Baptism. The Gr. words βαπτισμός and βάπτισμα (both of which occur in the New Testament) signify "ceremonial washing," from the verb βαπτίζω, the shorter form βάπτω meaning "dip" without ritual significance (e.g. the finger in water, a robe in blood). That a ritual washing away of sin characterized other religions than the Christian, the Fathers of the church were aware, and Tertullian notices, in his tract On Baptism (ch. v.), that the votaries of Isis and Mithras were initiated per lavacrum, "through a font," and that in the Ludi Apollinares et Eleusinii, i.e. the mysteries of Apollo and Eleusis, men were baptized (tinguntur, Tertullian's favourite word for baptism), and, what is more, baptized, as they presumed to think, "unto regeneration and exemption from the guilt of their perjuries." "Among the ancients," he adds, "anyone who had stained himself with homicide went in search of waters that could purge him of his guilt."
The texts of the New Testament relating to Christian baptism, given roughly in chronological order, are the following: -
A.D. 55-60, Rom. vi. 3, 4; 1 Cor. i. 12-17, vi. 11, x. 1-4, xii. 13, xv. 29; Gal. iii. 27.
A.D. 60-65, Col. ii. 11, 12; Eph. iv. 5, v. 26.
A.D. 60-70, Mark x. 38, 39.
A.D. 80-90, Acts i. 5, ii. 38-41, viii. 16, 17, x. 44-48, xix. 1-7, xxii. 16; 1 Pet. iii. 20, 21; Heb. x. 22.
A.D. 90-100, John iii. 3-8, iii. 22, iii. 26, iv. 1, 2.
Uncertain, Matt, xxviii. 18-20; Mark xvi. 16.
The baptism of John is mentioned in the following: -
A.D. 60-70, Mark i. 1-11.
A.D. 80-90, Matt. iii. 1-16:; Luke iii. 1-22, vii. 29, 30; Acts i. 22, x. 37, xiii. 24, xviii. 25, xix. 3, 4.
A.D. 90-100, John i. 25-33, iii. 23, x. 40.
It is best to defer the question of the origin of Christian baptism until the history of the rite in the centuries which followed has been sketched, for we know more clearly what baptism became after the year 100 than what it was before. And that method on which a great scholar insisted when studying the old Persian religion is doubly to be insisted on in the study of the history of baptism and the cognate institution, the eucharist, namely, to avoid equally "the narrowness of mind which clings to matters of fact without rising to their cause and connecting them with the series of associated phenomena, and the wild and uncontrolled spirit of comparison, which, by comparing everything, confounds everything."
Our earliest detailed accounts of baptism are in the Teaching of the Apostles (c. 90-120) and in Justin Martyr.
The Teaching has the following: -
1. Now concerning baptism, thus baptize ye: having spoken beforehand all these things, baptize into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, in living water.
2. But if thou hast not living water, baptize into other water; if thou canst not in cold, in warm.
3. But if thou hast not either, pour water upon the head thrice, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
4. Now before the baptism, let him that is baptizing and him that is being baptized fast, and any others who can; but thou biddest him who is being baptized to fast one or two days before.
The "things spoken beforehand" are the moral precepts known as the two ways, the one of life and the other of death, with which the tract begins. This body of moral teaching is older than the rest of the tract, and may go back to the year A.D. 80.
Justin thus describes the rite in ch. lxi. of his first Apology, (c. 140): -
"I will also relate the manner in which we dedicated ourselves to God when we had been made new through Christ. As many as are persuaded and believe that what we teach and say is true, and undertake to be able to live accordingly, are instructed to pray and entreat God with fasting, for the remission of their sins that are past, we praying and fasting with them. Then they are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated. For in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Saviour Jesus Christ and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water."
In the sequel Justin adds: -
"There is pronounced over him who chooses to be born again, and has repented of his sins, the name of God the Father and Lord of the universe, he who leads to the laver the person that is to be washed calling Him by this name alone. For no one can utter the name of the ineffable God, and this washing is called Illumination (Gr. φωτισμός), because they who learn these things are illuminated in their understandings. And in the name of Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and in the name of the Holy Ghost, who through the prophets foretold all things about Jesus, he who is illuminated is washed."
In ch. xiv. of the dialogue with Trypho, Justin asserts, as against Jewish rites of ablution, that Christian baptism alone can purify those who have repented. "This," he says, "is the water of life. But the cisterns which you have dug for yourselves are broken and profitless to you. For what is the use of that baptism which cleanses the flesh and body alone? Baptize the soul from wrath, from envy and from hatred; and, lo! the body is pure."
In ch. xliii. of the same dialogue Justin remarks that "those who have approached God through Jesus Christ have received a circumcision, not carnal, but spiritual, after the manner of Enoch."
In after ages baptism was regularly called illumination. Late in the 2nd century Tertullian describes the rite of baptism in his treatise On the Resurrection of the Flesh, thus:
1. The flesh is washed, that the soul may be freed from stain.