BAPTISM - Its Meaning, Methods, and Recipients by Jim Rooney - HTML preview
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The verb baptize comes from the Greek word baptizo. Let’s see how Strong’s Concordance translates the Greek word baptizo to English:
Strong's G907 – baptize:
1) to dip repeatedly, to immerse, to submerge (of vessels sunk)
2) to cleanse by dipping or submerging, to wash, to make clean
with water, to wash one’s self, bathe
3) to overwhelm
Since the primary meaning of baptize in the Greek is to dip or immerse, immersion is the correct method to baptize. It is also true that the Greek words for sprinkle or pour are never used in the New Testament in connection with baptism.
Immersing the person in water better pictures the believer’s union in Christ than do the other methods of baptism. Although not all, many churches who only immerse don’t believe that baptism represents the spiritual cleansing or regenerative work of the Holy Spirit. They believe it is singly a picture of the Christian’s union with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection. It is interesting to note that Naaman, the captain of the king of Syria, was cleansed of his leprosy by dipping himself in the Jordan.
14 So he went down and dipped seven times in the Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean. (11 Kings 5:14)
Notice also from above that cleansing is a part of the definition of baptizo (2).
Many churches who baptize only by immersion feel that those who have been sprinkled or poured on have not had a valid baptism. To enter their membership, those previously baptized by sprinkling or pouring would normally have to be re-baptized by immersion.
Since the word baptize means to immerse in the Greek and Scripture says that Jesus came up out of the water at His baptism (When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; Matt. 3:16), our Lord was immersed at His baptism. Jesus was dipped under the water and then brought back up out of the water to picture His death, burial, and resurrection. Therefore, Christians should also follow His example in their baptism to show their union with Him.
New Testament Cases of Baptism
I would now like to review some of the cases when people were baptized in the New Testament to see if they can shed any light on which method of baptism is the correct one.
Baptisms Performed by John the Baptist
4 Now John himself was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him 6 and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins. (Matt. 3:4-6)
John baptized thousands of people in a very short span of ministry. Scripture records that great multitudes flocked to him from Jerusalem, Judea, and Jordan to be baptized. John would baptize great numbers of people at one time while in the Jordan River. As physically taxing as it is to even dip backwards under water and pull back up from out of the water one person, how could John have physically been able to accomplish this over one hundred times on a given day? Miracles are identified as such in Scripture but no mention is made of God enabling John to accomplish such a feat of strength.
Therefore, some believe that John could only have baptized these large numbers of people as was done in the Old Testament.
19 For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water, scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, (Heb. 9:19)
It would not have been difficult to baptize these masses of people by sprinkling or pouring. It would have been extremely difficult or almost impossible for one man to have immersed the great number of people John baptized.
However, it is quite possible that the person being baptized did not go backwards under the water and then have to be pulled back up. Perhaps the one baptized went down vertically or even down in a forward motion under the water. This would have caused John no problem physically because the individual being baptized would have been able to help with coming up out of the water. The person being baptized would still have been completely immersed in the water.
The Baptism of Christ
16 When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. 17 And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matt. 3:16,17)
Scripture states that when Jesus was baptized He came up out of the water. Does this mean He was certainly immersed? Jesus would have stepped down from the river bank into the water and when baptized He would have stepped back up onto the river bank. He could have been sprinkled, poured on, or immersed in the water and still would have come up out of the water.
Baptisms on the Day of Pentecost
40 And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation.” 41 Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. (Acts 2:40, 41)
Three thousand people were baptized in one day when the Holy Spirit mightily came upon the people at Pentecost. No advance preparations were made to baptize such a great multitude of people. There are no bodies of water near Jerusalem. The probability is great that these masses of people were baptized by sprinkling or pouring. One cannot overrule the possibility that immersions were performed as there were pools of water in the city. Two questions would need to be answered. Were these pools deep enough to allow for immersions? Were these pools large enough to have the quantity of water needed for such a large number of immersions?
The Ethiopian Eunuch
38 So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. 39 Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing. (Acts 8:38,39)
Both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water for this baptism and then both came up out of the water. The same explanation given in the baptism of Christ applies here. Stepping down into the water and then stepping up out of the water does not conclusively prove one method over the other.
It is important to note that the eunuch had been reading from Isaiah 53 for some time about the suffering Christ servant. It is quite likely that he read and Philip explained Isaiah 52:13-15 which says that the suffering Christ “servant” shall sprinkle many nations. There were no chapter or verse notations back then and Isaiah 52:13-15 immediately precedes chapter 53 and both passages refer to this suffering servant. This would add biblical support to the eunuch being baptized by sprinkling. However, there is the possibility that the baptism could have been performed by any of the three methods.
9 And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank. (Acts 9:9)
18 Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized.19 So when he had received food, he was strengthened. (Acts 9:18, 19)
Paul had gone without food or drink for three days. When he received his sight, Ananias immediately baptized Paul and afterward he was fed. Is it probable that they would have searched around town to find a suitable place to perform an immersion with Paul’s frail physical condition, and then later given Paul something to eat and drink? The probability seems greater that the baptism, which was performed immediately, was done by sprinkling or pouring with whatever water was readily available. An immersion could have happened but the facts would seem to indicate otherwise. However, this case does not conclusively prove one method of baptism over another.
The Philippian Jailer and His Family
Paul and Silas had been imprisoned in Philippi because Paul had cast out a demon from a girl who brought her masters profit from her sorcery. At midnight while Paul and Silas were singing hymns of praise to God, there was an earthquake that shook the foundation of the jail and all the doors were opened and the prisoners’ chains were loosed. The jailer decided to draw his sword and kill himself rather than be faced with a tortuous death by the authorities. Paul yelled to him not to take his life because all the prisoners were still there. When the jailer saw that, he fell down before Paul and Silas and asked them what he must do to be saved.
31 So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized. 34 Now when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them; and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household. (Acts 16:31-34)
Here we see that in the middle and darkness of the night, the jailer and his family were baptized by Paul and Silas. With no advance preparations made, how were these number of people immersed? Did they travel down to a river in darkness for the baptism? Scripture makes no mention of this. Is it more logical that after the jailer washed Paul and Silas’ wounds they were baptized by sprinkling or pouring with the water left over from their washing? Although unlikely that immersions were performed, it is possible that these persons could have been immersed.
What all this seems to say is that none of these accounts mentioned, nor others in Scripture, can be used to definitively prove one method over another. In each case, sprinkling, pouring, or immersion could have been done. In some of the cases mentioned, it is improbable but possible that immersions were performed. Suffice it to say that no New Testament case of baptism proves one method over the other.
Concluding Thoughts on the Methods of Baptism
I have tried to discuss each method of baptism in as fair and unprejudiced a manner as possible. Which method is the correct one? I will let you decide that for yourself.
I would like to mention that although examining the etymology of a word can be helpful in this endeavor, one must not overly rely on it. The word, baptize, means primarily to dip or immerse as we have seen, yet it is used in Scripture at times when it doesn’t mean that.
4 When they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other things which they have received and hold, like the washing of cups, pitchers, copper vessels, and couches. (Mark 7:4)
Some of these items, like couches or tables, were too big to immerse under water for their cleaning. Water would have been applied to the object to clean it by sprinkling or pouring.
10 Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, 2 all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, (1 Cor. 10:1,2)
Here we see that the Israelites were baptized in the Red Sea, but their only contact with water was as it may have sprayed on them as in sprinkling.
It must be said that those who sprinkle or pour in baptism also believe that baptism speaks of the Christian’s union with Christ in His sufferings, death, burial, and resurrection. However, they normally believe that water baptism is mainly a picture of the spiritual baptism by Christ. As a result of this regenerating process, we are united with our Lord. They differ with most immersionists who exclude the washing or cleansing aspect of the Holy Spirit in their definition of baptism. The immersionist usually insists that baptism is a picture of the work of Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection and not of the Holy Spirit.
In Rom. 6:3-8, we see that Christians are united by baptism into Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. Does this mean that we should baptize by only one method since it says that we are “buried with him through baptism into death”? Obviously, these verses are speaking of the Christian’s baptism by Christ with the Holy Spirit and not about physical water baptism. Therefore these verses are not written to prove how we should be baptized by water, but state that when our spiritual baptism (washing) does take place, we are united with Christ.
Scripture gives us two requirements regarding baptism. First, water must be used.
7 “Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” (Acts 10:47)
Second, the baptism must be done in the name of the Trinity.
19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, (Matt. 28:19)
These are the only two requirements regarding baptism according to the Scriptures. Any additional requirements have been added by different religious denominations based on their traditions and conclusions. There certainly is nothing wrong with having traditions or conclusions as long as they don’t conflict with Scripture. However, care must be taken not to exalt these traditions so as to be critical or even deny the baptisms of others without scriptural proof.
In summary, one should keep the following details in mind concerning baptism. First, water baptism symbolizes the spiritual baptism, washing, and cleansing of sin in the regeneration process when Christ washes or baptizes us with the Holy Spirit at our conversion. Second, this process results in our union with Christ as our body of sinful flesh dies with Him, is buried with Him, and we are then free to walk in newness of the resurrected life in Christ. Third we must conclude, without Scripture to the contrary, that all three methods of baptism are valid and accepted by the Lord as long as they meet the two requirements previously mentioned.
The Biblical Basis for Baptizing Believers Only
The primary reason why infants of Christians should not be baptized is that Scripture never authorizes baptism for them. In addition, there are many instances in Scripture that show repentance and belief before the baptism takes place.
38 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38)
36 Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?” 37 Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” (Acts 8:36,37)
8 Then Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his household. And many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptized. (Acts 18:8)
4 Then Paul said, “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.” 5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. (Acts 19:4,5)
The Great Commission given by Christ in Matt. 28:19 says:
19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
We are commanded by Christ to first make disciples of the nations and then to baptize them. An infant cannot be taught or come to faith; therefore a baby should not be baptized. In every case in Scripture when a named individual was baptized, he or she first believed before being baptized.
The person who is baptized after believing in Christ can experience the joy and practice of his Christian faith. His baptism is a public testimony of his belief in Christ. The practice of baptism in this manner causes it to have real meaning and purpose to the one who can understand why he or she is being baptized.
Scripture is silent concerning the baptizing of infants. Therefore, one should not do something in worship unless Scripture specifically commands it. Baptizing infants leaves the impression that the change of heart or repentance of the one baptized is not necessary or important. Baptizing infants would also make the baptism a matter of ritual only.
The Biblical Case for Baptizing Infants of Christians
It is true that Scripture does not specifically state infants of Christians should be baptized. However, it is significant to note that the Bible condemns every imaginable sin or wrong doing yet there is not one prohibition or restriction in the Word of God against baptizing infants of believers. God foreknew this issue would bring division within His church yet He still did not prohibit its practice. In view of the fact that infant baptism has been performed by the majority of Christian denominations, this practice should not be dismissed lightly. It is important to note two things. First, what is being said in favor of infant baptism here applies only to infants of Christians. Second, infant baptism does not save the child (Titus 3:5), nor does it remove sin.
But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:7)
The Church or Covenant Family of God
The church or family of God in the Old Testament was Israel. The church of the New Testament is Christians. Since both groups were and are saved by faith in the sacrificial Lamb of God, they are actually one church or family. This is true because God made an everlasting covenant with Abraham, the father of the Jews and of God’s church or family. In this agreement, God promised Abraham that all of the families of the earth would be blessed in him.
I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen. 12:3)
We see the truth of this promise as Jesus was descended from Abraham. God also said that He would be the God of both Abraham and his descendants after him.
7 And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you. (Gen. 17:7)
Are Christians of the New Testament the descendants of Abraham and do they come under the terms of this everlasting covenant?
6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” 7 Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham. (Gal. 3:6,7)
26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Gal. 3:26-29)
Therefore, Scripture is clear that Christians are the children or seed of Abraham and heirs of the promise. This is referring to the promise God made to Abraham in this everlasting covenant or agreement. (Gen. 12:3)
Who Are the True Jews?
The true Jew is not one who is Jewish outwardly but one who is inwardly a Jew by faith in Jesus Christ. It is clear that Christians are not only considered part of the one church or family of God as the seed or children of Abraham, but they also have a right to the promises as heirs of this everlasting covenant. While this covenant did have national and territorial considerations for the nation of Israel, one must not deny the spiritual blessing to mankind in this agreement. As physical water baptism is a picture of our spiritual baptism, so too was physical circumcision a picture of one’s spiritual circumcision.
16 Therefore circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be stiff-necked no longer. (Dt. 10:16)
6 And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. (Dt. 30:6)
28 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; 29 but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God. (Rom. 2:28,29)
11 In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. (Col. 2:11,12)
3 For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh… (Phil. 3:3)
We see in Scripture that God commanded Abraham to circumcise every male infant after him as a sign or seal of this everlasting covenant.
9 And God said to Abraham: “As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. 10 This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised; 11 and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you. 12 He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised, every male child in your generations, he who is born in your house or bought with money from any foreigner who is not your descendant. (Gen. 17:9-12)
The Jew correctly understood that the Jewish female was represented in the circumcision of the Jewish male. Therefore, as the seed, children, and descendants of Abraham and rightful heirs to the promises of this everlasting covenant, Christians must be obedient to God and continually place the sign of the covenant upon their infant children.
God’s adopted family are all those who by faith are accounted for righteousness, whether Old or New Testament. This special covenant relationship of His family accords them with special honors and benefits. These promises, honors, and benefits are passed down through the family generations of Abraham from believing parent to infant child.
39 For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:39)
The sign of the covenant in Old Testament times was circumcision. What is the sign of this everlasting Abrahamic covenant in the New Testament era for the descendants of Abraham? There is only one possible answer: Baptism.
Circumcision Had the Same Purpose and Meaning that Baptism Does Today
The two main observances in the Old Testament relate to and correspond with those in the New Testament.
The Passover meal commemorated what took place in Egypt when God’s people were in bondage and Moses commanded the people to apply the blood of lambs on their door posts so that God would not destroy the first born of their households. This Passover meal was a type or picture that would take place later when Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, would be sacrificed on the cross and His blood would be shed for the remission of the sins of God’s people. This is what we do in the New Testament commemorative meal of the Lord’s Supper. Christ is our Passover.
For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. (1 Cor. 5:7)
Circumcision was the initiatory rite of the Jewish family of God and it had a two-fold spiritual significance.
First, it was a sign of cleansing. The physical act itself helped to make clean or prevent infection. The uncircumcised Gentiles were considered heathen or unclean.
Awake, awake! Put on your strength, O Zion; Put on your beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city! For the uncircumcised and the unclean Shall no longer come to you. (Isa. 52:1)
When you brought in foreigners, uncircumcised in heart and uncircumcised in flesh, to be in My sanctuary to defile it—My house—and when you offered My food, the fat and the blood, then they broke My covenant because of all your abominations. (Eze. 44:7)
Baptism is the initiatory observance or rite of the Christian family of God and is a picture of Jesus washing or cleansing us of our sins with the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit. (Matt. 3:11; Acts 22:16; Titus 3:5)