Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Mode of Baptism, According to the Scriptures, Part 2

Continuing with A. A. Hodge's refutation of the immersion-only view of baptism, I come to his discussion of the Greek word adopted into English as "baptize."

In the New Testament, that word is always baptizo, which can indeed mean "immerse," but also "dip, moisten, purify, wash," depending of course on context. The Septuagint uses bapto and baptizo, with no apparent distinction between the two variants. In the Greek version of Daniel 4:33, Nebuchadnezzar is said to be "baptized with the dew of heaven." That could hardly mean immersion. And in the apocryphal book of Ecclesiasticus 34:30, reference is made to one "who baptizes himself after the touching of a dead body." Yet, Numbers 19:9, 13, and 20, describe that rite as done through sprinkling.

In Mark 7:3-4 and Luke 11:38, Jesus refers to the Pharisees "washing their hands" with baptizo, but in the parallel passage in Matthew 15:2, 20, the Greek has nipto, which simply means "to wash." The emphasis in using baptizo, therefore, is not on the method, whether immersion or otherwise, but on the use, i.e., cleansing. The same meaning for baptizo is seen in its use by the disciples of John in John 3:25 and 4:2.

In Hebrews 9:10, the author describes the use of the earthly tabernacle for "diverse baptisms" ("washings" in contemporary English versions), then gives specific "baptisms" in verse 13 ("the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood"), verse 19 ("sprinkled both the book itself and all the people"), and verse 21 ("he sprinkled with the blood"). Thus the writer of Hebrews explicitly uses "baptize" to describe a rite of sprinkling, not immersion.

I will add one additional passage to those mentioned by Hodges. In I Corinthians 10:2, Israel is said to have been "baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea", that is, in the crossing of the Red Sea. Yet, not only was Israel not immersed, they are even explicitly said not to have gotten wet (Exodus 14:16, 21, 22, and 29)! It was the Egyptians that were immersed, yet they are not described as "baptized"!

To go to part 3, click here.

1 comment:

Gary said...

Why do Baptists insist on immersion? It is baffling that a Christian denomination that shuns all trappings of "Catholic ritual" would insist that the Christian rite of Baptism be performed in such a rigid, ritualistic manner that they even surpass the strict adherence to ritualistic form of the Roman Catholic Church!

Even if you believe that baptism is only for the purpose of a public profession of your faith, that it has nothing to do with salvation or the forgiveness of sins, why DEMAND that this rite be performed EXACTLY "as Jesus did it"??

Christianity is about the heart, not the external ritual!