And concerning baptism, baptize this way: Having first said all these things, baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, (Matthew 28:19) in living water. But if you have not living water, baptize into other water; and if you can not in cold, in warm. But if you have not either, pour out water thrice upon the head into the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit. But before the baptism let the baptizer fast, and the baptized, and whatever others can; but you shall order the baptized to fast one or two days before.
The Didache, Chapter 7
Many of the Church Fathers clearly stated that baptism is by full immersion into a body of water. Further, most of them were specific in that they practiced an immersion 3 times into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (later posts in this series will highlight this “thrice immersion”). The Didache states that baptism is “into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living water”. Knowing what we know about thrice immersion, we can see that The Didache was most likely stating exactly what we read in it: baptism by immersion in living water. Whether it actually called for a thrice immersion could be debated as we do not see that it was the prescribed practice for the Church from the New Testament. Although I believe their argument would be a literalistic understanding of “into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” – it would be an immersion once into each of the names of the Persons of the Trinity. It is also possible that the immersing of a person three times was a later modification to the practice of baptism and that it might even be assumed here since the pouring option is explicitly stated to be that of pouring the water upon the person three times.
Continuing in this section of The Didache, we see that if and only if, there is not running or standing water enough available for immersion, then pouring (or effusion) is allowed. Note that this is intended to be an exception to the rule. I would argue that the vast majority of people involved in discussions about the mode of baptism today attend churches which are close to some type of “living water” and that this should not be the default practice for those denominations. Further, The Didache here echoes some later statements by Church Fathers that pouring should only be allowed for specific reasons – such as on one’s deathbed or sickbed. I also cite them later in this series.
At this point I would like to note that, regarding pouring or sprinkling, what we have seen in the earliest Christian writings after the New Testament as only allowable if there is not enough water or if one is dying has been elevated to the preferred and normative practice of a large number of Protestant denominations today.
This should cause one to pause.
This is especially the case as we also will see in this series that some of the most important Reformers have even said that immersion is the Biblical mode as properly practiced, though they chose to not immerse either. Tradition can run quite deep, indeed!
With regards to The Didache stating that baptism is for converts, this is also the way which I have seen other Reformed individuals argue. Though they would argue along the lines that it just isn’t dealing with infant baptism that was also being practiced at that time (again, there is no proof that it was). The argument is that it was a baptismal instruction only written for converts so it was not intended to discuss the baptism of infants. I would counter that it is just as plausible that, as we have the concession in The Didache that if there is not moving or still water only then is pouring acceptable, then we could also make the argument that since there is no concession made for fasting by proxy here that there was not a practice of infants (who cannot themselves be ordered to fast “for one or two days before“) being baptized. I would also argue that since it only describes the baptism of converts that perhaps the baptism of converts was the only baptism being practiced then – just as it was in the New Testament.
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