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

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


This magisterial volume is a comprehensive survey of the doctrine and practice of baptism in the first five centuries of Christian history, arranged geographically within chronological periods. Baptism in the Early Church covers the antecedents to Christian baptism and traces the history of Christian doctrine and practice from the New Testament through the writings of the church fathers of the fourth and fifth centuries. The book deals primarily with the literary sources, though it also gives attention to depictions of baptism (primarily of Jesus) in various art forms and to the surviving baptismal fonts.

Ferguson's thorough study points to the central importance of baptism in the early church. Many blessings were attributed to baptism, but the two earliest and most consistently mentioned are forgiveness of sins and the reception of the Holy Spirit; faith and repentance were necessary in order to receive these benefits. Jewish immersion rites, the practice of John the Baptist, the meaning of the words used for baptism, the literary descriptions, and the material remains argue that full immersion was the normal practice, and the evidence from art is consistent with this interpretation.

Containing nearly everything currently known about the early Christian ritual of baptism, with extensive citations to the primary and secondary literature, Ferguson's Baptism in the Early Church is destined to be a standard reference work.


I have attempted to be as complete as possible on the first three centuries but have been content to be progressively less so on the fourth and fifth centuries (where the sources are more abundant) yet still to be full enough for the work to be representatively comprehensive. My training is in the literary sources, but I have tried to become knowledgeable on the art and archaeological sources.

The subject of baptism has been the source of debates between denominations but has also been of concern in ecumenical endeavors. My own intention is to be historically objective. Readers will judge my degree of success. in spite of the theological disagreements of the past and learned differences still in the present, I find wide agreement in regard to the historical facts from scholars representing a wide spectrum of backgrounds. I may have pushed the areas of consensus further than many might. Nonetheless, disputes mostly arise on the interpretation of the facts. Putting different specialties and periods together in a synthesis may be the basis for further conversation.

The introduction surveys scholarly works that have a broad scope and are not often noted in my particular topics; their contents, however, do set the issues for my fresh examination. the reader not interested in the history of scholarship on baptism may choose to skip it and go directly to the meat of my own work. Some readers may want to use the treatment of particular periods, persons, writings, or topics for reference purposes.

Unacknowledged translations are my own.

Thanks are due to many without whom the book could not have been written. I must mention especially my wife, who has provided compatibility and intellectual stimulation as well as making my work possible and pleasant through the years. I have learned much from association with colleagues through their writings and in conversation. the notes do not begin to acknowledge this indebtedness. a special word of appreciation is due to the libraries at Harvard University (Widener and Andover-Harvard) and Abilene Christian University, particularly the interlibrary . . .

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