Here’s my very brief introduction to baptism in the Didache. This topic deserves several articles, and I plan on following up with it in later posts. Stay tuned!
What does the Didache teach us about the theology and practice of baptism in the ancient church?
Chapter 7 of the Didache addresses the topic of Christian baptism.
In verse 1 of this chapter, we see a connection between baptism and catechesis. Those who were about to receive baptism were first of all instructed in the way of life.
Secondly, we learn that whenever baptism was administered, God was invoked by his triune name: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The recipient of baptism was being baptized into union and fellowship with the Triune God.
Thirdly, baptism ordinarily would have taken place outdoors in living water, meaning running or flowing water. This was the ordinary setting for Christian baptism, but verse 2 tells us that if such water was unavailable, Christians were free to baptize with other water, preferably cold water.
Next, we see that pouring water on the head three times—which is known as trine baptism—was an acceptable mode of baptism, even though it may not have been the ordinary mode of baptism.
Finally, we see that the rite of baptism was preceded by a short period of fasting. Those who were about to be baptized should fast, and the one who was going to administer baptism should likewise fast, as well as any others in the congregation who were able to do so. This fast ordinarily lasted one to two days.
The Didache does not explain the reason for the pre-baptismal fast, but it was most likely understood as a sign of repentance.
So there we have a brief introduction to what the Didache says about Christian baptism in the ancient church.
If you’re interested in learning more about the Didache, I recommend the following resources. I would start with O’Loughlin’s short commentary. That’s the best introduction to the Didache available today. For more detailed study, you’ll need Milavec and Niederwimmer.
The Didache: Text, Translation, Analysis, and Commentary by Aaron Milavec
The Didache: Faith, Hope, and Life of the Earliest Christian Communities, 50-70 C.E. by Aaron Milavec
The Didache: A Window on the Earliest Christians by Thomas O’Loughlin
The Didache by Kurt Niederwimmer