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Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries Hardcover – 1 Apr 2009


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 912 pages
  • Publisher: William B Eerdmans Publishing Co (1 April 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802827489
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802827487
  • Product Dimensions: 23.9 x 16.5 x 6.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,068,193 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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). --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By D. W. Perry on 30 Aug. 2009
Format: Hardcover
Everett Ferguson has been studying Christian initiation in the early centuries of the Church for very many years. This large tome (953pp) is a vast labour of love and a culmination of all his efforts. The contents run from "Antecedents of Christian Baptism" via the New Testament and the patristic period through to the late fourth century. For evidence and discussion of Christian faith and practice it is unrivalled in its comprehensiveness. In parallel with his own treatment of original sources, the author sets summaries of the scholarly debate. He can be relied on to give an accurate picture of the story so far. This does not mean that what he says is the last word on any given issue, but it means the reader has been given a reliable platform on which to build further insights. Enormously helpful are the six indices which occupy the last 100 pages of the book, heroic in their comprehensiveness.

Within its chosen compass this book is outstanding. However, at least one aspect of the genesis and development of Christian baptism is not covered. There is no attempt to set out the interplay between the Church and its political and social setting. For example, the Theodosian Code is mentioned only in a footnote clarifying a point about the Marcionites. There is no attempt to present and analyse the secular pressures that affected the practice of baptism through time.

That being said, this book provides a rich starting point for anyone seeking to learn about baptism as it developed in the first five centuries.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 16 reviews
60 of 62 people found the following review helpful
A Magisterial Study 18 Aug. 2009
By Quentin D. Stewart - Published on Amazon.com
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. The process whereby the catechumens at Hippo were to be baptized on Easter are elaborately detailed by Ferguson based on Augustine's own writings. One question is whether or not the catechumens at Hippo were fully immersed. Augustine does not say in his many comments about the baptismal procedure at Hippo, but Ferguson contends Augustine had full immersion in mind. (Some think the baptismal pool not deep enough for full immersion while others contend Augustine had the catechumens wade into the pool to show humility and then kneel for baptism.) Ferguson argues that by "baptismus/baptizare" Augustine referred to the inner purification by Christ whereas "tinctio/intinguere" referred to the physical act of baptism itself. Augustine even uses the word "submersio" and so presumably practiced full immersion according to Ferguson. Important to note that Augustine did consider catechumens to be Christians before baptism, though they were not full members of the Church Catholic. Infant baptism, although not yet the norm in Christian North Africa, was common enough, especially for emergency baptisms. There are hardly any references to the baptism of healthy infants. The ritual for infants was basically the same as for adults. The infants were exorcized, validating Augustine's view of infants being stained with original sin. Adults would then speak the renunciation [of satan] and the profession of faith. "What infants were not yet able to do through their own faith was done for them by those who love them." Augustine resorted to the faith of others to justify the baptism of infants. In "On the Literal Interpretation of Genesis" Augustine states that baptism absolves infants from the punishment of original sin, "so it is right and proper to baptize them." Infants were then immersed in the same way as adults and then received an anointing(chrismation)and a laying on of hands (consignation). Afterwards they participated in the baptismal eucharist, receiving both the bread and the wine. Sermon 174 states "infants are members of Christ and receive the sacraments, including sharing in His table." And so, with Gregory in the East and Augustine in the West - during the Pelagian controversy - infant baptism became the norm for the early church some time in the fifth century.

An extremely detailed an invaluable resource, though clearly not without biases given that many would argue infant baptism was normative at a much earlier time in the Church's history. Biases notwithstanding Ferguson's assertions are well documented and he is conversant with the secondary literature.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology, and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries 21 April 2010
By Donald Owens - Published on Amazon.com
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.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Detailed and extensive 4 April 2009
By Sub - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This volume includes extensive details and documentation on baptismal practice reflected in the literature of antiquity as well as existing baptismal fonts with numerous photos. This book is essential to anyone interested in baptismal liturgy and especially those formulating revisions to current practice seeking a return to early Christian roots.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Everything But the Baptismal Font 29 Dec. 2012
By James McDevitt - Published on Amazon.com
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.
11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.9 STARS (if possible): Great! Only one problem. 27 July 2012
By Malcolm S. Kirk - Published on Amazon.com
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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