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Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology, and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries Hardcover – March 29, 2009
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"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
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.Read more ›
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.
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."
Most Recent Customer Reviews
A very thorough treatment of the both the Scriptural references to baptism and a discussion of the influences of early church leaders and writers. Well done.Published 4 months ago by sdkldjcg
An incredible compendium of information on baptism during the first 500 years after Christ. He cites the most references of any book that I have ever read. Read morePublished 4 months ago by Bill The Librarian
This is a powerful analysis of the relevant texts concerning baptism in the New Testament period by a seasoned scholar (Harvard Ph.D.), but much more. Read morePublished 12 months ago by Parish
I found this book to be well researched and clearly written. I recommend this book as a resource for those interested in the true meaning of Scriptural baptism.Published on January 26, 2014 by Tom Campbell
I've read other reviews. The reviews attacking Dr. Ferguson personally or intellectually are ignorant and biased. I know Dr. Ferguson personally. Read morePublished on January 14, 2014 by Paul Schandevel
I was inspired by the author's insights to let me see the whole picture of the baptism story as I read this book.Published on December 26, 2013 by Amazon Customer
I have to say that Baptism in the Early Church by Everett Ferguson is the most disappointing book I have purchased in a very long time! Read morePublished on September 7, 2013 by D. D. Frediani
I have appreciated Ferguson's work for some time. This volume on baptism solidifies his reputation as a scholar of the Early Church. Read morePublished on August 26, 2013 by Dr. Waldo