The Didache On The Baptism Of Converts

Now concerning baptism, baptize as follows: after you have reviewed all these things, baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit in running water. But if you have no running water, then baptize in some other water; and if you are not able to baptize in cold water, then do so in warm. But if you have neither, then pour water on the head three times in the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit. And before the baptism let the one baptizing and the who who is to be baptized fast, as well as any others who are able. Also, you must instruct the one who is to be baptized to fast for one or two days beforehand.

Didache | ch. 7 (early 2nd century) trans. Michael W. Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations, 3rd edn (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007).


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  1. Interesting. So this reinforces the antiquity of indifference to mode. But I can see it being used as a prooftext for credobaptism; is there context around it that distinguishes this as for converts, vs other procedures for infant children of believers?

    • This context of this passage is debated. It’s ambiguous. There’s no context. So, I characterize it as instruction on the baptism of converts, which is certainly true. Paedobaptists do practice the baptism of converts. The evidence from the 2nd century has been hotly contested but is fairly ambiguous. There’s no clear evidence to say that there wasn’t infant baptism. Infant baptism was being practiced by the turn of the 3rd century and there’s no evidence, of which I’m aware, that indicates that the practice was controversial. Given that one of the most heated debates of the 2nd century was the day on which Easter should be celebrated, it would be surprising to find that infant baptism was introduced with no controversy, if it were a change of practice.

    • Not only is there explicit flexibility respecting mode, but there is a rather fundamental Greek interpretive question, concerning the ambiguity of the prepositions used “en/eis,” as in the phrases “en udati zwnti” (in living/running water) or “eis allo udwr” (in other water); also “en psuchrw en thermw” (if not in cold then in warm); also “eis ten kefalen,” (on the head). Also worthy of rolling into the whole is the bracketing of all that with the stock-terminology (2x) “in [eis] the name of the F-S-HS.”

      The allegation that “en” (or “eis”) is a clear indicator of manner (submersion) rather than instrument or means is linguistically unsustainable.

  2. I stand by what I posted on Andrew Price’s Facebook page in answer to (Mormon) Mary Thompson Vogwell’s “Michael, the Didache is a great read. For me it is interesting not only for the beliefs it includes and highlights but also for what it leaves out. It is quite early. I’ve linked to it on my page. Worth a read….(and it highlights the importance of works)”:
    “Mary, the Didache, like the Epistle of Barnabas, is an interesting read but of limited “goodness”, to say the least. The second section of the one is virtually identical to the first section of the other, teaching justification by works of the law in complete contradiction to the New Testament. We CANNOT provide a ransom for our soul by doing good works, whatever Messrs. Didache and Epistle of Barnabas say. The treasure we lay up in heaven by doing good works is multifaceted, but it does not include our souls’ ransom: THAT can only be provided by Christ on the cross.”
    I suspect that the Didache we have now is two traditions cobbled together, one of which was also cobbled together with some crudities and obsessive absurdities about the animal kingdom to form the Epistle of Barnabas. So we cannot give it the degree of authority that one might to the earlier 1 Clement, the only real fault of which I have detected is the introduction of novel inappropriate arguments for resurrection that have more to do with the renewal of the face of the earth, as per Psalm 104, than with biblical resurrection, culminating in that ridiculous appeal to the mythological Phoenix. Do I even need to say that, in spite of its title, it is not the teaching of the apostles (whereas, of course, the New Testament is)?
    However, if the Didache passage before us has any evidential value at all, we must conclude that, at least in the community in which or for which the Didache was written (Montanist?):
    1. Baptism in water did not mean effusion or sprinking. The norm for baptism involved at least partial, if not full immersion (I consider this principle unlikely to have originated in that community), and
    2. That community did not baptize infants, certainly not as early as physically possible. You don’t make a neonate fast.

    I have scriptural reason for believing that the norm for baptism IS total or partial immersion accompanied by effusion. And guess what, nobody, but nobody (except, possibly, Studd and Buxton in the earliest days of WEC – We don’t know what they did, but they claimed to have derived their practice directly from Scripture) practises it (except by accident)! So it must be absolutely essential to salvation to get our mode of baptism exactly right, mustn’t it?

  3. John,

    You make an interesting hypothesis, but can you prove that the Didache is a composite of multiple books?

    We know that Athanasius (The Father that first suggested the cannon as we now know it) and Eusibius (Early Church Historian), both mentioned the Didache, so we would have to assume your conclusions are based on what we now know as the Didache to be, post 325AD.

    As for the mythical Phoenix, why is there a problem, the bible references talking snakes, UFO’s, Handkerchiefs that heal, Dragons etc.

    You understand scripture based on your own interpretation or those you consider scholars, but these documents help us understand what was immediately passed down to the Church and what the Church at that time believed, although, I accept error because we see in scripture and in 1 Clement that the Corinthians believed things that were not what was passed down.

    “Cleopas of Emmaus had at least 5 sons, two of which were Mattiyahu (Matthew) and Yochanan (John Mark) who authored the Gospels in their respective names. It is also suspected that Matthew authored much of the Didache which was issued in its finished-form by John the Evangelist. Cleopas was married to a Mary – the sister of Mary Theotokos (see below).”

    If the Corinthians believed falsely imagine what Clement or Paul would say about the Protestant Church.

  4. Actually reading the Didache the reference to the days for fasting both for those who were to do the baptising and those who were to be baptised really doesn’t make one warm to the notion that the common thing was for mum and dad or the head of the household to get “done” and everyone else did too which (& I’m trying not to be flippant here) is what I keep hearing everyone saying was the norm in converts to Judaism.

    Whatever about the mode I remain completely stupefied that if the norm was that babies were done that then there should have been some reference before Tertullians blast against infant baptism in 205 AD as being the first concrete and clear reference to the practice.

    Chapter 61`of Justin Martyrs treaty is another point. Possibly the greatest Christian apologist of the day writing from Rome yet his comments regarding baptism being given so that we are children of choice not necessity (as with physical birth) imply not only that adults … or at least those able to choose got baptised, but that he had not the slightest awareness for infants to do so?



  5. This is the reference by Justin – chapter 61 of his “First Apology”

    Note from the first part:
    As many as are persuaded and believe that what we teach and say is true, and undertake to be able to live accordingly, are instructed to pray and to entreat God with fasting, for the remission of their sins that are past, we praying and fasting with them. Then they are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated. For, in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water.

    Note from the 2nd part of the chapter:

    And for this [rite] we have learned from the apostles this reason. Since at our birth we were born without our own knowledge or choice, by our parents coming together, and were brought up in bad habits and wicked training; in order that we may not remain the children of necessity and of ignorance, but may become the children of choice and knowledge, and may obtain in the water the remission of sins formerly committed, there is pronounced over him who chooses to be born again, and has repented of his sins, the name of God the Father and Lord of the universe; he who leads to the laver the person that is to be washed calling him by this name alone.

    …. Both excerpts — for me —add to the deafening historical silence. Given how much God loves, loved and cared for children I find it inexplicable that both NT and church history would have nothing to say before Turtullians writing against the practice in 205 AD.
    Best wishes,


    • Keith those are good questions, I am not the one to be able to answer them but I will definitely do the research, the below exert was from an article by Robert Arakaki, a friend and scholar, he provides good insight on this topic. You can respond to the below Blog post or find him on Facebook,

      “A lot depends on the question we ask. If you ask a question the wrong way, you are quite likely to get an incorrect answer. If we take your question about infants as a starting point, we can extend it to adults, teenagers and elderly as well. Just as there is no teaching in the Bible in support of infant baptism so likewise there is no teaching in the Bible in support of teenagers or of senior citizens being baptized.

      A better way to frame the question is to ask: What does the Bible teach about covenant initiation? We find throughout the Bible God establishing covenants (contracts) and people entering into a covenant relationship by means of a certain ritual act. In Genesis 17 God invites Abram to enter into a covenant via circumcision. What is the age span of those circumcised in Genesis 17? Anywhere from a new born male child eight days old (Genesis 17:12), a teenage boy (Ishmael was 13 years old at the time; see Genesis 16:16), to a male senior citizen (Abraham was 99 years old at the time; see Genesis 17:1).”

  6. In the same article I mentioned previously Robert makes the following statement.

    “An overview of the early church’s attitude towards infant baptism can be found in Jaroslav Pelikan’s The Emergence of the Christian Tradition (100-600), (pp. 290-292). The earliest mention of infant baptism was by Tertullian (c. 160-220) who voiced skepticism about the practice of baptizing infants. The renowned Alexandrian theologian, Origen (185-254), admitted infant baptism to be part of the church tradition going back to the Apostles even as he struggled to articulate a clear rationale for the practice. With the church father Cyprian (c. 200-258) we find infant baptism defended on the basis of original sin. Of the three sources mentioned here only Cyprian is regarded as a church father. J.N.D. Kelly in Early Christian Doctrines noted while the sacraments of baptism, chrismation, and the Eucharist were universally practiced in the early Church there was very little evidence of a systematic sacramental theology at the time of the fourth and fifth centuries (p. 422 ff.). This points to the sacraments and Liturgy preceding theology in the early Church.

    Dating infant baptism to AD 200 is based on a restrictive reading of the evidence. The evidence is clear that the first mention of infant baptism took place circa 200 which means that its origin can be placed earlier than 200. Given Origen’s testimony that infant baptism has apostolic roots and the absence of contrary evidence, we can assume that infant baptism dates back to the early days of the church, even the Apostles. Given Christianity’s Jewish roots and the established practice of infant circumcision among Jews, it should be no big leap to infant baptism among Christians.”

    • Then why does the Didache and Justin seem to totally exclude baptism of infants by referring to prayer and fasting of candidates prior to it and to it being by immersion?

      Justins comments suggest he knew nothing of infant baptism in the Christian community whom he is writing about in defense. His comments concerning children of choice contradict any current practice of infant baptism.

      Origen claimed a lot of things was it a case of “weak point – shout” as in a famous quote of a speech in the house of commons?



      • Keith,

        I agree, Justin is far more authoritative than Origen.

        Justin appears to be talking to those who can entreat God and those who can fast, however, arguing from silence doesnt make infant baptism either true or false.

        The councils are under inspiration of the Spirit and are representative of the Tradition passed down by the apostles, so, in 325AD we have a clear approval of infant baptism, “that after baptism and confirmation, the Eucharist was given even to infants.”

        The issue isnt, why Justin didnt explain infant baptism or why Turtullian was opposed to it but why the Council upheld it and made it doctrine for the church.

  7. Coming to think of it, Keith, equally surprising, even perhaps inexplicable is the silence of the pre-Tertullian post-Apostolic church on baptism for the dead, when Paul had referred to it without either condemnation or commendation. Could this have originally been an attempt by some to profess reception, into the the Church, of presumed believers who had died without having received baptism in water (and this might have included young children of believers)? Speculation, of course, but it’s just possible …

  8. The didache and justin are far earlier than origen and far more authoritive as they are closer.

    Read justins comments again … they appear to point in only one direction.


    • Keith, Justin IS earlier than Origen, but whilst the Didache could also be earlier than Origen, it could also be contemporaneous with or later than the same.

    • Travis I respect your view of the importance and inspiration of the council but dont share as my brothers and sisters in the RC church a belief in its inspiredness ruling out errot. There were a lot of councils who agreed a lot of thongs but I seem to rwcall that whereas the western church at a council condemned pelagius teo prior eastern ones questioned him and exhonerated him. Thats from memory though. For me its scripture as,primary evidence. I’m just letting you kniw so u understand where I am coming from. Where tradition can assist or enlighten welk and goid but its important for me that Gods witness,through scripture,takes presidence.

  9. Travis, my first reply to you is awaiting moderation, but I must add that I don’t see the logic behind your second paragraph. I said that I suspected the Didache to be a Montanist document, and the Montanists were around well before 325 AD.
    Also, regarding your reference to Origen in your later post, can you give evidence (Quotation of source and defining context will suffice – I don’t at the moment have access to even a translation of what Origen actually wrote, let alone the original Greek) that it was specifically infants to which he was referring, rather than minors in general (In Greek that would be the difference between brephos and pais, but I suspect that all that has survived may be Latin translation(s))?
    What I’m going to write now isn’t going to support a case against infant baptism, but I must not suppress it for that reason: If the Didache were a Montanist document and its authors did not practice infant baptism, this and Tertullian’s skepticism about the practice might be related, since Tertullian was, at least for a time, allied to the Montanists.

  10. Keith,

    Your assumptions about fasting precluding infants from the rite of baptism suffers significantly from reading into the sources something that is not there.

    As a matter of fact, when you read Tertullian what does he list as a requirement for baptism…fasting and renunciation of the devil. But what does Tertullian write against in De Baptismo? Infant baptism.

    And what is Tertullian’s objection to infant baptism? It’s not that they cannot fulfill the fasting proscription, it is that it puts undue weight on the sponsor and that it is heaping potential judgment on the infant if they rejected the grace of baptism.

    The dating and social setting of the Didache is another important thing to consider, but there are a number of scholars who postulate the Didache being a preparation for baptism of catechumens. I don’t have the reference’s immediately available to me to cite them, but I’m sure a commentary of the Didache would provide references to works on this. The bottom line is that the Didache provides some important insight into baptism in early Christianity, but mentioning fasting and prayer as ipso facto ruling out infants presupposes too many things (social setting of the Didache, criteria that would eliminate infants).

  11. Guys I really appreciate you taking the timr to share your thoughts on this and the irenic way you have done so. From a covenant theologhy viewpoint I recognise its.massive in the OT but see all as being in the NT about the cross … The vail being from top to bottom at christs.death n the nee cov being rougj this act. HFaens
    e hebrews. I cant really see how faith in jesus and his finished work, in his saving person and lordship can posdibly be side stepped in a way by infant baptism that would be either consistent with pauls theology … If you believe in your heart God raised jesus from the dead and confess with your mouth he is lorfd you will be saved.. Rom 10 … Or the consistent call to commitement to jesus and self denial in jesus qualifications for being his disciplr … Tske up cross … Deny self, count cist … Luke 14 …

    • I also wonder wheather the church is guilty in general of over theologising on this… Baptism in general. If at its.mosy basic.baptism however it is understood and whayever it is supposed to achieve … Is a responsr of faith and obedience to christs command and thay of the apostlrs … Then at heart the problem is tgat as a minister u fail to facilitaye people making that response out of a good consiense to what jesus has commanded (1 peyer 3… Becayse of fear or historical layets,of questionable theology.

  12. Travis, you prove too much from Genesis 17:12. Why is circumcision forbidden before the 8th day? Simply because it’s physically dangerous to the infant? But who created infant physiology? If God had wanted us to baptize on the first day, He would have commanded to circumcise on the first day too, having created physiology to fit.
    So what is the significance of the 8th day? It is the first day to follow six complete days, which is the time in which God finished His creation. What time in our lives follows a work of creation? The time we make a profession of genuine God-created faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. So what kind of baptism is proven by analogy with circumcision?

    • What kind of loon exegesis is this? [insert Twilight Zone music here] You cannot be serious, JR. You’re saying, “Don’t listen to the text at the level of what it says, but at the level of what I think it means spiritually in subjectivist, numerological terms.” Wow.

      And here I thought that the Baptists mainly opposed the Reformed practice of infant-baptism on the grounds that they couldn’t find any unambiguous history in Acts that included them, or a plain directive (what it says!) in an epistle to the effect. Silly me.

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