Supplementary Notes on Baptism

As a supplement to the recently concluded series of daily notes on Baptism (and the bapt- word-group), I thought it worth discussing the mode and form of early Christian baptism. The New Testament writings give no precise directions as to how the ritual was (to be) performed; however, they do contain certain clues which may allow us to reconstruct, at least partially, the ritual as practiced by Christians in the second half of the 1st century A.D.

The Gospels and Acts

To begin with, the dunkings performed by John the Baptist were performed in the Jordan river (and similar water sources, Mark 1:5, 9 par; Jn 3:23). Presumably these would have taken place with the person standing (or kneeling) in the river, along with John, who would have literally “dunked” (vb. bapti/zw) the person down into the water, or, perhaps, taken up water to pour over the person’s head. In the Synoptic account of Jesus’ baptism, it is stated that he “stepped up” (vb a)nabai/nw) out of the water (Mk 1:10 par), clearly indicating that he had previously “stepped down” into the water (i.e. into the river). According to the notice in Mk 1:5 par, those who were dunked gave an account of (i.e. confessed) their sins; presumably, there would have been a corresponding announcement (by John) of the “release” (a&fesi$, i.e. cleansing, forgiveness) of the person’s sin. Assuming the historical accuracy and reliability of all this, these details, taken together, would form the kernal of a ritual (and rudimentary liturgy).

According to the (historical) tradition in John 3:22; 4:1-2, Jesus and his disciples performed similar dunkings, and, almost certainly, the earliest Christian baptisms, as referenced and narrated in the book of Acts, followed the Johannine (i.e. the Baptist’s) pattern. This means that those who were baptized would have been taken to the Jordan (or a similar water-source) and immersed (fully or partially) in the water, with a confession of sin, etc. The main difference was that these early Christian baptisms were performed “in the name of Jesus”, meaning that they involved a confession of trust/faith in Jesus (cf. 22:16), with the corresponding affirmation that this signified that the person now belonged to Jesus (as his follower). This early baptism is perhaps best illustrated in the episode of Philip and the Ethiopian official (8:26-40), which culminates in the official being baptized:

“And as they traveled down the way, they came upon some water, and the eu)nou=xo$ [i.e. the official] said, ‘See, water! What (would) cut me off (from) being dunked [baptisqh=nai]?’ And he urged the vehicle to stand (still), and they both stepped down into the water, Philip and the eu)nou=xo$, and he dunked [e)ba/ptisen] him. And when they stepped up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord…” (vv. 36, 38-39a)

Verse 37 is almost certainly not part of the original text, but reveals the early Christian concern that baptism be tied to a clear profession of faith by the one being dunked:

“And Philip said, ‘If you trust out of your whole heart you are able (to be dunked)’. And giving forth an answer, he said, ‘I trust (that) Yeshua (the) Anointed is the Son of God’.”

It is possible that this addition reflects early baptismal practice (i.e. in the late-first or early-second century). Two other elements were closely connected with baptism in the book of Acts: (1) the laying on of hands (by an apostle or other designated minister), and (2) that the Holy Spirit would come upon the person. In all likelihood each of these were incorporated into the early ritual.

The Pauline Letters

In discussing the passages relating to baptism in Paul’s letters (Rom 6:3-4; 1 Cor 12:13; Gal 3:27-28; 2 Cor 1:22, etc), we explored the possibility that he was drawing upon baptismal traditions of the time—that is, how baptism was practiced c. 50-60 A.D. Given the highly formulaic language, and the basic character of the symbolism, this indeed seems likely. It would mean, then, that Paul’s references give us some idea of the mode and form of the ritual itself. I would note the following points:

    • The symbolism of the believer participating in the death (and burial) of Jesus suggests that a literal dunking (i.e. full or partial immersion) was still being employed
    • The language of putting off an ‘old’ garment, and putting on the ‘new’ (i.e. Christ and/or the Spirit as a garment) suggests that ceremonial clothing was involved in the ritual. This would be in accord with similar initiation rites performed in contemporary ‘mystery cults’, etc. The symbolism is so basic, and natural to the ritual action itself, that it is hard to imagine that Christians would not have applied it to baptism at a very early stage.
    • References to anointing in a baptismal context. This could simply be an extension of references to Jesus as the Anointed One (vb xri/w, noun xristo/$), and to the coming of the Spirit as an anointing (Luke 3:22 par; 4:1ff, 14, 18ff). However, it would be natural enough, and quite expected, if this aspect were symbolized in the ritual through an actual anointing (xri=sma) with oil. We know that Christians in the first century did made ceremonial use of oil for anointing (James 5:14).
    • In all likelihood, ceremonial anointing (if indeed it took place) following baptism was meant to symbolize the presence of the Spirit, which Paul elsewhere refers to with the (parallel) image of sealing (2 Cor 1:22; also Eph 1:13; 4:30). Such language may have been part of the baptismal ritual as early as Paul’s time (cf. below).
    • The wording in 1 Cor 12:13; Gal 3:27-28; Col 2:12, etc, may well reflect early baptismal formulae, such as would have occurred in performance the ritual, part of a basic liturgy. In addition to a confession of trust in Jesus by the person being baptized, there likely would have been a declaration (by the officiating minister[s]) prior to entering the water, and subsequently after the person emerged from the water. However, we can only speculate as to the details.
The Remainder of the New Testament

The only other direct reference to baptism is 1 Peter 3:21 (cf. the previous note). Most of what can be ascertained from the Pauline references (above) likely applies here as well. The use of the noun e)perw/thma could reflect a formal question/answer process as part of the baptism ritual, though this is far from certain. Baptism is presumably referred to in Hebrews 10:22, and also 6:2 (plural baptismoi/, dunkings/washings), but with little indication regarding the ritual itself; however, 6:1 could possibly reflect the sort of (formal) instruction which would precede baptism.

The noun xri=sma (“anointing”) in 1 John 2:20, 27 probably alludes to the baptismal symbolism of the believer’s union with Jesus through the presence of the Spirit—following the core early Christian tradition of the coming of the Spirit as an “anointing”. Similarly, there may be baptismal allusions in the motif of washing (i.e. washing of one’s robe) in the book of Revelation (7:14; 22:14), as also of the white robes that believers wear (3:4-5, 18; 6:11; 7:9ff; 19:14).

It may be possible to reconstruct the first-century baptism ritual, loosely, as follows:

    • The believer descends into the water (i.e. full/partial immersion)
    • This would involve a ceremonial removal of the ‘old’ garment
    • An officiating minister would make declaration regarding the putting away of sin (the old nature), etc
    • The believer makes public profession of faith, probably as part of a simple question/answer liturgy
    • Upon stepping out of the water, there is the ceremonial donning of a ‘new’ garment
    • An officiating minister makes declaration regarding the new life in Christ, etc
    • A ceremonial laying on of hands, and(/or) anointing with oil
    • Symbolic act/announcement to the effect that the believer has been “sealed” with the Spirit, along with an exhortation to live/act in a holy manner (until Jesus’ return)
Other Early Christian Evidence

References to baptism outside of the New Testament, in writings from the late-first and early-second centuries, are not as common or as extensive as one might hope. Ignatius of Antioch (c. 110) makes two contributions to our knowledge of baptism in this period:

    • It is not proper to baptize without a presiding overseer (e)pi/skopo$) for the congregation (or region) being present (Smyrneans 8:2)
    • Ephesians 18:2 provides the earliest evidence for the mystical/symbolic belief that Jesus, in his own baptism, effectively sanctified the waters that are used (everywhere) when believers are baptized; this would become an important part of the baptism ritual in the Eastern (Syrian) churches.

The manual known as the Teaching (Didach¢¡) of the Twelve Apostles gives us the only real description of baptism prior to about 150 A.D. Generally dated to the first half of the 2nd century, but perhaps containing material and traditions from the late-1st century, the section dealing with baptism is in the short chapter 7; the instruction may be summarized as follows:

    • Baptism should be performed with the trinitarian formula “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (cf. Matt 28:19); in spite of that same directive being uttered by Jesus in the Matthean passage, it does not occur anywhere else in the New Testament, nor is there any indication that Christians prior to 70-80 A.D. (i.e. when the Gospel of Matthew was likely written) ever used such a trinitarian formula; Didache 7:1 is the oldest direct evidence for its use.
    • Baptism should be done in “living water”, that is, in the natural running water of a river or stream; this suggests a continuation of at least a partial immersion of the believer (and officiating minister) in the water.
    • The baptism involves the pouring of water over the head of the person, presumably while he/she stood (or kneeled) in the water
    • This pouring should be done three times (i.e. “trine baptism”), corresponding to the trinitarian formula
    • The believer should fast (one or two days) prior to baptism, presumably as a sign of repentance
    • In 9:5 it is further directed that no one should partake in the ritual meal (Lord’ Supper / Eucharist) unless they have first been baptized “in the Lord’s name”.

Other evidence from the mid-second century may be summarized:

    • 2 Clement 6:9 emphasizes the need for the believer to maintain the purity of his/her baptism; presumably this sort of exhortation would have been part of the early ritual itself
    • In this regard, baptism is specifically referred to as a seal (sfragi/$) in 2 Clement 7:6; 8:6 (cf. also Hermas Similitude 8.6.3; 9:16:3ff, etc), i.e. something which must not be broken. This language goes back at least to the time of Paul (cf. above), and would have related to the (ritual) symbolism of anointing.
    • Justin Martyr, in his First Apology (c. 150-155), discusses Christian baptism in chapter 61; his instruction generally matches that of Didache 7 (above), though with greater exposition of the theological and ethical signficance, giving special emphasis to the older aspects of repentance and cleansing (from sin) which were first associated with the dunking/washing ritual (cf. above). He also provides a brief notice in chap. 65 of baptism (and the Lord’s Supper) as it is to take place in the congregational setting.

By the late-2nd and early-3rd centuries, more extensive treatments on baptism were being produced, and which have come down to us—most notably Tertullian’s On Baptism, and the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus. These works demonstrate clearly how the older/earlier traditions were developed and given a more precise and authoritative form.

In terms of the visual representation of baptism, the earliest evidence comes from the 3rd and 4th century Roman “catacombs”. The representations generally support the description in Didache 7, of a partial immersion (i.e. standing in water), while an officiating minister pours water over the person’s head. Below are three examples (including a modern reconstruction):

Early depictions of the Baptism of Jesus followed a similar pattern, establishing an artistic template for the scene—both in Western and Eastern tradition—that would last for centuries:

Note on the Baptism of Children

Several of the images above suggest that children are being baptized. We know that by at least the late-2nd century, children were baptized regularly, though there appear to have been some misgivings about baptizing small children (cf. Tertullian On Baptism §18). The question regarding whether young children (and infants) should be baptized, or whether the ritual is best reserved for consenting adults (possibly including older children), has been the subject of longstanding debate and discussion. Many Protestants, in particular, argue strongly in favor of adult “believer’s baptism”, and against infant (or child) baptism. In spite of this, baptism of infants has been the common practice, throughout much of the Christian world, since the 5th century.

As far as the New Testament evidence is concerned, there is no indication that children (especially infants) were ever baptized. Since the original Johannine dunkings, and the corresponding early Christian baptisms that followed, were centered on a conscious profession of faith and repentance from sin, it is unlikely that they were ever performed on children (i.e., those younger than 12 years of age). The only possible evidence for the baptism of children are the notices of entire households being baptized (cf. Acts 16:31; 18:8; 1 Cor 1:16), but it is far from certain that this would have included young children. Supporters of infant baptism today cite parallels with circumcision; to be sure, a parallel is made between circumcision and baptism in Col 2:11-12 (possibly also Rom 4:11), but only insofar as the image of removing the outer skin resembles that of “putting away” the ‘garment’ of the old nature. There is no suggestion of its application to children; moreover, Col 2:11-12 is the only such example of this parallel being drawn.

Women in the Church, Part 2: 1 Cor 14:33b-36

1 Corinthians 14:33b-36

Historical & Literary Context

For an overview, see Part 1 (on 1 Cor 11:2-16). In chapter 14 Paul gives practical instruction regarding the use of believers’ spiritual “gifts” (charismata, cf. chaps. 12-13) in the worship-meeting. Indeed, we have here some of the earliest detail on how worship-meetings were organized in the New Testament period. While it is possible that the information in 1 Corinthians reflects some measure of local or regional development, there was doubtless much in common with meetings as they were held throughout the early Christian world. It clearly was what we would call a charismatic worship setting—i.e., with believers participating (speaking, etc) as the Spirit prompted them, and according to their spiritual gifting (cf. 12:4-11).

In verses 1-25, Paul deals specifically with the practice (and gift) of speaking in tongues (i.e. foreign/strange language). It would seem that some congregations in Corinth were giving undue or exaggerated importance to this phenomenon, with utterances being offered without any corresponding interpretation. Paul gives instruction with regard to this, and contrasts the practice in general with the giving of a prophetic message (in the ordinary language of the congregation); clearly he would prefer that the Corinthians’ meetings be characterized more by prophecy than by messages in a foreign language.

As noted in Part 1, in this early Christian context, ‘prophecy’ (or ‘prophesying’ [profhteu/w]) refers to an inspired utterance or (short) message in which the word and will of God was communicated to the congregation. According to 11:2-16, men and women both could preach or deliver such messages, as long as it was done within certain specific religious custom (and associated dress-code). Here in verses 26-33a, Paul urges especially that those who actively participate (taking a leading/speaking role) in the worship-meeting do so in an orderly, respectful manner. In particular, no more than two or three persons should give a prophetic message, each in turn (v. 29, 31). The speaker would be standing, while the others in the congregation were sitting. A person seated may be prompted to respond to the speaker’s message; if so, then the speaker should yield (in an appropriate way) to that person, so that a fresh revelation may be added and shared with the Community (v. 30). According to Paul, this also was a way to test and regulate the “spirit” in which a prophet spoke—i.e., by the willingness to yield and recognize another believer’s insight (v. 32). All of this is rather foreign to us today, though there are perhaps loose parallels in some of the modern Pentecostal/Charismatic churches, as well as in the traditional Quaker meeting. However, it is important to understand the religious context; otherwise, an interpretation of the verses which follow (vv. 33-36ff) is sure to be severely flawed.

On the text of 14:33b-36—A number of commentators have felt that verses 34-35 may be an interpolation, i.e. something added to the original text by an early scribe or editor, either from another letter of Paul (even another Corinthian letter) or as non-Pauline material. The textual basis for this view is that, in several manuscripts and other witnesses (D F G 88* d g Ambrosiaster etc), verse 34-35 appear in a different location (after v. 40). Such ‘floating’ text in the manuscript tradition is often indicative of a secondary addition. However, no manuscript or version is without these verses; and the textual variant most likely is the result of the feeling, by one or more scribes, that vv. 34-35 fit better following verse 40. Indeed, vv 33b-36 as a whole seem to be somewhat out of place, disrupting the flow of the passage—note how verse 37ff follows smoothly after v. 33b—though many other abrupt digressions can be found throughout Paul’s letters, and could just as well be viewed as a mark of authenticity. It is understandable that many modern commentators might regret Paul’s words and the language he uses in vv. 34-35, and wish that they were not part of the original letter.

Exegetical Notes

Here I will limit comment to several key words and phrases, in verses 34-35 especially, as it will help to focus the interpretive questions related to the passage. Earlier commentators had taken v. 33b (“As in all the congregations [e)kklhsiai] of the holy ones [i.e. saints]”) with vv. 26-33a, but it is probably better understood as introducing what follows. The phrase has a similar place (and purpose) as in the concluding statement of 11:2-16—Paul is referring to the common practice and custom of churches everywhere as a way of persuading the Corinthians to accept his instruction.

Verses 34-35:

ai( gunai=ke$ (“the women”)—as I discussed in Part 1, gunh/ (“woman”) can also mean “wife”, just as a)nh/r (“man”) can mean “husband”; even more so than in 11:2-16, Paul seems to have married women in mind here. The phrase “in the congregations [e)kklhsiai]” probably carries the specific meaning of the assembly or worship-gathering.

siga/twsan (“[they] must be silent”)—the verb siga/w has the basic meaning ‘be/keep silent, still, quiet”, sometimes with the sense of keeping something hidden or secret. Paul uses it earlier in vv. 28, 30, and this is instructive for understanding its meaning here:

    • V. 28—If a speaker wishes to give an utterance/message in a foreign language (“tongues”), but there is no one to interpret it, he ought to hold back the message and remain silent.
    • V. 30—If a revelation has been given to a person sitting (and hearing a prophetic message), and that person wishes to speak, the earlier speaker ought to yield (“be silent”) and let the revelation be heard.

e)pitre/petai (“[it] is turned [over] upon”)—the full phrase being “it is not turned over to them to speak”, which could mean either: (a) “it is not permitted for them to speak” or (b) “it is not their time/turn to speak”.

lalei=n (“to speak”)—What is the precise meaning of the verb here? The main possibilities are: (a) any sort of speaking during the meeting, (b) speaking a prophecy, (c) responding to the prophecy (v. 30), (d) speaking to her husband about what was said, or (e) inappropriate talk (chatter, etc). Based on the context, I would say that only (c) and (d) are viable options (cf. below).

u(potasse/sqwsan (“[they] must be under order”)—The verb u(pota/ssw means “put/place under an arranged order”, i.e. “put in order”. The passive/reflexive form often denotes obedience, sometimes with the harsher sense of submitting or being subject to a higher authority. Unfortunately, this more forceful (negative) connotation has been read into the context here, with the idea of the woman (or wife) being subject to the man (or husband), sometimes informed by a traditional interpretation of Gen 3:16b. A better approach is to look at other occurrences of the verb in Paul’s letters which involve a similar (or relevant) context. I would point to Romans 8:7 where Paul effectively exhorts human beings (believers) to place themselves under God’s Law (cf. also Rom 10:3, and note parallel language in Rom 13:1, 5). He also uses the verb in the context of the (hierarchical) chain which reflects the order God has established for the universe (1 Cor 15:27-28; Phil 3:21)—all things are subordinated under Christ’s authority, with Christ under God (the Father). Paul clearly includes man and woman (spec. husband and wife) as part of this (vertical) chain of relation (1 Cor 11:3, and cf. Col 3:18; Eph 5:21-24, where u(pota/ssw is used). Ultimately, one must turn to the immediate context of v. 32

“the spirits of (the) prophets are under the order [u(pota/ssetai] of (the) prophets”

by which he means the impulse/desire to speak must function within the proper order of things in the worship-meeting, specifically in terms of when/how a prophet or (inspired) speaker should participate in turn (cf. above).

o( no/mo$ (“the Law”)—”even as the Law says”, i.e. the Old Testament Law, as expressed primarily in written form in Genesis–Deuteronomy. Does Paul have a specific Scripture in mind? That is hard to say. It is unlikely that he is referring to Gen 3:16b (cf. above), though possibly he has the Creation narrative (Gen 1-2) in view (cf. 1 Cor 11:7ff, and the discussion in Part 1). The context of the order of worship could apply to virtually anything in the (Levitical) code governing religious ritual. Note a similar combination of the “the Law (of God)” and the verb u(pota/ssw in Romans 8:7. As I have argued elsewhere, the expression “Law of God” in Paul’s letters means something more than the Old Testament (written) Law, being synonymous with the will of God.

maqei=n qe/lousin (“they wish to learn”)—”and if they wish to learn something”, i.e. regarding what has been said, the prophetic message in the meeting. For the sense of manqa/nw (“learn”), cf. its use in verse 31.

e)perwta/twsan (“they must ask/inquire upon”)—the verb often implies a serious questioning or interrogation, i.e., seeking to gain information. Paul states that the women must question “their own men/husbands” about the matter, in the house (i.e., privately, at home).

ai)sxro/n (“shame/disgrace[ful]”)—Paul’s words here, taken out of context, sound especially harsh to modern ears: “for it is (a) disgrace for women to speak in (the) congregation(al meeting) [e)n e)kklhsi/a|]”. His use of ai)sxro/$ (“shame, disgrace”), like that in 11:4-6, is related to the idea of something which violates and mars the proper order of things (established by God).

The statement in verse 36 sums up not only vv. 33ff, but the entire discussion in chapter 14. The thrust of Paul’s rhetoric here is to make the Corinthians recognize that their worship-meetings ought to conform to Christian practice and custom in general. This tone continues through vv. 37-40, culminating with his final, definitive instruction: “All things must come to be well-formed [eu)sxhmo/nw$] and (done) according to order [kata\ ta/cin]”—in conventional English we might say, “all things must be done in a proper and orderly manner”.


Sadly, verses 34-35 have been taken out of context and used to support the idea that women should not speak at all in the worship-meeting, or that they are not permitted to participate as public speakers/preachers in the meeting. Such a (general) view is indicated by Tertullian already in the late-2nd/early-3rd century (On Baptism, 17.3), and has persisted, in various forms, down to the present day. I would maintain, however, that it is not warranted by the context of chapter 14, and is flatly contradicted by 11:2-16. Based on the exegesis and analysis offered above, I suggest the following interpretation:

  • Verse 34 relates specifically back to the discussion in vv. 26-33a, especially the issue in v. 30—i.e., of those seated in the congregation who may be inspired to respond to the prophetic message, or to offer a fresh revelation in turn. Paul seems to be limiting this aspect of the worship-meeting to men. While women may function as speakers/preachers, giving a (prophetic) message, it is a different matter for those seated in the congregation. Possibly this instruction should be construed even more narrowly, to the wives seated with their husbands.
  • Verse 35 shifts the discussion to a slightly different situation—where a wife wants to know more about the (prophetic) message that was spoken. In such instances, she should wait and discuss it with her husband at home. It is not certain whether, or to what extent, this instruction relates to unmarried women in the congregation. Some commentators have suggested that Paul has in mind wives questioning the (prophetic) message of their own husband, but that seems to be reading a bit too much into the passage.

Paul probably includes both of these situations under the declaration in 35b, though the emphasis may be on the latter. As indicated above, the language of this statement sounds quite harsh (with the use of “shame/disgrace”), but the force and place of it, in context, should not be misconstrued.

It is extremely difficult to apply 1 Cor 14:34-35 to the worship-setting in our churches today, since it requires a high degree of religious-cultural translation, which is perilous and unwise to attempt. It is better to spend one’s effort and energy grappling with just what Paul is trying to emphasize for believers regarding the relationship between men and women, as expressed in the corporate/community worship setting. How far should gender-distinction be preserved? How should husbands and wives relate in the worship setting? What about the distinction between ‘gifted’ minister and ‘ordinary’ congregant? Who should or should not be actively speaking/participating in the meeting, and where/when/how should they do so? Are there other aspects of the modern community worship experience which more seriously threaten proper order and custom than those which Paul addresses in Corinth?