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

By Everett Ferguson | Go to book overview

45. Writers and Writings
in Syriac and Armenian

Syriac Acts of John

The Syriac Acts of John, actually entitled in the manuscripts The History of John the Son of Zebedee, is different from the second-century Acts of John (chap. 13). This text exists only in Syriac and dates from the late fourth or more likely the early fifth century. There are three fairly detailed accounts of conversion in the text, and in their main outline they exhibit the Syrian baptismal ritual.1

The first account of baptism concerns a procurator and his nobles. John made the sign of the cross over the oil, saying, “Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Spirit of holiness for ever, Amen” (3, p. 39). Fire blazed forth from the oil but did not consume the oil, for angels spread their wings over it and pronounced the Trishagion. John then signed the water, saying, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Spirit of holiness, for ever, Amen” (8, p. 39). The people stretched out their hands to heaven and said, “Great is the mystery! We believe in the Father and in the Son and in the Spirit of holiness” (14, p. 39).

John instructed the procurator to remove his clothes, made the sign of the cross on his forehead, and anointed his whole body (15, p. 40). John told him to descend, and, stretching out his hands to heaven, the procurator said, “I believe in the Father and in the Son and in the Spirit of holiness” (19, p. 40).

John placed his hand on the head and dipped him once, saying: “In the name of
the Father.” A second time: “In the name of the Son.” A third time: “In the name of
the Spirit of holiness.” (20-21, p. 40)

1. William Wright, Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles, Vol. 1: Syriac Text, and Vol. 2: The English Translation (London, 1871), pp. 3–60. I quote from A. F. J. Klijn, “An Ancient Syriac Baptismal Liturgy in the Syriac Acts of John,” Novum Testamentum 6 (1963): 216–228, citing Klijn’s section number and the page number of Wright’s translation.

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