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Baptism in Second Century Writings
By Kyle Pope

Denominationalists sometimes claim that baptism for remission of sins, as a requirement of salvation, is not a doctrine which has been taught throughout church history. While the Bible and not historical tradition is the authority for all sound doctrine, such claims reflect an ignorance of the true record of church history.* This fact can be seen from statements made about baptism by religious writers as early as the second century. For example...

Epistle of Barnabas. Speaks of the “baptism which bringeth forgiveness of sins” (11.1), going on to describe it saying, “we go down into the water laden with sins and filth, and rise up from it bearing fruit in the heart, resting our fear and hope on Jesus in the spirit” (1.11, Lightfoot).

Ignatius’ Epistle to Polycarp. Urges Polycarp, “let your baptism abide with you as your shield; your faith as your helmet” (6:2, Lightfoot).

The Didache. States, “but concerning baptism, thus ye shall baptize. Having first recited all these things, baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit in living (running) water. But if thou hast not living water, then baptize in other water; and if thou art not able in cold, then in warm.” While the text then goes on to make provision for pouring as a substitute for immersion, the importance of baptism is seen in the fact that it states, “but before the baptism let him that baptizeth and him that is baptized fast, and any others also who are able; and thou shalt order him that is baptized to fast a day or two before” (7.1-4, Lightfoot). It adds later, “let no one eat or drink of the eucharistic thanksgiving, but they that have been baptized into the name of the Lord” (9.5, Lightfoot).

Second Clement. Asks the question, “...with what confidence shall we, if we keep not our baptism pure and undefiled, enter into the kingdom of God?” (6.9, Lightfoot).

Ignatius’ Epistle to the Smyrnaeans. Claims, “it is not lawful apart from the bishop either to baptize or to hold a lovefeast” (8.2, Lightfoot).

Shepherd of Hermas. Describes a vision, much like the “Parable of the Sower.” It describes rocks falling near the water that cannot fall in. This is explained to refer to those, “...that hear the word, and would be baptized unto the name of the Lord. Then when they call to their remembrance the purity of the truth, they change their minds and go back again after their evil desires” (Vision 3.7.3, Lightfoot).

Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho. Contrasts the value of baptism with Jewish washings, claiming, “we have believed, and testify that very baptism which he announced is alone able to purify those who have repented; and this 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 and from covetousness, from envy, and from hatred; and, lo! the body is pure” (14.1-2, Cox). He writes further, “nor do we receive that useless baptism of cisterns, for it has nothing to do with this baptism of life.” (19.2, Cox). Finally, he even claims, “we, who have approached God through Him, have received not carnal, but spiritual circumcision, which Enoch and those like him observed. And we have received it through baptism, since we were sinners, by God’s mercy; and all men may equally obtain it” (43.2, Cox).

* I use the term “church history” in reference to the extant historical record of what people taught and practiced after the time of the New Testament. Given that much of this record reflects movements away from Scripture, it more accurately might be called “church apostasy.” In this article I use the term accommodatively and do not intend to suggest that it reflects the doctrine or practice of the Lord’s church. Sadly, in many cases, the history of saints throughout the ages who have held faithfully to the doctrine of Christ has not been preserved by historians.

Pope, Kyle. "Baptism in Second Century Writings" Truth Magazine 49.19 (October 6, 2005): 9  

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