In another post, titled “Could a Lutheran Become a Methodist?” a discussion was begun in the comments regarding baptismal regeneration.
Zimman57 posted a comment in which he states:
Baptism in the early church was by immersion: “they went down both into the water …. [W]hen they were come up out of the water” (Acts 8:38-39), etc. Why? Because baptism symbolizes the believer’s identification with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection: “we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead … we also should walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4).
That’s very well said. But I got to thinking, I had become aware some years ago that it was said the early Christians baptized by pouring; that Jesus himself was probably baptized in this manner.
It’s very hard to find information about early church practices; indeed, much of the information we have is little more than speculation. I did find a couple things, from Wikipedia. And yes, I’m aware that Wikipedia isn’t necessarily the best source.
Early Christian beliefs regarding baptism were variable. In the most usual form of early Christian baptism, the candidate stood in water and water was poured over the upper body. In other words, it was immersion, not submersion. Tertullian describes the rite as a triple immersion, preceded by a fast or vigil, a confession of sins, and renouncing the devil, and as followed by anointing, the imposition of hands, and a symbolic meal of milk and honey, the whole of the rite being normally presided over by the bishop, with Easter and Pentecost as the proper seasons for baptism in the early Christian period, though in case of necessity baptism might be administered at any time and by any male Christian. The theology of baptism attained precision in the 3rd and 4th centuries.
In Christianity, baptism (from Greek baptizo: “immersing”, “performing ablutions”, i.e., “washing”) is the ritual act, with the use of water, by which one is admitted to membership of the Christian Church and, in the view of some, as a member of the particular Church in which the baptism is administered.
The usual form of baptism among the earliest Christians was for the candidate (or “baptizand”) to be immersed totally or partially. While John the Baptist’s use of a deep river for his baptism suggests immersion, pictorial and archaeological evidence of Christian baptism from the 3rd century onwards indicates that the normal form was to have the candidate stand in water while water was poured over the upper body. Other common forms of baptism now in use include pouring water three times on the forehead.
Baptism was seen as in some sense necessary for salvation, until Huldrych Zwingli in the sixteenth century denied its necessity. Martyrdom was identified early in church history as baptism by blood, enabling martyrs who had not been baptized by water to be saved. Later, the Catholic Church identified a baptism of desire, by which those preparing for baptism who die before actually receiving the sacrament are considered saved.
Some Christians, particularly Quakers and the Salvation Army, do not see baptism as necessary. Among those that do, differences can be found in the manner and mode of baptizing and in the understanding of the significance of the rite. Most Christians baptize “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (following the Great Commission), but some baptize in Jesus’ name only. Most Christians baptize infants, many others do not. Some insist on submersion or at least partial immersion of the person who is baptized, others consider that any form of washing by water is sufficient.
Finally, the following picture purportedly shows a person in the early church being baptized. Note the pouring from above.