part of the what is truth? series

Baptism has something to do with water right? Some believe it’s just getting wet (“sprinkling”) while other Christians insist one isn’t baptized unless the individual is completely submersed in water. In fact, Dictionary.com defines it as, “a ceremonial immersion in water, or application of water, as an initiatory rite or sacrament of the Christian church” while Thesaurus.com includes both immersion and sprinkling in a list of the most relevant synonyms.  Can it really be both?

We look at baptism’s purpose in another question, but for now let’s see what can we learn from God’s inspired Word about what baptism is?

how Scripture answers "What is baptism?"

The word for baptism that is consistently used in the New Testament means to submerge or overwhelm in water.1 Not only is the Greek word consistently used, but the examples of baptism show immersion and not sprinkling.2 Furthermore, we see metaphors used3 that perfectly align with submersion.

the answer above is based on and footnoted with the following Scripture Blocks
1

They asked him, Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet? John answered them, I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.

After being asked a question about who he is, John [the Baptist] answers making reference to an activity (baptize, or baptizing) that he was well know for.

A delegation from the Pharisees was sent to inquire of John and his purpose. He answers by contrasting himself to the Christ, the one who John was sent as a forerunner.

How does it inform?

It introduces the word “baptism” and more precisely the Greek word “baptizo” for which it is translated. This word means “to dip repeatedly, to immerse, to submerge.” Also “to wash” and finally “to overwhelm.” Interestingly, there is another word in the Greek – “bapto” – which means simply “to dip, dip in, immerse.” In all the New Testament references to baptism, the Greek “bapto” is never used. But both words were used in a recipe for pickles from a poet and physician that lived in 200BC. He wrote that the vegetable should first be “dipped” (“bapto”) into boiling water and then “baptized” (“baptizo”) into a vinegar solution.

Does it apply? Yes

2

Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized? And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.

Philip begins with a Scripture [Isaiah] and shares the good news of Jesus.  The eunuch sees water and wants to be baptized, so together they go “down into” the water where Phillip baptizes the eunuch.  When they “came up out of” the water, the Spirit takes Philip while the eunuch joyously returns home to Ethiopia.
Phillip is sent by the Spirit of God to teach the eunuch who is reading Isaiah while he’s traveling back from home from visiting Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost. When they see water, they stop in order for the eunuch to be baptized.  We hear not more about Ethiopia, but history records it to have a great Christian history.
How does it inform?

The strong implication here is that a large enough body of water (e.g. river, lake) was required for the eunuch to be baptized. First, they would have likely had drinking water already with them. Second, they both went “down into” and “came up out of” the water.

Does it apply? Yes

3

We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

When we were baptized, we were buried with him into death, and raised as He was by the Father to walk in newness of life.

Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, where some apparently had the idea that they could continue in sin thanks to God’s grace.  He uses their baptism metaphorically to point out they died to sin and were raised anew.

How does it inform?

Paul’s metaphor is consistent with submersion (and doesn’t work with sprinkling).

Does it apply? Yes

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If you know of some other verses or you have something to add to the verses already listed for this question please leave a comment below! We welcome the public discussion and will incorporate your input into the Framework above. We have nothing to hide and invite your help in considering all that God’s word has to say.

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