Conversion: The Act of Baptism

By Cecil Willis

For the past two weeks we have been writing on the theme of “who should be baptized?” It was plainly seen from the book of God, and also from the book of reason, that only an individual with the ability to be taught, to understand the gospel of Christ, to believe in Christ as the Son of God, and to make confession of their faith in Christ with their mouth, should be baptized. This eliminated the practice of baptizing infants.

Inasmuch as there was a variety of opinions as to who should be baptized, we diligently and sincerely sought the answer from the Bible, and believe that we have a clearer understanding of that problem now, than before. But there is an equally wide diversity of opinion as to how one should be baptized. Men are at variance as to what constitutes the act of baptism. What is the action of baptism is the problem to which We have addressed ourselves.

“Modes” of Baptism

The words “baptism” and “baptize” have come to be used rather carelessly in our society. We use them to signify thoughts that they never conveyed in their original sense. Words are nothing more than means of expressing thoughts. When one uses the word baptize, the individual or individuals to whom he may, be speaking might have a number of different conceptions. In other words, the word baptize is used in different senses and to refer to different acts.

When one is to be baptized today, he usually is given his preference of three acts. Sometime ago, I attended a denominational meeting. After the visiting speaker finished his lesson, the local preacher extended, the invitation to those in the audience to come down to the front and “Join the church -of their choice, and be baptized as you please.” He meant that you might become a member of any of the several denominations that you might choose, or’ that you might select ‘the particular “mode of baptism” that you preferred. By the different “modes of baptism,” denominationalists mean that you might be baptized by sprinkling, pouring or immersion. You may obey the Lord’s command by being buried in the water, by having water poured upon you, or by having just a few drops of water sprinkled on you, according to most denominationalists.

Inasmuch as we have mentioned the different “modes of baptism,” it might be well for us to make a timely observation regarding the expression. Actually there is no such thing as a “mode of baptism.” In Ephesians 4, Paul said, “There is one body and one spirit, even also as ye are called in one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is above all, through all, and in you all.” Paul emphasized that there is but one baptism. Yet men speak of the different “modes of baptism.” The Bible knows nothing of “modes of baptism.” It only speaks of baptism, period. It seems to me that we all ought to be able to recognize and admit how many one is, and if we do that, we must denounce our choice expression, “The different modes of baptism.” If an act is baptism, it is not a mode of baptism, and if it is a mode, it is not baptism.. So Paul said that there is but one baptism. If that expression means anything at all, it means that two of these acts commonly called baptism, are not baptism at all. Our problem in this lesson is to determine which is baptism, and which is not. If sprinkling is the one baptism, then pouring and immersion are not, for there is “one baptism.” If pouring is the one baptism, then sprinkling and immersion are not. If immersion is the one baptism, then sprinkling and pouring are not. There is but one! So you see all this speaking about the different “modes of baptism” is the language of Ashdod. It is nothing but deception.

One point that has always been rather puzzling to me is this. These denominational preachers very readily and plainly inform their audiences that it would be perfectly all right for them to be sprinkled if they should choose to be, but as yet, I have not found a single preacher who was himself sprinkled. What is good enough for you is not good enough for them. Another preacher told me one time that he had been looking for eighteen years for one of these preachers who teach and preach and practice sprinkling who had been sprinkled, but had failed to find a single one. I am not affirming that there are no preachers who were sprinkled for baptism, but I never have met one. It seems that even though they tell others that God does not care whether you are sprinkled or immersed, they just do not want to take the chance with their own souls. They will take the chance with yours though, and tell you that it would be all right with the Lord.

Often times people will argue that sprinkling is baptism. They know that it is baptism for the dictionary says so. If you will look in the dictionary you will find the word baptize defined like this: “to dip or immerse in water, or to pour or sprinkle water upon, as a religious rite” (Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, fifth edition). But friend, is this a true definition of the word as it was used by our Lord? When he gave the command for the apostles to go teach the word of God, and told them to baptize those that received their word, did HE tell the apostles to sprinkle or pour water upon them, or to immerse them? Was not the Lord sufficiently plain in what He said? Why the difference between the dictionary’s definition and the Bible’s? Here is the difference and the reason why: the dictionary defines a word as it is used at present. Today a large number of the people think the word “baptize” means to dip, pour or sprinkle, and therefore the dictionary says this is a definition of the word. It does not define the word in its original meaning, but in its acquired definition. If we should continue to use the word baptism, and should say that it refers to a certain kind of fishing rod, and enough people used the word that way, it would mean that the dictionary would have to give this as one of the meanings of the word baptize. No argument as to the meaning of the original word baptize can be made from the dictionary.

The Original Meaning of “Baptize”

The word “baptize” was not an English word, originally. It is a Greek word that has been Anglicized. For a true definition of the word one would not look in an English dictionary, but in a Greek dictionary. One must look at a Greek lexicon to find actually the act referred to by the Lord when He commanded the disciples to baptize those that responded to their teaching. One may find what this Anglicized Greek word has come to mean in the English language by looking into an English dictionary. This is the reason that one finds baptism defined as sprinkling, pouring, or immersion in Webster’s dictionary. This definition certainly did not come from the original word itself.

Let us now notice the definition of the word baptidzo5, the Greek word from which our English word, “baptize” is derived. The greatest of the Greek scholars define the word as “an immersion,” and only as that. The word cannot mean to sprinkle or to pour. But that you might not have only my word for this, let me now cite some of the great Greek scholars. Mr. Robinson, who was not a member of the Lord’s church, but was a member of a church that practiced baptism by sprinkling and pouring said, baptidzi means “to immerse, to sink; for example, spoken of ships, galleys, etc. In the New Testament, to wash, to cleanse by washing; to wash one’s self, to bathe, perform ablution.” Liddell and Scott said that haptidz6 meant “to dip in or under water, of ships, to sink or disable them.” Baptism6 means “a dipping in water, ablution.” Baptistas, the word for Baptist (as in John the Baptist), meant “one that dips, a baptizer, the Baptist.” Henry Thayer defined the word translated “baptize” as “to dip repeatedly, to immerse, submerge,. . . to cleanse by dipping or submerging, to wash, to make clean with water . . . to wash oneself, bathe, overwhelm. Baptisma (means) New Testament immersion, submersion” (Taken from T. W. Brents, The Gospel Plan of Salvation, pp. 266-272.) 1 have in my possession the definitions given by over one hundred separate Greek scholars as to the original meaning of the word translated in our common English versions of the Bible, baptize, and not one of them defines it as anything except immersion, a dipping, plunging, submerging, submersion, emerging, to cover up, to overwhelm. They all say that the word is such that it could not be translated by sprinkling or pouring. It just so happens that the Bible in so many words tells us what the act of baptism is, and we are going to note those passages separately in later articles. But we are trying now to show that the word cannot mean anything except immersion, and we have suggested proof from over one hundred separate Greek scholars proving this to be true.

Why Some Do Not Immerse

Briefly, let us now notice some of the reasons why men began practicing some act other than immersion and calling it baptism. Tt is almost universally conceded by all authorities that immersion was the only act of baptism as recorded by the New Testament.

There are several different reasons offered for using sprinkling as a substitute for immersion. The first time anyone was ever sprinkled, of which we have any record, was in the year 251 A. D. Nov’atian was the schismatically chosen bishop of the church at Rome. Practically all during his tenure as bishop of that church, there was controversy as to whether he should be recognized as bishop or not, for he had been sprinkled, and not immersed. At the time that Novation was sprinkled he was very sick, and not expected to live. Therefore, lest he should die unbaptized, and outside the church, it was decided that he should be sprinkled. In other words, sprinkling was first practiced because it was more convenient. Others prefer sprinkling because it does not necessitate having so much water, and a baptistry can be eliminated. Too, it is more convenient in baptizing their babies to have them sprinkled, rather than immersed. This is the primary reason why sprinkling is so popular today. Do you think, though, that God is well pleased with this “substitute baptism” just because it is more convenient for man? Man must do what God said do, exactly as God said do it, or suffer the consequences.

Some time ago, a man told me that he was glad that he could feel that he had a God big enough to overlook such a minor detail as how he chose to be baptized. Men speak of choosing the church of their choice, and being baptized as they please just as though the Lord had neither choice nor preference in the matter. The man that does not do the commandments of the Lord as the Lord said do them, has not obeyed him at all.

Men sometimes say that sprinkling inust be acceptable by the Lord for it would have been impossible to have baptized three thousand people, by immersion, as the Scripture implies was done on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). Sometimes these people will say that there was not enough water in Jerusalem to immerse three thousand people, but now geographical finds have silenced this claim. Now they say that there was not enough time to have immersed that many in one day. Yet this too must be invalidated, for there have been many modern day instances in which preachers of the gospel have immersed people rapidly enough to have assisted in immersing three thousand in one day on Pentecost. There were twelve apostles. Men today have baptized sixty people an hour, or one a minute. At that rate, the twelve apostles could have immersed the entire group in about four hours. Still, there is nothing in the Scripture that would forbid some of those who were just baptized from assisting in the baptizing of others. These arguments just do not prove what their exponents would have them prove.


The fact remains that the word used by our Lord, when he told the disciples to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” means that they were to be immersed. It is Dot enough to replace the Lord’s command with those things that you and I had rather do, or with something that might be more convenient for us. The Lord will accept nothing short of complete obedience, and to sprinkle or pour as a substitute for immersion, is not to obey the Lord’s command. It is our prayer that those of you who have substituted what you had rather do for what the Lord said do, will repent of it. The faith that saves is the faith that obeys!

Truth Magazine XX: 37, pp. 579-582
September 16, 1976