William Branham's Challenge on Historical Baptismal Practice

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This article is one in a series of studies on baptism - you are currently on the topic that is in bold:

The Challenge

In the sermon, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Jeffersonville, December 4, 1960), William Branham stated:

If you show me the page or anything, you write it and lay it up on here for me tonight, and I'll walk out of this church saying, "I am a hypocrite; I have taught people wrong;" if you can show me one text of Scripture or bring me one history, authentic history, that'll show me that where that people ever baptized in the Bible in the name of "Father, Son, Holy Ghost"; or bring me one scrip--or one book of history, one page, one quotation in history where anybody was ever baptized in the name of "Father, Son, and Holy Ghost" until the Nicene Council of the Catholic church, come bring it to me; and I'll pin a sign on my back and walk through Jeffersonville, and you behind with a horn, blowing; I'll put on there, "A false prophet, misleading the people."

William Branham's reference to the Nicene Council is to The First Council of Nicaea. which was a council of Christian bishops convened in Nicaea in Bithynia (present-day İznik in Turkey) by the Roman Emperor Constantine I in AD 325.

Our response to the challenge

William Branham's assertion that no one was baptized in the name of "Father, Son, Holy Ghost" is historically incorrect. While it appears clear that the very earliest forms of water baptism in the Book of Acts do not reference the trinitarian formula, it is also clear that the use of the trinitarian baptismal formula does predate the First Council of Nicaea by at least a hundred and fifty years or more.

The Didache

The Didache or The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles (Didachē means "Teaching" in Greek) is a brief early Christian treatise, dated by most scholars to the late first or early 2nd century.[1] Some even date it as contemporary with the books of the New Testament (c. A.D.40-60).[2]

However, because of references in literature from the early 4th century, no scholars date the Didache as later than the 3rd century, which is prior to the Nicene Council.


With respect to water baptism, the Didache states:

And concerning baptism, thus baptize ye: Having first said all these things, baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit...

Church Fathers

Baptism has been in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit at least from the end of the 1st century. Some passages in Acts (2:38, 10:48, and 19:5) speak of Baptism ‘in the name of (the Lord) Jesus (Christ)’, but whether this formula was ever used has been questioned.[3]

But what is the proof behind this statement?

Justin Martyr (ca. 100–ca. 165 AD)

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.[4]

Tertullian

"After his resurrection he promises in a pledge to his disciples that he will send them the promise of his Father; and lastly, he commands them to baptize into the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, not into a unipersonal God. And indeed it is not once only, but three times, that we are immersed into the three persons, at each several mention of their names" (Against Praxeas 26 - A.D. 216).

Origen

"The Lord himself told his disciples that they should baptize all peoples in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit . . . for indeed, legitimate baptism is had only in the name of the Trinity" (Commentary on Romans 5:8 - A.D. 248).

William Branham should have apologized

If there's a historian, a minister, any other person, on air, in tape, that can produce one Scripture or one speck of history, where anybody was ever baptized any other way than in the Name of Jesus Christ, till the Roman Catholic church at Nicaea, Rome, you're duty bound to bring it to me, let me apologize. There is no such thing. No. And every person that was baptized by immersing, that was not baptized in the Name of Jesus Christ, was commanded, before they could enter Glory, to come back and be rebaptized again. Now it's up to you.[5]

Based on the evidence above, William Branham should have apologized. He did not know the history of the Christian church.

Video transcript

In December 1960, William Branham issued a challenge:

If you show me the page or anything, you write it and lay it up on here for me tonight, and I'll walk out of this church saying, "I am a hypocrite; I have taught people wrong;" if you can show me one text of Scripture or bring me one history, authentic history, that'll show me that where that people ever baptized in the Bible in the name of "Father, Son, Holy Ghost"; or bring me one scrip--or one book of history, one page, one quotation in history where anybody was ever baptized in the name of "Father, Son, and Holy Ghost" until the Nicene Council of the Catholic church, come bring it to me; and I'll pin a sign on my back and walk through Jeffersonville, and you behind with a horn, blowing; I'll put on there, "A false prophet, misleading the people."[6]

William Branham's reference to the Nicene Council is to The First Council of Nicaea, which was a council of Christian bishops convened in Nicaea by the Roman Emperor Constantine the First in AD 325.

While the very earliest forms of water baptism in the Book of Acts do not reference the trinitarian formula, the use of the trinitarian baptismal formula predates the First Council of Nicaea by at least 175 years.

Here are the facts:

Justin Martyr, a respected Christian teacher in the early church who was martyred in 165 A.D. for his faith, more than 160 before the Nicene council, wrote:

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.[7]

The Didache, a Greek word meaning "Teaching" or Doctrine, is a short early Christian document which describes baptism, among other things. It is dated by most scholars between 75 A.D and 150 A.D. and some even date it as contemporary with the books of the New Testament - between 40 and 60 A.D.

However, because of references in other literature from the early 4th century, not a single scholar dates the Didache later than 300 A.D. It clearly predates the Nicene Council which occurred in the fourth century.

With respect to water baptism, the Didache states:

And concerning baptism, thus baptize ye: Having first said all these things, baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit...[8]

Tertullian, an elder in the church in Carthage in North Africa, in A.D. 216, 109 years before the Nicene Council, wrote:

"After his resurrection he promises in a pledge to his disciples that he will send them the promise of his Father; and lastly, he commands them to baptize into the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, not into a unipersonal God. And indeed it is not once only, but three times, that we are immersed into the three persons, at each several mention of their names"[9]

In 248 A.D., Origen, a respected Christian teacher, wrote that:

The Lord himself told his disciples that they should baptize all peoples in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit . . . for indeed, legitimate baptism is had only in the name of the Trinity"[10]

We have clear historical evidence that the triune baptism, which William Branham referred to a “false baptism”, was the primary baptismal formula used by the early Christian church from at least 150 A.D. and likely even earlier. This is well before the Nicene Council in 325 A.D.

As a result, William Branham, by his own admission, was a false prophet. To use an old phrase, he hoisted himself on his own petard.

Some might say, look… he was a man and made a mistake… he didn’t know his history.

Here’s my problem with that reasoning… The Bible says that The LORD was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground. (1 Sam 3:19)

If the Lord was with William Branham, why did he let his words fall to the ground? Why did he allow him to issue a challenge that would fail?

There is only one explanation. William Branham wasn’t who he said he was. God didn’t back him up.


Footnotes

  1. The Apostolic Fathers: The Didache, 2006, Draper, J. A., The Expository Times, Vol. 117, No.5, pp.177–81
  2. John A. T. Robinson, Redating the New Testament (SCM Press 1976)
  3. F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 151.
  4. Justin Martyr, “The First Apology of Justin,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 183.
  5. William Branham 63-0623E - The Flashing Red Light Of The Sign Of His Coming, para, 205
  6. The Revelation of Jesus Christ, Jeffersonville, December 4, 1960
  7. Justin Martyr, “The First Apology of Justin,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 183.
  8. Kurt Niederwimmer and Harold W. Attridge, The Didache: A Commentary
  9. Tertullian, “Against Praxeas,” The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 3, p. 23
  10. Origen, Commentaries on Romans


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