Thursday, March 22, 2012

The meaning and mode of baptism

Romans 6:4 Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life."

            In yesterday's blog we explored the meaning of Baptism as taught in the New Testament.  We noted that three terms can be used to summarize its meaning: participation, obedience and identification.  If we were to consdense what was written yesterday, it would be this: Although baptism is not essential for conversion to faith in Christ, yet it is essential to obedience to Christfollowing one's conversion".  With that said, today we want to explore the "mode" of baptism.

The original meaning of the word "baptism" or "baptize"
            In over 100 New Testament passages we find reference to baptism.  The Greek words associated with this word comes from the Greek word “baptizo”, from whence derives our English word “baptism”. In all standard Greek Dictionaries (The New Testament of course was originally written in Greek), without exception, "baptizo" has the primary meaning of “to dip, to immerse”.  When one digs back into ancient Greek sources, we discover this word was used to describe the sinking of ships in naval battles or the dipping of various foods in honey.  Clearly the meaning of the word alone tells us that the mode of baptism is dipping, immersion or submersion.

          A secondary, but still important meaning of this word is that of "identification" or "to be brought into connection or union with someone".  For instance, in 1 Corinthians 10:1-3 we read of the people of Israel being "baptized into Moses, in the cloud and in the sea".  Now we know that the people cross the Red Sea on dry ground, and that the "cloud" was the pillar of cloud that led them - being God Himself.  Many of those who oppose believer's baptism by immersion will cite this text, however the secondary meaning of "brought into connection or union" aids us in making sense of the meaning here.  As always, context is the chief aid in determining the dictionary meaning of the word. 

          What we would advocate is that in all instances where the practice of New Testament water Baptism occurs, the primary mode of "immersion" fits the context of those passages.

Why do our English Bibles have the word "baptize" rather than "Immerse"
            When the first English translations began to appear in the 14 century, men such as John Wycliff and William Tyndale led the way in translating the first English Bibles.  When the church of England broke away from the Roman Catholic church in the late 16 century, it retained much of the Catholic church's viewpoints - among which was the teaching of infant baptism and the mode of sprinkling.  When the English translations were produced in the 16th century, the translators who knew the original languages were aware that if they translated the term "baptizo" as "immerse", it would get them into trouble with the King and the powers that be in the Church of England. 

            Thus they "transliterated" the term, meaning they took the Greek letters of "baptizo" and transferred them over into English as "baptize".  All English Bibles to this day follow this method.  In attempting to be "safe", the refusal to translate the word has created in no small measure an uncertainty as to baptism's mode.  For this blogger, if the word were translated, rather than "transliterated", the confusion over the meaning of baptism might very well lessen, since the mode and meaning are so inter-linked.

The picture communicated by Baptism
            With the mode established, the biblical picture which Baptism conveys show the close connection between the mode and the meaning.  Romans 6:1-4 states:  "What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? 2 May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? 3Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?  4Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life." Notice how Paul uses the concepts of “burial” and “raised”.  Clearly this picture cannot be accomplished through sprinkling nor pouring, but through only one mode – immersion. 

          In all four gospel accounts of Jesus' baptism we see record of him coming straight up out of the water and the Holy Spirit coming down upon Him.  In John 3:23 we see this statement – “John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there; and people were coming and were being baptized”.   Clearly the only proper way these people could be baptized is if there is a place where much water is available.  There is no doubt on the mode of baptism – dipping, immersion or submersion under water.

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