Baptism in Second Century Writings
By Kyle Pope
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...
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).
Epistle to Polycarp. Urges Polycarp, “let your
baptism abide with you as your shield; your faith as your helmet” (6:2,
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).
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).
Epistle to the Smyrnaeans. Claims, “it is not
lawful apart from the bishop either to baptize or to hold a lovefeast” (8.2,
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,
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).