THE BIBLICAL DOCTRINE OF BAPTISM
Part One of Four
There has been and perhaps always will be great debate about the correct interpretation of what the Word of God teaches regarding the subject of BIBLICAL BAPTISM.
There is a phrase which, to say the least, is a cliché – “THE BURDEN OF PROOF.” However, clichéd as it may be, it is nonetheless absolute when dealing with controversial subjects. It must have “the burden of proof.” Can the position held be supported by the Word of God? Is the convictional stand on baptism the same as the teaching of Christ and the Apostles, as well as the ancient church? If the position is not the same as what is taught in the New Testament, who had the authority to change that command? (Matt. 28:18-20). The Great Commission has an order which cannot be disannulled or gainsayed. First repentance, then baptism.
There are brethren who hold to a different position on baptism than that which is advanced in this article and they are as sincere as those that hold the position declared in these pages. Despite the differing positions on baptism, they are an intricate part of the lives of many and it would be disheartening to lose fellowship over a doctrine that cannot redeem.
In the libraries of many students of the Scriptures there are volumes of commentaries written by wonderful servants of God who are of different convictions on baptism as well as other doctrines; nonetheless, their instruction is of immense value on the things they have taught.
This article, and various ones to follow, will be submitted in a Christian spirit. Regardless of differences, the only redeeming doctrine is Jesus Christ alone and none others.
None of the following versus teach baptismal regeneration. Baptism is not a pre-requisite for salvation; but rather, an act of obedience as a result of saving faith being granted.
What do the Scriptures Teach
“And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, ALL power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach (make disciples) of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” (Matt. 28: 18-20)
This is rightly called by some the “Law” of order when considering the Biblical teaching on baptism. It is believers’ baptism, and believers only are those who according to the “The Great Commission” are to be baptized. Please note the following verses of Scripture when dealing with baptism. They all teach and adhere to the same criteria. The command of Scripture in each and every one of the following verses is the same — faith in Jesus, then baptism.
Mark 16:15-16 – “Preach the gospel . . . He that BELIEVETH and is baptized shall be saved.”
Acts 2:38 – “Peter said, Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus.”
Acts 2: 41 – “They that gladly received his word were baptized.”
Acts 8:12 – “When they BELIEVED Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.”
Acts 8:26-39 – This is the story of Philip and the eunuch from Ethiopia. The eunuch needed “some man” to explain to him the scripture he was reading. “Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus. The eunuch said, What doth hinder me to be baptized?” Philip answered, “IF THOU BELIEVEST WITH ALL THINE HEART, THOU MAYEST.” The eunuch answered, “I BELIEVE that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”
Acts 9:17-18 – The time and place where Paul was filled with the Holy Ghost. “Immediately, he received his sight, arose, and was baptized.”
Acts 10:47-48 – “Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we and he commanded them to be baptized.”
Acts 16:30-33 – “What must I do to be saved? BELIEVE on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. He took them the same hour of the night and baptized he and his.”
Acts 16:14-15 – “Lydia . . . whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of by Paul . . . And she was baptized.”
Acts 18:8 – “Crispus BELIEVED on the Lord with all his house, and many Corinthians, hearing BELIEVED, and were baptized.”
Acts 19:4-5 – “Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should BELIEVE on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.”
Rom. 6:3-5 – “There is in baptism a representation of the burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (James M. Pendleton, Christian Doctrines)
It is clear that baptism is indicative of new life in Christ. Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Christ were baptized into his death? The unconverted adult or the unaware infant knows nothing of Paul’s “so many of us as were baptized.” The apostle included himself in that number.
Rom. 6:4 states that believers were buried with him by baptism into death. “That like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” These words can hardly be misunderstood that baptism is for believers and it speaks to their raising with Christ.
Rom. 6:5 shows the grand result, “buried in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection.”
“Baptism also expresses, in emblem, the believer’s death to sin and resurrection to newness of life.” (Pendleton)
Col. 2:12 states the same as does Romans 6, but mention is made of faith, something alien to unbelievers and infants. “Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the FAITH of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.”
What is the Meaning of Baptizo
“Greek lexicons give immerse, dip, or plunge as the primary and ordinary meaning of baptize. Here it is proper to say that baptizo and baptisma, being Greek words, are, in Common Version of the Scriptures, anglicized, but not translated.” (Pendleton)
“In one hundred and seventy-five quotations from the Greek classics, Dr. Conant translates baptize by immerse forty-four times, submerge, twenty-two times; immerge, fifteen times; dip, ten times; imbathe, two times; plunge, seventeen times; whelm, fifty-six times; and overwhelm, nine times.
Dr. Conant in his forty-seven translations from the Greek and Latin fathers gives buried in water, eleven times; immersion, thirty-six times.
In his fourteen quotations from the Latin fathers, Dr. Conant gives the meaning buried in water, three times; immerse, eleven times.
Here, then, is a thorough investigation of all the classics, and not a single example is found in which baptize means to sprinkle or pour; but the evidence presented sets the matter beyond all reasonable doubt that it means to immerse.” BAPTIZEIN by Dr. Conant.
- Thayer — Baptizo: “An immersion in water; Baptism means submerge.”
- Liddell and Scott — Baptizo: “Baptism means to dip in or under water.”
- Sphocles (Greek Lexicon of the Roman and Byzantine periods B.C. 146, A.D. 1100-1870).— Baptizo: “To dip, to immerse.”
- Alsted (1625 Lexicon Theol.) — “Baptizo signifies only to immerse.”
- Symson (1658 Lexicon of N. T.) — “To dip or plunge into the water.”
- Hoffmann (1898 Universal Lexicon) — “The Jews, apostles, and primitive churches used immersion.”
- P. Mintert (1728 Lexicon on N.T.) — “Baptisma, properly and from its origin denotes a washing which is performed by immersion.”
- Schleusner’s Lexicon (1808) — “Those who were to be baptized were anciently immersed.”
- Larcher—Hederich (1816. Greek Lexicon) — “Baptizo, immerse.”
- G. G. Bretschneider (1829 N.T. Lexicon) — “In the New Testament, used only for a sacred submersion.”
- Rof. Rost. (1829 German-Greek Lexicon) — “The primary signification of baptize is plunge, submerge or immerse.”
- Kaltschundr (1839) — Baptizo: “To dip, immerse.”
- E. A. Sophocles (1870) Greek Lexicon, on Baptizo — Baptizo: “To dip in, dip under.”
Dictionaries and Encyclopedias (Religious and Secular)
“Baptism means immersion.” (Smith’s Dictionary)
“The Jews dipped themselves entirely under the water, and this is the most simple notion of the word baptize.” (Calmet 1729; Bible Dictionary)
“In performing the ceremony of baptism the usual custom was to immerse and dip the whole body.” (W.F. Hook, 1854; Church Dictionary)
“The language of the New Testament and of the primitive fathers sufficiently points to immersion as the common mode of baptism.” (Bishop E. H. Browne, 1861; Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible on Baptism)
“The primitive mode of baptizing was by immersion, as we learn from clear testimony of holy scriptures and of the fathers.” (John Henry Blunt, 1870; Dictionary of Doctrinal Historical Theology)
“Baptizo – To dip in, dip under.” (Pope 1880; Greek-German Dictionary)
“Baptism in early times was generally administered by immersion.” (Cassell Bible Dictionary)
“Baptism (Greek bapto-I dip) was originally administered by immersion, which act is thought by some necessary to the sacrament.” (Brand’s Encyclopedia)
“Baptism, in theology formed from the Greek baptizo or I dip, or plunge.” (Chamber’s Cyclopedia)
“The manner in which the rite was performed appears to have been at first by complete immersion.” (National Cyclopedia)
“In primitive times this ceremony was performed by immersion.” (Rees’ Cyclopedia)
“We readily admit that the literal meaning of the word baptism is immersion.” (Encyclopedia Metropolitan)
“We would like to know why Protestants, who profess to imitate so scrupulously the primitive Church, have not renewed the usage of giving baptism by immersion.” (Encyclopedia Methodique)
“It is, however, indisputable that in the primitive Church the ordinary mode of baptism was by immersion.” (Chamber’s Encyclopedia)
Church Founders and Historians
“The word baptize signifies to immerse, and the rite of immersion was observed in the ancient Church.” (John Calvin – founder of the Presbyterian Church)
“Baptism is a Greek word and may be translated immersion.” (Martin Luther – founder of the Lutheran Church)
“Buried with Him by baptism (Romans 6:4) alluding to the ancient manner of baptism by immersion.” (John and Charles Wesley – founders of the Methodist Church)
“Immersion was in all probability the way in which our blessed Saviour was baptized.” (Wall – Episcopalian)
“Baptizo—The primary meaning, of the word is to dip, to immerse; and its secondary meaning, if it ever had any, refers to the same leading idea. Sprinkling and pouring are entirely out of the question.” (Dr. Charles Anton – Episcopalian; former President of Columbia College, New York)
“For 1300 years baptism was an immersion of the person in water.” (Brenner – Catholic)
We are indebted to much of what is written below to the great and comprehensive book written by J. R. Graves, JOHN’S BAPTISM: Was it from Moses or Christ? Jewish or Christian?”
The testimony of the Roman Catholic Church as to what BAPTIZO means, and what their practice was from the seventh to the nineteenth century:
“Immersion, which takes place in baptism, signifies and expresses, as has been said, the burial of Christ. We are buried, I say, to the death of the old man and sin, as Christ lay in the sepulcher dead in mortal flesh.”—1842; Chancellor Est; German Roman Catholic.
“Although immersion was more inconvenient and immodest, nevertheless, because of its greater conformity and likeness to the mystery of the Lord’s death, burial and resurrection, it was ordinarily used by the primitive Church.”—Cabassutius; Notitia Eccles” 1690; Roman Catholic.
“Baptism by immersion continued to be the prevailing practice of the Church as late as the fourteenth century.”—Church History;” Vol. II, p.294; 1840 Dollinger; German Old Catholic.
Ordinarily baptism is performed by immersion, and that to represent the burial of Christ.”—Disputations;” Vol. III, p. 279; 1590; Bellarmine; Italian Roman Catholic.
“Plunged into the water. Baptize strictly coveys this signification, as all the learned are agreed.” Rt. Rev. Dr. Trenan; Roman Catholic.
“I cannot see how it is possible for any candid man, who examines the subject, to deny that apostolic baptism was immersion.” Dr. Moses Stewart
“I will never cease to profess and teach that only immersion in water, except in cases of necessity, is lawful baptism in the Church.”—Joseph de Vicecomes; French Roman Catholic
“The primary meaning of the term ‘baptize’ is acknowledged to be to dip or plunge;” “Immerse” Francis P. Kendrick, Archbishop of Baltimore; Roman Catholic.
There can be no higher Roman Catholic authority than the Douay Bible, with Haydock’s Notes.
“The word baptism signifies a washing, particularly when it is done by immersion, or by dipping or plunging a thing under water, which was formerly the ordinary way of administering the sacrament of baptism.” “Not only the Catholic Church, but also the pretended Reformer Churches, have altered this primitive custom in giving the sacrament of baptism, and allowing baptism by pouring or sprinkling water upon the person baptized . . .”That Christ was baptized by immersion is clear from the text in Matthew 3:6 for he who ascended out of the water must first have descended into it. And this method was in general use in the Church for thirteen hundred years, as appears from the acts of councils and ancient rituals.” Haydock’s Notes Roman Catholic
“The Baptists are, from a Protestant standpoint, unassailable, since for their demand of baptism by submersion they have the clear Bible text.” Dr. Doelinger; Roman Catholic
The Testimony of a number in the Lutheran Church concerning the word “BAPTIZO”
“We cannot deny that the first institution of baptism consisted of immersion, and not sprinkling.” Keckerman; German Lutheran; 1615
“History teaches that baptism at a very early period degenerated from the primitive simplicity. It was originally administered by immersion.” Van Oosterzee; Dutch Lutheran; 1878
“Baptism is an institution of the New Testament Church commanded by Christ, in which believers, by being immersed in water, testify their communion with the Church.” Srapfer; Swiss Lutheran; 1635
“Baptism is immersion, and was administered in ancient times according to the force and meaning of the word. Now it is only rantism or sprinkling.” Salmasius; French Lutheran; 1644
“It cannot be denied that the original signification of the word baptize is to plunge—to dip.” Witsius; Dutch Lutheran; 1677
“The learned rightly think that, on account of the mystical meaning of baptism, the right of immersion ought to have been retained in the Christian Church.” J. G. Rosenmueller; German Lutheran; 1829
The Testimony of a number in the Presbyterian Church concerning the word “BAPTIZO”
“The very word baptize, however, signifies to immerse; and it is certain that immersion was the practice of the ancient Church.” John Calvin; Presbyterian
“The Presbyterian scholars who are not polemical, frankly concede that baptize does not mean sprinkle or pour.” Dr. W. D. Powell; Presbyterian
“The word baptize, both in sacred authors and in classical, signifies to dip, to plunge, to immerse.” George Campbell; Scotch Presbyterian; 1848
“What led him to the Jordan, was his business as a baptizer. This action, consisting in complete immersion represents the symbolical sign language, indispensable to an Oriental which accompanies the inner experience of repentance.” H. J. Holtzmann; German Presbyterian; 1889
“He submitted to be baptized—that is, to be buried under the water—by John, and to be raised out of it again, as an emblem of His future death and resurrection.” MacKnight; Scotch Presbyterian; 1843
“The original meaning of the word baptism is immersion, and we doubt not that the prevalent style of the administration in the apostles’ days was by a actual submerging of the whole body under water.” Chalmers; Scotch Presbyterian; 1846
The testimony of a number in the Church of England and the Episcopalian Church of America
“In the ancient Church, they did not pour, but they immersed in water those who were baptized.” John Davenant; English Episcopalian; 1627
“There is here plainly a reference to the ancient mode of baptism by immersion; and I agree with Koppe and Rosenmueller, that there is reason to regret it should have been abandoned in most Christian Churches, especially as it has so evidently a reference to the mystic sense of baptism.” Bloomfield; English Episcopalian; 1855
“This passage cannot be understood (Rom. VI:3,4) unless it be borne in mind that the primitive baptism was by immersion.” Conybeare and Howson; English Episcopalians; 1870
“Holy baptism is the outward visible sign of water, in which in those days (apostolic times), one was immersed, or, as it were, buried; the sign, indeed, of our dying and rising again.” Colenso; English Episcopalian; 1861
“There can be no question that the original form of baptism—the very meaning of the word—was complete immersion in the deep baptismal waters; and that for at least four centuries any other form was either unknown or regarded as an exceptional, almost a monstrous case.” Quarterly Review; June, 1854
The testimony of a number of Independents and Congregationalists concerning the meaning of the word “BAPTIZO”
“What was the apostolic and primitive mode of baptism? By immersion. When was the practice of sprinkling or pouring generally introduced? Not until the fourteenth century . . . It is a point on which ancient, medieval and modern historians alike—Catholic and Protestant, Lutheran and Calvinist—have no controversy. And the simple reason for this unanimity is that the statements of the early fathers are so clear, and the light shed upon these statements from the early customs of the Church is so conclusive, that no historian who cares for his reputation would dare to deny it, and no historian who is worthy of the name would wish to.” L. L. Payne
“In the primitive Church, immersion was undeniably the common mode of baptism.” Coleman’s Antiquities
“The ceremony of immersion in the baptismal water indicates that we are like Jesus, buried to our former state, so that we have no more connection with it other than a dead body,” T. Belsham; English Unitarian; 1822
“But in our day, almost all the mystical meaning of baptism has perished. It is to be lamented and condemned that most churches have substituted sprinkling and repudiated the first original rite of immersion. J. B. Koppe; German; 1824
Is there any verse in all of the Word of God that would contradict baptism by immersion or believer’s baptism?
“The Doctrine of Infant Sprinkling – is it Biblical?”