Conversion: Baptism is a Burial

By Cecil Willis

In our last lesson we addressed ourselves toward a discussion of the Greek word baptidzo, from which our English word “baptize” is derived. It was seen from over one hundred different Greek scholars that this word could mean but one thing in substance, and that is a burial. Therefore we have called this lesson, “Baptism is a Burial.”

The First “Baptism”

It is our purpose in this lesson to notice the way in which the word “baptize” is consistently used in the Scriptures. It would be well for us to notice the first baptism of which the Bible speaks. Paul spoke of this baptism in 1 Cor. 10:1,2. In this passage it is clearly seen that baptism is a burial, and cannot be sprinkling or any other act. “For I would not, brethren, have you ignorant, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea.” Notice that Paul said that this event may be spoken of as a baptism. It should be noticed that Paul was not using this instance as New Testament baptism as commanded by Christ. This baptism was not to receive the remission of their sins, as is ours, but here it may be seen that the act of baptism is a burial. All surely remember the occasion of which Paul was speaking at this time, but let us very briefly rehearse the major events. The Israelites had gone into Egyptian captivity. God had promised to deliver them from this bondage inasmuch as He had heard their cries. Moses was chosen to be the leader in this deliverance. It finally was necessary for God to send the plagues upon Pharoah and the Egyptians before they would grant God’s people permission to leave, but finally when they were given the authority to leave, Pharoah pursued them with the army of Egypt. The Scripture says that God led them by day with a cloud and by night with a pillar of fire. With the Egyptian army bearing upon them, just as it appeared as though the Israelites were about to be driven into the sea, or be devoured by the swords of the Egyptians, Moses, the deliverer, stretched his hand out over the waters of the Red Sea, and they parted: “And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and Jehovah caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all the night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground: and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left” (Ex. 14:21,22).

Paul said that these people were baptized in the cloud and in the sea. The cloud was above them, and as thev went through the sea, it is said that the water made a wall on each side of them. They were beneath the cloud and in the sea. They were covered by the cloud, with the sea forming a wall on each side of them. This shows that baptism must be overwhelming, a covering up, It would be interesting to hear one who says that baptism is sprinkling or even pouring, try to explain this passage, and show someone how it was that the Israelites were baptized in the cloud and in the sea. It is conclusively seen that the baptism here is a burial.

John’s Baptism

Chronologically, the next significant baptism recorded, is that of John the Baptist, who preached in the wilderness of Judea, preparatory for the coming of the Lord. There were many that went out unto him, and that were baptized at his hands. Matthew says: “Then went out unto him Jerusalem, and all Judea, and all the region round about the Jordan; and they were baptized of him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins” (Matt. 3:5,6). Much of John’s baptizing was done in the Jordan River. While it is readily admitted that the fact that John baptized in the river is not conclusive and deductive proof that baptism is an immersion, yet it is plain that it was not likely sprinkling. If John had only sprinkled his converts, he could have carried a small container with him that only held a quart or so, and sprinkled or “baptized” thousands. But it is said that he baptized in”Anon, near to Salim, because there was much water there” (Jn. 3:23). Regardless of the act that John performed, it was one that required much water. Neither sprinkling, nor pouring require much water. One might sprinkle an individual with only three or four drops of water, or he might pour only a cup of water upon him, yet satisfy the meaning of the words sprinkle or pour. Yet, neither of these acts require much water. Whatever John did to the people, it required much water.

Were it not for the fact that baptism is a burial, or an immersion, John’s title would have no meaning. When you speak of John the Baptist, you are speaking of John the Immerser. Some years ago, a denomination made a translation of the Bible and each time they came to John the Baptist, rather than translating it John the Baptist, they translated it John the Immerser, which is a very accurate translation. They tried to recall all of these Bibles, though, for when they translated John’s title the Immerser, rather than the Baptist, they bad translated their name out of the Bible. John’s baptism was an immersion, or a burial.

Baptism of Suffering

In Matt. 20:20-28, Jesus spoke of another baptism, which is called the baptism of suffering. With His divine foresight, it was possible for Him to look ahead a few days to the terrible agonies and pains through which He was to go on the cross, and these sufferings, Jesus calls a baptism. It means that he was to be covered or overwhelmed in suffering. Baptism here bears the same connotation, that of a burial.

Baptism in the Holy Spirit and in Fire

John the Baptist said “I indeed baptize you in water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you in the Holy Spirit and in fire” (Matt. 3:11). In both these baptisms mentioned in this verse, the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and also the baptism of the fire, baptism means the same thing. On the day of Pentecost when the apostles were, baptized with the Holy Spirit, they were overwhelmed, or engulfed with the Holy Spirit. At the last day, those that are rejected will be baptized with fire. They will be overwhelmed in fire.

Regardless of when or how the word is used, it still means the same thing. Baptism cannot mean anything other than immersion. In many instances in secular history, the word baptize occurs, and each time it means to sink or immerse. For example: a great battle might be spoken of, and it is said that so many ships were baptized. In other words, a certain number of ships were sunk. No matter how you use the word, it still means the same thing. It always means a burial.

The Baptism of Christ

In the third chapter of John’s gospel, we read the account of a discussion that Christ had with Nicodemus, the ruler of the Jews. Men have come to call this discourse “the discourse on the new birth,” Even though men have, not been in complete agreement as to what the Lord meant by some of the words he used, there has been virtually universal agreement on others. Jesus told Nicodemus, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except one be born of water and the spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (Jn. 3:5). When Christ referred to the birth of the spirit, men have been somewhat in disagreement as to what he meant, but almost all admit that when he spoke of the birth of water, he meant baptism. Some who do not want to admit that baptism is a prerequisite to entering the kingdom of God might differ with this, but all reputable scholars admit that Christ was speaking of baptism on this occasion, and referred to it as a “birth of water” necessary to one’s salvation.

When Christ spoke of the “birth of water,” He gave us a definition of the act of baptism. This expression, “birth of water,” rules out both the acts of sprinkling and pouring as being baptism, for they could not be spoken of as a birth. In some sense Jesus was saying that baptism resembles a natural birth. “Natural birth contemplates delivery, so when a man is born of water, he must be delivered from or come forth out of it. As he cannot be delivered from or come forth out of that in which he has never been, it follows that a man must be placed in water before he can be delivered from. or born of it. Hence, in order to be born of water, a man must be immersed in it that he may emerge from it. But what resemblance to a birth has sprinkling or pouring water upon any one? Can a man be born of a substance less than himself? Such a thing is impossible with everyone save him who practices sprinkling or pouring water as baptism. (Actually, it is impossible with them too, but they are not willing to admit it. No one can be, born of anything smaller than himself. That should be admitted by all.) How a grown man or woman may be born of a drop or a spoonful of water is a mystery which needs explanation” (Brents, The Gospel Plan of Salvation, pg. 322). So even here, Christ taught that only immersion can be baptism, for only immersion may be spoken of as a birth.

Let us notice another instance in which baptism is shown to be immersion. In speaking of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, Luke said, “And as they went on the way, they came unto a certain water; and the eunuch saith, Behold, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thy 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 both went down into the water, both Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip; and the eunuch saw him no more; for he went on his way rejoicing” (Acts 8:36-39). Let us observe how this baptism took place. They came unto the water, which means nothing more than they arrived at a certain water. Then they commanded the chariot to stand still, got out of the chariot, and went down into the water. Philip baptized him, and tben they came up out of the water. Remember that the word “baptize” means to immerse, or Submerge, Now then, these questions? Did Philip and the Ethiopian go down into the water, and there Philip sprinkled a few drops of water on the nobleman? It is possible for those who sprinkle and pour for baptism, to speak of their baptism as this eunuch’s is spoken of? Is it possible for the administrator and the candidate to go down into and come up out of the water when one is sprinkled a few dfops of water on the nobleman? Is it for two people to go down into and come up out of a few drops of a jar full of water? The answer to all these questions is an unequivocal, “No!” We may look elsewhere in the New Testament and see exactly what Philip did to the eunuch when they went into the water.

“Buried . . . in Baptism”

Paul said, “having been buried with him in baptism, litrein ye .vere also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead” (Col. 2:12). What is baptism? It is a burial. Any act that may not be described as a burial is not baptism. Paul says: “Or are ye ignorant that all we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him through baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:3,4). In both these passages Paul affirms that baptism is a burial. We were buried with Christ in baptism into death.

I have talked with men on different occasions who teach that sprinkling and pouring, as well as immersion may be baptism. Sometimes they will say that they do not know what the act of baptism is. I have asked them to let nie read to them two passages, Col. 2:12, and Rorn. 6:3,4, and then I will let them tell me what baptism is, in these passages it is said that baptism is a burial. Never have I had anyone tell me that sprinkling or pouring is a burial. Paul said baptism is a burial. Now, is sprinkling or pouring a burial? If not, then they are not baptism.

What would you think if you went out to the cemetery to witness the burial of a body, and instead of burying the body, a man were to walk up and sprinkle a handful of dirt on it? If you walked up to him, and asked hini why he did not bury the body, and he answered, “Oh, but I did bury it”, what would you say? The point I am trying to bring out is that sprinkling and pouring are not burials, but baptism is. Immersion is a burial, and immersion is the only act that is baptism.

Paul said in Romans 6 that when we obey the gospel, our actions are similar to the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, He said that we have died to sin, are buried with Christ in baptism, and are raised to walk in newness of life. At the time that we are baptized, we are dead to the practice of sin, having repented, but are yet alive to the guilt of sin. We are baptized to have the guilt removed. We see, therefore, that only immersion is baptism, and that if you were sprinkled or had water poured on you, you were not baptized. We beseech you to die to sin by repenting, to be buried with Christ in baptism for the remission of sins, and then be raised to walk the life of the spirit, having quit the life of the flesh.

Truth Magazine XX: 38, pp. 595-596
September 23, 1976