Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Meaningful Mode of Baptism

John 3:23 "John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there; and people were coming and were being baptized"

We have looked so far at the significance of Biblical Believer's Baptism as it pertains to the following two truths:
1. It was mandated by Jesus Christ
2. Its method is faith first, then baptism

Today we want to consider a third reason why baptism is significant: its meaningful mode.  The mode of Baptism is inseperable from its meaning.  Below we will consider why this case, and why the mode of baptism contributes to its overall significance for the child of God.

The word itself means "to immerse".
Every standard Greek Dictionary of every time period has always made "immerse" the primary meaning of the word baptize.  Derived from the Greek word "baptizo" and "baptismos", this word was used in ancient secular Greek for the sinking of ships in times of war, or the dipping of things into honey. 

Why else would John the Baptist be baptizing at a point in the Jordon River where there was "much water"?  That phrase in John 3:23 translated "much water" is the identical Greek phrase and wording in Revelation 1:15, where the same author heard the voice of Christ as the sound of "many waters".  Clearly, the imagery here is of an over abundance of water.

The Jews before Jesus understood "baptizo" to mean "immerse"
In the area surrounding the Dead Sea scholars have discovered the ruins of Jewish Colonies where "Essene Jews" occupied and studied.  These Jewish communities were looking forward to the expectation of the coming Messiah and their writings are among the now famous "Dead Sea Scrolls". (1)

The Early Church understood "Baptizo" to mean immerse
Early Christian documents such as the "Didache, The Teaching of the twelve Apostles", affirmed the mode of baptism being that of immersion.(2)  I read of a fifth century church where archaeologists had discovered these curiously hand dug holes in the shape of crosses on the church grounds.  Upon further investigation it was discovered that these "holes" were baptistries where the participant would "lay down" in a watery grave, shaped like a cross, and come up again, signifying that they had died with Christ, were buried with Christ and were raised with Christ.(3) 

In other readings, most churches all over Europe, even those who practiced infant baptism, were still designed with baptismal tanks up until the end of the 1600's. 

The Mode communicates the meaning, and the meaning is tied to the mode
Consider the conversion of the Ethiopian in Acts 8:36-38, where in verse 38 we read: "38And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him."(3) 

Or how about Romans 6:3-4, wherein we read - "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."  Then consider Colossians 2:12 "having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead." 

There is no doubt about it, the meaning of baptism is included in the mode.  Christ's death, burial and resurrection is the intended picture, with my prior reception of that reality by faith communicated to those who witness it.  Is it no wonder the enemy's persistence in clouding the communication of this ordinance in the church.  May we be ever faithful in proclaiming the gospel through the preaching of the Word and picturing the gospel through the ordinance of Biblical Believer's Baptism. 

End Notes: ______________________
1. In communities such as these, there were hand dug pools called "mikvah" baths where Gentiles desiring to convert to Judaism would be immersed. In a sermon Dr. John MacArthur pointed out the process one underwent when converting to Judiasm prior to Christ.
One first had to be circumcised or what was called "Meela" in the Hebrew Language.  Then the candidate, called a Proselyte, would go through a second stage called "tebula". It was here where they would come to the pool and be immersed or "baptized", signifying his break with the former gentile life, effectively rendering himself "dead to it" and "alive" to what was already his new found faith in the expectation of the coming Messiah. The final stage would then be the offering of a sacrifice or "corban", a gift to the God of Israel.

2. The "Didache" was an early second century document written scarcely 50 years after the death of the Apostle John.  Many believe this text to be a clear demonstration of what the Apostles taught "off the record" so to speak.  Believer's baptism by immersion predates other forms of so-called baptism by a century. 

3. I listened to a sermon by Dr. Charles Stanley, wherein he spoke of having visited the sight of one of the oldest churches in the world, where he witnessed similar holes dug out for the express purpose of baptism by immersion

4. The Greek word is translated "into".  They did not merely go "in" water, but "into" a body of water.