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

By Everett Ferguson | Go to book overview

14. Apologists

With the exception of Justin Martyr the Greek apologists of the second century do not use the

family of words in their apologetic writings, and he does so only in the Dialogue with Trypho. Nevertheless, in the person of Justin Martyr they provide an important description of the baptismal ceremony, and some of them along with Justin also provide important information on the doctrinal meaning ascribed to baptism.


Justin Martyr

Justin Martyr was a Gentile from Samaria, was converted in Asia, and spent his later years teaching in Rome. He was martyred about 165. His 1 Apology, written around 150, contains an account of Christian baptism. As an apologist Justin had every reason to present Christianity in the most favorable way; by the same token he had every need to be as accurate as his information allowed him to be. He was in a position to know general Christian practice and may be taken as representative of Christian baptism at the mid-second century, especially at Rome.1 His outline of the ceremony of conversion closely approximates what is indicated in the Didache, a document with which he may have been familiar.2

(61.1) We shall explain in what way we dedicated ourselves to God and were made
new through Christ, lest by omitting this we may seem to act deceptively in our

1. André Benoît, Le baptême chrétien au second siècle (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1953), pp. 138–185; George H. Williams, “Baptismal Theology and Practice in Rome as Reflected in Justin Martyr,” in Andrew Blane, ed., The Ecumenical World of Orthodox Civilization, Russia and Orthodoxy: Essays in Honor of George Florovsky, Vol. 3 (Hague: Mouton, 1973), pp. 9–34.

2. M. A. Smith, “Did Justin Know the Didache?” Studia Patristica 7 (1966): 287–290, argues from the liturgical parallels that he did, but much of the similarity may come from common Christian practice and so be of limited probative value.

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