Sunday, September 1, 2013

“To Baptize” Can Not Mean “To Immerse”

Believers are covered by, not immersed into, the Holy Spirit.

Ἐγὼ μὲν βαπτίζω ὑμᾶς ἐν ὕδατι εἰς μετάνοιαν, ὁ δὲ ὀπίσω μου ἐρχόμενος…αὐτὸς ὑμᾶς βαπτίσει ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ καὶ πυρί.
Matthew 3:111

The second argument on this subject is drawn from the usage of the word. In the Classics; in the Septuagint and the Apocryphal writings of the Old Testament; in the New Testament and in the writings of the Greek fathers, the words βάπτω [baptō], βαπτίζω [baptizō] and their cognates, are used with such latitude of meaning, as to prove the assertion that the command to baptize is a command to immerse, to be utterly unauthorized and unreasonable.

In the last post, citing heavily from the Baptism entry in McClintock & Strong’s Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature3, I examined the grammar of the Greek verb baptizō [βαπτίζω], “to baptize”, and proved to all but the irrepressibly disputatious that it does not mean “to immerse”.

In this post, I’ll give pagan and Scriptural examples of usage wherein the method of baptizing is such that baptizō cannot mean “to immerse”. These citations will be presented in this order: Classical Greek writers, the Septuagint (LXX) & Apocrypha, then, lastly, the New Testament.

Classical Greek Writers

The following is from the section of the Cyclopaedia entry on Baptism entitled “Philological Usage of the Word βαπτίζειν” [baptizein – the infinitive form of baptizō]:
By Classical Writers. — No instance occurs in these writers of the use of βάπτισμα, and only one in a very late author (Antyllus) of the use of its equivalent βαπτισμός; but the verb occurs frequently, especially in the later writers. It is used to designate:

The covering over of any object by the flowing or pouring of a fluid on it; and metaphorically (in the passive), the being overwhelmed or oppressed: thus the Pseudo-Aristotle speaks of places full of bulrushes and sea-weeds, which, when the tide is at the ebb, are not baptized (i.e. covered by the water), but at full tide are flooded over (Mirabil. Auscult. § 137, p. 50, in Westermann's edit. of the Script. Rer. Mir. Gr.); Diodorus Siculus (bk. 1) speaks of land animals being destroyed by the river overtaking them (διαφθείρεται βαπτιζόμενα); Plato and Athenaeus describe men in a state of ebriety [inebriation] as baptized (Sympos. p. 176 B.; and Deipnos.v.); and the former says the same of a youth overwhelmed with sophistry (Euthyd. 277 D.); Plutarch denounces the forcing of knowledge on children beyond what they can receive as a process by which the soul is baptized (De Lib. educ.); and he speaks of men as baptized by debts (Galbae, c. 21); Diodorus Siculus speaks of baptizing people with tears (bk. 1, c., 3); and Libanius says, “He who hardly bears what he now bears, would be baptized by a little addition” (Epist. 310), and “I am one of those baptized by that great wave” (Ep. 25).
Note that in every one of these forms of baptism, it is the medium that is “acting” on the object baptized, rather than the object entering into the medium.

There are other examples given in this section of the entry that are ambiguously3 said to be referring to “dunking”, “plunging” and “immersion”. They have been omitted here because of the ambiguous wording of the notations accompanying the examples, not because the examples themselves defeat my argument. Proof of that is the conclusion reached by the Cyclopaedia after considering all the examples found in the Classical writers:
From this it appears that in classical usage βαπτίζειν is not fixed to any special mode of applying the baptizing element to the object baptized; all that is implied by the term is, that the former is closely in contact with the latter, or that the latter is wholly in the former.
Furthermore, in Hodge’s Systematic Theology cited in the epigraph at the top of this post, we read:
As to the classic use of the words in question, it is clear that βάπτω means (1.) To dip. (2.) To dye by dipping. (3.) To dye without regard to the mode in which it is done; as a lake is said to be baptized (i.e., dyed) by the blood shed in it; a garment is spoken of as baptized by colouring matter dropping on it. (4.) It also means to gild; also to glaze, as when earthenware is covered with any vitreous matter. (5.) To wet, moisten, or wash. (6.) To temper, as hot iron is tempered; this may be done by plunging or pouring. “Tempered, ὑπὸ ἐλαίου,” does not mean plunged into oil. (7.) To imbue. The mind is said to be baptized with fantasies; not plunged into them, for it is ὑπὸ τῶν φαντασίων.

A man is said to be “imbued with righteousness.” This cannot mean “dipped.” It is obvious, therefore, that a command to baptize, made in the use of the word βάπτω, cannot be limited to a command to dip, plunge, or immerse.
We must not diminish the etymological link between baptō and baptizō. They are not two entirely different words. Since they share the same root, baptō, the latter is simply an intensive form of the former. Where baptō means “to dye”, baptizō means to “completely and utterly dye”.
As to the classic use of βαπτίζω, it means, (1.) To immerse4 or submerge. It is very frequently used when ships are spoken of as sunk or buried in the sea. They are then said to be baptized. (2.) To overflow or to cover with water. The sea-shore is said to be baptized by the rising tide. (3.) To wet thoroughly, to moisten. (4.) To pour upon or drench. (5.) In any way to be overwhelmed or overpowered. Hence men are said to be baptized with wine (οἱ βεβαπτισμένοι are the intoxicated), with opium, with debts, with puzzling questions. Wine is said to be baptized by having water poured into it.

The word βαπτίζω, as Dr. Dale so strenuously argues, belongs to that class of words which indicate an effect to be produced without expressing the kind of action by which that effect is to be brought about…there is a given effect to be produced, without any specific injunction as to the manner; whether by immersion, pouring, or sprinkling.

Septuagint and Apocrypha

The Septuagint is a Koine Greek translation of the OT, the last book of which was completed approximately 130 years before the Lord’s advent. The Apocrypha are a group of slightly newer, non-canonical books often included with the LXX. Regardless of the controversies surrounding their canonicity, for a host of reasons, the books of the LXX and the Apocrypha are invaluable tools to New Testament scholarship.

The verb baptizō is used only 4 times in all the books of the LXX. In Isaiah 21:4, where the KJV reads “fearfulness affrighted me”, the LXX has ἀνομία με βαπτίζει [anomia me baptizei], which is literally “lawlessness baptizes me”. Here again there is no “immersion” of the object into the medium, but rather the medium (lawlessness) covering the object (me).

In 2 Kings 5:14, Judith 12:7 and Ecclesiasticus 31:25 the verb denotes the washing of oneself. Of baptizō in the last two instances, the Cyclopaedia remarks:
…the word merely denotes washed, without indicating any special mode by which this was done, though in the former the circumstances of the case make it improbable that the act described was that of bathing.

The New Testament

In my first post on this subject, I mentioned those verses relating to the ritual washing of the Pharisees which did not involve immersion, but rather dousing. In this post, I will only discuss the New Testament usages of the verb baptizō which unambiguously preclude the definition “to immerse”.

First, Mark 10:38-9:
38 But Jesus said unto them, Ye know not what ye ask: can ye drink of the cup that I drink of? and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?

39And they said unto him, We can. And Jesus said unto them, Ye shall indeed drink of the cup that I drink of; and with the baptism that I am baptized withall shall ye be baptized:
The subject and usage of baptizō here are identical to those in Matthew 20:22-23 and Luke 12:50. The Lord is speaking of His coming scourging and crucifixion. Here is a classical meaning of baptizō, that of being overwhelmed by affliction. There is no “immersion into” here.

It is said in several places in the NT that John the Baptist baptized with water, but the Lord baptizes with the Holy Spirit (the Holy Breath). In none of the examples of Holy Spirit baptism is the person being baptized immersed into the Spirit. The Holy Spirit—the medium of baptism—is said to descend, fall, fill, or be aspirated onto, over or into the one being baptized; it is never held down in order to be dunked into. The very idea is so self-evidently absurd, that there’s no need to present any evidence to refute it.

And with that I’ll conclude my examination of the grammar and usage of the verb baptizō. In a future post, I’ll tie everything up and explain what true Christian Baptism is and show why we shouldn’t be ritually dunking each other in H2O.

By way of conclusion, I’ll close with another quote from Hodge:
The fact is βαπτίζειν does not express any particular mode of action. As to dye, expresses any kind of action by which an object is coloured; to bury, any kind of action by which an object is hidden and protected; so to baptize, expresses any act by which a person or thing is brought into the state of being wet, purified, or even stupefied, as by opium or wine.


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. Sytematic Theology, Volume III, Charles Hodge, D.D., WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, Grand Rapids, MI. 1940 (original publishers); text here cited is from online publishers: Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

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

4. All the other examples of usage by the Classical writers given imply exactly what the conclusion of this section of the Cyclopaedia's Baptism entry says, that “βαπτίζειν is not fixed to any special mode of applying the baptizing element to the object baptized”. In every case the idea is “be baptized by”, rather than “be baptized into”.

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