Baptismal Imagery in Early Christianity: Ritual, Visual, and Theological Dimensions

Baker Academic, 2012
ISBN: 9781441253668


Robin Jensen, a leading scholar of early Christian art and worship, illuminates the theological meaning of baptism by exploring multiple dimensions of the early Christian baptismal rite. She examines five models for understanding baptism, showing how visual images, poetic language, architectural space, and symbolic actions signify and convey the theological meaning of this ritual practice. Considering image and action together, Jensen offers a holistic and integrated understanding of the power of baptism. The book is illustrated with photos and will be useful to professors and students in courses on theology, ritual studies, liturgy, and sacraments as well as to art historians and archaeologists.

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Key Features

  • Delves into biblical metaphors that evoke the meaning of baptism
  • Explores early church baptismal practices to revitalize the contemporary church’s view of baptism
  • Discusses art and architecture surrounding baptism
  • Presents the history of early Christian initiation as a unified whole


  • Baptism as Cleansing from Sin and Sickness
  • Incorporation into the Community
  • Baptism as Sanctifying and Illuminative
  • Baptism as Dying and Rising
  • Baptism as the Beginning of the New Creation

Praise for the Print Edition

This volume illumines the multiple biblical metaphors that evoke the meaning of baptism, offers a lucid and richly attested account of early church baptismal practices, and awakens the imagination of readers to engage in contemporary celebrations of baptism with renewed vitality. The book demonstrates that metaphor, architecture, visualization, and liturgy are not mere applications of theology but rather help constitute theology, and it does so in a way that is both accessible to students and instructive for veteran pastors and theological educators.

John D. Witvliet, professor of worship, theology, and congregational and ministry studies, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship

Robin Jensen brings her scholarly acumen and aesthetic sensibility to the interpretation of the principal motifs of the early Christian baptismal ritual. Adding to her impressive writings on the subject of baptism, Jensen addresses this book to a more popular audience but with solid scholarly support. These thematic studies elucidate the effects and meaning of the baptismal liturgy as a sensory, symbolic, and spiritual experience for its recipients.

Everett Ferguson, distinguished scholar in residence, Abilene Christian University

Robin Jensen’s attention to art and architecture is an important addition to existing scholarship that focuses primarily on texts. This fresh approach to the topic is carefully researched and amply illustrated. Christians concerned with a renewal of baptismal practice today will find a rich trove of biblical stories and metaphors that inspired and informed early Christian communities.

—Ruth A. Meyers, Hodges-Haynes Professor of Liturgics, Church Divinity School of the Pacific

What a gift Robin Jensen has given us in this book, a gift she is uniquely qualified to give. A scholar of Christian liturgy, doctrine, and art, Jensen presents the history of early Christian initiation the way it was experienced—as a unified whole. Integrating image with practice and interpretation, Jensen offers a deep and insightful look into early Christian baptism. Baptismal Imagery in Early Christianity is so clear and direct it can easily serve as a solid introductory text; at the same time it is so thoroughly researched it will serve scholars of early Christian history, liturgy, and art for years to come. This much-welcome and much-needed volume is not to be missed.

Todd Johnson, William K. and Delores S. Brehm Associate Professor of Worship, Theology, and the Arts, Fuller Theological Seminary

This new study of baptism may be unique in exploring the early history of Christian initiation not through authors or ideas but symbols. Drawing material and literary evidence together in a deft and unprecedented way, Jensen reveals how early Christians themselves experienced their rite of initiation. The book, like the rite, is rich and diverse; it demonstrates the variety of baptismal images and understandings that could coexist and catalyze one another. Washing, community membership, illumination, rebirth, and new creation are all vividly drawn in word and image. This array of fundamental images and their ritualization provides new insight not only into baptism but also into the ways Christian identity itself was created and expressed.

Andrew McGowan, warden, Trinity College, The University of Melbourne

Product Details

About Robin M. Jensen

Robin M. Jensen is Luce Chancellor’s Professor of the History of Christian Art and Worship at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. She has authored several books, including Face to Face: Portraits of the Divine in Early Christianity and Understanding Early Christian Art.


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