Ritual studies are slow to make a large impact on New Testament studies, despite a number of
notable exceptions. This notwithstanding, rituals occur frequently in the New Testament, in
particular when there is a problem with a ritual. In this article, recent anthropological work on
‘ritual failure’ is used to address Paul’s discussion of Roman practices concerning baptism in
relation to a person’s walk of life and to argue that this can be understood well as a case of
’ritual failure,’ in which a ritual fails, from Paul’s perspective, to achieve what it should. This
leads both to challenging the attitude of the Romans concerning baptism and to a reconsideration
of its significance.