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

By Everett Ferguson | Go to book overview

11. Baptism in the Rest of the
New Testament and Summary

Most of the passages relevant to baptism in the New Testament have been covered in the preceding chapters. Five documents remain to be examined: Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, 1 John, and Revelation. Only 1 Peter makes a truly significant contribution to our study.


Hebrews

The author of Hebrews identifies “baptisms” as among the foundation principles that he wants his readers to go beyond as they grow toward maturity. The items mentioned were presumably part of elementary instruction to new converts: “Repentance from dead works, faith in God, teaching of baptisms

, laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment” (Heb. 6:1-2). These items could be interpreted as primarily belonging to the Jewish foundation of the church. But they also formed part of the “beginning (or chief) doctrine of Christ.” By selection and arrangement Jewish teachings have been Christianized to an extent. Repentance and faith were central to Christian conversion and suggest that the listing pertains to items associated with initiation.

The word for “baptisms” is not the usual word for the baptism of John and for Christian baptism

but the word used for Jewish washings (also by immersion).1 The use of the latter word in Hebrews 9:10 in reference to the ceremonial regulations connected with the sacrificial ritual of the first tabernacle confirms the usage for Jewish practices: “[F]ood and drink and various baptisms ,

1. For different interpretations that have been advanced, see Harold W. Attridge, Epistle to the Hebrews (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1989), p. 164, to which add Anthony R. Cross, “The Meanings of ‘Baptisms’ in Hebrews 6:2,” in Stanley E. Porter and Anthony R. Cross, eds., Dimensions of Baptism: Biblical and Theological Studies (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002), pp. 163–186, who suggests that martyrdom be included in the “baptisms.”

-186-

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