By Tom Hamilton
Had the Greek word baptisma — “baptisms” never been associated with a disputed religious practice, there never would have been any question concerning its meaning and proper English translation. However, by the time the first English translations of the Bible were made in the sixteenth century, ecclesiastical practice had already established “baptism” as a mystical, sacred religious sacrament, administered by pouring, sprinkling, or immersion. Obviously, no Bible could be allowed to translate baptisma as “immersion.” Such would undermine the doctrine of the ecclesiastical hierarchy and centuries of tradition. In fact, the Catholic Church and Church of England (among others) required that certain “ecclesiastical terms” be retained (such as “baptism” and “church”) in order to conform to church doctrine. In other words, church doctrine was to determine what the Bible taught, not vice-versa. In this article (and others to follow), which is dedicated to the special theme of baptism, we demonstrate that there are four clear ways by which anybody can see for themselves what this family of words really means. These proofs are to be seen in how the Greeks themselves used the word (1) in classical Greek, (2) in the Septuagint (i.e., the Greek Old Testament), (3) in contemporary Greek literature, and (4) the Greek New Testament itself. Most of these writings are unrelated to “Christian baptism” and therefore offer objective evidence as to the true meaning of the term.
In every case and without exception, the meaning of baptisma is a “dipping,” “plunging under,” “immersion,” “submersion,” “soaking,” etc. Never is any other action, such as sprinkling or pouring, included in the definition of the word. Of course, sometimes the word is used figuratively, that is, not of physical immersion in some physical substance. But even then, the concept is that of immersion, such as “immersed in grief,” “overwhelmed with anxiety,” or “in over your head.”
It should be very clear that baptisma means “immersion” and should be translated as such — indeed it would have been, had prevailing doctrinal practices not been invented by men. If one would substitute “immersion” (the proper translation) for “baptism,” he would see how foolish denominational practice is — “Sprinkling is just one way of immersing!” By definition, it is a contradiction!
Nowhere in the New Testament do we find anything except immersion practiced. The New Testament nowhere teaches sprinkling, pouring, or anything else as a suitable or alternate mode of “baptism.” But we are often told that sprinkling, pouring, and immersing are just different, equally acceptable ways of baptizing. The question is — how do we know sprinkling and pouring are acceptable? It would have to be upon some other basis besides what the word means (because no one ever defined or used the word baptisma in this way) or what the Bible teaches (because it nowhere mentions sprinkling or pouring), so how do I know?
What if I started teaching people that in order for them to be saved, they could just hop on one foot and cluck like a chicken? And if someone objects that baptism has to do with water, we’ll just make that a wet chicken. I could tell folks that it’s just another, perfectly acceptable means of “baptizing.” If not, why not? Would you say that that’s not what the word means? or that no one ever used the word in that way? or that the Bible teaches no such thing?
Do these objections sound familiar? Let’s stick to what the word simply means and to what the Word simply says: “Repent and be immersed . . . for the forgiveness of sins” (Acts 2:38).