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Quotes About Water Baptism

Quotes about water baptism from throughout Christian History.


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Ignatius, AD 110

[Jesus] was born and baptized that by his suffering he might purify the water. (Letter to the Ephesians 18)

Wherever the bishop shall appear, let the multitude of also be, just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the catholic [i.e., universal] church. It is not lawful either to baptize or to celebrate a love feast without the bishop, but whatever he approves of, that is also pleasing to God. (Letter to the Smyrneans 8)

The Didache, AD 80 - 160

Concerning baptism, baptize in this way: Having first said all these things [i.e., the commands contained in the Way of Life and Death contained in first 6 chapters of the Didache], baptize into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit in running water. But if you have no running water, baptize into other water. If you cannot baptize in cold, then in warm. But if you have neither, pour water three times upon the head in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. However, before baptism, let the baptizer fast, and the baptized, and whoever else can. Either way, you shall order the baptized to fast one or two days before. (ch. 7)

Pseudo-Barnabas, AD 120 - 130

Concerning the water, it is written about the Israelites that they should not receive the baptism which leads to the remission of sins, but should procure another for themselves. The prophet therefore declares, "Be astonished, O sky, and let the earth tremble at this: this people has committed two great evils. They have forsaken me, a running spring, and have hewn out for themselves broken cisterns" [Jer. 2:12-13]. (Letter of Barnabas 11)

Blessed are they who, placing their trust in the cross, have gone down into the water. For, says he [i.e., God through the Scriptures], they shall receive their reward in due time. (Letter of Barnabas 11)

We indeed descend into the water full of sins and defilement but come up bearing fruit in our heart, having the fear and trust in Jesus in our spirit. (Letter of Barnabas 11)

Shepherd of Hermas, A.D. 100-160

"Hear, therefore, why the tower is built on the waters:--Because your life is saved, and shall be saved, by water." In answer to the question, "Why did the stones come up into this tower out of the deep?" he says it was necessary for them to come up by (or through) water, that they might be at rest; "for they could not otherwise enter the kingdom of God; for before any one receives the name of the Son of God, he is liable to death; but when he receives that seal, he is delivered from death and assigned to life. Now, that seal is water, into which persons go down, liable to death, but come out of it assigned to life; for which reason to these also was the seal preached; and they made use of it, that they might enter the Kingdom of God." (Shepherd of Hermas, Vision III, ch. 3 & Similitude IX, ch. 16)

Justin Martyr, c. AD 150

I will also tell you how we dedicated ourselves to God once we had been made new through Christ. … As many as are persuaded and believe that what we teach and say is true, and who determine to live accordingly, are instructed to pray and entreat God with fasting for the remission of their sins of the past. We pray and fast with them.

   Then they are brought by us where there is water, and they are regenerated in the same manner in which we ourselves were regenerated. For in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, of our Savior Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they receive the washing with water. For Christ also said, "Unless you are born again, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven" [John 3:3]. …

   How those who have sinned and repent shall escape their sins is declared by Isaiah the prophet, as I said earlier. He speaks in this way: "'Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean. Put away the evil of your doings from your souls. Learn to do good. Judge the fatherless, and plead for the widow. Then come, let us reason together,' says the Lord, 'and though your sins are as scarlet, I will make them white like wool … '"

   We have learned from the apostles the following reason for all this: at our birth we were born without our knowledge or choice—by our parents coming together—and we were brought up in bad habits and wicked training.

   So that we would not remain the children of necessity and ignorance but become the children of choice and knowledge, and so that we may obtain in the water the forgiveness of sins formerly committed. There is pronounced over the the person who chooses to be born again, and who has repented of their sins, the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe.

   He who leads the person that is to be washed to the laver calls God by this name alone … And this washing is called illumination because those who learn these things are illuminated in their understanding.

   The one who is illuminated is also washed in the name of Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and in the name of the Holy Spirit, who through the prophets foretold all things about Jesus. (First Apology 61)

And this food is called among us the Eucharist, of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins and to regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. (First Apology 66)

If you are eagerly looking for salvation, and if you believe in God, you may ... become acquainted with the Christ of God, and, after being initiated [a reference to baptism], live a happy life. (Dialogue with Trypho 8)

Because of this basin of repentance and knowledge of God, which has been ordained for the transgression of Godís people, as Isaiah cries, we have believed, and we testify that the very baptism which he announced is alone able to purify those who have repented. It is the water of life. But the cisterns which you have dug for yourselves are broken and of no benefit to you. For what is the use of a baptism which cleanses the flesh and body alone? Baptize the soul from wrath and from covetousness, from envy, and from hatred, and, lo, the body is pure. (Dialogue with Trypho 14)

But there is no other [way] than this: to become acquainted with this Christ, to be washed in the fountain spoken of by Isaiah for the remission of sins; and for the rest, to live sinless lives. (Dialogue with Trypho 44)

Irenaeus, c. AD 185

This next quote is a reference to the fact that a rule of faith was taught to Christians at baptism, which were basic  truths—a short creed—that they were to hold to and never deviate from. The Nicene Creed is adapted from the church at Caesarea's rule of faith in the 4th century.

He who retains unchangeable in his heart the rule of the truth which he received by means of baptism will doubtless recognise the names, the expressions, and the parables taken from the Scriptures [by the gnostics], but will by no means acknowledge the blasphemous use which these men make of them. (Against Heresies I:9)

And when we come to refute them, we shall show in its fitting place that this class of men [i.e., the gnostics] has been instigated by satan to a denial of that baptism which is regeneration to God, and thus to a denial of the whole faith [by denying all physical aspects of spirituality, including the incarnatian and bodily resurrection of Jesus]. (Against Heresies I:21:1)

The following quote needs a context. Irenaeus argues that Jesus lived to nearly fifty years old and ministered for 15 to 20 years. His view is unique to all of Christian history, as far as I know, though he refers to elders from the apostolic age who agreed with him. The fact that Irenaeus provides an argument at all is an indication that he knew that what he was saying was not a universal, nor perhaps even common, belief in the early churches. This quote is part of his general argument for an older age for Jesus. It is included on the baptism page because it is almost certain that "born again," "baptism," and "regeneration" were synonymous terms for all Christians for the first 1600 years of Christianity.

For he came to save everyone by way of himself. By everyone I mean all those who are born again to God through him: infants, children, boys, youths, and old men. He therefore passed through every age, becoming an infant for infants and a child for children, thus sanctifying those who are of this age, and at the same time becoming an example of piety, righteousness, and submission for them. He was a youth for youths, becoming an example for youths and sanctifying them for the Lord. So likewise he was an old man for old men, so that he might be a perfect Master for everyone, not merely in regard to laying out the truth, but also in regard to age, sanctifying at the same time the aged as well and becoming an example to them likewise. Then, at last, he reached death itself, so that he might become "the firstborn from the dead, that in all things he might have the preeminence" [Col. 1:18], "the Prince of Life" [Acts 3:15], existing before everyone and going before everyone. [Against Heresies II:22:4]

[Peter] testified to [the Jews in Acts 2] that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, the Judge of the living and dead, into whom he did also command them to be baptized for the remission of sins. (Against Heresies III:12:7)

For even Peter, although he had been sent to instruct them, and had been constrained by a vision to that effect, nevertheless spoke with more than a little hesitation, saying to [the Gentiles of Cornelius' household], "You know how it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company with or to visit someone of another nation; but God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean. Therefore, I came without gainsaying." He indicated by these words that he would not have come to them unless he had been commanded.

     Nor, for similar reason, would he have given them baptism so readily, had he not heard them prophesying when the Holy Spirit rested upon them. That is why he exclaimed, "Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, who have received the Holy Spirit as well as we?" He persuaded, at the same time, those that were with him, and pointed out that, unless the Holy Ghost had rested upon them, there might have been some one who would have raised objections to their baptism. (Against Heresies III:12:15)

And again, giving to the disciples the power of regeneration into God, He said to them, "Go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost" [Matt. 28:19] (Against Heresies III:17:1).

"[Naaman] dipped himself," it says, "seven times in Jordan." It was not for nothing that Naaman of old, when suffering from leprosy, was purified upon his being baptized, but as an indication to us. For as we are lepers in sin, we are made clean by means of the sacred water and the invocation of the Lord from our old transgressions, being spiritually regenerated as new-born babes, even as the Lord has declared: "Except a man be born again through water and the Spirit, he shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven." (Quote found in a manuscript called Catena; It's fragment 34 in Ante-Nicene Fathers vol. I, "Fragments of Irenaeus")

Clement of Alexandria, c. AD 190

The descriptions of Justin and Hippolytus are necessary in order for us to realize that Clement is talking about baptism here. Baptism was considered a washing and regeneration to the early Christians. After baptism, milk and honey were given to the new believer to represent their entering the promised land of Christ. They then took communion with the Church, drinking wine mixed with water. Apparently, in Alexandria, water was mixed with the milk and honey as well. I have not read that elsewhere, though I could easily have missed it somewhere.

For if we have been regenerated to Christ, he who has regenerated us nourishes us with his own milk, the Word … As the regeneration was conformably spiritual, so also the nutrient of man was spiritual. In all respects, therefore, and in all things, we are brought into union with Christ; into relationship through his blood, by which we are redeemed; into sympathy, in consequence of the nourishment which flows from the Word; and into immortality, through his guidance …

   The same blood and milk of the Lord is therefore the symbol of the Lordís passion and teaching. Therefore each of us babes is permitted to make our boast in the Lord, while we proclaim, "Yet of a noble sire and noble blood I boast me sprung" (Iliad 14:113].

   Further, milk has a most natural affinity for water, as assuredly the spiritual washing has for the spiritual nutrient. … And as is the union of the Word with baptism, so is the agreement of milk with water; for it receives water alone of all liquids, and can be mixed with water for the purpose of cleansing, as baptism for the remission of sins. It is mixed naturally with honey also, and this for cleansing along with sweet nutrition.

   For the Word blended with love at once cures our passions and cleanses our sins. The saying, "Sweeter than honey flowed the stream of speech" [Iliad I:248], seems to me to have been spoken of the Word, who is honey. And prophecy often extols him as "above honey and the honeycomb" [Ps. 19:10].

   Furthermore, milk is mixed with sweet wine, and the mixture is beneficial, as when suffering is mixed in the cup for immortality. For the milk is curdled by the wine and separated, and whatever adulteration is in it is drained off. In the same way the spiritual communion of faith with suffering man draws off the lusts of the flesh like serous matter, commits man to eternity, along with those who are divine, and immortalizes him. (The Instructor I:6)

Then he adds, "For so shall you pass through the water of another" [reference unknown, but the previous quote that he is "adding" to is from Prov. 9:17], reckoning heretical baptism not proper and true water. (Miscellanies I:19)

Tertullian, c. AD 200

When we are going to enter the water … in the presence of the congregation and under the hand of the president, we solemnly profess that we disown the devil, his pomp, and his angels. After this we are immersed three times, making a somewhat larger pledge than the Lord appointed in the Gospel. Then we are taken up [a reference to the Roman tradition of recognizing a newborn baby as a member of the family]. We first taste a mixture of milk and honey and from that day we refrain from the daily bath for a whole week. (De Corona 3)

For the law of baptizing has been imposed, and the formula prescribed: "Go," he says, "disciple the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." The comparison with this law of that definition, "Unless a man have been reborn of water and Spirit, he shall not enter into the kingdom of the heavens" (Jn. 3:5) has tied faith to the necessity of baptism. (On Baptism 13)

Hippolytus, c. AD 225

I preach to this effect: Come, all you kindreds of the nations, to the immortality of the baptism. I bring good tidings of life to you who tarry in the darkness of ignorance. Come into liberty from slavery, into a kingdom from tyranny, into incorruption from corruption.

   "And how," you may say, "shall we come?"

   How? By water and the Holy Spirit. This is the water in conjunction with the Spirit by which paradise is watered, by which the earth is enriched, by which plants grow, by which animals multiply, and—to sum up the whole in a single word—by which man is begotten again and endued with life. In this also Christ was baptized, and in this the Spirit descended in the form of a dove.

   This is the Spirit that at the beginning "moved upon the face of the waters" [Gen. 1:2]. By him the world moves. By him creation consists and all things have life, who also worked mightily in the prophets and descended in flight upon christ. This is the Spirit that was given to the apostles in the form of fiery tongues. This is the Spirit that David sought when he said, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me" [Ps. 51:10]. Of this Spirit Gabriel also spoke of the virgin, "The Holy Spirit shall come upon you, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow you" [Luke 1:35]. By this Spirit Peter spoke that blessed word, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" [Matt. 16:16]. By this Spirit the rock of the Church was established. This is the Spirit, the Comforter, that is sent because of you [Jn. 16:26] that he may show you to be the Son of God.

   Come then, be born again, O man, into the adoption of God. "And how?," you may say.

   If you practice adultery no more, do not commit murder, and do not serve idols. If you are not mastered by pleasure, if you do not allow the feeling of pride to rule you, if you clean off the filth of impurity, and put off the burden of sin. If you cast away the armor of the devil, and put on the breastplate of faith, just as Isaiah says, "'Wash yourselves, and seek judgment. Relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, and plead for the widow. And come and let us reason together,' says the Lord. 'Though your sins be as scarlet, I shall make them white as snow, and though they be like crimson, I will make them white as wool.  And if you are willing and hear my voice, you shall eat the good of the land'" [Isa. 1:16-19].

   Do you see, beloved, how the prophet spoke in advance of the purifying power of baptism? For he who comes down in faith to the laver of regeneration, renounces the devil, and joins himself to Christ; who denies the enemy and makes the confession that Christ is God; who puts off the bondage and puts on the adoption—he comes up from the baptism brilliant as the sun, flashing forth the beams of righteousness and, which is indeed the chief thing, he returns a son of God and joint heir with Christ. ("The Discourse on the Holy Theophany." chs. 8-10. You'll have to do a lot of scrolling or do a page search to get to the quote.)

Cyprian of Carthage, c. AD 250

Cyprian's "Heretics and Schismatics"

Cyprian is referring to the Novatianists, who agreed with the "Church which is one" on all but one thing. The Novatianists did not want to allow repentance for Christians who lapsed during persecution.

Novatian split the church over this, making himself a bishop of a separate congregation in Rome.

Those who have been dipped abroad—outside the Church—and have been stained among heretics and schismatics with the taint of profane water. When they come to us and to the Church which is one, they ought to be baptized. The reason is that laying hands on them that they may receive the Holy Spirit is of little importance, unless they also receive the baptism of the Church. For then can they finally be fully sanctified and be the sons of God, if they be born of each sacrament, since it is written, "Except a man be born again of water, and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" [John 3:5]. (Epistles of Cyprian 71)

The following quote from Cyprian addresses the fact that Stephen, bishop of Rome, was recognizing baptism by the Novatians as valid. Novatians were orthodox in doctrine but had separated from the church because the church was allowing those who denied Christ during persecution to repent. Cyprian was vehemently against recognizing their baptism (thus establishing that Cyprian did not believe the bishop of Rome was a pope). The laying on of hands to receive the Spirit was done immediately after baptism (see Justin above), and apparently Stephen did not recognize Novatian authority to convey the Spirit to the newly baptized.

Or if they attribute the effect of baptism to the majesty of the name, so that they who are baptized anywhere and anyhow, in the name of Jesus Christ, are judged to be renewed and sanctified; wherefore, in the name of the same Christ, are not hands laid upon the baptized persons among  them, for the reception of the Holy Spirit? Why does not the same majesty of the same name avail in the imposition of hands, which, they contend, availed in the sanctification of baptism? For if any one born out of the Church can become Godís temple, why cannot the Holy Spirit also be poured out upon the temple? For he who has been sanctified, his sins being put away in baptism, and has been spiritually reformed into a new man, has become fitted for receiving the Holy Spirit; since the apostle says, "As many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ" [Gal. 3:27] (Epistles of Cyprian 73:5)

For the blessed apostle sets forth and proves that baptism is that wherein the old man dies and the new man is born, saying, "He saved us by the washing of regeneration." [Tit. 3:5]. (Epistles of Cyprian 73:6)

This next passage, too, is in reference from Novatian, who split from the church of Rome because the churches were allowing repentance to those who denied Christ during persecution. Novatian was orthodox in doctrine, but he had split the church.

But that the Church is one, the Holy Spirit declares in the Song of Songs, saying, in the person of Christ, "My dove, my undefiled, is one; she is the only one of her mother, she is the choice one of her that bare her" [Song 6:9]. Concerning which also he says again, "A garden enclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring sealed up, a well of living water" [Song 4:12] But if the spouse of Christ, which is the Church, is a garden enclosed, a thing that is closed up cannot lie open to strangers and profane persons. And if it is a fountain sealed, the one who is found outside has no access to the spring and can neither drink from it nor be sealed [a reference to the laying on of hands to receive the Holy Spirit].

     And the well also of living water, if it is one and the same inside, then the one who is found outside cannot be made alive nor sanctified from that water of which it is only granted to those who are inside to make any use or to drink.

     Peter showed this, too, setting forth that the Church is one and that only they who are in the Church can be baptized, when he said, "In the ark of Noah, few, that is, eight souls, were saved by water; this is a figure displaying that baptism shall save you" [1 Pet. 3:21]. This proves and testifies that the one ark of Noah was a type of the one Church.

     If, then, in that baptism of the world thus expiated and purified [i.e., the flood], he who was not in the ark of Noah could be saved by water, then he who is not in the Church to which alone baptism is granted can also now be given life by baptism.

     In addition, the Apostle Paul, more openly and clearly still revealing this same thing, writes to the Ephesians, and says, "Christ loved the Church and gave himself for it, so that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water" [Eph. 5:25-26] But if the Church is one which is loved by Christ and is alone cleansed by his washing, how can he who is not in the Church be either loved by Christ, or washed and cleansed by his washing? (Epistles of Cyprian 75:2-3)

Commodianus, c. AD 240

You will not avoid sin following your former way of life.  Thou hast once been washed [i.e., baptized]: shall you be able to be immersed again? (Instructions of Commodianus 47)

Cyril of Alexandria, d. c. 380

[To the Catechumens] The honesty of purpose makes you called, for if your body is here but not your mind, it profits you nothing. Even Simon Magus once came to the Laver. He was baptized, but was not enlightened. Though he dipped his body in water, he did not enlighten his heart with the Spirit. His body went down and came up, but his soul was not buried with Christ, nor raised with him. Now I mention this statement of [men’s] falls, so that you may not fall, for these things happened to them by way of example, and they are written for the admonition of those who to this day draw near [cf. 1 Cor. 10:11]. Let none of you be found tempting his grace, lest any root of bitterness spring up and trouble you [Heb. 12:15]. Let none of you enter saying, "Let us see what the faithful are doing. Let me go in and see, that I may learn what is being done." Do you expect to see and not expect to be seen? And do you think that while you are searching out what is going on, God is not searching thy heart? (Schaff, Philip, ed. "Procatechesis, or Prologue to the Catechetical Lectures of our Holy Father, Cyril." Par. 1-2. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. Series 2. Vol. 7. 1893. PDF. Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library.)

A long notice is allowed you [in preparation for baptism]. You have forty days for repentance ...

   [By Cyril's time, most baptisms were done on Passover, which we now call Easter. The forty days are the fast prior to Passover, called Lent.]

   ... You have full opportunity both to put off and wash and to put on and enter [a reference to the parable in Matt. 22:1-14]. But if you persist in an evil purpose, this speaker is blameless, but you must not look for the grace. The water will receive, but the Spirit will not accept you. If any one is conscious of his wound, let him take the salve; if any has fallen, let him arise. Let there be no Simon [the magician] among you, no hypocrisy, no idle curiosity about the matter. (Schaff, Philip, ed. "Procatechesis, or Prologue to the Catechetical Lectures of our Holy Father, Cyril." Par. 4. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. Series 2. Vol. 7. 1893. PDF. Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library.)

Possibly too you have [become a Catechumen] for another pretext. It is possible that a man is wishing to court a woman, and came here on that account. The remark applies in like manner to women also in their turn. A slave also perhaps wishes to please his master, and a friend his friend. I accept this bait for the hook, and welcome you, though thou came with an evil purpose, yet [you came] as one to be saved by a good hope. Perhaps you did not know where you were coming from, nor in what kind of net you are taken. You have come within the Church’s nets. Be taken alive; do not flee, for Jesus is angling for you, not in order to kill, but by killing to make alive: for you must die and rise again. (Schaff, Philip, ed. "Procatechesis, or Prologue to the Catechetical Lectures of our Holy Father, Cyril." Par. 5. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. Series 2. Vol. 7. 1893. PDF. Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library.)

Martin Luther, c. 1520

The priest is not made. He must be born a priest; must inherit his office. I refer to the new birth—the birth of water and the Spirit. Thus all Christians must became priests, children of God and co-heirs with Christ the Most High Priest. ("First Sunday after Epiphany" from Complete Sermons of Martin Luther, vol. IV [Grand Rapids, MI:BakerBooks, 2007])

[Christ's] mission and work it is to help against sin and death, to justify and bring life. He has placed his help in baptism and the Sacrament [i.e., communion/Eucharist/Lord's supper], and incorporated it in the Word and preaching. To our eyes Baptism [capitalized in original] appears to be nothing more than ordinary water, and the Sacrament of Christ's body and blood simple bread and wine, like other bread and wine, and the sermon, hot air from a man's mouth. But we must not trust what our eyes see. ("First Sunday in Advent" from Complete Sermons of Martin Luther, vol. V [Grand Rapids, MI:BakerBooks, 2007])

I [i.e., God] have given you baptism as a gift for the forgiveness of sins, and preach to you unceasingly by word of mouth concerning this treasure, sealing it with the Sacrament of my body and blood, so that you need never doubt. True, it seems little and insignificant that by the washing of water, the Word, and the Sacrament this should all be effected. But don't let your eyes deceive you. ("First Sunday in Advent" from Complete Sermons of Martin Luther, vol. V [Grand Rapids, MI:BakerBooks, 2007])

For that purpose Christ instituted holy baptism, thereby to clothe you with his righteousness. It is tantamount to his saying, My righteousness shall be your righteousness; my innocence, your innocence. Your sins indeed are great, but by baptism I bestow on you my righteousness; I strip death from you and clothe you with my life. ("First Sunday in Advent" from Complete Sermons of Martin Luther, vol. V [Grand Rapids, MI:BakerBooks, 2007])

N.T. Wright, 1997

When [Paul] describes how persons, finding themselves confronted with the act of God in Christ, come to appropriate that act for themselves, he has a clear train of thought, repeated at various points. The message about Jesus and his cross and resurrection — 'the gospel', in terms of our previous chapters — is announced to them; through this means, God works by his Spirit upon their hearts; as a result, they come to believe the message; they join the Christian community through baptism, and begin to share in its common life and its common way of life. That is how people come into relationship with the living God. (What Saint Paul Really Said, p. 116-117)

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