Sorry it took me a while to get back to this thread. The “Hebrew and Greek with Heiser” courses started this past weekend, so I had a bit of work to do for those.
I want to post something in regard to the mode of baptism. Naturally, most churches that baptize infants use sprinkling, while most who reject infant baptism use immersion. There is some boundary-crossing in certain circumstances, and you can go to a Greek Orthodox Church to have your infant immersed (quickly)! So who’s right? Before I chime in on this, here are some comments on the mode of water baptism from several theology books. Hint: They all have one thing in common with respect to discussing the meaning of the Greek word behind baptism, baptizo. See if you can guess what it is before I spill the beans.
The principal supports of the mode by immersion are (a) the custom in the patristic church of immersing in the laver of the baptistery and (b) the classical meaning of bapto and baptizo.
Concerning the first argument, it is to be noticed, first, that the baptistery dates from a period when Christianity had become powerful and able to erect churches with all the appointments of an imposing ritual. The apostolic church could not do this. The baptistery and laver are as late as the fourth century. Furthermore, the first baptismal fonts were too small for immersing. The fresco in the catacombs of St. Calixtus (a.d. 200 according to Rossi) represents the rite administered by pouring from the vessel upon the person standing upright. The Teaching of the Apostles (a.d. 160) says that baptism may be performed by pouring. Second, a more profuse application of water than that of sprinkling or pouring belongs to a period in the history of the church when baptism was held to be regeneration itself. If water be efficacious when applied by the officiating minister, then immersion would be deemed more efficacious than sprinkling. Immersion grew with the growth of the sacramentarian theory of baptism and the doctrine of baptismal regeneration.
Respecting the classical meaning of bapto and baptizo, it is to be observed that these words had no technical or ritual signification in classical Greek. They were never used to denote a pagan rite. There were purifying rites in the Greek and Roman worship, but they were not called baptisms. The Greeks denominated their purifying rite katharsis, and the Romans theirs lustratio. Sprinkling was the mode in both. The nouns baptismos and baptisma are not in the classical vocabulary. They were coined by Jews and Christians from baptizo in order to denote the rite of purification in the Jewish and Christian churches. Consequently, it is the secondary technical use in the Jewish and Christian Scriptures, not the primary untechnical meaning in the Greek classics, which must be considered in determining the mode of baptism.
The classical meaning of bapto and baptizo is to dip into water, to sink under water, to dye or tinge in a fluid. The classical meaning favors baptism by immersion, as the classical meaning of sacramentum proves that the Christian sacrament is an oath. But in Hebraistic and New Testament Greek, bapto and baptizo are employed in a secondary ceremonial signification to denote a Jewish and Christian rite. Consequently, their meaning in the Septuagint and New Testament must be determined by their ritual and historical use, not by their classical. The word pagans (pagani), etymologically and classically, denoted persons living in the villages (pagi) outside of the large towns and cities. Classically, pagans were villagers. As Christianity spread first among the inhabitants of the cities, the villagers were the unevangelized; and thus pagan came to mean heathen instead of villager. Similarly, bapt? and baptiz?, which in heathenism denoted any unceremonial, nonritual immersion into water, when adopted by Judaism and Christianity, came to have the secondary signification of a ceremonial sprinkling or effusion of water. And he who argues that baptism means immersion in the Scriptures because in the classics the primary meaning of bapto and baptizo is to immerse commits the same error with him who should argue that a pagan is a villager because this was the original signification of paganus or that the Christian sacramentum is an oath and not a symbol because this is its meaning in Livy and Tacitus.
The word baptizo is employed in the Septuagint to signify a ritual purification performed by applying water to a person or thing so as to wet it more or less, but not all over and entirely. The passages that have been quoted prove indisputably that the mode in which the baptismal water of ritual purification was applied under the levitical law was sprinkling or pouring. There was no immersion of the body in the sacramental baptism for guilt or in the ceremonial baptism for pollution. And the spiritual baptism of the Holy Spirit is pouring, not immersing. There is no good reason for supposing that the New Testament use of baptizo is different from that of the Septuagint.1
A couple of comments on this selection from Shedd.
1. He states, “But in Hebraistic and New Testament Greek, bapto and baptizo are employed in a secondary ceremonial signification to denote a Jewish and Christian rite. Consequently, their meaning in the Septuagint and New Testament must be determined by their ritual and historical use, not by their classical . . .” This really isn’t correct. The word bapto appears in the NT outside “ritual” contexts (see Luke 16:24 [“dip” = bapto ]; John 13:26 [“dip” = bapto the morsel – doesn’t seem to be a specifically ritual act here to me]; Rev 19:13 [white robe “dipped” in blood = bapto]. All this is to say that this neat qualifier isn’t so neat at all.
2. Regarding his argument from the Septuagint (LXX). The lemma baptizoactually occurs four times in the LXX (English translations are from the NETS translation of the LXX):
Isaiah 21:4 My heart wanders, and lawlessness overwhelms (baptizo) me; my soul has turned to fear.
Judith 12:7 [Judith] went out each night into the ravine of Baityloua and bathed (baptiz??? ) at the spring of water.
Sirach 24:25 (in the most recent English translation of the LXX, this verse is Sirach 34:30)- When one bathes (baptiz??? ) due to a corpse and when one touches it again, what did he gain by his washing?
2 Kings 5:14 And Naiman went down and immersed (baptizo) himself in the Jordan seven times, according to the word of Elisaie, and his flesh returned like the flesh of a small child, and he was cleansed.
2 Kings 5:14 is accurately translated as immerse since the Hebrew word used in MT here for Naamans action means to plunge (it is not the normal word for wash). The imagery of Isaiah 21:4 appears best described with immersion (or at least something pretty thorough). That said, the other two references cannot be said to exclusively point to either immersion, pouring, or washing. It is conceivable any and all of those actions could be in view in bathing. The paragraph from Shedd assumes (on the Sirach verse) that the person in view would be careful to observe levitical law (and it is assumed that is in view, which also isnt clear).
Here’s another selection from a current systematic theology.
Baptist apologists support their claim by contending that (1) baptizo, has the root meaning to dip or to immerse, (2) John 3:23 implies that immersion was the mode of baptism John the Baptist employed from the fact that he was baptizing in Aenon near Salem because there was plenty of water [hydata polla, literally many waters] there, (3) New Testament descriptions of actual acts of baptism (Matt. 3:16; Mark 1:9, 10; Acts 8:3639) support immersion as the proper mode of baptism, and (4) Romans 6:36 and Colossians 2:1112 explicitly make the burial and resurrection of Christ the pattern for the mode of baptism, that is to say, just as Christ was buried so also to represent his death to sin the baptized party is to be immersed in water, and just as Christ rose from the dead so also to depict his resurrection to newness of life the baptized party is to emerge from water.
None of these contentions can be sustained. With reference to the meaning of baptizo while it may sometimes mean to dip, there are several New Testament contexts where it must mean simply to wash, with no specific mode of washing indicated. For example, [the word] hardly means was immersed in Luke 11:38, where we are informed that a certain Pharisee, noticing that Jesus did not first wash [literally was not baptized] before the meal, was surprised. Surely this Pharisee did not expect Jesus (note that Jesus the person is the subject of the verbal action and not simply Jesus hands) to be immersed in water before every meal! Surely his surprise was provoked by Jesus not ritually washing his hands before eating, in keeping with the ceremony referred to in Matthew 15:2 and Mark 7:34, most probably by having water poured over them (see the practice alluded to in 2 Kgs. 3:11 and Luke 7:44).
Speaking of Mark 7:34, in verse 4 we read: And [when they come] from the marketplace, except they ceremonially wash [baptisontai, literally baptize themselves] they do not eat. Surely again, baptisontai, cannot mean that the Pharisees and all the Jews immersed themselves every time they returned home from the market.?2
I think Reymond’s observations about baptizo are fair; it does seem clear that word doesn’t *have* to mean “immerse.” We’ve learned that the word itself doesn’t tell us anything conclusive about the mode of baptism. So now what? It’s at this point that the Baptist side will take us to Romans 6:3-5 and argue that the imagery of baptism favors immersion:
3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
- William Greenough Thayer Shedd and Alan W. Gomes, Dogmatic Theology (“First one-volume edition (3 vols. in 1); 3rd ed.; Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Pub., 2003), 820. ↩
- Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (Lectures delivered at Covenant Theological Seminary, St. Louis, Mo. and Knox Theological Seminary, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.;Nashville: T. Nelson, 1998), 930. ↩
In discussions of mode, it is always good to remember what the Didache says. Here’s Didache 7, my own translation:
1 And concerning baptism, baptize in this way: having reviewed all of these things, baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in running water. 2 But if you do not have access to running water, baptize in other water. And if you are not able to baptize with cold water, then baptize with warm water. 3 But if you possess neither, pour water on the head three times, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. 4 And before the baptism the baptizer should fast beforehand, and the one being baptized, and any others who are able. Call upon the one being baptized to fast beforehand for one or two days.
Verses 2-3 are the kickers. Basically, the important thing is to baptize, the method you use when baptizing is secondary. No ‘running’ water? Ok, use ‘other’ water. No cold water? Warm water is OK. If you have no water to hand, then just dump some on the head three times.
Whatever the ‘meaning’ of ???????, it’s clear that those early folks (at least those who used the Didache or something like it) didn’t care enough about mode to postpone a baptism. They’d rather “pour water on the head three times” than wait until they found a source for cold, running water.
I think most people have water on the brain when it comes to this term because it is untranslated in our English Bibles, and many of the man-made religious institutions throughout history have had a motive to keep people from understanding the true meaning. The definition of the verb ‘to baptize’ which is transliterated from the Greek verb ‘baptizo’ literally means to immerse into someone or something else, or identify with someone or something else. The word was used in classic Greek literature long before John and Jesus, and is not necessarily referring to either a religios rite, or anything to do with water
When scripture says to “baptize in the name” of someone, it literally means to immerse into or identify with everything which the name covers and stands for. Being baptized in the name of Christ means to become acquainted with Him and all that He stands for. or in other words to preach the Gospel. Being ‘baptized into Him’ literally means to be immersed into Him so that we are one body in Him, and again has nothing to do with water.
It’s important to translate the term as we read the passages because our English Bibles only transliterate this widely misunderstood term. Sure there are references to the water ceremony, but primarily only related to the baptism of John in the Gospels for repentance, and the apostles continuing the practice in the first half of Acts. Never however is this baptism (immersion) said to save, and is actually specifically said not to:
1Peter 3:21-22 Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you–not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience–through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him.
Luke 3:16 John answered and said to them all, “As for me, I baptize you with water; but One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to untie the thong of His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
@Rairdan Brannach: I like it!
@SealedEternal: The line “immerse into or identify with everything which the name covers and stands for” is important — it’s why mode really doesn’t matter.
@SealedEternal: baptizo does not always mean immerse…actually classically, and especially since the LXX, baptizo has had quite a large semantic and lexical domain. You need to read the seminal work of James W. Dale. His four volumes of word study on baptizo is a masterpiece of scholarship. And you need to digest the truth that he found. Immersion-only proponents have no leg to stand on!
Here is a link to his works on amazon:
@cwmyers007: I think this agrees with what I said.
Yes it does! That is scary 😉
There are absolutely NO instances of immersion of persons for any religious reasons whatsoever recorded in either the Hebrew or the Greek Scriptures, our Old and New Testament.
The Greek word for baptism used in the NT is a non-modal word: it tells what was done, but does not specify how it was done.
The mode is not essential to the ordinance. All modes are acceptable, but not all modes are strictly valid in terms of the Biblical text itself.
I have presented the evidence extensively in my published work, The New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge.
In that work I present the strongest possible arguments I could muster for the immersionist viewpoint at Romans 6:4.
I presented the evidence for non-immersion at Colossians 2:11, 12 and many other passages in full.
I am perfectly happy to let each individual, each church, each denomination determine what mode of baptism to practice.
What I am absolutely against is for any group or individual to claim that the mode they prefer is the exclusively correct mode.
Everyone must obey the command in Romans 15:7, “Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us, to the glory of God.”
To exclude a fellow believer because that fellow believer does not agree with the choice of mode your group practices is a direct violation of Romans 15:7. Read the cross references I have given in The New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge for Romans 15:7 and you will see that God considers this matter a most serious issue!
I have to agree with this:
“…The Greek word for baptism used in the NT is a non-modal word: it tells what was done, but does not specify how it was done….”
Context is king.
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