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Posts Tagged ‘immersion’


Many a tree has been killed over the topic of the proper mode of baptism.  I am not referring to the use of the trinitarian formula.  I am referring to whether or not one must be immersed or if sprinkling and pouring are also legitimate modes of baptism.  For some people this is pretty much a hill to die on.  For others, this is not an essential of the faith and they permit some flexibility in the matter.

As a credobaptist (believer’s baptism) I often heard that the Greek verb means “to immerse, to dip.”  The total argument was based on the “meaning of the word.”  Let’s briefly investigate this claim.

From The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (abridged):

The Meaning of

baŒptoµ and baptéŒzoµ. baŒptoµ, “to dip in or under,” “to dye,” “to immerse,” “to sink,” “to drown,” “to bathe,” “wash.”

I don’t know about you, but I do not often immerse myself when I wash.  I essentially pour water over my hands, or body when I shower.  Such an understanding would be within the semantic range of the verb.  Immersion is a legitimate mode of baptism, but possibly not the only legitimate mode of baptism.

So far, not very convincing.  Right?  What if I pointed out an instance in Scripture where baptism did not mean “immerse”?

There are 2 parallel passages that help us to see the fulness of the term found in Scripture.

4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”  (Acts 1, NIV)

Jesus is speaking about the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.  The disciples were going to be baptized by the Holy Spirit.  This event takes place in Acts 2, and Peter offers a biblical theological explanation for what the people just experienced, or witnessed (in the case of the crowd who did not yet believe).

16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 17 “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.  (Acts 2, NIV)

Peter informs the people that God promised this would happen.  It was a fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy (Joel 2).  This “baptism with the Holy Spirit” is described as God “pour(ing) out (His) Spirit.”  The semantic range is more limited- “to pour out, to shed (as in blood).”  We are not immersed in the Spirit

Using this parallelism, in which one verse helps us to understand another (called the analogy of Scripture in the Westminster Confession of Faith & the London Baptist Confession).  This is also part of how we do theology in Scripture.  You include the range of meaning, look at synomyns, other grammatical concerns and historical context.  Here we see that baptism can also mean “to pour.”

If you want to immerse when you baptize- have at it.  But it would be biblically improper to limit the proper mode of baptism to immersion.  Those who have been sprinkled and poured by legitimate churches are just as baptized as you.  The issue is not how much water touches your body.

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