After our mini-series on Discipleship, are you ready for another exploration of an important biblical topic?
The Bible's teaching on baptism is clear, and there are dozens of verses that present a consistent picture of conversion. Yet even outside the New Testament there's an enormous wealth of evidence that (1) scriptural baptism is immersion and (2) its purpose is the forgiveness of sins.
In this series, evidence for the first fact will be presented from the N.T. Greek plus two of the languages into which the Greek N.T. was translated in the early centuries, Syriac and Latin. Evidence for the second fact will be drawn from the patristic writers, the early "church fathers."
Wade in the water?
The Bible shows people going into rivers to be baptized; going down into the water; and participating in something that parallels burial (Mark 1:5; Acts 8:38; Rom 6:4). There wouldn't be any need to wade in the water to be sprinkled with a few drops. Despite the biblical evidence, a number of denominations still hold that sprinkling or pouring is just as valid as immersion. What light is shed on the matter by the ancient languages?
Definition of baptism
Insights from the Greek:
Four words are worth looking at in the N.T. for the purposes of our discussion, and they correspond to what denominational Christianity calls "modes of baptism": immersing, sprinkling, pouring, and affusion (applying water to the head of the individual).
Baptidzo = immerse. (Often spelled baptizo.) The word always used for N.T. baptism. (It comes from the verb bapto, which means to dip.) Baptidzo literally means dip or immerse (in the active voice) and dip oneself, plunge, sink, or even drown (in the middle voice). Classical Greek authors used this word to describe ships sinking in naval warfare. The clear implication is total immersion.
Hrantidzo = sprinkle. (Sometimes spelled rantizo.) Found 5 times in the N.T. (Heb 9:13,19,21; 10:22; and some manuscripts of Mark 7:4).Never used in the N.T. in connection with baptism. The O.T. practice of sprinkling blood (which conveys sanctification) connects somehow with forgiveness through the blood of (Heb 10:22), but there's no evidence that the first century Christians attempted to give a new meaning to baptidzo. The Roman Catholic Church authorized sprinkling in lieu of immersing in 1311.
Cheo = pour. Not found in the N.T., except in compounds (e.g. Acts 2:33; Titus 3:6). Hence never used of baptism. There is evidence that some Christians practiced pouring as early as the 2nd century, though it would be many centuries before pouring became normative.
Hygraino = apply water, moisten. Never used in the N.T. for water baptism. This would have been the ideal word, however, if the "mode" of baptism were left to our discretion.
Baptism is not sprinkling, pouring, or applying water (wetting). Baptisma, the Greek word for immersion, is consistently used for baptism, and those familiar with the language usually admit the fact.
Note: The material in this three-part series originally appeared in the July 1987 issue of A Light to London, the bulletin of the London Church of Christ.
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We'll continue our study of baptism. Thanks so much for your enthusiastic feedback. I truly hope that every week this material will meet needs in your life and ministry -- in whichever part of the world you live.