word of the Lord and believed.
    The passages in the Didache 7, the Epistle of Barnabas 11, the Shepherd of Hermas Vis. 3.7, and Justin Martyr’s First Apology 61 are easy to understand if believers’ baptism was practiced, but difficult to reconcile with infant baptism. As D.F. Wright wrote: “The overall conclusion must be that the Apostolic Fathers do not strengthen the case for judging that infant baptism was practised in the New Testament churches. If anything, they weaken the case.” [David F. Wright, “The Apostolic Fathers and Infant Baptism: Any Advance on the Obscurity of the New Testament?” in Andrew Gregory & Christopher Tuckett (eds.), Trajectories through the New Testament and the Apostolic Fathers (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 133]

  • Phil Atley

    For Phil W.
    You, without realizing it, make paedobaptists’ point for them: how do we know what “believed” means in Acts 16, “his whole familia believed”?
    You reflexively assume this means some level of adulthood and assume, I assume, that “belief” means individual belief in some mature “individuated way.”
    Paedobaptists recognize that belief is not simply individuated, though it is that. An individual child or even infant can and does “believe” in his unindividuated, infant or child way. Of course, he believes mostly in his mother and father. But he believes. He can’t articulate it, he can’t express it. He’s unaware of it in any adult way but “aware” of it in his infant’s or child’s way. You may be instinctively say, “No, no,” that’s not belief in Christ. That’s belief in Mom or Dad.
    Yes, of course it is that. But is it only that? If Mom and Dad believe in Christ and baby X or Child Y believes in Mom and Dad, does the child not believe in Christ insofar as a child believes in anything?
    Infants and children are dependent on Mom and Dad totally, not just in religion. God made us that way.
    The simple word “believed” in Acts may or may not mean “rationally, in 12-year-old quasi-adult manner” or “rationally in 7-year-old incipient adult manner” or “18-year-old in fully adult manner” (today we infantilize our young adults so that 23-year-olds often lack the maturity that would have been common for 12-year-olds in the 1st century).
    But does it mean that? You (and paedobaptists also) need to wrestle with what “belief” meant.
    And let me suggest that “belief in Christ” meant one thing in a situation where the population was 99 % non-Christian and another thing in a situation where it was 99 % baptized Christian. Thus your argument from the Didache, Hermas, Justin etc. needs nuancing. All of these sources are from the 99% non-Christian situation. But what happens when the vast majority of a culture becomes Christian?
    God made us to be born totally dependent on parents and the “village,” not just for food and clothing but for development of our maturing selves. Faith/belief is part of that development and that it comes from and through parents and teachers is God-given and that “belief” exists in age-appropriate ways long before one has indivdually “come of age,” before one has individuated. Does “belief” begin with individuation? Since individuation is itself a slow, difficult to discern process, at what point can or does faith and belief really begin, if it’s going to be tied solely to individuation? Ancient cultures recognized this intertwining of belief with both individuatedness and with non-individuatedness because we are, all of us, the product of both and in highly complex ways.
    “Believers baptism” (as you understand it) accords better with Didache and Hermas and Justin, perhaps. But why stop there? Does it accord better with Cyprian and Chrysostom and Augustine and Bede? Unless you go with a “fall of the Church” (which most “believers baptism” people do, you can’t arbitrarily privilege the first generation before entire households became Christians and bore children into their Christian households.
    To sum up: advocates of non-infant baptism (some of whom permit baptism at age 8 or 10 etc.) really do not have exclusive claim to the label “believers baptism.” Those of us Orthodox and Catholics and Presbyterians believe in believers’ baptism just as much as those who reserve it to later childhood or adolescence. It’s just that we think about what “belief” means differently than you do.
    But you read your understanding of “belief” into Acts 16 without recognizing that you are “reading into.” That’s not a problem for me–I assume that no one can avoid “reading into.” But unless I am mistaken, you think that the obvious meaning of “believed” in that passage is the sort of quasi-adult individual belief that you are comfortable with. As a historian, I think that understanding of belief is relatively modern. Ancient cultures, including Judaism and ancient Christianity, did not operate with that notion of belief. Perhaps they were wrong and needed to be corrected by the rise of modern anti-paedobaptism. But good historical-critical method requires that we need to recognize that the rise of anti-paedobaptism itself comes at a moment in time and as an innovation.
    Some innovations may be good and God-directed. But one has to make a case for it, a case for rejecting ancient understandings by which one’s adult individual full ratification of belief can (and normally does) arise from one’s upbringing and is no less full and adult for having arisen that way. One can, as an adult, of course, freely and individually convert to belief different from or opposite to what one grew up with. That’s what the earliest generations of Christians were doing, of course. But they did so without for a moment thinking that this would mean that their children could not gain faith via upbriniging, that their children had to repeat the first generation experience they themselves went through.
    (Note that the first-generation situation is found in the 700s in Germany in the 1100s in Scandinavia, in the 1900s in sub-Sahara Africa etc.–=wherever Christianity is spreading to there’s a period of first-generation adult conversion-belief followed by second-generation upbringing belief. Even “believers churches” go through this cycle, which is why the age of baptism creeps downward from 20 to 7 or younger in most instances–intuitively they are acceding to my point.)
    For Marius Nel: it should be magnum opus.

  • Phil W

    Phil Atley,
    You asked why I stopped with Justin Martyr. The reason is that I was discussing the practice of the New Testament churches. Surely, if we want to know what was happening in mid- to late first century Christianity, sources from the late first century to the mid-second century will give us more reliable information than sources from the mid-third century to the eighth century, which may only be reporting later developments.
    Though your response was long, you did not supply any evidence or argument in favour of your contention. You believe that the beliefs of the parents are automatically the beliefs of infants because infants trust their parents. But what evidence supports this belief?

  • Can I add my thanks Nel for a very helpful review. I guess that there is so much raised in a big book like this that discussion afterwards could go anywhere. I think you are spot on when you say “I would however argue that both credo- and paedo-baptist continually need to reflect on the theological and sociological meaning of baptism.”
    On infant baptism, I’d argue that Christendom has done deep and lasting damage because of the indiscriminate way it is practiced – to a point where a passive baby becomes an illustration of the priority of grace over faith and of divine initiative over human response. This distorts baptism as a whole whatever you think about paedo-baptism.
    But, as you say, believers’ baptism can also be ‘diluted’. To a point where it becomes all about ‘my faith’, is separated from conversion and becomes a ‘mere’ symbol.
    IMHO there is still huge confusion about baptism within the church let alone outside it. In a post-Christendom culture, Christians need to be explaining, articulating and reflecting afresh on what we believe and why we do the things we do. Nothing can be assumed – which I think is a good thing, but only if we actively take up that challenge.

  • Dave Leigh

    This one is difinitely a keeper. Thanks!

  • Ken

    I know this is a stupid question, but if there are baptistries so short one is supposed to had to kneel and then “scrunch” down in them to be fully immersed, isn’t it more likely the initiate was standing in the baptistry and had water poured on them?