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

By Everett Ferguson | Go to book overview

9. Baptism in the Pauline Epistles

The apostle Paul is a central figure for the study of Christian baptism.1 His own experience and the evidence of his letters show baptism to have been practiced from the earliest days of the church. He included himself with his readers as baptized (1 Cor. 12:13), and his conversion must be placed within a very few years of the crucifixion. He takes baptism for granted as common ground with his readers and refers to it in order to make an argument about something else. The frequent references to baptism in his writings offer a profound understanding of its significance.2

One study concluded that Paul took over from the earliest Palestinian Christianity the following aspects of baptism: Baptism presupposes preaching and faith, but preaching and faith do not replace baptism; baptism occurs in the name of Jesus;

1. Out of the large literature on baptism in the New Testament as a whole note W. F. Flemington, The New Testament Doctrine of Baptism (London: SPCK, 1948) — his views summarized in the entry “Baptism,” in George A. Buttrick et al., eds., The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (New York: Abingdon, 1962), Vol. 1, pp. 348–353; Oscar Cullmann, Baptism in the New Testament (London: SCM, 1950); D. M. Stanley, “The New Testament Doctrine of Baptism: An Essay in Biblical Theology,” Theological Studies 18 (1957): 169–215; G. R. Beasley-Murray, Baptism in the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1962; repr. 1973), the best single work on the subject; J. Ysebaert, Greek Baptismal Terminology (Nijmegen: Dekker & Van de Vegt, 1962); Gerhard Delling, Die Taufe im Neuen Testament (Berlin: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 1963); A. M. George, et al., Baptism in the New Testament: A Symposium (Baltimore/Dublin: Helicon, 1964); O. S. Brooks, The Drama of Decision: Baptism in the New Testament (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1987); Ben Witherington III, Troubled Waters: Rethinking the Theology of Baptism (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2007), is a popular treatment.

2. Beasley-Murray, Baptism in the New Testament, pp. 127–216; Delling, Die Taufe im Neuen Testament, pp. 108–132; Rudolf Schnackenburg, Baptism in the Thought of St. Paul: A Study in Pauline Theology (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1964); A. J. M. Wedderburn, Baptism and Resurrection: Studies in Pauline Theology against Its Greco-Roman Background (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1987); H. D. Betz, “Paul’s Interpretation of Baptism,” in Troels Engberg-Pedersen, ed., Paul in His Hellenistic Context (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1994), pp. 84–118.

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