Sacraments of Initiation
Part 2 History of Initiation

Chapter i21 Christian Initiation during the Apostolic Period [0 CE to 399 CE]

Preliminary Questions


Mental Baptism Picture

Two Stories and a Point

The Historical Context of Christian Baptism

The Baptism of Jesus

The Sacrament of Baptism in the New Testament

Maxwell Johnson:  Summary of Chapter 1

Osborne's Summary of New Testament Insights into Baptism

To Think About

Preliminary Questions

What do you know of the origins of the Rites of Christian Initiation?  What do the Christian Scriptures tell us about conversion and initiation into the community?  Did Jesus himself baptize anyone?  What is the difference between the Baptism of John the Baptist and Christian Baptism? 

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 Maxwell Johnson. The Rites of Christian Initiation:  Their Evolution and Interpretation  (Revised and Expanded edition).  Chapter 1: The Origins of the Rites of Christian Initiation; Chapter 2: Christian Initiation in the Pre-Nicene East; Chapter 3: Christian Initiation in the Pre-Nicene West.

Martos, Chapter I. "Sacraments in All Religions," pp 3-18. Chapter II. "The Beginning of the Christian Sacraments," pp 19-46.

Osborne, "Holy Baptism: A Selected Bibliography," pp 7-10. Osborne, Chapter 1. "Holy Baptism: The Teaching of the Roman Catholic Church," pp 11-23. Chapter 2. "Holy Baptism and the New Testament," pp 24-61.  Chapter 3. "Holy Baptism and the Early Church," pp 62-78.

Reginald Fuller, "Christian Initiation in the New Testament," Made, Not Born pp 7-31.

Kavanagh, The Shape of Baptism pp i-xv, 1-11.

R. Cabie.   "The Origins of Christian Initiation (To the Middle of the Second Century)," pp 11-17 in A. G. Martimort (editor). The Sacraments. Volume III of The Church at Prayer. Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, new edition 1987. ISBN 0-8146-1365-9. [Updates of the lecture notes from my master's level courses at the Institut Catholique.]

Raymond E. Brown, The Churches the Apostles Left Behind. New York: Paulist Press, 1984.

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Mental Baptism Picture

Step one: Close your eyes.  Say the word "Baptism".  With an imaginary mental camera, take a picture of the image that came to your mind. 

Step two: Now look at the picture. 

Step three: Answer the following questions.

Who is being baptized? An infant? An adult? Both? Lots of people?
How many people are there? Five? Ten? Fifty? Hundreds?
How much water is there in the picture?
How much oil is there in the picture?
How much bread and wine is there in the picture?

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Two Stories And A Point

I would like to begin this lecture by quoting from the introduction of Martin Marty's book Baptism (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1962). Marty begins with two stories which I would like to read to you now. (Note that Marty is not a Roman Catholic and his second story is from his own Protestant liturgical experience, but you will be able to make the necessary adaptations in your imagination as I read the story.)


It is dark.

A shivering band of people has commandeered a cistern. In the depths of the earth the sound of moving water is heard. The slightest shuffling of feet echoes throughout the chamber. Most of the band are quiet, though a few whisper. Above the ground, heard only faintly from below, a rooster crows, marking the day's beginning. Soon farmers and merchants will be rising from sleep to take up their daily occupations, unaware of the activity underground. They would not understand the quiet rites, nor approve of them, and might even take action against the participants if they had knowledge and opportunity.

Meanwhile, below, a leader has come to the fore, a man of serene but slightly severe appearance. He whispers some words in the almost eerie setting. Some of the people begin to take off their clothes, folding them and setting them aside. With great solemnity and in many cases no little fear they approach the bowl of the cistern where water bubbles and flows. The children are put forward and dipped in first, after some questions which in many cases are answered for them. Then come the older children and the men. They are asked a number of very serious questions; after answering, and being placed under the water, they come out struck dumb by an experience of both physical and spiritual shock. Finally the women remove all their ornaments and loosen their hair. They are to have no alien objects, no rings or jewelry or bandages on them. Warily they step into the water and come out, dressing again in the now brightening glow of candles and torches.

The leader is very busy with various kinds of oil which he seems to be blessing and pouring on the people. He is asking questions and hearing answers and repeating formulas. Somehow his magisterial appearance and manner assuage the fright of the people near him. He seems satisfied with the proceedings, and gives orders for an exit to be prepared. The group makes its way through some passageways into a larger room. Here others who have themselves undergone the experience on an earlier occasion greet them warmly and lead them to an older man who seems to be in charge of this assembly. He lays his hands on their heads and nods approval of all that has gone on in the other room. He then invites them to pray with the assembly and to join at table for a meal of bread and wine at which sacred words are spoken and hymns are sung. The people now seem relieved and are obviously happy.

They have been baptized.

The event '' with all the hazards of the mystic and the over dramatic '' has been described more or less after the manner of the traditio apostolica, the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus in the earliest Christian centuries.


It is light.

A group of people are gathered off to the side in front of a large room full of onlookers. The sun is streaming in, its light broken into colorful fragments as it passes through a window. This window is different from most; it is made of stained glass, and under it is a very large bronze plaque which says: "To remember the good works of Mary Taylor, placed here by her husband." A man wearing long black and white and green clothes '' for this time and place a strange combination as all the other people are wearing street clothes '' beckons the smaller gathering of people over to a sort of finger bowl on a marble stand.

They move toward it, somewhat ill at ease, but generally undisturbed by the whole procedure. Some are moving to a better position to take photographs. Outside, the motor of a lawn mower starts to roar, for it is 1:15 on Sunday afternoon and American suburbanites are beginning their sacred outdoor Sunday rites. The accumulation of cars in the parking lot and the sound of song coming through the open windows suggest that something is going on inside the big building. But the gardeners and grass cutters are neither disturbed by the noise nor curious about the ceremonies. They do not even turn their heads to look in, though some heads inside are turned to look out. A soothing ripple of sound emanates from an electronic organ which provides quiet background music for the ceremony '' silence is abhorred by the gathered people. The man with the long clothes on begins to read.

One of the people up front is carrying a baby, a healthy-looking half-year-old who through careful overfeeding has been induced into a deep peaceful sleep '' nothing he does should be allowed to disturb the decor and manners of this impressive setting. The child wears a blue suit with pink lambs embroidered on it. His hair is combed to perfection, and his mother is hoping that the man will not have to mess it up too much. Passingly she wonders whether she turned off the oven and whether her dinner for all the guests will be ruined. The child's Father, too, is watching the proceedings, with an envelope in his pocket which he will give the minister as payment for his trouble. He is happy with himself: he was able to arrange a Sunday on the church schedule when both sets of the baby's grandparents could be here, and to lay in a supply of the best vintage champagne for a christening dinner. He hopes to get out of the building afterwards without becoming too involved in conversation with the man in the long clothes who will move to the door before the rest of the people.

The godparents, meanwhile, are smiling down at the baby; he seems so cute '' lying there smiling while the man traces a cross on his forehead and breast. They were glad they talked to the parents into "having it done." It's better to be on the safe side, they figured; anyway all children really ought to be christened. The man dips his finger into the little bowl three times and says some words: they hear a prayer. The godmother turns and walks down the aisle, conscious of how the child's light blue matches her own new dress. The other people in the room smile, pleased at how things have gone: the baby was just precious and the whole thing provided a bit of variety from the usual Sunday routine.

The child will probably be back in six years. His parents will want to drop him at the door of the church for elementary religious education and for preparation for First Communion. When he reaches the eighth grade he may even be sent back to prepare for simultaneous graduation from Church. The cycles of the generations will move on '' before too many years he may even be having all this done for his child too.

He has been baptized.

The event '' with all the hazards of the non-mysterious and the under-dramatic '' has been described more or less after the manner of the traditio protestantica, the Protestant tradition in the twentieth Christian century.

THE POINT:  The Christian believes that God can give us the same benefits in both these baptisms. The Christian asks whether we can receive the same benefits from both.


Grace is always a FREE GIFT of God: a gift, freely given.  We control only the RITUAL: the words / symbolic actions / music, etc.

Christian rituals are not magic [Magic:  a ritual which gives a creature control over the divinity; e.g. God does not want it to rain, but I perform certain actions and say certain words and it rains whether God wants it to or not.]

Roman Bathing Customs: When you finished washing up, you dried off and freshened the skin with bath oil. Bathing and oiling were "imaged" as one act much as when we would say "I am going to take a shower" we would also imply that afterward we would dry off -- even if we don't say it explicitly. When the early church writers speak of baptism they are speaking of the water rite and the anointing with oil--just as today if I were to say: "I would be happy to go out to eat with you, but first I want to take a shower." In saying that I want to take a shower I am implying that afterwards I will dry off before getting dressed. Drying off is simply presumed. I do not need to speak of two separate acts any more than the early church needed to speak of baptism and confirmation. They were "imaged" as one act.  (However, bathing and then applying the oil fifteen years later for them would be analogous for you to take a shower and dry off fifteen years later.

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The Historical Context of Christian Baptism

1.  Jewish Ablutions   Jewish ablutions usually contain a penance, or repentance, or conversion theme.   [Birth themes are a Christian addition.]

2.  John the Baptist   Scholars debate where John got the idea to baptize and scholars debate as to what happened to Jesus when he was baptized by John.   Some scholars say that it is the immediate external origin of Christian Baptism (e.g. Fuller).  Most scholars disagree with Fuller and consider the Sacrament of Initiation to be an invention of the early church.

3.  Circumcision  There is no direct line leading from circumcision to Christian baptism.

4.  Qumran  There is no (known) link between the ablution rites at Qumran and Christian baptism.

5.  Mystery Religions   The (pagan) Mystery Religions used ablution rites.  Initiation into the mystery cults was often by baptism in the blood of the sacrificial animal.  (Note that there is an obvious connection between water washing away dirt and water "washing" away sins.   But remember that "original sin is not mentioned at all in the New Testament insights into baptism. Therefore, original sin cannot be seen as a constitutive factor for a theology of baptism." (Osborn, p 59)

6.  Fusion of what was in the air  Dr. B. Brandon Scott  says that Christian baptism was born of a "fusion of things that were in the air at the time"  e.g.  1) proselyte (Jewish) baptism, 2) the baptism of John the Baptist and his community, and 3)  the practices of the mystery religions. 

7.  New liturgical creation   Dr. Kavanagh states that Christian baptism is "a new liturgical creation" which arises out of the Jewish proselyte practice, the practice of John the Baptizer, and the cultural bathing practices of the time.  These elements "combine to produce an entirely new liturgical creation '' a post-Pentecostal plunging into Spirit and fire released upon the earth by the passion, death, and resurrection of one Jesus, the Anointed One of God. (Aidan Kavanagh, "Liturgical Inculturation: Looking to the Future", York, England, August 19, 1989.)   The practices flows from a reflection on the meaning of conversion (saying "yes" to the Paschal Victory of Jesus Christ) and the application of archetypes (death to the old self, down, birth, new life, water, light, etc.) 

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The Baptism of Jesus

Regarding the baptism of Jesus, Fr. Eugene Hensell, O.S.B., writes in Homily Helps

The Baptism of Jesus by John is one of the few things that almost all NT scholars agree is a historical fact. It raises more questions than it provides answers. It would have been much easier for the evangelists to ignore the story than to include it. It is included because it really happened.

The temptation is to attempt to interpret this event from a psychological point of view, thereby drawing conclusions as to why Jesus was baptized, what he was thinking, what he was feeling. There is no textual evidence that allows us to address any of those issues. As the event is now narrated in the Gospel, its meaning must be theological not psychological or personal.

The story of Jesus being baptized by John is a theological narrative, and any attempt to reconstruct the event with historical details is fruitless. Almost all scholars believe it really happened, but more than that is impossible to substantiate. However, the richness of the story is in it's theology and not its factuality.  (From Sunday Homily Helps, January 12, 2014 by Fr. Eugene Hensell OSB)

 1) Baptism. Unlike Mk, Mt portrays John as knowing full well who Jesus is when he comes for baptism. Mt clearly gives John a secondary role in the relation to Jesus. John appears surprised, if not shocked, that Jesus has approached him for baptism (Mt 3:13-14). The reason Jesus gives for undergoing a baptism by John is a theological one and reflects the theology of Mt. The purpose is so that John and Jesus can "fulfill all righteousness" (Mt 3:15). In Mt's theology this phrase means that they are doing the revealed will of God. Note carefully that there is no mention here of the forgiveness of sins. There is no indication that Jesus is serving as a model for the necessity of Christian Baptism.  (emphasis added)

 2) Revelation. The climax of Jesus' baptism is the coming of the Holy Sprit to anoint Jesus for his messianic mission. This is followed by an utterance from the divine voice revealing that Jesus is the Son of God (Mt 3:16-17). The voice from heaven quotes a combination of Ps 2:7 and Is 42:1. Jesus is God's Son as well as God's unique servant.  Jesus' baptism serves as a commissioning event whereby God grants him what he will need to carry out his ministry and do God's revealed will. John the Baptist will fade into the background. Even though he knows who Jesus is, John is never portrayed by Mt as becoming a disciple of Jesus. From this point on, The focus will be on Jesus and his ministry as God's Son and beloved Servant.   


1)  Three examples of “dipping” -- i.e. in Greek: “baptism”

First: John dipped (baptized) Jesus in the Jordan River.
Second: I dipped (baptized) Robert Scott in the baptismal pool at Easter.
Third: My mother dipped (baptized) a freshly killed chicken in scalding water to remove its feathers.

Question: What do these 3 baptisms have in common? How many make the “dipped” (“baptized”) part of a community? How many are rites of initiation? How many take away sin? How many are a sacrament?  Answer: The answer to each of these questions is “one” namely, the second  and only the second example.

2  The three synoptic gospels each record the baptism of Jesus.  We celebrate this event on the first Sunday per annum. 

Top of the iceberg / Under the iceberg:  We all have seen artistic renderings of the baptism of Jesus and we all have various mental pictures of Jesus going down into the Jordan and being baptized by John.   But what "interpretation" do we give to this event.  What unconscious, under the iceberg interpretation do we give to it? 

During my years of teaching graduate courses on the Sacraments of Initiation I have frequently found Catechists who when they hear the word "baptism" think "Sacrament of Baptism" and imagine Jesus going into the Jordan to receive the sacrament.  He had his original sin forgiven, all his actual sins forgiven, and he became a member of the Roman Catholic Church.  After his Baptism he received the Holy Spirit in Confirmation and then he received his First Holy Communion at the Last Supper. (We don't know if he made his FIrst Confession before his FIrst Holy Communion or not.)  They then continue this line of thinking and imagine that Jesus ordained the twelve apostles Roman Catholic Priests so that they could concelebrate the First Mass with him and wonder: Did Jesus first baptized them (because you can't be ordained unless you are first baptized); were they ordained before they were Confirmed (because, obviously, they only received Confirmation on Pentecost)?  If he ordained them priests at the Last Supper, when did He ordain them bishops? 

In class at the Institut Superieur de Liturgie Fr. Gy  frequently reminded us that "even more important than knowing the right answers, is knowing the right questions."  And these are evidently NOT the right questions.

2.  Top of the iceberg:  The texts   The baptism of Jesus is one of the few events recorded in all three synoptic gospels.  Why?  Brandon Scott replies:  "It was an embarrassment which needs to be explained." (B. Brandon Scott, class notes, St. Meinrad.)

The baptism of Jesus by John is probably in all the synoptic gospels because historically it factually happened.  It is unclear why Jesus would have been baptized by John but most scholars think it was to show his allegiance to John and his wanting to be a part of John's early group. Eventually they will split up and Jesus will go his own way. Today, hardly anyone in the scholarly world thinks that Jesus was baptized "to provide a model for later Christians" since that is not how he operated at all.

The gospel of John does not have Jesus baptized by John because he might not have known about the synoptic tradition and therefore was unaware that it happened.

3.  Top of the iceberg:  The liturgy    Look to the liturgical texts to see how we pray about the baptism of Jesus.  e.g. see the commentary on this feast in the Liturgy of the Hours. 

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented Jesus, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" But Jesus answered John, "Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Then John consented. And when Jesus was baptized he went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and Jesus saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him; and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, "This is my Son, the beloved one, with whom I am well pleased." (Matthew 3:13-17. Baptism of Our Lord, Cycle A)

Jesus speaks of his passion and death as his "baptism":  "I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed!"  (Luke 12:50)   In Mk 10:35-45. Jesus associates "baptism" and "death and resurrection."  Verse 35: Zebedee's sons, James and John, approached him.  38:  "Can you drink the cup I shall drink or be baptized in the same bath of pain as I?"   See also Mt 20:20-28  [Gospel for feast of St. James. See also homily on the text by St. John Chrysostom, Office of Readings, Feast of St. James.]  The Paschal Victory (cross) meaning joins water bath event.

At Mass the current Roman invitation to communion joins the words of John the Baptist "Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!" [eschatological Lamb, remission of sins] with communion [participation in death and resurrection].  The Baptism of Jesus is joined to the meaning of passion, death, and resurrection. Jordan and Calvary are joined.  Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist metaphors become one. 

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The Sacrament of Baptism in the New Testament

1)  Paul--Death and Resurrection: 

Romans 6:3-4 (NAB)
3 Or are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?
4 We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.

Colossians 2:12-14 (NAB)

12 You were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.
13 And even when you were dead (in) transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, he brought you to life along with him, having forgiven us all our transgressions;
14 obliterating the bond against us, with its legal claims, which was opposed to us, he also removed it from our midst, nailing it to the cross;

Romans 6 is the earliest theological reflection on Christian Baptism.  Paul focuses on the link between Christ's death and resurrection and our baptism.  Through baptism we have entered into both the death of Jesus and the eternal life of the risen Christ.  Baptism involves dying with Christ in order to live with Christ.  The water of baptism at once symbolizes death (by drowning) and life (without water life is impossible for humans).  Baptism involves receiving the Holy Sprit which is the power of God to life a virtuous and fruitful life in the present and to enjoy eternal life in the age to come.  (Daniel Harrington, America, 2008, Oct 27, p 39)

In the light of Romans 6, seeing baptism as a death, it follows that it's ritual celebration involves going down into a tomb and being buried, drowning, dying--and then rising up again to a new and different life, the life of Christ. -- Note that these meanings are completely lost if none of this happens and merely a little water is dripped over a person's head.  

2)  John--New Birth

John 3 speaks of the conversation with Nicodemus:  "Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit."  (John 3:5ff)

In the light of John 3, seeing baptism as a birth, it follows that it's ritual celebration involves coming up out of a watery womb as in our first birth to be "born again" of water and Spirit.  -- Note that these meanings are completely lost if none of this happens and merely a little water is dripped over a person's head.  

Other images for Baptism in the Christian Scriptures
Besides the principal images of Death/Resurrection (Paul) and New Birth (John) the New Testament has other images also:
(see:  Maxwell Johnson,  The Rites of Christian Iinitiation,  page 37)

3.  Enlightenment

Hebrews 6:4 (NAB)
4 the case of those who have once been enlightened and tasted the heavenly gift and shared in the holy Spirit...

Hebrews 10:32 (NAB)
32 Remember the days past when, after you had been enlightened, you endured a great contest of suffering.

1 Peter 2:9 (NAB)
9 But you are "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises" of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

This is the significance of receiving the candle (lit from the Christ candle) at baptism with the prayer:

You have been enlightened by Christ.
Walk always as children of the light
and keep the flame of faith alive in your hearts.

4.  Being clothed in Christ.  Puting on Christ as a garment.  Taking off the old self and putting on the new Being clothed in the righteousness of Christ

Colossians 3:9-10 (NAB)
9 Stop lying to one another, since you have taken off the old self with its practices
10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed, for knowledge, in the image of its creato

Galatians 3:27-28 (NAB)

27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 

This is the significance of putting on a white garment after coming up out of the baptismal pool.  The prayer reads:

You have become a new creation
and have clothed yourselves in Christ.
Receive this baptismal garment
and bring it unstained to the judgment seat of our Lord Jesus Christ,
so that you may have everlasting life. Amen

This is also the significance of the white garment placed on the casket at the beginning of the Funeral Mass.

5.  Initiation into the Christian community

1 Corinthians 12:13 (NAB)
13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.

Acts 2:41-42 (NAB)

41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, ...
42 They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.

6.  The forgiveness of sins

1 Corinthians 6:11 (NRSV)
11 And this is what some of you used to be. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

Acts 2:38-39 (NRSV)

38 Peter said to them, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
39 For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him."

7.  The gift of the Holy Spirit, Being anointed and/or sealed by the Holy Spirit

Acts 2:38 (NRSV)
38 Peter said to them, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.   

John 3:5 (NRSV)
5 Jesus answered, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.

Titus 3:5 (NRSV)
5 he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.

1 John 2:20 (NRSV)
20 But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and all of you have knowledge.

8.  Washing, sanctification, justification 

1 Corinthians 6:11 (NRSV)
11 And this is what some of you used to be. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.


9.  Being sealed or marked as belonging to God and God's people 

2 Corinthians 1:21-22 (NAB)
21 But the one who gives us security with you in Christ and who anointed us is God;
22 he has also put his seal upon us and given the Spirit in our hearts as a first installment.

Ephesians 1:12-14 (NAB)

12 so that we might exist for the praise of his glory, we who first hoped in Christ.
13 In him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised holy Spirit,
14 which is the first installment of our inheritance toward redemption as God's possession, to the praise of his glory.

Ephesians 4:30 (NAB)
30 And do not grieve the holy Spirit of God, with which you were sealed for the day of redemption.

Revelation 7:3 (NAB)

3 "Do not damage the land or the sea or the trees until we put the seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.

10.  Being grafted onto the vine which is Jesus

John 15:5 (NAB)
5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.

Galatians 2:20 (NAB)

20 ...yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me.

By baptism we are grafted into the vine that is Jesus, so that the sap, nutriunts, (divine life, grace) flows to us from Christ and we are empowered by that "sap" to build the kingdom. 

NOTE:  Did Jesus tell the disciples to baptize?  Is Christian Baptism from Jesus himself?

Mark 16:14-20 (NRSV)  = Ending of Mark's Gospel
14 Later he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were sitting at the table; and he upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen.
15 And he said to them, "Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.
16 The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned.
17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues;
18 they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover."
19 So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God.
20 And they went out and proclaimed the good news everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it.]

Matthew 28:16-20 (NRSV)  =  Ending of Mathew's Gospel
16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.
17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.
18 And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

Scripture scholars agree that both of these passages are most probably not words of Jesus himself. They reflect the practice of the Church about 80 CE.

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Maxwell Johnson:  Summary of Chapter 1

Maxwell E. Johnson Chapter 1: The Origins of the Rites of Christian Initiation

 Part I:  Jesus' "Table Companionship" as an Initiation Rite.  Initiation has its origins in Table Fellowship

"To use our own now traditional sacramental language the meal itself was not the culmination of initiation but appears rather as the inception, the very beginning of initiation, the "sacrament" of initiation, if you will, the rite of incorporation into Christ. Nothing, not even baptism, and certainly nothing like Confirmation, is required as preparatory steps. (pp 5-6)

Aidan Kavanagh: " baptism the Eucharist begins, and in the Eucharist baptism is sustained."  Eucharist is the repeatable part of baptism.  --  We begin by dipping our hand in the baptismal water and marking ourselves with that sign in which we were baptized.

 Part II: Jesus and Baptism

The Baptism of John
The Baptism of Jesus at the Jordan
Jesus and Baptism in the Fourth Gospel

 Part III: Christian Initiation in the New Testament Communities

How were the earliest Christian baptisms administered?
What words were used in the conferring of baptism?
Were infants baptized in the time of the New Testament?

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Osborne's Summary of New Testament Insights into Baptism

Osborne (page 59) summarizes "Holy Baptism and the New Testament" in eight statements.

1.   Baptism is associated clearly with the Spirit. To say that there is, for Christians, a baptism of water and only later a baptism of the Spirit counters all that the New Testament says.

2.  Baptism is presented as a communal activity, involving the followers of Jesus. It is not a private affair, nor is it a family affair. Even if there might be some admission of infants to baptism in the New Testament, such baptisms are almost wholly overshadowed by adult baptism. Thus, the celebration is not of a child into a family, but of a person into the Jesus community.

3.  Baptism renders meaningless any claim to preeminence due to gender, social class, or ethnic background.

4.  Baptism is a profoundly religious event.  Faith is involved, and this means a response to an antecedent gift of God.  Baptism, therefore, is a moment of grace, a moment of gift, not a good work nor a keeping of a commandment.

5.  Negatively, baptism is not compared to circumcision, nor is it seen as a Christian substitute for circumcision. Therefore, the theology of circumcision does not play a role in developing the theology of baptism.

6.  Negatively, again, original sin is not mentioned at all in the New Testament insights into baptism. Therefore, original sin cannot be seen as a constitutive factor for a theology of baptism.

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To Think About

Did you learn anything new about initiation in the Scriptures from what you have read and heard? Are the Christian Scriptures about rites? Did Jesus received the sacrament of Baptism? Did Jesus instituted a single rite which diversified in time? Was John the Baptist was the first to confer the sacrament? Can we find the sacrament of Confirmation in the Acts of the Apostles? Did Jesus say that all persons must be baptized?

Where did the rites of Christian Initiation come from?  Discuss the development of these rites.

What is the difference between the Baptism of John and Christian Baptism?

State five metaphors for baptism found in the Christian Scriptures. Where in the Rites for Christian Initiation is this metaphor expressed? What does this tell you about the meaning of Christian Initiation?

What are the historical relationships between Christian Initiation and a) the mystery cults, b) Greek philosophy, and c) Hebrew culture?

Compare and contrast the symbolism of baptism by immersion and by infusion or aspersion in the light of the biblical statements on baptism, conversion and initiation. Down into the river, Down into the tomb, etc.

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Copyright: Tom Richstatter, Franciscan Province of St. John the Baptist, Cincinnati Ohio, Order of Friars Minor. All Rights Reserved.  This page was created by Fr. Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M.  Every effort has been, and is being made, to acknowledge sources when the ideas are not my own.  Any failure to comply with the United States Copyright Act (Title 17, United States Code) will be corrected immediately should I become aware of it.  This site was updated on .  Your comments on this site are welcome at