Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology, and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries

By Everett Ferguson | Go to book overview

5. John the Baptizer

Christian sources consistently saw the antecedent to Christian baptism in the practice of John the Baptizer.1 They applied the same distinctive terminology,

(other dippings were designated by the word ), and the same purpose, “forgiveness of sins,” to John’s baptism as they did to their own. Whether the early disciples of Jesus adopted the terminology of John’s disciples or later applied their own terminology to John’s practice, the distinctive word usage and description of the ceremony point to where Christians saw the origins of their practice.2 Indeed, the act of baptism was what gave John his identifying title. He was known as the “Baptist” 3 or “the Baptizer” ( , “the one immersing”).4

Scholars, in studying John’s baptism, have looked behind him for antecedents to

1. For John the Baptist, see C. H. H. Scobie, John the Baptist (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1964); idem, “John the Baptist,” in Matthew Black, ed., The Scrolls and Christianity (London: SPCK, 1969); Robert L. Webb, John the Baptiser and Prophet (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1991); E. F. Lupieri, “John the Baptist in New Testament Traditions and History,” Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1993), 2.26.1, pp. 430–461; Joan E. Taylor, The Immerser: John the Baptist within Second Temple Judaism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997); and for his baptism, Ernst Lohmeyer, Das Urchristentum, Vol. 1, Johannes der Täufer (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1932), pp. 145–156; Simon Légasse, Naissance du baptême (Paris: Cerf, 1993), esp. pp. 27–55, and pp. 107–109, 133–134 for his baptism as the direct antecedent of Christian baptism; Bruce Chilton, “John the Baptist: His Immersion and his Death,” and Craig A. Evans, “The Baptism of John in a Typological Context,” in Stanley E. Porter and Anthony R. Cross, Dimensions of Baptism: Biblical and Theological Studies (London: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002), pp. 25–44 and 45-71.

2. Albrecht Oepke, “

(et al.),” in Gerhard Kittel, ed., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, tr. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), Vol. 1, p. 545, states that since the New Testament coins or reserves for John’s and Christian baptism a word not used elsewhere that has no cultic connections and always uses it in the singular, it understands the Christian action as something new and unique.

3. E.g., Matt. 3:1; Mark 6:25; Luke 7:20.

4. Mark 6:14, 24. The use of this alternative form indicates that the name “the Baptist” was given from his practice of administering baptism and not from his being part of a previous baptizing group.

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