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What Is Baptism?

For many, this question is of little importance, though multitudes have discussed and debated it for centuries.

Since the Scriptures teach that baptism is the culminating act by which one is made the Lord’s disciple (Matt. 28.18-20), receives the remission of their sins (Acts 2.38), and thereby enters into Christ (Gal. 3.26-27), it behooves us to consider what precisely is involved in this divinely-commanded New Testament rite.

Definition And Use

Several sectarian churches allege that baptism may be administered either by 1) sprinkling water; 2) pouring water; or, 3) fully immersing the candidate under the water.

To support this proposition, many appeal to the Greek word baptizo, from which our word, baptize, has been anglicized, contending that it may be used to embrace any one of these procedures. However, this assertion is simply not true.

Joseph H. Thayer, a notable New Testament Greek scholar, defines this word,

“to dip repeatedly, to immerse, submerge…to cleanse by dipping or submerging, to wash, to make clean with water…metaph. to overwhelm.”

Based upon this exhaustive definition, therefore, we cannot conceive of baptism as being done by either sprinkling or pouring. Rather, it as an immersion.

Consider a fitting example to illustrate this definition. Leviticus 14.15-16:

“And the priest shall take some of the log of oil, and pour it into the palm of his own left hand: And the priest shall dip his right finger in the oil that is in his left hand, and shall sprinkle of the oil with his finger seven times before the Lord.”

I have highlighted three significant verbs in this passage. Interestingly, the Greek Septuagint of the Old Testament employs three distinct Greek words to convey each of these priestly actions.

The Greek word for, “pour,” is cheo. The word rendered, “sprinkle,” is rhantizo. And the verb rendered, “dip,” is bapto (as in, baptize).

Thus, baptism, in the language of the Bible, is entirely distinct from the actions of pouring and sprinkling and cannot be regarded as anything other than dipping, plunging, or an immersion.

Had the New Testament writers wished to connect the act of baptism with either of these two concepts, they would have had the proper words at their disposal to covey them. Nevertheless, whenever baptism for the remission of sins is discussed in the New Testament, the word used invariably is bapto or baptizoimmersion.

Spiritual Import

Why is this significant?

Christian baptism is a symbolic act representing three fundamental facts of the Christian faith — i.e., the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ (cf. I Cor. 15.1-4). Paul asked the Roman Christians:

“Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6.3-4).

Again, in Colossians 2.12, we are "buried with him in baptism." Sprinkling or pouring water does not in any way resemble the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Immersion (a burial in water), however, most certainly does.

Accordingly, from an inspired writer’s commentary, baptism is a burial in water, showing our faith in and ultimate entrance into the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. No other act can suffice to substitute for baptism.

Rather than concoct our own ideas of how to baptize, let us instead yield to heaven’s definition of the word, and be therewith content.


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