Matthew 28:19 Trinitarain formula origin
Further Evidence of apostasy by Dr. G. Reckart

C. H. Forney
The Christian Ordinances (1883)


Origin of Trine Immersion.

WHILE we do not claim to be able positively to point to a definite time in which trine immersion originated, a further discussion of the sources of error and innovations may possibly reflect some light upon the question. We can only pursue such an investigation profitably by divesting ourselves of all preconceived views of the state of the Christian world in that early age; by placing ourselves in imagination near the close of the Apostolic era, and by moving down the stream of time with the current of events, and observing the facts of well-authenticated history as they transpired. We shall readily discover that it is not an unaccountable thing that trine immersion should so early have found advocates, and that before the middle of the third century it should have so generally prevailed and been regarded as of Apostolic, if not of Divine, origin. Rather, we shall find that trine immersion was a very natural innovation at the time when we come upon the first traces of it, and among those who are reported as having introduced it. It was but a limited and harmless deviation from the true baptism compared with some other practices that prevailed. What is it as [78] compared with infant baptism, of which the New Testament knows absolutely nothing, which yet was accounted of Apostolic origin almost, if not quite, as early as trine immersion? Who will point out when it was introduced? And yet where is the Baptist that does not utterly repudiate it as an innovation?

Sources of Errors and Innovations.

      There are at least three circumstances which, in the first century after the death of the Apostles, contributed very materially to the introduction into the church of errors and innovations. The first of these is the fact that the churches were not in possession of the Scriptures in that complete form in which we now have them. The Canon of the New Testament was only gradually formed. Not until about the time of Tertullian was there a collection of the New Testament writings which was generally received as constituting the Scriptures. And even then the New Testament, as we have it, was not the complete and exclusive authority which it now is. Before that time every thing was fragmentary and unsettled. Writings which are now received and known to be genuine and authentic were rejected. The Serverians rejected all the Epistles of Paul. Some, as the Prodicians, accepted no Scriptures as binding. Others received one of the Gospels. But while this was the case respecting the canonical Scriptures of the New Testament, in many localities spurious Gospels and Epistles were received, in some of which the wildest and most irrational things are contained. There were extant among these some pretended writings of Christ, and also some pretended contemporaneous accounts of his life; also apocryphal Gospels and Epistles ascribed to the various Apostles. These teach many things entirely at variance with, and even contrary to, the doctrines of our New Testament.

Doctrines Modify Ordinances.

      This fact alone would prove seriously detrimental to the [79] integrity and purity of the Apostolic doctrine, and would prove the occasion of differences in doctrine and practice. Even now, with the same Scriptures in the hands of all, what diversities of doctrines and duties are deduced therefrom by various religious bodies. But, in addition to this, we need to remember that these first centuries of the Christian era were the formative period of the church. Neither the Master, nor his Disciples, propounded a dogmatic system. Scientific theology is of later origin, and the first period of the church, the age of Apologetics, also was the period in which tenets and dogmas began to be formulated. But before such development, what may be known as the faith of the Apostles was firmly and historically established by bringing together those elements of Christian doctrine which are accounted essential (Hist. of Doc., vol. I, p. 52). But this Rule of Faith, or Apostles' Creed, was, like the Constitution of the United States, a general law, in the interpretation of which differences at once sprung up. Every departure from the received interpretation of this canon of doctrine was considered heresy. Hence, heretics abounded and sects began to multiply. These heresies, as they are called, were often only different interpretations of the same Scriptures; but at other times they were doctrines derived from different sources.

      The facility with which new doctrines and practical innovations were introduced was increased by the isolated and scattered state of the churches. Churches were often separated by long distances and with but little inter-communication. Palestine, Asia Minor, Mesopotamia, Persia, Armenia, India, Arabia, Egypt, Greece, Italy, and Gaul were the countries that had respectively their centers of churchly influence and power. In one locality they had portions of the Scriptures which they had not at other [80] points, or accepted as Scripture what other churches and leaders rejected. Practices and doctrines would thus originate in one locality; be accepted as of Divine and Apostolic origin, and thus transmitted, with the Divine seal upon them, to other localities. There are indications that this was the case with trine immersion. It will be noticed that the testimony to its practice is confined to Africa for the first fifty years. Here it may have originated, and been carried thence to all parts of the Christian world as an Apostolic practice.

      Now, along with these three circumstances so favorable for the introduction of new doctrines and practices, we must also bear in mind the intimate relation which has ever existed between doctrines and ordinances. Doctrines have a controlling power in modifying ordinances. Nearly all the modifications of, and additions to, ordinances, where they are professedly of Divine institution, are the result of doctrinal views. As already seen, one of the very earliest innovations was infant baptism. This was the outgrowth of two doctrines, namely: The doctrine of infant moral depravity, and the doctrine of baptismal regeneration. Hence the absolute necessity of infant baptism in order to infant salvation. Rantism (a term to which those who practice sprinkling for baptism should by no means object) is another outgrowth of these doctrines. These were radical changes of the subjects and the action of baptism.

The Doctrine of the Trinity.

      If such results have followed the development of these doctrines, is not the possibility clearly evident that a modification, or a more positive formation, of trinitarian ideas might lead to a triplication of the baptism instituted by Christ? History records the fact that the doctrine concerning the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and their interrelations, was gradually evolved. Into the details of [81] this evolution we cannot now enter, but our readers can readily verify our statement by consulting any standard work on the history of Christian doctrines. Suffice it here to say, that the term trinity did not take its place in the language of Christian theology until the time of Tertullian. Through his teachings the term Son was first quite distinctly applied to the personality of the Logos; and by him also, or by Theophylus, A. D. 183, the word trinitas was first employed to designate the Divine mystery of three persons in the unity of one Godhead (Hodge). Before this date it could, with little truth, he said that the doctrine of the essential Trinity was adequately understood. Some confounded the Logos with the Spirit, and others denied him a coördinate relation to the Father and the Son; while still others held to that peculiar system of subordination in which the Son was made inferior to the Father, and the Holy Spirit to both the Father and the Son.

Baptismal Formula.

      That these views might have some influence on the mode of baptism, changing it from a single to a threefold immersion, is quite possible. And the more so if it should be made apparent that either the whole of Matthew's Gospel, which alone contains what is designated as "the longer baptismal formula" (Matthew 28:19), or that paragraph embracing the said baptismal formula, was unknown in Africa before the doctrine of the Trinity had been so fully developed. Eusebius tells us (Eccl. Hist.) that the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew was found among the Christians in India in the latter part of the second century, by Pantænus, the missionary and philosopher; who afterwards with so much celebrity presided over the catechetic school at Alexandria, in Egypt (Hist. Books of the Bible, p. 166). What more natural than that the concurrence of these two facts, namely: The more complete and perfect development of the trinus, [82] threefold or three-in-one God, and the discovery of the Gospel by Matthew with its baptismal formula, "into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost," should have had sufficient influence to change the single into a threefold baptism--the "one baptism in three immersions" to correspond with the one Godhead in three persons? And how natural, too, that it should at once, and with assurance, be asserted that this mode of baptism is authorized by the formula, and so is of Apostolic origin. Such a change would be of no moment compared with the introduction of infant baptism.

Introduction of Trine Immersion.

      And now, let it be remembered that about this time trine immersion on was probably first practiced, according to the testimony which we have reviewed, and that it is first mentioned in the very place to which for the first time Pantænus brought the Hebrew Gospel by Matthew. Before this time we have also no record of the use of the baptismal formula in Matthew in the administration of the ordinance. Baptism had been generally administered only in the name of Jesus. Neander, the prince of modern ecclesiastical historians, says that the formula of baptism which is regarded as the older is the "shorter one which refers only to Christ, to which there is allusion in the New Testament." Dr. Hare also says in his Church History: "Baptism as an initiatory rite was performed simply in the name of Jesus." This sentence occurs in his chapter on the "Apostolic Church," in his History of the Christian Church. Robinson, in his History of Baptism, says: "There is no mention of baptizing in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, in immediately post-Apostolic times." This testimony, of a negative character, certainly becomes very strong and significant in view of the fact that Peter enjoined baptism "in the name of Jesus Christ" [83] (Acts 2:38); that when Philip preached in Samaria, to which place Peter and John were sent upon hearing "that Samaria had received the Word of God," those who believed "were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 8:5, 12, 16); and that under the instructions of Paul those who had been baptized "unto John's baptism" were "baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 19:3, 5).

      But as soon as the doctrine of the Trinity was developed, and the Gospel of Matthew brought from India to Egypt, trine immersion, with individual exceptions, became gradually the rule. To the use of the formula furnished by Matthew in the administration of trine immersion we have the testimony of Augustine (de Bapt., lib. vi, cap. 25), Cyprian (Epist. lxxiii), Tertullian (de Bapt., c. 13), and others. Basil speaks of baptism as invalid if not administered with the words of the formula in Matthew (De. Sp. Scto., cap. 12). But Ambrose favored the use of the shorter formula. But the formula found in Matthew had, probably, as much, if not more, to do with the introduction of trine immersion as correct and dogmatic views of the doctrine of the Trinity, though Marcion and his followers continued at least for some time to use the shorter formula. The Marcionites, the Valentinians, the Praxeans, and the Monarchians were distinct schools or sects which originated about the middle of the second century and before its close. At least the former two were Gnostic sects. Some of these Gnostic sects wholly rejected baptism; but the Marcionites and Valentinus and his followers held baptism in high esteem (Hagenbach). They did not belong to the church--the Catholic church--of that time, and Hagenbach testifies that their "mode of baptism differed from that of the Catholic church." What was their mode of baptizing? [84] Hagenbach says it was trine immersion--"the threefold baptism of the Marcionites." Thurman also states that Marcion, the leader of the Marcionites, commenced "to baptize the Gentiles by dipping them three times." Marcion pretended to bring about the restoration of primitive doctrine and polity; but is set down here by these two authorities as deviating from the practice of the Catholic, or general church as it was then, in the matter of baptism. We do not know upon what authority these statements are made, as no ancient writer mentions trine immersion before Tertullian, who was born A. D. 160. But we know that Hagenbach is an almost undisputed authority on matters of church doctrine, and that Thurman is not likely to state so important a point without some adequate testimony to sustain it. It is also in perfect harmony with other ascertained facts. Thus it will account for the silence of all the Fathers down to the time of Tertullian on the subject of trine immersion. It will explain the difference of views held in the third and fourth centuries as to the origin of trine immersion. And it fully agrees with the inference naturally to be drawn from the testimony of Tertullian and the instance of baptism with sand already noticed, that trine immersion must have been introduced before A. D. 200.

      Marcion, according to Guericke and Shedd, was a very likely person to begin such an innovation. He was an anti-Judaistic Gnostic, and in strong sympathy with the Gentile-Christian tendency. He was the son of a bishop, said to have been excommunicated by his own father on account of his contempt for ecclesiastical authority and Apostolical tradition. It was the main characteristic of his school, according to Niednier, to sunder Christianity from its historical connections. He believed in three deific [85] principles, if he was not what we would properly call a Trinitarian; which could account for his threefold baptism. Although we do not say that in these things we have sufficient positive proof that he originated trine immersion, it yet shows that such origin would not be inconsistent. And when we add to this the incontroverted testimony of Hagenbach, as above given, the case becomes increasingly clear and indisputable.

      Not only have we the testimony of Hagenbach, who cites authorities, that Marcion and his followers baptized by a "mode of baptism different from the Catholic [or general] church," and that it was "a threefold baptism"; but we also have evidence to show that other schools and sects of the same time did not practice the threefold baptism of the Marcionites. Bishop Beveridge says: "The Monarchians, the Praxeans, and other heretics did not baptize by trine immersion." They were heretics, according to certain criteria of judgment, just as the Marcionites and Valentineans were. All these parties or sects flourished about the same time. Along with the two specifically mentioned by Beveridge as practicing single immersion are generally classed the followers of Noetus and Beryllus; the former of Asia Minor, the latter of Arabia. Here, then, we have single immersion testified to as being practiced before the time of Tertullian, and under circumstances which indicate that it was the original practice. The conclusion, then, is by no means a forced one, after this protracted and critical investigation, that single immersion was the original and divinely instituted mode and action of baptism, and that trine immersion, as well as affusion and pædo-baptism, was of later and human origin. [86]


[TCO 78-86]

C. H. Forney
The Christian Ordinances (1883)