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Arts and Humanities | Biblical Studies | History of Christianity | Religion


This inquiry studies 1 John because it has the most explicit testimony in the New Testament to initiation by anointing and the unique word χρίσμα, "chrism." Chrism was — and in some churches still is — an ointment whose name is rooted in the verb χριειν, "to anoint." Critical studies have amply demonstrated that the title "Christ" had theological carriage in the first century, but rarely, if ever, has it been suggested that the theological title also had liturgical bearing. It seems almost too blithe a suggestion to posit that those who became members of the body of Christ, the "Anointed," in some of those earliest communities might themselves have been anointed with chrism, marked with oil as the anointed Messiah himself had been; if anything, in academic literature the denial of anointing as initiation (without baptism) is long-standing and, by some, vociferous; against this academic tradition, this essay hypothesizes that the community of 1 John and the passage about anointing with chrism in 2:18-27 might indeed reflect a rite of initiation, proposing an indication as to why the rite did not survive in the tradition.