What is Baptism?
By T. T. Eaton
Baptists affirm that New Testament baptism is the immersion in water in the name of the Trinity of a believer on a profession of his faith by one duly set apart by a church for such service. Other denominations, while admitting this to be baptism, hold that sprinkling or pouring water upon a person is also valid baptism. But since all admit that the immersion is right, and many insist that sprinkling and pouring are wrong, why cannot all agree to take the immersion? Why be willing to be doubtful when you can be certain? Baptists are not trying to force on others a baptism they repudiate; but others are trying to force on us a baptism we repudiate, and often we are roundly denounced as "narrow" and "bigoted" for objecting to this. We simply ask other denominations to practice what they themselves admit to be valid baptism. This does not involve any surrender of conscience on their part; while for us to accept sprinkling and pouring would require a surrender of our consciences. Let no one say, therefore, that, at least so far as the matter of baptism is concerned, Baptists stand in the way of Christian union.
What is the proper act of baptism is to be determined by an appeal to Scripture. We must of
course appeal to that part of the Bible which discusses the subject, and hence we come to the New Testament, since the Old Testament has nothing whatever to say on the subject. Passages of the Old Testament have, however, been cited in the baptismal controversy, one of which we mention. Isaiah lii. 14, 15: "As many were astonished at thee; (his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men:) so shall he sprinkle many nations; the kings shall shut their mouths at him: for that which had not been told them shall they see; and that which they had not heard shall they consider." It is claimed that this sprinkling is a prophecy of baptism, which is to be by sprinkling. Now I admit that if it had been proved that sprinkling was baptism then it might be argued with some plausibility that there was a prophecy of baptism in Old Testament passages which speak of sprinkling; but certainly this cannot be urged as proof that sprinkling is baptism. But the contention vanishes into thinnest air when the passage is studied, and it is seen that the word sprinkle is a mistranslation, marring the sense of the language. It should be astonish or startle, and it is so translated in the margin of the Revised Version. The Hebrew word (nazah) is rendered in this, passage by Gesenius: "So shall he cause many nations to rejoice in himself;" by Davies: "So shall he startle (or surprise) many nations." These two Hebrew lexicographers give as the first meanings of the word (Davies), "to bound, to spring, of liquid
to spurt, Hiph. to cause to leap for strong feeling, to make to start," and this passage in Isaiah is then cited. (Gesenius), "to leap for joy, to exult, to spring. The primary idea is that of sparkling, flying out . . . . Hiph. to cause to leap for joy, to cause to exult, to make to rejoice," and then follows the translation above given of this passage. The Septuagint version (made by seventy learned Jews in the time of the Ptolemies and used in Palestine in the time of Christ, translates nazah by the Greek thaumazo, rendering the passage "houto thaumasontai ethne polla ep' auto." "So shall many nations be astonished at him." And this becomes even plainer when we examine the passage in English, "As many were astonished at thee, (his visage was so marred more than any man and his form more than the sons of men " - an astonishing thing - "so shall he astonish many nations: the kings shall shut their mouths at him," - in wonder - "for that which had not been told them shall they see; and that which they had not heard shall they consider." Thus the passage is made clear and intelligible, while by using the word "sprinkle" the meaning is obscured.
But the Old Testament has nothing whatever to say on the subject of baptism, and so we come to the New. Baptism began with John the Baptist, who was sent by God to preach and to baptize. We read, Mark i. 4, 5, "John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. And there went out unto him all
the land of Judea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins." Now the act performed by John is expressed in the word Anglicized into baptize, the Greek verb baptizo. Let us see what this word means in this passage. It is an admitted principle of language that the meaning of a word may be substituted for the word in a sentence without at all changing the sense. Let us apply this principle here. There are three English words claimed as translations of baptizo in this passage, viz., sprinkle, pour, and immerse. Let us substitute each of these in the passage and note the results. "And there went out unto him all the land of Judea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all sprinkled of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins." How could a man sprinkle people in a river? He might throw them in or drive them in, but the only way he could sprinkle them in would be first to reduce them to a liquid or powder. We see that sprinkle in this passage does not make sense, and therefore it is not admissible to translate baptizo by sprinkle here. Try pour. "And there went out unto him all the land of Judea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all poured of him in the river of Jordan, eonfessing their sins." This is no better. John could not have poured the people in the river without first reducing them to a powder or a liquid. To talk about pouring people in a river is nonsense. And since the sense of the passage is destroyed by the use of the word pour, it is manifest that baptizo does not here mean pour.
Now try immerse. "And there went out unto him all the land of Judea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all immersed of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins." This certainly makes sense. Preachers do often immerse people in a river. I have done it many times myself. Therefore as between the three translations, sprinkle, pour and immerse, in this passage, immerse alone can be taken, because it, alone of the three, makes sense.
When men wish to determine the meaning of a word in any language they first turn to standard lexicons of that language and see what definitions are given, and these are applied to the passages in question. I might give the translations of any number of lexicons, but two will suffice; and since neither of these was prepared by a Baptist, neither can be suspected of any partiality for Baptist views. The standard Greek lexicon at all universities and colleges among English-speaking people is Liddell and Scott's, seventh edition. This lexicon gives the meaning of baptizo as simply "to dip in or under water." It gives as a secondary meaning, "to draw wine by dipping." There is no hint of sprinkling or pouring. At the University of Virginia, at Harvard, at Yale, at Cornell, at Princeton, at Vanderbilt, etc., etc., Liddell and Scott is the standard Greek lexicon. Would it not be a marvel if Messrs. Liddell and Scott were ignorant of the meaning of baptizo? The other lexicon I mention is Prof. Thayer's, based on Grimm's Wilke's German work. This lexicon is the standard in all the theological
seminaries of all the denominations and is a lexicon of the Greek used in the New Testament. This gives as meanings of baptisma "to dip repeatedly, to immerge, to submerge." A secondary meaning is given, "to cleanse by dipping or submerging," etc., and also, "to overwhelm." But this lexicon gives the following comment under this word: "In the New Testament it is used particularly of the rite of sacred ablution, first instituted by John the Baptist, afterward by Christ's command received by Christians and adjusted to the nature and contents of their religion (see baptisma) viz., an immersion in water, performed as a sign of the removal of sin, and administered to those who, impelled by a desire for salvation, sought admission to the benefits of Messiah's kingdom." To the baptisma (of which baptism is the Anglicized form), this lexicon gives only two meanings, "immersion, submersion," and under this word defines Christian baptism: as, "according to the view of the apostles, a rite of sacred immersion, commanded by Christ."
Now if baptizo, the word chosen by the Holy Spirit to describe the act of baptism, has any such meanings as sprinkle and pour, is it not passing strange that these standard lexicographers never heard of it? They are not Baptists, and cannot be charged with any partiality for Baptist ideas; and we have seen what they say. Can it be they are mistaken? Could anything have deceived them in this matter? Why are their lexicons used as standards by scholars of all denominations? Either these lexicographers
were ignorant of the meaning of baptizo, or else John the Baptist immersed the people of Judea in the river of Jordan, and our Lord was immersed. What Jesus Himself did for baptism He certainly meant for His disciples to do when He commanded them to be baptized; for else He preached one thing and practiced another. It is blasphemy to say that the preaching and practice of Christ were different.
The references to baptism in the New Testament all fit the idea of immersion, and do not fit the notions of sprinkling and pouring. In Mark vii.4, the word rendered "wash" is baptizo, and the meaning is plain. Mark, writing primarily for the Romans, stops to explain the absurd lengths to which the Pharisees carried their cleaiisings. "For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash nipsontai their hands diligently," - the Greek is, with the fist - "eat not, holding the tradition of the elders: and when they come from the market-place, except they wash baptisontai themselves, they eat not: and many other things there be, which they have received to hold, washings baptismous of cups, and pots, and brazen vessels." vv. 3 and 4. Now there would have been no point in Mark's stopping to explain that the Pharisees went to the great length of sprinkling or pouring water upon themselves on returning from market, when they while at home washed diligently, or "with the fist," before eating. That they would go to the length of immersing themselves on returning from market,
where Gentiles had touched them, was a remarkable thing and worth explaining to the Romans, who did not know the customs of the Pharisees and strict Jews. Meyer, in loco, says: "In this case ean me baprisontai is not to be understood of washing the hands, but of immersion, which the word in classic Greek and in the New Testament everywhere denotes, i.e., in this case, according to the context to take a bath. Having come from market, where they may have contracted pollution through contact with the crowd, they eat not, without having first bathed." Italics his.
As for the immersing of "cups, and pots, and brazen vessels," that was simply carrying out the ceremonial law, given in Leviticus xi. 32: "And upon whatsoever any of them, when they are dead, doth fall, it shall be unclean; whether it be any vessel of wood, or raiment, or skin, or sack, whatsoever vessel it be, wherewith any work is dons, it must be put into water, and it shall be unclean until the even; then shall it be clean." The cups and pots were of wood, and these with the brazen vessels were to be immersed for cleansing, when they became ceremonially unclean, while earthen vessels were to be broken. The word rendered "tables" in the common version klinon does not belong to the true text and the revisers have very properly omitted it.
It is an interesting and significant fact that in after years, copyists, not understanding the customs of the Pharisees, came to this passage, and
thought the word baptizo must be a mistake, since it seemed out of the question that Pharisees should actually immerse themselves when they come from market. So these copyists ventured to strike out baptizo and insert hrantizo, which means to sprinkle. They never suspected baptizo could mean sprinkle or pour, or they would not have made the substitution.
It is written in John iii.23, "And John also was baptizing in AEnon near to Salim, because there was much water there: and they came, and were baptized." It is said that the "much water" here consisted of many springs, needed for camping purposes by the multitudes who followed John; but had this been true the passage would have read that "they were encamped in AEnon near to Salim, because there was much water there;" but when, it is stated, "John was baptizing in AEnon near to Salim, because there was much water there," it is evident that the much water was needed for the baptizing.
Turning to Acts i. 5, we find a figurative use of baptizo: "For John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence." I note in passing that instead of "with water" and "with the Holy Ghost" in this and all other passages, where these expressions follow "baptize" in the New Testament, the translation should be "in water" and "in the Holy Ghost." The Greek is en, and is the word from which the English in is derived and of which in is
the translation. The Revised Version puts in in the margin, and the American revisers went on record as preferring to make the text read "in water" and "in the Holy Ghost" in all these passages. The British revisers did not deny that this was the right meaning, but being more conservative than the Americans, they hesitated to make the correction. That the meaning is "in water" and "in the Holy Ghost" is not denied, so far as I know, by any leading scholar. And, besides, those who practice immersion, immerse with water, using no other element.
But this prophecy of Jesus was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost when "suddenly there came from heaven a sound as of the rushing of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them tongues parting asunder, like as of fire; and it sat upon each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance." Acts ii. 2-4. Here the Spirit filled the house where they were sitting and filled them, and this is spoken of figuratively as a baptism, and very appropriately so. Peter in his sermon, however, referred to this gift of the Spirit as a fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel: "I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh" (Acts ii. 17), and it is argued that baptism is therefore a pouring. The argument clearly stated is:
The gift of the Spirit at Pentecost is called a baptism.
The same thing is called a pouring.
Therefore pouring is baptism. The absurdity of this argument is clearly seen the moment we apply it to other things, for example:
Christ is called in Scripture a rock.
Christ is called in Scripture a vine.
Therefore a vine is a rock.
Christ is called a lamb.
Christ is called a lion.
Therefore a lion is a lamb.
Christians are called sheep.
Christians are called vine branches.
Therefore vine branches are sheep.
Speaking of the coming down of the Holy Spirit from above, Joel calls it pouring; while speaking of the result on the people - filling the house and filling them - Jesus calls it a baptism. It was the Holy Spirit which was "poured," while it was the people who were "baptized."
The act of baptism is described in Acts viii. 36-39: "And as they went on the way, they came unto a certain water; and the eunuch saith, Behold, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they both went down into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip; and the eunuch saw him no more, for he went on his way rejoicing." The 37th verse,
not belonging to the true text, is very properly omitted in the Revised Version. The description of the baptism, however, could hardly be more complete. Reader, just read over that passage again carefully and ask yourself, what was it Philip did to that eunuch? That was done in the right way. Unless you went down into the water, were then baptized, and came up out of the water, your baptism was not of the New Testament kind. I know it used to be said that where Philip baptized the eunuch was a dry region without water enough for immersion; and it also used to be said that the river Jordan was too small a stream to allow of immersion. But since so many travelers from this country have visited Palestine, intelligent people have ceased such talk. Dr. Talmage immersed a man in the river Jordan, as many other American ministers have done. The river Sorek runs along where Philip and the eunuch went, and Dr. W. M. Thomson, author of The Land and the Book, describing that region, says that there is plenty of water there "to satisfy the utmost wishes of our Baptist friends."
Many references to baptism are made in the Acts, without any description, but since so good a description is given in the 8th chapter, it could hardly be expected that it would be repeated. In the 9th chapter, for example, the baptism of Saul of Tarsus is mentioned, with the simple words, "And he arose and was baptized." Had sprinkling or pouring been employed there had been no need of his arising, since already kneeling he was in a position to receive
the sprinkling or the pouring. And had the baptism mentioned in the 9th chapter differed from that described in the 8th chapter, the difference would certainly have been pointed out. Moreover, if any man can tell us how that baptism was performed, Paul is the man; and he writes to the Romans (vi. 4): "We were buried therefore with him through baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life." Conybeare and Howson render this passage: "With Him, therefore, we were buried by the baptism wherein we shared His death [when we sank beneath the waters]: that even as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we likewise might walk in newness of life." They add in a footnote: "This passage cannot be understood unless it be borne in mind that the primitive baptism was by inmiersion."
A prominent Presbyterian lawyer once said to me: "I have heard my pastor explain Romans vi. 4, and it was never clear to me before." "How did he explain it?" I asked. "Why," said he, "he showed that Christ was not buried at all, that His body was laid on a shelf, in Joseph's sepulchre, and there being no burial in the case, this passage cannot mean immersion." Whereupon I got a New Testament and asked him to read I Corinthians xv. 3,4: "For I delivered unto you first of all that which also I received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and that he was buried; and that
he hath been raised on the third day according to the Scriptures." "There," said I, "you read that Christ was buried, while you report your preacher as saying he was not buried." "I see;" said the lawyer, "and I suppose my pastor did not know this passage was in the Bible." "It is to be hoped so," I added.
It may be well to mention the baptism of the jailer at Philippi, recorded in Acts xvi. 29-31. Paul and Silas are in the dungeon, with their feet "fast in the stocks." The earthquake comes and arouses and alarms the sleeping jailer who would kill himself but for Paul's voice of warning. Then the jailer "called for lights, and sprang in, and, trembling for fear, fell down before Paul and Silas, and brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" Here it is written the jailer "brought them out" - let us see where he led them. The narrative goes on: "And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus and thou shalt be saved, thou and thy house. And they spake the word of the Lord unto him and unto all that were in his house." This shows he led them out of the prison into his house, for here they are preaching to all in the house. We read on: "And he took them" - we will see later where he took them - "the same hour of the night," - between twelve and one o'clock - "and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, immediately. And he brought them up into his house, and set meat before them, and rejoiced greatly," etc. They were thus taken from the prison into the
jailer's house, thence out somewhere in the night, where he was baptized, arid then he brought them "up into his house" again. Now is it likely that a new convert would carry the preachers out of the house between twelve and one o'clock at night if what lie wanted was to have a little water sprinkled or poured upon him and upon his household? The narrative is inconsistent with the idea of sprinkling or of pouring. And then, too, if this baptism had differed from that described in the 8th chapter we may be sure Luke would have pointed out the difference. But it could not have differed since it is written, "One Lord, one faith, one baptism." Jesus performed but one act for baptism. He did not submit to sprinkling, pouring, and immersion, all three, and, telling us "the mode is nonessential," give us our choice of the three. No; He did but one thing, and that, as I have shown, was immersion, and that is what He commands all who love Him to do. "If ye love me keep my commandments." "Hereby do we know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him." I John ii. 3, 4.
But it is objected that 3,000 persons could not have been immersed on the day of Pentecost, and therefore sprinkling or pouring must have been used. I answer. First: It is not said that 3,000 were baptized on that day. The language is that "there were added unto them in that day about three thousand souls." They may have been baptized at other
times. Second: It does not take any longer to immerse a candidate than to sprinkle or to pour water upon him, with the accompanying ceremony. Third: Not only 3,000, but several times that number could easily have been immersed on the day of Pentecost. Three Baptist preachers in six hours in Ongole, India, did immerse 2,222 candidates. According to this the twelve (for Mathias had taken Judas' place) could have immersed 13,332 persons. But there were more than twelve administrators, for it is written that in that upper chamber at Jerusalem there were "an hundred and twenty" present, and on the day of Pentecost "they were all with one accord in one place." It is evident therefore that there is no force in the objection that "three thousand could not have been immersed on the day of Pentecost."
It is argued that John's baptism, to which Jesus submitted, was not Christian baptism, and that onr Lord was baptized in order to be inducted into his priesthood. It is urged that since certain sprinklings were in the consecration of the Aaronic priests, John must have sprinkled the water on Christ. It is strange that the same persons should urge both these arguments since they are mutually destructive, and to show this is why they are here mentioned together. If John's baptism was sprinkling and was not Christian baptism then sprinkling is wrong. The passage in Acts xix. 2-5, is relied upon to show a difference between John's baptism and Christian baptism. Those disciples at Ephesus "had not so
much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost," and yet they claimed to have been baptized "unto John's baptism." They certainly had never heard John preach, since he preached about the Holy Ghost (Matthew iii. 11 and Luke iii. 16). They had probably been baptized by some who had heard John, and who did not understand the matter rightly. This baptism being defective was not valid and these candidates must be baptized. That a man has already received an improper baptism is no reason he should not be baptized rightly.
John's baptism was the only kind Jesus and the Apostles received, and if it were not Christian baptism, then those who established the first churches never received Christian baptism. The very word Christian is Christ-ian, and to say that what Christ did was not Christian is a contradiction. No, the Bible gives no warrant for drawing any distinction between John's baptism and Christian! baptism. Christ did a certain thing and called it baptism; when he commands us to be baptized, He must have intended for us to do that thing.
As for Christ's being baptized in order to be inducted into his priesthood, that is a notion utterly foreign to Scripture, and to the facts of the case. Jesus was not a priest after the order of Aaron at all, but after the order of Melchisedek, and was never "inducted into His priesthood," since He was "a priest forever," "having neither beginning of days nor end of life." No ceremonial consecration was in order, since He was made a priest "not after
a law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life." Hebrews vii. 16. In the seventh chapter of Hebrews, Christ's priesthood is discussed and the distinction between His priesthood and the Aaronic is emphasized. All the Aaronic priests must be of the tribe of Levi, and of the family of Aaron, while Christ was of the tribe of Judah. "For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Judah: of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood." Hebrews vii. 14. And besides, in the consecration of the Aaronic priests there were various ceremonies in addition to the ablutions, shaving, being clad in special garments, etc., etc. Why were all these omitted if Jesus was baptized as a consecration to the priesthood? And it was no part of John's business to consecrate Aaronic priests; that was the business of Caiaphas and Annas.
The early version of the New Testament into Syriac translates the Greek baptizo by amad, whicli means immerse. The great "Thesaurus Syriacus," the highest authority on Syriac, defines amad, "descendit, mersus est, baptizatus est" - to descend,, to immerse, to baptize.
In Greece, where the Greek language is still spoken, only immersion is practiced for baptism, and the Greeks laugh at the idea of baptizo meaning sprinkle or pour. If the Greeks do not know the meaning of a Greek word - who does know?
[Extract from Dr. Eaton's book on "Faith of the Baptists."]
[From Ben M. Bogard, editor, Pillars of Orthodoxy, or Defenders of the Faith, 1900. - Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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