Milavec, Aaron. The Didache: Faith, Hope, & Life of the Earliest Christian Communities, 50-70 C.E. New York: The Newman Press, 2003.
Fasting prior to baptism is a significant issue in the Didache. Milavec notes that it is never mentioned in Scripture as a preparation for baptism, nor is it mentioned elsewhere prior to Justin Martyr (Milavec 2003, 253). However, since the mention in Didache seems almost materr-of-fact, Milavec takes it to be a practice which was customary. He suggests that fasting may be seen as a way of intensifying prayer or conversion or as a natural response to a major life event (Milavec 2003, 253). A fast may also be a response to loss of identity in baptism (Milavec 2003, 254). A fast may also be a way of cleansing the unclean food sacrificed to idols from the system, or as a preparation for the more typical fast days to come (Milavec 2003, 255). Milavec does not make any conclusion about the actual purpose of the fast.
Milavec explores the idea of fasting and sorrow further by considering a first century B.C. document telling a story of Joseph the patriarch and the conversion of his Egyptian bride, Asenath (Milavec 2003, 255). In the story, when Asenath is confronted by Joseph’s goodness, she is moved to weeping and repentance. She destroys her gods and spends a week mourning and fasting (Milavec 2003, 256). The wonder and significance of Asenath’s conversion move her to the signs of repentance, including fasting.
In Didache 7, the candidate for baptism along with the sponsor and others who are able, enter into a fast before the baptism. Milavec and others have attempted to identify reasons, but the text does not do so. Rather, it speaks only of the duration of the fast (Milavec 2003, 258). Because most people would find the fast days to be work days as well, the fast would have been a challenge.
Milavec next turns his attention to baptism itself, asking if the Didache communities would have baptized infants (Milavec 2003, 259). There is no explicit evidence prior to the late second or early third century. Milavec considers the teachings in the Didache and finds the references to baptism all indicate the individual being baptized has received training. This does not lead to a natural conclusion of infant baptism. This extends to the participation of all the baptized in communion and a requirement of confession of sins, something infants cannot do themselves (Milavec 2003, 260). In his argument, Milavec asserts that “the notion of ‘original sin’ was not developed prior to the third century, and one has to wait until Augustine (d. 430). to find a pastor threatening infants with eternal hellfire should they die without being baptized” (Milavec 2003, 260).
The use of flowing water was preferred in the Didache. Milavec notes this is consistent with the example of John the Baptist, Jewish tradition, and Hellenistic purification rituals (Milavec 2003, 261-262). He rightly observes that the verb “to baptize” does not require full immersion, though it may well have been preferred. Didache 7:2 makes reference to warm water, which could be used but was not preferable. There is debate whether the use of warm water would be for the sic, for infants, or possibly as a provision for cold climates (Milavec 2003, 263). Since the text doesn’t explain the logic, Milavec leaves the question largely unanswered. The trinitarian formula is specifically to be present. There also seems to be an understanding that enough water would be used, even in pouring, that the person would become quite wet (Milavec 2003, 264).
During the second century it became common to anoint a person with oil before baptism. By the third century a blessing of the oil was also considered normal (Milavec 2003, 264). An anointing after the water was also the norm, at least in Syria (Milavec 2003, 265). There is some question in Milavec’s mind whether the Didache migh have recognized a clergy-laity distinction and omitted the anointing as a feature of clerical practice. However, the Didache does not seem to recognize a distinction between clergy and laity. The mentions of anointings come from a time later than that of the Didache so it is reasonable to assume it was not a matter of widespread practice in the Didache communities (Milavec 2003, 266).
What of the words used in a baptism? Milavec notes that Didache 7:1 gives the triune name of God. However, he denies that the trinitarian formula was necessarily used. He adduces Scripture passages in which the early Christians did many things “in the name of Jesus” rather than self-consciously stating that they were using the name of the Trinity (Milavec 2003, 266). The question at hand is not the doctrine but the liturgical rite. Milavec theorizes that the first six chapters of the Didache would berecited before baptism (Milavec 2003, 267). The text could easily be imagined in this way, as a corporate recapitulation of the teaching and a repudiation of the way of death (Milavec 2003, 268). Milavec assumes that some very striking liturgy would be used. If it were not the Didache text, he does not have another suggestion.
Milavec does question whether baptism would be practiced unclothed and in mixed company. Jews and Gentiles alike would make use of Roman baths and participate in athletic competitions, which regularly involved nudity. Ritual purifications also typically involved removal of all clothes and ornaments. However, the Didache does not specify this. It seems the pouring of water would allow for missing some parts of the body. The baptisms in open air would have been a very public setting. Milavec suggests use of clothes and a reception of the newly baptized person by others with towels and a white garment. Modesty would likely be protected (Milavec 2003, 269).
After the baptism, the newly baptized people would join the community in the Lord’s Prayer and a shared meal, which may or may not have been the Eucharist (Milavec 2003, 270).