The Action Of Baptism

By Mike Willis

Most of the denominational creeds and manuals specifically state that sprinkling, pouring or immersion are suitable modes of baptism. Webster’s Dictionary defines baptism as “the ceremony or sacrament of admitting a person into Christianity or a specific Christian church by dipping him in water or sprinkling water on him, as a symbol of washing away sin.” Hence, the large majority of religious people today believe that there is no importance attached to the mode of baptism, whether it be administered by sprinkling, pouring or immersion. What saith the Scriptures?

Baptism Defined

Although it is true that Webster’s Dictionary specifically defines “baptism” to mean sprinkling, pouring or immersion, one must remember that Webster’s defines the word according to its contemporary usage. There is at least a possibility that the word “baptism” has experienced a change in meaning in the many years of its usage. Hence, in defining the word “baptism” we need to be careful to find out, not what the word means in twentieth century usage, but what the word meant which Jesus used when He said, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.”

The lexicons are quite clear in defining the word. Here are several definitions for the word as given by reputable lexicons:

. . . properly to dip repeatedly, to immerge, submerge . . . (Thayer, p. 94).

. . . dip, immerse . . . (Arndt and Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, p. 130).

. . . to dip, immerse . . . (Analytical Greek Lexicon, p. 65).

. . . baptism, consisting of the processes of immersion, submersion and emergence . . . (W.E. Vine, Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Vol. I, p. 96).

I know of absolutely no lexicographer of any reputation who defines the word group bapto, from which baptisma and baptizo are derived, in any other way than the above lexicons of the Greek language define it. Our own Webster’s Dictionary mentions that the English word is derived from the Greek word bapto which means “to dip.”

As a matter of fact, our English word baptism is not a translation of the Greek word baptisms; it is a transliteration. The difference in a translation and a transliteration is this: a translation gives the word equivalent in one language which corresponds to the meaning in another language; a transliteration simply brings the word in one language into another language, letter for letter. Hence, the word baptisma was not translated in our English Bibles into the English word equivalent, “immersion.” Rather, it was transliterated; hence, we have the English word baptism to represent the Greek word baptisma.

To further show the contemporary usage of the word baptisma in the time of Christ, consider these evidences. The following quotations were cited in The Form of Baptism by J.B. Briney (pp. 22-23); he cited the following evidences:

Pindar (522 B.C.): “For, as when the rest of the tackle is toiling deep in the sea, I, as a cork above the net, am unbaptized in the brine.”

Polybius (205 B.C.): “And even if the spear falls into the sea, it is not lost, for it is compacted of both oak and pine, so that when the oaken part is baptized by the weight, the rest is buoyed up, and is easily recovered.”

“They passed through with difficulty, the foot-soldiers baptized as far as to the breasts.”

Josephus (37 A.D.): “Continually pressing down and baptizing him while swimming, as if in sport, they did not desist till they had entirely suffocated him.”

These citations of the common usage of the word as used in the time of Christ, demonstrate that the words baptisma (baptism) and baptizo (to baptize) were understood by the first century Christians to mean “an immersion” and “to immerse.”

Scriptural Evidence Confirming These Definitions

Two specific baptisms recorded in the Scriptures demonstrate that the action of New Testament baptism was immersion. For example, read the following passages:

And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him . . . (Matt. 3:16).

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, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing (Acts 8:38-39).

These recorded cases of New Testament baptism demonstrate that New Testament baptism required both a “going down into” and a “coming up out of” water. The very same reasons which prevent those who practice sprinkling and pouring from going down into and coming up out of water in the twentieth century would have prevented those in the first century. The action of baptism was immersion!

The things to which baptism is compared also demonstrate that the action of New Testament baptism is immersion. It is compared to (a) a burial (Rom. 6:3-4; Col. 2:12). If one buries a thing by sprinkling a little dirt on it or pouring a little dirt on it, then one might appropriately baptize by sprinkling and pouring. However, if burial is administered by totally covering the object with dirt, then baptism is an immersion in water. (b) Planting (Rom. 6:5). The New Testament compares baptism to a planting; where I grew up, when we planted something, we covered it with dirt. Hence, baptism is a covering. with water, an immersion.


The testimony of lexicons, contemporary writers, and the Scriptures themselves is harmonious. All of the existing evidence demonstrates that the meaning of the word baptisma is immersion. Hence, when Jesus said, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved,” He meant, “He that believeth and is immersed shall be saved.”

The sprinkling or pouring of a small quantity of water over a person’s head is not Bible baptism. Regardless of what good intentions the subject or administrator might have had when they participated in this ceremony, they were simply not obeying the word of the Lord. Not having obeyed the conditions laid down by Christ for salvation, there is no promise to such persons that salvation is given to them.

My friends, if you have been led to believe that something someone did to you as an infant, when they sprinkled a few drops of water in your face as you resisted their actions with all of your might, will suffice to meet the conditions of the gospel for receiving the benefits of Christ’s blood, you need to realize right now that there is not one piece of scriptural evidence that it will be accepted by the Lord God Almighty. Will you humbly submit to immersion in water for the remission of your sins in order that you might receive the remission of your sins?

Truth Magazine XXIII: 19, pp. 307-308
May 10, 1979