By Roy E. Cogdill
There is but one action in Bible baptism. The idea that baptism can be performed in either one of three ways is wholly without scriptural warrant. The creeds of men authorize such latitude in their practice but God has not left the question of how to be baptized up to men. There are three lines of evidence that will convince any unprejudiced mind that the action of baptism is always the same and that action is immersion.
The Meaning of the Term
The New Testament Scriptures were written in the Koine vernacular of the Greek language. This language was current in New Testament times but soon ceased to be used and became what men call a “dead language.” By ceasing to be used it became fixed in its meaning and therefore is no longer subject to change. What the word from which “baptism” comes meant when Jesus used it, it means now. Webster defines words in terms of their present usage and English words are constantly changing. But not so with the language in which the New Testament was written. The word “baptism” is not a translation but a transliteration–that is, it is carried over into the English with the Greek ending dropped and an English ending added. Baptism in English is represented by “baptisms” in the Greek (spelled with English letters).
Baptisms in the Greek means “to dip.” Mr. Vines in his “Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words” defines baptisms as follows: “1. BAPTISMA, baptism, consisting of the processes of immersion, submersion, and emergence (from bapto, to dip) . . .” (page 96). With this all real scholars agree. Many could be cited to show this the meaning of the word. None of any repute dissent. No critical commentator, translator, higher critic, or scholar of any recognition in anybody’s church says that bapto means to sprinkle or pour. The action of sprinkling or pouring for baptism is a human substitute for the divinely authorized action of immersion. They cannot be justified by the meaning of the word by which the commandment of the Lord was expressed.The Circumstances Surrounding the Action of Baptism
In the history of conversions recorded in New Testament Scriptures there is uniformity in the circumstances under which the action of baptism was performed. In every recorded case of baptism the subject was in the water when he was baptized. When Jesus was baptized at the hands of John, the Baptist, He was in the water when the action occurred. The record says, “And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan. And straightway coming up out of the ,water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him” (Mark 1:9-10). The baptism took place “in the Jordan” and when it was accomplished Jesus “came up out of the water.” This could mean only one thing–He was in the water when He was baptized.
In the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch, recorded in Acts, chapter 8, the record of his baptism is the same. “And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and 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, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip” (Acts 8:36-39). These circumstantial facts are definite. They went down into the water. The baptism took place while both the preacher and the man to be baptized were in the water. When he had been baptized they both came up out of the water. This is strong circumstantial evidence that the baptism was immersion. People do not go down in the water to be sprinkled or poured. This kind of action does not take place while in the water: After sprinkling or pouring they do not come up out of the water.
People have labored long and hard to disprove the fact that the eunuch went down into the water. They have drawn on their imaginations and come up with the objection that this incident occurred in a place that the text says was “desert” and there could have been no water there. But the man said, “See, here is water.” We had just as well deny the “desert” part as to deny the “water” part of the test. More than that, the “desert” applies to the town of Gaza which was a deserted village. Then there are those who imagine that the eunuch pulled out a water bag or jug from underneath the seat of his chariot when he said, “See, here is water.” This is utterly riduculous when the text says that “they went down into the water.” Wherever the water was, they went down into it and the baptism took place while they were in it without making God a liar. Look at the emphasis: They went down into the water; they both went down into the water; they both went down into the water, both Philip and the eunuch. This kind of emphasis was not placed upon the fact that they came up out of the water. That fact is simply stated. Why the difference in the divine record? Simply because God knew that no one would ever be silly enough to deny that they both came up out of the water, but He knew at the same time that some men would deny that they both went down into it. So He fixed the matter so that it cannot be denied.
The Description of the Action
The third line of evidence that the action of baptism is immersion and only immersion in the Scriptures is the description God has given us of the action that took place in the water when men were baptized. This action is described as a “washing of the body” (Heb. 10:22). It is described as “the washing of water by the word” (Eph. 5:26). Paul describes it as “the washing of regeneration” (Titus 3:5). While water does not wash away our sins for the blood of Christ does that, yet the element in which we are to be baptized is water and by being dipped into the water the action is a washing of the body in water and is so described in the passages cited. We know how to wash things. By the widest spread of the imagination sprinkling or pouring do not represent a washing nor can a washing picture either sprinkling or pouring. Peter tells us that the purpose of the washing of our bodies in the action of baptism is not to get the body clean but through our obedience to obtain the cleansing of our hearts from an evil conscience (1 Peter 3:21; Heb. 9:13-14).
Baptism is also described in the scriptures as a burial and a resurrection. “Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). Here the action of baptism is plainly set forth under the figure of a burial and a resurrection. Even the most prejudiced mind should be able to readily see that a burial and resurrection cannot represent sprinkling or pouring. There can be no resemblance between sprinkling and pouring and a burial and resurrection. But when the body is dipped beneath the water in the obedience of baptism and raised up out of the water there is a burial and resurrection in form and God says this is what baptism is in its action.
Moreover, in the same passage Paul describes baptism as a “planting and a coming forth” (v. 5). This reenforces the fact that baptism cannot be sprinkling or pouring, for in no way can that action represent or be represented by a planting and a coming forth.
Heaven has authorized baptism, Christ has commanded it, every responsible person throughout this age is responsible for it and God will accept no substitute. The Roman Catholic Church did not officially substitute sprinkling for immersion until the council of Ravenna in 1311 A.D. The first case of sprinkling history records was Novation in 250 A.D. Later the Catholic Church refused to make him a saint until his bones were taken out of the grave and immersed. There is no Bible authority for sprinkling or pouring. Protestant denominationalism has inherited it from Roman Catholicism. There is not a passage either in the Old or New Testament in which God has commanded plain, unmixed (pure) water to be sprinkled on anybody for any purpose. No one should satisfy his conscience that he has been scripturally baptized when he has only been sprinkled or had water poured on him. Baptism is one in action and God has not left that action to the “convenience and preference of the candidate,” as denominational creeds teach.
Truth Magazine XXI: 17, pp. 268-269
April 28, 1977