committed to historic Baptist & Reformed beliefs









Only Immersion is Baptism.


The inspired writers use only one term, with its derivatives, to denote the act required by the ordinance under consideration. That word, it has been elsewhere stated, as expressed in Roman letters and changed in form to suit the English idiom, is baptize. What does it mean?

Some writers maintain, and multitudes of people believe, that baptize signifies equally to sprinkle, to pour, or to immerse. We will not affirm that a word might not be employed with a meaning so comprehensive and yet so indefinite. We have no knowledge of any such term. There is certainly no such word in the English tongue. If there is any such term in any language, modern or ancient, it has not come to our knowledge. We do not perceive what use could be made of so vague a word. Sprinkling, pouring, and immersing are entirely distinct acts, and are never confounded in human conception. Terms to express these different acts are needed in the intercourse of society, and are found, we doubt not, in all languages; but a word denoting them all would not only be a nondescript, but tend merely to confuse or mislead. If baptize means sprinkle or pour, it does not mean immerse.

Other persons insist that baptize signifies neither sprinkle, pour, nor immerse, but wash or cleanse; that it denotes an effect, not an act. This definition will be found to be utterly irreconcilable with the inspired use of the term.

We maintain that baptize means immerse or dip, and that, like these terms, though it may be used in a figurative sense, it invariably has reference to its primary import. To learn the meaning of the word, let us go, not to lexicons, but to the common version of the Scriptures. We decline an appeal to lexicons, not because we have any dread of the result, but because we wish to present an argument in support of our views that may be fully understood and appreciated by every intelligent reader of the Scriptures.

It must be borne in mind that the translators of the English version were Pedobaptists, and, either from the order of King James or their own views of propriety, failed to translate the Greek term baptizo, with its cognates, used in the Scriptures to denote the act required by the ordinance.

We must, therefore, learn its meaning from its various connections in the New Testament. We may infer the import of baptism from the places of its administration. John, having received his commission to baptize from heaven, commenced preaching "the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins"; and "then went out unto him all the land of Judea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river Jordan" (Mark 1:5). No intelligent person, reading this passage with an unbiased mind; would have any doubt that these multitudes were immersed in the river.

To suppose that they went into the stream merely to have water sprinkled or poured upon them, is, in our view, a puerility undeserving a reply.

Read again: "John was baptizing in ?on, near to Salim, because there was much water there; and they came and were baptized" (John 3:23). The necessity of "much water" for the purpose of immersing is quite plain; but it was not needed for sprinkling or pouring. It is said, however, by the advocates of sprinkling, that great multitudes attended the ministry of John, and that "much water" was needed to quench their thirst and that of their beasts. This is not what the evangelist says. His words are, not that John was preaching or encamped at ?on, because there was "much water" there, but that "John was baptizing in ?on, because there was much water there." If language can make anything clear, it is plain that John baptized in ?on on account of its furnishing an ample supply of water for the purpose.

It is sometimes said that these passages refer to John?s baptism, and not to Christian baptism. This is true; but we are simply inquiring for the meaning of the word baptize. The thing which John did, Christ commanded his apostles to do. If he immersed, they immersed. It can hardly be supposed that the meaning of the word "baptize" was changed in the short period from the commencement of John?s ministry to the beginning of the apostolic ministry.

The baptism of the jailer and his family, at Philippi, is supposed by some to furnish proof that the rite was administered by sprinkling or pouring. He was baptized, it is said, in the prison, at night, without previous preparation for the administration of the ordinance, and it is not probable that there was any convenience in the jail for immersion. This argument cannot rise above probability. There might have been ample means for immersion. If the word "baptize" means immerse, there is nothing in this case to create the slightest doubt that the jailer and his family were immersed. On the contrary, the recorded facts furnish strong probability in favor of their immersion. The jailer, alarmed by an earthquake, brought Paul and Silas "out"?doubtless out of the "inner prison"?and inquired for the way of salvation. -?And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house." This teaching clearly occurred in the jailer?s house?probably a portion of the prison set apart for his occupancy. In the same horn- or the night, he "was baptized, he and all his, straight-way." Now, notice, after the baptism, he "brought them into his house." Why had they left it? If the baptism had been sprinkling or pouring, there would have been no need for going out of it. Immersion, in all probability, rendered it necessary to leave the jailer?s house, and, the ordinance having been administered, the company very naturally returned to the house for refreshments (Acts 16:25-34).

The meaning or the word "baptize" is clearly indicated by the import of the prepositions used in connection with it. Notice the following passages: "Baptized in Jordan"?Matthew 3:6; "Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water"?verse 16; "They went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him; and when they were come up out of the water," &c. The prepositions used in these texts are in perfect harmony with the practice of immersion, but are utterly discordant with that of sprinkling or pouring. The unbiased mind, in reading these passages, would never imagine that baptism was anything but immersion.

The attempt has been made to weaken the force of this argument by appealing to the ambiguity of the Greek prepositions contained in these Scriptures. That they were used with considerable latitude and indefiniteness need not be denied. It must be conceded, however, that the best Pedobaptist scholars have translated the prepositions as we have them in the above passages. So far as we know. there is not a respectable version of the Scriptures in the English tongue in which these prepositions are not rendered substantially as in the common version.

There is, however, in this version a notable exception to the rendering of the preposition under consideration. We read in Matthew 3:11: "I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance." This preposition cannot be well construed with immerse. It would be awkward and bad English to say, "I immerse with water." The language, "I sprinkle you with water," sounds well; but it would be intolerable to say, "I pour you with water."

It seems strange that the Greek preposition en, which in the 6th verse is rendered in?"in Jordan"?should in the 11th verse be translated with?"with water." Uniformity of translation is desirable, if not forbidden by the sense of Scripture. In these passages, there is nothing to prevent a uniform rendering. It would be incongruous to say "with Jordan;" but it is in perfect harmony and good taste to translate the passages "in Jordan" and "in water." Dr. George Campbell, of Edinburgh, a learned Presbyterian divine, and president of Marischal College, not only translates the passage "in water and in the Holy Ghost," but makes the following comments on the subject:

"All the modern translations from the Greek which I have seen render the words as our common version does, except Le Clerc, who says, dans 1? eau?dans le Saint Esprit. I am sorry to observe that the Popish translators from the Vulgate have shown greater veneration for the style of that version than the generality of Protestant translators have shown for that of the original; for in this the Latin is not more explicit than the Greek. Yet so inconsistent are the interpreters last mentioned that none of them have scrupled to render en to Jordane, in the 6th verse, in Jordan, though nothing can be plainer than that, if there be any incongruity in the expression in water, this in Jordan must be equally incongruous. But they have seen that the preposition in could not be avoided there, without adopting a circumlocution, and saying with the water of Jordan, which would have made their deviation from the text too glaring. The word baptizein (baptize), both in sacred authors and in classical, signifies to dip, to plunge, to immerse, and was rendered by Tertullian, the oldest of the Latin fathers, lingere; the term used for dyeing cloth, which was by immersion. It is always construed suitably to this meaning. Thus it is en udati (in water), en to Jordane (in Jordan). But I should not lay much stress on the preposition en . . . which may denote with as well as in, did not the whole phraseology in regard to this ceremony concur in evincing the same thing. . . . When the Greek word baptizo is adopted, I may say, rather than translated, into modern languages, the mode of construction ought to be preserved, so far as may conduce to suggest its original import. It is to be regretted that we have so much evidence that even good and learned men allow their judgments to be warped by the sentiments and customs of the sect which they prefer. The true partisan, of whatever denomination, always inclines to correct the diction of the Spirit by that of the party."? "The Four Gospels," Boston Edition, Vol. IV., pages 23, 24.

The Reformed Reader Home Page 

Copyright 1999, The Reformed Reader, All Rights Reserved