Posts Tagged ‘monotheism’

For those regualr visitors to my blog you will have noticed that I am not shy about putting my own essays from college on it. Part of my thinking is that its good to share resources, but its also that I want to be challenged and developed in my own thinking. I want my ‘theology’ to be public,open to criticism and accept peer review. In the light of this I offer the followin


I have been working on an essay on Baptism and the Early Church . The word limit was 1700 words which was an immense struggle to keep to and thus it is only a sketch view of baptism. I wrote a draft copy but then decided that I could incorporate some of N.T. Wright’s thinking into it. The essay, and I think it still fits with the essay title, seeks to show how baptism can only be understood from within the Judaic worldview. However, due tot he arrival of the Messiah and the eschaton, this worldview has been seriosuly modified. Those familiar with N.T. Wright’s brilliant Fresh Perspectives will see how I have taken the themes of covenant, monotheism and eschatology and have sought to show the implications for baptismal practise. The ‘John the Baptist’ bit is simply a table which, if word limit allowed, I could ahve elaborated and developed.

I will include part of it here but full text is available at this link Baptism and the Early Church

To what extent did the earliest Christians initiate new forms and approaches to worship? Discuss in relation to Jewish religious background with reference to the major developments up to 300AD in Baptism






The writing of history, including the history of Christian worship, is not simply the collection and presentation of data by the neutral historian into an objective narrative. Nor, in disagreement with post-modern historiography, are we left to swim in a sea of subjectivity. In light of this I intend to proceed, in this essay on baptism, by a critical-realist method of hypothesis and verification, recognising that although their was a ‘historical reality’ to Christian worship all that can be offered by the modern historian is ‘hypothetical reconstructions’ of this reality, which may or may not find verification from the texts.1


In answer to the above essay question, and with a disclosed methodology, I want to offer, tentatively, the following two point hypothesis:-


(1)Christianity, functioned with a modified Jewish worldview in its early baptismal theology and praxis.

(2) The baptism offered by John, and undertaken by Jesus, influenced Christian baptism more than ceremonial washing, Essene ‘baptism’ or proselyte conversion.


This rest of this essay will seek to verify, from primary sources where possible, the ‘reconstruction’ which is being offered.




(1)Christianity, functioned with a modified Jewish worldview in its early baptismal theology and praxis.


Judaism and the early Christian movement, cannot be understood historically without reference to the meta-narrative of the Hebrew scriptures. The Judaic worldview, as N.T Wright has passionately argued, is the story of the creator God (monotheism) who called to himself a people (covenant) who were to be a blessing to the nations (eschatology)2. This story, within the first century Judaic worldview, is a story in search of an ending, for the covenant people were living, in some sense, in exile under Roman occupation and were still awaiting the fulfilment of the eschatological promise Some Jews sought the arrival of the ha-‘olam haba’ (age to come) through zealous resistance to Rome, whereas others claimed that this time of restoration had begun in the work and ministry of the Messiah, Jesus. This early group of Jesus followers, in believing that the ‘age to come’ had in some sense already arrived, were theological creative with the basic tenants of Judaism. Monotheism, Covenant, and Eschatology were redefined3, and with it the basis of worship.


An example of this is seen in the early church as they moved away from the temple cult as Jesus, and those who are joined to him, are seen as the fulfilment of temple practise, for in him dwelt the presence of YHWH, and in him the role of Priest and sacrifice finds fulfilment.4

It is within this context that we need to understand the beginnings of the 1st century baptismal theology and praxis.


Covenant Baptism, functioning as the Christian equivalent to circumcision, was the initiation rite by which someone entered the covenant family.

In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead


This family no longer consisted of an ethnic group but now, in fulfilment of the plan to be ‘blessing to the nations’, was open to Jew and Gentile alike. This ‘welcoming of gentiles’ is a major development from the Judaic ‘ethnocentric’ worship, although, in my hypothesis and with a close reading of Paul, the concept of covenant and fulfilment, can only be understood when it is seen in close relationship with Judaism.5 This view of baptism as membership to God’s family continued through early Church being assumed in Didache (1:1) and the Apostolic Tradition. Justin Martyr shows that circumcision and baptism are linked, although it also demonstrates the early stages of a hyper-successionist theology which became the bedrock of anti- Semiticism.


And 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 Gods mercy; and all men may equally obtain it.6

Circumcision brought with it the obligation, as a covenant child, to adhere to Torah. Baptism brings with it certain obligations to live life by the ethics of Christ (Romans 6:1-14, Col 2:20-3:-13). The ethical demands of baptism continues throughout early church practise as illustrated by questioning the before baptism which appears in Hippolytus The Apostolic Tradition7.


Monotheism Early Christian worship, with the arrival of the Spirit and with the high regard given to Jesus, redefined monotheism. This modified monotheism develops within ’New Testament’ baptismal practise as baptism is either in the name of Jesus8 , or in the name of the triune God.9 As the church developed liturgical forms, and increased in the confidence of its Trinitarian identity, baptism in the triune name seems to have become the norm10.


In Judaism the ‘presence of YHWH’ was to be found in the temple, whereas the early church often associated baptism with the arrival of the spirit.11. By the 2nd century ‘Oil’ was used during the baptismal rite, functioning as an appropriate symbol of the arrival of the Holy Spirit12 with the exorcism of evil spirits, especially within Apostolic Tradition, becoming a major part of the ceremony.13



Within Judaism a part of worship was to remember the past acts of YHWH and look with hope to the fulfilment of his promises in the future. In a similar way Christian worship looks back and looks forward, except, and in this the Jewish worldview has been modified, a major part of Christian worship is that the future has, in one sense, already come into the present. As already mentioned the arrival of the spirit is closely related with the act of baptism which, according to Is 32:15 and Joel 2:2829, is a sign of the arrival of the eschaton. The Christian act of initiation, that is baptism, is offered as a picture of redemption and reconciliation in which the future resurrection life is in some sense already present14. The arrival of eternal life, as Tertullian writes, occurs in the event of Baptism.

Happy is our sacrament Of water, in that, by washing away the sins of our early blindness, we are set free and admitted into eternal life!15

Baptism involves the imagery of taking off the old life and accepting the new. This imagery which has a basis in the Old Testament16 is used by Paul either symbolically or with Wayne Meeks literally17 and is made explicit in what appears to be the naked baptisms in Hippolytus18

1 For a critical-realist epistemology of hypothesis and verification see Wright (1992, 31-44), also Swales Postmodernity and New Testament History

2 Wright (2005, Monotheism 83-107, Covenant 108-128, Eschatology 130-153)

3 ibid. Wright. Although Wright does not, as far as I am aware, develop, as this essay does, the implications that this has for early Christian worship.

4 Eph 2:21, Rev 21:22, 1 Cor 3:16, Heb. 8,9

5 Gal 3:26-27 and Gal 5:1-6 In disagreement with Longenecker (2002) Paul is not simply replacing one external rite (circumcision) by another external rite (baptism)”.

6 Justin Martyr (The Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol.I, 216 XKIII)

7 Apostolic Tradition 20:3 and Justin Martyr First Apology LXI

8 Acts 2:28,3:6,10:48, also Paul seems to have seen baptism as being in Jesus’ name (1 Cor 1:12)

9 Matt 28:19

10 Didache 7:1 and Apostolic Tradition 21:7

11 Rom 6:1-11, Gal 3:26-27, Col 2:11-12, Eph 5:26, Titus 3:5-7

12 Apostolic Tradition 21:7,

13 Apostolic Tradition 20:1, 21:6

14 Col 2:12, Rom 6:4

15 Tertullian (The Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. III :. 669)

16 Is 52:1, 61:10, Zech 1:1-5

17 Gal 3:27, Meeks (1983, 151)

18 Apostolic Tradition 21:1 although the actuality of nakedness is disputed by Guy (2003) who argues that the word gymnos (Eng. Trans. ’naked’) used by Hippolytus have a semantic domain which is far more flexible than the English word ‘naked’. It could then , he argues, refer to the removal of outer garments.

Read Full Post »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.