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Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology, and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries Hardcover – March 29, 2009

4.7 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Everett Ferguson is professor emeritus of Bible and distinguished scholar-in-residence at Abilene Christian University, Abilene, Texas. Among his books are Backgrounds of Early Christianity, now in its third edition, and The Church of Christ: A Biblical Ecclesiology for Today (both Eerdmans).
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 975 pages
  • Publisher: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.; 1st edition (March 29, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802827489
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802827487
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.5 x 2.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,558,865 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
From the jacket:

"This magisterial study is a comprehensive survey of the doctrine and practice of baptism in the first five centuries of Christian history, arranged geographically within chronological periods. ... The book deals primarily with with the literary sources, though it also gives attention to depictions of baptism, (primarily of Jesus)in various art forms and to the surviving baptismal fonts.

Ferguson's thorough study points to the central importance of baptism in the early church. Many blessings were attributed to baptism, but the two earliest and most consistently mentioned are forgiveness of sins and the reception of the Holy Spirit; faith and repentance were necessary in order to receive these benefits. ... full immersion was the normal practice, and the evidence from art is consistent with this interpretation."

This work is massive and detailed and divided into seven parts:

Antecedents to Christian baptism
Baptism in the New Testament
Baptism in the second century
Baptism in the third century up until Nicea (325 A.D.)
The fourth century
The fifth century
Baptisteries

Ferguson's discussion of Gregory of Nazianzus's famous Orations on baptism circa A.D. 380 support the conclusions of the jacket cover: baptism was often delayed until adolescence or adulthood or later. Gregory urges congregants not to put off baptism and most typically refers to it as "regeneration." The penultimate chapter discusses Augustine of Hippo's baptismal practices and theology. Augustine himself presided as bishop of Hippo in the Basilica of Peace between 411 and 430 A.D. Archaeological finds uncovered the basilica's baptistery revealing a baptismal pool some three feet deep and somewhat broader and wider.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
First, as a Kindle owner, this book has an active table of contents, illustrations (at the end of chapter 3), is fully indexed, and uses greek characters throughout.

As far as the content is concerned, it includes everything you ever wanted to know about baptism. Baptism is not only compared from its use in the East and the West but is also compared and contrasted to Jewish washings and even washings in other ancient religions. Issues include full immersion vs partial immersion or sprinkling, infant vs adult immersions, deathbed baptisms, the issue over who should administer the bpatism, male vs female baptism (with the issue of nudity being the prime motive here), as well as debate on rebaptism (especially if a Chrisitan came from a heretical form of Christianity). Not only the writings are looked at but also Christian art, archaological findings of baptismal fonts, and even inscriptions on tombs and burial places. Even an indepth word study is supplied showing how the word Baptizmo is used throughout many Greek sources (both Christian and secular). I sincerely doubt that a person could find another book that has as much detail.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Fantastic book. Magisterial, indeed. Well researched (understatement). Well written.

The only problem I have is one of Ferguson's conclusions on immersion: they are possible, but not necessary. [And I write this as an evangelical.]

Luke 11:38 uses baptizo for the washing of hands (immersing the hands, not the whole body). So, it's not always about full bodily immersion. Didache Chapter 7 records the possibility of using pouring water upon the head as a method of baptism in situations where little water is available. Saul/Paul was baptized in the house of Judas. A house would not have had a tub in it, nor a pool out back. Hence, Paul probably had water poured over his head.

The question is, is it reasonable to baptize infants by affusion, instead of clasping a hand over their nose and mouth to immerse them (especially since it would usually have been three times in many early traditions)? Is it more practical, and possibly safer? The answer is, 'yes'. And since the Western church has immersed children and adults old enough to deal with it when enough water is present, what's all big hubbub?

Evangelical, Baptistic, Pentecostal, and yes, "Church of Christ" Protestantism needs to recognize that the early church was flexible depending on several conditions. So ought we be. As it turns out, generally WE have been the inflexible ones on baptism. Yet ironically, when it comes to the Lords Supper, we have been tremendously flexible when it comes to what the elements should be. Who really thinks Jesus used crackers and grape juice? If one believes that its all just symbols anyway, and one feels free to change some of the symbols (and even delay them till the person feels "lead" to be baptized), then why not others?

Me thinks Evangelicalism "doth protest to much."
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A very thorough and detailed examination of the practice of Baptism using the the available documents. These include all the documents that have been discovered to the present. The book is divided into sections dealing with each century. Also provided are the pertinent archeolgical discoveries including Jewish and Christian. It is useful not only to the professional but to the lay person as well.
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