command of Scripture has generated more controversy and has caused more
division among “Christians” than baptism. There are so many differences
as to WHAT baptism is, WHO is to be baptized, and WHY one is to be
baptized. How is the common man going to sort out all this confusion
without going insane? The Scriptures contain the answers to these
questions. If we look to them instead of tradition or denominational
dogma, our confusion will be replaced with clear understanding. In this
issue, let the Scriptures answer the question, “What is baptism?”
If you were to dye a white shirt so that it would be
purple, would you sprinkle dye on it? Would you pour dye on it? Or would
you dip the shirt into the dye? Well, unless you were interested in
polka-dots, you would dip the entire shirt into the dye so that the whole
shirt would turn to purple.
In the first century A.D., when the New Testament was
written in the Greek language, the Greek word baptizo was used to
describe the process of dyeing clothes (See Vine’s Expository
Dictionary of N.T. Words, p. 99). This is the same word that we read
as “baptize” in our English Bibles. The Bible dictionaries agree that,
when Jesus commanded men to be baptized, he was ordering men to be
dipped, immersed, or submerged. Arndt and Gingrich (p. 131) add
another clear illustration of how the word “baptize” was used in N.T.
times. The word was used to describe someone who is overwhelmed by debt.
As we would say, he is “in over his head”.
The idea of “water” is not found in the word we call baptism. The
submersion could be in dye or debt, or in anything the context
de-scribes. So how do we know that the baptism Jesus commands is in
water? By seeing men obey the command. After Philip brought the
Ethiopian to faith by showing him how Jesus fulfilled Isaiah 53, the
eunuch asked, “Behold here is water, what prevents me from being
baptized?” Immediately following the Ethiopian’s confession of his belief
in Jesus, “they both went down into the water, Philip
as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him. When they came
up out of the water … (Acts 8:38-39) It does not
take a Greek scholar to see that Jesus commanded IMMERSION in WATER!
The first known case of sprinkling instead of immersion
for baptism was not until A.D. 251 when Novation was sprinkled on
his deathbed. Sprinkling was only done for the very sick until A.D. 1311
when the Catholic council at Ravenna okayed “baptism” for the healthy, as
well as the sick. By the time the Bible was translated into English in
the 1500’s, the notion that the sprinkling and pouring of water
constitutes “baptism” was widespread. So the translators did not
trans-late the word baptizo as “immersion” as they should have.
Instead, they coined a new English word by taking the Greek letters of
baptizo and changing them to English letters (a process called
transliteration). Then they gave the new English word three
meanings- “sprinkling, pouring, or immersion”. If the translators had
been honest, everywhere you read “baptize” in your Bible you would read
“dip, submerge, or immerse”.
surely as night follows day, burial follows death. We all have made our
sad trips to the cemetery. There we lovingly placed the earthly remains
of our dear ones, who are gone from our lives, but not from our hearts.
We set up a memorial at the burial site and return from time to reflect
Jesus of Nazareth was CRUCIFIED some 2000 years ago.
Following His cruel death, two of His once secret disciples stepped
forward to re-ceive His body and prepare it for BURIAL. In a garden, near
the crucifixion site, they lovingly laid it (Jn 19:38-42). Following the
Sabbath rest, women who were friends and disciples of Jesus, who had
shared closely in His ministry, came to see the tomb and to anoint His
body with spices, in a show of their respect and love (Mt 28:1; Lk
23:55-24:1). But, the stone was rolled away from the tomb and the body
was gone! Jesus was RISEN from the dead!!
The risen Savior commanded those who would become His
disciples to be baptized. In baptism, a person is symbolically BURIED
first CRUCIFYING the old man of sin. As one is RAISED from the watery
“grave” of baptism, to a new life of righteousness, he does so in
“likeness of His resurrection” (Romans 6:3-6).
The fact that, in baptism, one is buried and raised with
Jesus is proof that the baptism Jesus commanded is immersion in water,
even without a Greek word study. Jesus commanded immersion because in
this act men unite with His death, burial, and resurrection. When you
bury someone, you don’t sprinkle or pour dirt on them- you cover them with
dirt! When sprinkling or pouring are substituted for immersion and called
“baptism”, the action loses the symbolism and therefore the meaning that
Jesus gave it.
Whenever you visit the cemetery or pass by, remind yourself what “burial”
is. Think of Jesus’ empty tomb in Palestine. Make the decision to
crucify your old self. Then be buried and raised with Jesus by immersion
in water and begin a new life with Him.