Author: Ron Graham

Six Steps

Is Baptism Immersion?
—The “form” or “action” of baptism

In this lesson we study what is sometimes called the "form" or "action" of baptism —whether baptism is an immersion or whether pouring or sprinkling of water is sufficient.

1 The Greek Words

A consideration of the family of Greek words associated with baptism will help us to determine whether baptism is immersion. The following table is a guide to such a study.

The English words baptize, baptism, and baptist, when first used in English translations, were not English words at all. The Greek was not translated but only transliterated (written in English letters and form). English words such as "dip, plunge, immerse" were available to translate the Greek words but in most instances this was not done. Words such as "sprinkling" or "pouring" were not used because they would not correctly translate the Greek words. There were only two choices. Either translate with words like "dip" or "immerse" or else leave the words untranslated and just transliterate them. The latter option was chosen and persists to this day in most English versions.

Example Greek English
John 13:26, Revelation 19:13   bapto
dip, plunge
Acts 8:38, Romans 6:3-4 baptizo
baptize
Ephesians 4:5, Colossians 2:12 baptisma
baptism
Mark 7:4, Hebrews 6:2 baptismos
washing, baptism
Matthew 3:1 baptistes
baptizer
Users of Strong's numbering system will find the above words under numbers 907-911

2 Descriptions of Baptism

There are two descriptions or examples of baptism in the New Testament which indicate that the "action" of baptism is immersion.

John 3:23

John's baptism was expedited with the aid of "much water". This would not have been any advantage if he but sprinkled or poured a little water in order to baptize, but it would be an advantage if his baptism was an immersion.

Acts 8:38

When Philip baptized the Ethiopian, "they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the Ethiopian." This would not have been necessary if Philip needed only to sprinkle or pour a little water. But it would be necessary if Philip baptized by immersion.

3 Figures and Symbols

To my mind this is the most important part of the lesson. It is in the figurative use of the word, and in what the act of baptism itself symbolizes, that we find the most convincing proof that baptism is immersion.

Mark 10:38

Jesus Christ spoke of his coming suffering, as the "baptism" that he would be "baptized" with. We all understand that Christ did not undergo a token suffering, but was plunged into suffering. His baptism of suffering was an immersion in suffering.

Matthew 3:11-12, Revelation 20:14-15

John spoke of the punishment of the wicked as being "baptized" with fire. This is no mere sprinkling of fire. This is no token outpouring of fire. In a vision, the other John saw it as a "lake of fire" into which the punished were thrown. This baptism is an immersion.

Acts 1:5, 10:45-47, 11:17

Jesus told his apostles that they would be "baptized" with the Holy Spirit. Peter said that the Holy Spirit had been "poured out" upon the household of Cornelius. It was the "same gift" in both cases. This baptism was no token outpouring. In this baptism the apostles were fully immersed in the Spirit’s power.

1Corinthians 10:1-2

Paul describes how the Israelites crossed the Red Sea. "All were under the cloud and all passed through the sea." Then Paul says, "And all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea". Not only is this a clear "type" of Christian baptism where one is "baptized into Christ", but the words "under the cloud and through the sea" express nothing less than a baptism of immersion.

1Pet 3:20-21

Another figure of baptism is the great flood which submerged the world but through which Noah and his family were brought safely.

Romans 6:3-4

note Baptism symbolises the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, and one is "buried with him by baptism". Sprinkling and pouring do not make an appropriate symbol of burial and resurrection, but baptism by immersion certainly does. When we realize that we are to express the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ in the act of baptism, then we will be careful to baptize, or to be baptized, in the appropriate manner. Baptism will be an immersion—nothing less.


link Lessons on baptism

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