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
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Ferguson, Everett


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Listen to a lecture by Dr. Evertt Ferguson entitled Why Study Early Christian History and Literature. (Wheaton College)

Publisher’s Description:

This magisterial volume is a comprehensive survey of the doctrine and practice of baptism in the first five centuries of Christian history, arranged geographically within chronological periods. Baptism in the Early Church covers the antecedents to Christian baptism and traces the history of Christian doctrine and practice from the New Testament through the writings of the church fathers of the fourth and fifth centuries. The book deals primarily with the literary sources, though it also gives attention to depictions of baptism (primarily of Jesus) in various art forms and to the surviving baptismal fonts.

Ferguson’s thorough study points to the central importance of baptism in the early church. Many blessings were attributed to baptism, but the two earliest and most consistently mentioned are forgiveness of sins and the reception of the Holy Spirit; faith and repentance were necessary in order to receive these benefits. Jewish immersion rites, the practice of John the Baptist, the meaning of the words used for baptism, the literary descriptions, and the material remains argue that full immersion was the normal practice, and the evidence from art is consistent with this interpretation.

Containing nearly everything currently known about the early Christian ritual of baptism, with extensive citations to the primary and secondary literature, Ferguson’s Baptism in the Early Church is destined to be a standard reference work.

850 Pages
Published April 2009

About the Author

Everett Ferguson is Distinguished Scholar in Residence at Abilene Christian University, Abilene, Texas, and the recipient of the North American Patristics Society’s 2008 Distinguished Service Award, the highest honor given by the society.

912 Pages
Published March 2009

Book Details

850 Pages
Publisher: Eerdmans Publishing Company
Publication Date: April 2009
ISBN 10: 0802827489
ISBN 13: 9780802827487

“Everett Ferguson has accomplished here the next to impossible by presenting us with a single, detached, comprehensive, very well written, and easily readable study of baptism in the first five centuries of Christianity. No baptismal font remains unturned. No author or document, whether of greater or lesser significance, is left untreated. Liturgically and theologically, with attention to culture and archaeology, this is a truly remarkable study.”
- Maxwell E. Johnson, University of Notre Dame

"This valuable compendium of references to baptism in the early Christian centuries will be gratefully received by scholars and students focused on ancient Christianity and its developments. Ferguson sets his work in the context of other scholarly studies, carefully examining each reference. The topics covered include not only rites and formulas but also the physical setting, so both textual and artifactual evidence is considered. Warmly recommended!"

- Larry W. Hurtado, University of Edinburgh

"This extraordinary, comprehensive work is a lifetime achievement. Here Ferguson has - with the mastery of an expert - assembled, categorized, and analyzed countless primary documents and vast swaths of scholarship on the history of early Christian baptism. Ferguson not only organizes his data but consistently attends to the major controversies in interpreting that data and offers lucid summaries of the relevant theological arguments. The result is a precious resource for research and teaching on the subject of the history of baptism. Theologians, historians, and students of liturgy will all be enormously enriched by this monumental contribution."
- Robin M. Jensen, Vanderbilt University