Monday, August 26, 2013

“To Baptize” Still Does Not Mean “To Immerse”

If it’s not a verb implying motion, then baptizo cannot mean “to immerse”.

βάπτισμα δὲ ἔχω βαπτισθῆναι καὶ πῶς συνέχομαι ἕως οὖ τελεσθῇ.
Luke 12:501

As to the meaning of βαπτίζω, it is allowed, on all hands, that it is (at least sometimes) applied to acts involving the process of immersion both by profane and sacred writers. But the best lexicographers agree that this is not its exclusive meaning, and none but a daring controversialist would assert that it is. The word βαπτίζω is derived from βαπτὸς, the verbal adjective of βάπτω, to wet thoroughly, and its etymological meaning is to put into a drenched or imbued condition.

The entire dispute that resulted in this examination of baptism revolves around the meaning of the Greek word baptizō [βαπτίζω]. My opponent in the debate insisted that it meant “to immerse”; I know that it does not and will now prove it.

All one has to do to prove that baptizō does not mean “to immerse” is to examine the grammar of the word, along with its usage in both pagan works and the Scriptures, and discover an established syntactical usage that precludes this definition entirely. Or, in other words, if there is an unambiguous example in ancient, secular Greek writings and the Scriptures of where the grammar and usage of baptizō can’t possibly mean “to immerse”, then it does not mean “to immerse”.

Okay, so in this post I’ll do the first of those two actions: examine the grammar of baptizō. In the next post, I’ll present pagan and Scriptural examples where baptizō cannot mean “to immerse”.

If you haven’t heard of McClintock & Strong’s Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, then you’re missing out on one of the greatest resources ever compiled. Although it is unfortunately out of print, with only second-hand copies available, I’ve just discovered that The Word, a free Bible study tool similar to e-Sword, has an excellent, free downloadable version that is fully usable (rather than just a collection of screenshot PDF’s of the original books). I highly recommend you get The Word software and then download this marvellous compendium.

The Baptism entry of McClintock & Strong’s encyclopaedia begins in Volume 1, page 639, and carries on for some 23 pages. The amount of information on baptism is staggering, but what it says about baptizō is, to any Christian expositor sharing my opponent’s position, heart-stopping. I haven’t read it all yet, but have culled enough below to more than make my argument. The bracketed English transliterations &/or translations are mine3:
The word baptism is simply an Anglicized form of the Greek βαπτισμός [baptismos], a verbal noun from βαπτίζω [baptizo] (likewise Anglicized “baptize”), and this, again, is a derivative from βάπτω [bapto], the predominant signification of which latter is to whelm or “dye”, Lat. tingo.
An interesting little word whelm; these days it’s only found in what is essentially its intensive form, the compound overwhelm. With overwhelm in mind, you can more easily see what I was getting at in the last post with the analogy between baptizō and to paint. With to paint, baptō, and baptizō, it’s all a matter of perspective: the action is being done to the object by the medium. The paint “whelming” the object results in the object achieving the state of “being painted”. Similarly, in the case of baptizō, to say “be baptized” is the same as saying “be overwhelmed by the medium of baptism”, not “be immersed into the medium of baptism”.

Consider what distinguishes the English verb to dip from the verb to immerse. Isn’t it the idea of the medium dipped into adhering to the object dipped, whereas the medium is passive in the act of immersing an object? You can only call a potato chip “dipped” if the dip, the medium, sticks on the chip. Conversely, the chip can be said to have been “immersed” even if it comes out in the same state it went in.

Well, baptō (and by extension baptizō) works in a similar way. In the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man (Luke 16:19-31), the rich man, tormented in Hades, tells Abraham to send Lazarus to “dip”, baptō, the tip of his finger in water “and cool my tongue”. In the clause from “that” to “tongue”, the only verb used is baptō—there is no “dip his finger and scoop up some water”, no “dip his finger and wet it”—because the idea of the water adhering to Lazarus’ finger is inherent in the meaning of baptō.

Also, in the Greek text of this clause, there is no preposition meaning “in”. The word “water”, hudōr, is simply rendered with a partitive genitive. The translators needed a preposition to go with their use of the word dip, so naturally they chose “in water” for their gloss. To the Greek ear, the instruction would’ve sounded more like: “that he should coat his finger tip with some water and cool my tongue”.

This idea is even more clearly seen after reading the following parts of the entry dealing with prepositions:
Not being a verb implying motion, βαπτίζω [baptizō] is properly followed in Greek by the preposition ἐν [en], denoting the means or method (with the “instrumental dative”), which has unfortunately, in the Auth. Engl. Vers., often been rendered by the ambiguous particle “in,” whereas it really (in this connection) signifies only with or by, or at most merely designates the locality where the act is performed.
I’m not too sure how many times the AV does translate baptizō en as “baptize in”—it is quite often translated correctly as “baptize with” (I.e. John 1:26, 33)—but the point is made that it is incorrect to say that the Evangelists were thinking “baptize into water”, when they wrote “baptizō en” followed by the medium water or the name of a body of water.
On these and other applications of the Greek word [baptizō], see Robinson's Lex. of the N.T. s.v.; where, however (as in some other Lexicons), the statement that the primary force of the verb is “to dip, immerse,” etc., is not sustained by its actual usage and grammatical construction. This would always require ἐν [en], “into,” after it; which occurs in 15 examples only out of the exhaustive list (175) adduced by Dr. Conant (Meaning and Use of Baptizein, N. Y. 1860);
So, in other words, if baptizō meant “to immerse”, it would have to appear with the preposition en exclusively, which it doesn’t; and when the preposition en does appear, it is followed by the medium of baptism, whether water or Holy Spirit, in the “instrumental dative” case—an indicator of agency meaning "with the water", or "by the Holy Spirit". So baptizō en does not mean “to baptize in”.

And what of the other prepositions used with baptizō?
The derivative verb and noun are sometimes used with reference to ordinary lustration, and occasionally with respect to merely secular acts; also in a figurative sense. In certain cases it is followed by the preposition εἰς [eis], with the meaning “to,” “for,” or “unto,” as pointing out the design of the act, especially in phrases (comp. πιστεύειν εἰς [pisteuein eis – to believe in]) expressive of the covenant or relation of which this rite was the seal. (In Mar 1:9, the εἰς depends upon ῏ηλθεν [ēlthen – he came] preceding; and in Mar 14:20, there is a constructio praegnans by which some other verb of motion is to be supplied before the preposition.)
Despite the imagery conjured up by the phrase “I fell into sin”, the preposition into found there does not have the same meaning as it does in the phrase “I walked into the door”; it is not one of actual direction and destination, but of metaphorical end or purpose. So too with the preposition eis when used with baptizō; which the AV translates “baptized into” (twice in Rom 6:3) and “unto” (1Cr 10:2). The Cyclopaedia explains what this means further in the entry on page 640:
Thus, to be baptized for Moses means to be baptized with a view to following or being subject to the rule of Moses; to be baptized for Christ means to be baptized with a view to becoming a true follower of Christ; to be baptized for his death means to be baptized with a view to the enjoyment of the benefits of his death; to be baptized for the remission of sins means to be baptized with a view to receiving this; to be baptized for the name of any one means to be baptized with a view to the realization of all that the meaning of this name implies, etc.
To sum up this short (comparatively) examination of the grammar of baptizō, let’s give the last word to the Cylopaedia and hope that my opponent is not a “daring controversialist”, but is rather a man capable of understanding the points made here and willing to accept the truth of them, and see that his understanding of baptism is the result of poor scholarship and even poorer discipleship.
[A]nd a closer and more critical examination will show that it is only the context and association of the word that in any case put this signification upon it, and it is therefore a mere gloss or inference to assign this as the proper sense of the term. The significations “plunge,” “submerge,” etc., are here strictly derived, as cognates, from the more general and primitive one of that complete envelopment with a liquid which a thorough wetting, saturation, or dyeing usually implies. In like manner, Dr. E. Beecher (in a series of articles first published in the Am. Bib. Repos. during 1840 and 1841) has mistaken the allied or inferential signification of purification for the primitive sense of the word, whereas it is only the result expected or attendant in the act of washing.

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.

2. Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, John McClintock and James Strong, Harper & Brothers, NY, 1880.

3. McClintock & Strong’s Cyclopaedia was produced at a time when the ability to read and understand Greek and Latin was taken for granted.

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