Saturday, July 20, 2013

“To Baptize” Does Not Mean “To Immerse”

The Greek NT uses the words baptize and baptism in ways that cannot mean “to immerse” and “immersing”.

καὶ ἀπό ἀγορᾶς ἐὰν μὴ βαπτίσωνται οὐκ ἐσθίουσιν καὶ ἄλλα πολλά ἐστιν ἃ παρέλαβον κρατεῖν βαπτισμοὺς ποτηρίων καὶ ξεστῶν καὶ χαλκίων καὶ κλινῶν
Mark 7:4

What follows stems from a rebuttal I’ve been asked to write for a friend. His (literal) brother and he were arguing over the ritual of baptism in water as it’s practised by so-called Christian churches. My friend’s brother was defending the ritual.

The reference I make in my second paragraph below is to the following note you can find on Blue Letter Bible here that my friend’s brother cited in his argument:
The clearest example that shows the meaning of baptizo is a text from the Greek poet and physician Nicander, who lived about 200 B.C. It is a recipe for making pickles and is helpful because it uses both words. Nicander says that in order to make a pickle, the vegetable should first be 'dipped' (bapto) into boiling water and then 'baptised' (baptizo) in the vinegar solution. Both verbs concern the immersing of vegetables in a solution. But the first is temporary. The second, the act of baptising the vegetable, produces a permanent change.

Let’s begin with definition. Scripturally, baptizō [βαπτίζω] does not mean “to immerse”.

The Greek poet and physician, Nicander, was writing about baptizing pickles around 200 years before Messiah's incarnation. He was a pagan and his use of the words baptizō and the word from which it is derived, baptō [βάπτω], were thoroughly pagan. While it is important to understand the Hellenic definition of any Greek word, we must be careful to defer to the Biblical meaning as revealed by its usage in Scripture. This is especially true with regards to words that are used doctrinally and figuratively. In the case of baptizō, we must understand that the 1st Century Hebraic-Greek usage of the word given in the Bible is the true definition.

We must also be careful of false conclusions drawn by careless expositors. For example, in the comment on Nicander’s recipe above, it is stated—or heavily implied—that the differences in usage between baptizō and baptō is proof that only with baptizō is there a permanent change to the object; which is a conclusion that fits neatly into a Baptist’s concept of water baptism. Unfortunately for the commenter, the very lexicon entry where his words are written proves that this is not so. The second definition of baptō, which is borne out by all the lexicons and much pagan literature, is “to dip into dye, to dye, colour”. Clearly there is nothing inherently impermanent about the change of an object once it is bapto-ed.

As a matter of fact, the distinguishing sense that baptō carries, which is retained in the NT use of baptizō, is of the medium into which an object is dipped adhering to the object even after it is removed from the medium, whereas the distinguishing sense that baptizō carries is of total inundation of the object by the medium.

Note that I did not say “immersion of the object into the medium”. That’s because grammatically, with baptizō, the activity is accomplished by the medium, not the object! Like the sense of the verb “to paint”, the state of being painted is accomplished by the paint, the stuff a thing is painted with, adhering to the object, not by the object adhering to the paint.

So let’s a take look at the ways baptizō is used in the NT. Here’s Mark 7:1-81:
Then came together unto him the Pharisees, and certain of the scribes, which came from Jerusalem. 2And when they saw some of his disciples eat bread with defiled, that is to say, with unwashen, hands, they found fault. 3For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash [their] hands oft, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders. 4And [when they come] from the market, except they wash, they eat not. And many other things there be, which they have received to hold, [as] the washing of cups, and pots, brasen vessels, and of tables.

5Then the Pharisees and scribes asked him, "Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashen hands?"

6He answered and said unto them, "Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, 'This people honoureth me with [their] lips, but their heart is far from me.'

7"Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching [for] doctrines the commandments of men. 8For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, [as] the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do."

The washing of hands (and cups, pots, brazen vessels & tables) before eating is a “commandment of men” taught as doctrine (teaching) by the Pharisees; it came from the Halakah, the Oral Torah, and was a corruption and misappropriation of the washing rituals given to the priests by God in the written Torah of Moses.

As it was an empty, vain ritual, this washing of the hands also had nothing to do with hygiene. There was no washing going on, it was pure theatre. When the Pharisees washed their hands (and the other things), they did not dip or immerse them into water, but poured the water over each hand separately (and over the other things, too). There were two reasons for pouring instead of dipping: 1. If dipped, the entire pot of water would become defiled (which the Lord did when He turned the water in the pots into wine! See John 2:6-9); And 2, moving water was called “living water” and was considered spiritually pure and purifying.

In verses 3 & 4 of Mark’s Gospel cited above, the evangelist is explaining to his Gentile readers (there would be no point telling Jews something they already knew) about the Pharisees’ behaviour. In verse 3, the Greek word translated “wash” is niptō [νίπτω], the common Greek word for “to wash”. However, in verse 4, in describing their traditional response to being defiled from being in public (at the market), he uses the word baptizō, translated “wash”, and its noun-form baptismos [βαπτισμός], translated “washing”. In verse 8, speaking directly to the Pharisees and scribes, Joshua Messiah uses baptismos.

Now look at Luke 11:37-9:
And as he spake, a certain Pharisee besought him to dine with him: and he went in, and sat down to meat. 38And when the Pharisee saw [it], he marvelled that he had not first washed before dinner.

39And the Lord said unto him, "Now do ye Pharisees make clean the outside of the cup and the platter; but your inward part is full of ravening and wickedness."
Once again, the word translated “washed” is baptizō. Again, the baptising referred to is the ritual cleansing of the hands and eating utensils.

Hebrews 9:10 proves that this use of baptizō for ritual washing was not limited to references to unscriptural rituals. Here the author is referring to the ritual washing ordained by Jehovah in the Tanakh (OT). The word translated “washing” is the plural of baptismos:
[Which stood] only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed [on them] until the time of reformation.
Rather than the refusal to translate baptizō elsewhere in the NT, opting for the word “wash” instead of the transliteration “baptize” here in these verses was the real deception perpetrated by the KJV translators. In so doing, they intentionally hid how the word was used in the 1st Century and thereby obscured its full meaning. Clearly, baptizō does not mean to immerse or dunk, because neither the hands nor the utensils were immersed or dunked during these ritual cleansings.

No, in the case of the Pharisees and their hand-washing ritual, baptizō means “to ritually pour water over” or “to cover with living water in order to purify”. And that latter definition is actually closer to the mark, because it retains the doctrinally important lexical sense of baptō as covering with a dye.

It is also important to note why the Lord disapproves of the Pharisaic practice of baptizing; it does not “clean the inside”. In Matthew’s version of His rebuke, He tells them to cleanse first that [which is] within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. Internal baptizing cleans both the inside and the outside; external baptizing is a useless practice of hypocrites.

And, of course, there is no amount of H20, or number of rituals, that can baptize the inside of a human being. Only God can do that.

to be continued…


1. All English Scripture text taken from the King James Version (1769). Greek Text is from the Stephanus Edition of the Textus Receptus from 1550.