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Saturday Afternoon Book Review

Saturday January 9, 2010

This is the first installment of what we hope will become a feature of this blog: a solid book review on Saturday afternoon. This review, by Marius Nel (pastor in the Dutch Reformed Church and a Research Associate in the New Testament department at the University of Pretoria in South Africa), is on Everett Ferguson's big book on baptism: Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology, and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries .

Baptism in the Early Church - History, Theology, and Liturgy in the first Five Centuries - Everett Ferguson

Reviewer: Marius Nel

Everett Ferguson's magnus opus is a comprehensive historical study of the doctrine and practice of baptism in the first five centuries of Christianity. Ferguson's focus is primarily on early Christian literary sources, though he also gives attention to the depictions of baptism (mostly of Jesus) in various art forms, as well as the architecture of a number of surviving baptismal fonts and baptisteries. He attempts to be as complete as possible for the first three centuries and "representatively comprehensive" for the fourth and fifth centuries (xix). The primary strength of Ferguson's excellent study is its comprehensive focus on all the available primary literature, while also surveying (chapter 1) and engaging (in numerous footnotes) the relevant secondary literature.

Part One covers the antecedents to Christian baptism. Ferguson begins with a discussion of Greco-Roman pagan washings for purification and the role of water in the Mystery Religions (chapter 2). He concludes that while the use of water as a means of purification was common in the religious activities of Greeks and Romans it did not fulfill the same religious role as in Christianity (25). Washings for example, were a preliminary preparation for the initiation into the Mystery religions, while it was the center of initiation into the church (29).

Chapter 3 focuses on the literal and metaphorical meaning of words from the Bapt-root in Classical and Hellenistic Greek usage. The verb Baptizo literally meant "to dip" (usually referring to a thorough submerging of an object in a liquid). Metaphorically it meant "to be overwhelmed by something" (for example the influence of wine) (38, 59). Pouring and sprinkling were distinct actions that were represented by different Greek verbs.

Please click on "external source" for the complete review.

Link to External Source Article

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