Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Proper Mode of Baptism: Sprinkling

The Westminster Confession of Faith (the primary doctrinal formulation of Presbyterian Churches), says in XXVIII:3, "Dipping of the person into the water is not necessary; but baptism is rightly administered by pouring or sprinkling water upon the person." This is in opposition to Baptists and other Christians who insist that immersion (called "dipping" here) is the only legitimate mode of baptism. They claim that the word "baptism" means "immersion." I have addressed that particular claim here. By this statement, the divines were not saying that one cannot be baptized by immersion. In fact, I was baptized by immersion. Rather, their statement was intended to discuss the relative worth of the modes.

While not intending this as a complete dealing with the subject (see my post linked above), I want here to bring up two bible verses that I believe support the statement of the divines.

The first text in Isaiah 52:15: "So shall He sprinkle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of Him; for that which has not been told them they see, and that which they have not heard they understand." This is part of the Suffering Servant passage (Isaiah 52:10-53:12), one of the
most-striking Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament, and applied to Christ in several places in the New Testament, such as Mark 15:28 and I Peter 2:22. Some Bibles will have a footnote for "sprinkle," saying something like "or startle." There is no "or" about it: the Hebrew unequivocally reads "sprinkle"; the alternative, "startle," is found only in the Septuagint.


The other verse is Ezekiel 36:25: "I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you." This verse is in the midst of an amazing passage on God's work of regeneration of His elect, culminating in verse 33: "On the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities!"

The use of "sprinkle" is adopted from the atonement ceremonies in the tabernacle and Temple, e. g., Leviticus 16:14: "[The priest] shall take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it with his finger on the front of the mercy seat on the east side, and in front of the mercy seat he shall sprinkle some of the blood with his finger seven times." Just as those sacrifices pointed to the work of Christ in His suffering and death on the cross, so does the sprinkling with water in the new covenant sacrament of baptism. Note Hebrews 9:13 "the blood of bulls and goats" leading, in verse 14, to "the blood of Christ." This is the author's proof that the blood of Christ is superior to the "washings" (Greek, "baptisms") of the Old Covenant!

Consider also Mark 7:4: "They do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches." The word "wash" is a Greek word which would be literally translated as "sprinkle." And the word "washing" is literally "baptizing." If "baptism" means "immersion," then what are we expecting that the Pharisees did? To immerse their couches under water? The juxtaposition of "sprinkle" and "baptism" makes sense from the Presbyterian point of view. It does not from a Baptist point of view.

My conclusion here is that a proper understanding of Old Testament typology and the application of our atonement in Christ must lead to the conclusion that the biblical mode of baptism is by sprinkling.