Sprinkling, Pouring, Immersion?

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In modern-day Christendom, the mode of baptism is almost as controversial as is the purpose.1 Because the purpose of baptism is equated with salvation in Mark 16:16 and 1 Peter 3:21; the forgiveness of sins in Acts 2:38, 22:16 and Colossians 2:11-13; the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:38; circumcision of the heart in Colossians 2:11-13; a new life in Romans 6:3-4; becoming children of God in Galatians 3:26-27; putting on Christ in Galatians 3:27; and being added to the body of Christ in Acts 2:41, 47 and 1 Corinthians 12:13, the mode of baptism becomes more important than it would be if baptism were not associated with these crucial issues. Because baptism is essential to a person’s salvation, it is imperative that we determine whether Yeshua2 (Jesus’ given Hebrew name) commanded us to be sprinkled, poured or immersed. This can only be resolved by looking at the original language and the context of the passages discussing baptism.

Baptism in the Greek Language

The English translators created the word "baptism" by transliterating3 instead of translating4 the Greek word "baptisma." Consequently, certain denominations have taken the liberty of interpreting the English word "baptism" to mean sprinkling or pouring. Yeshua and the inspired authors of the New Testament never commanded anyone to have water sprinkled on or poured over them. If they had, they would have used the Greek word "rhantizo," which means to sprinkle, or the Greek word "cheo," which means to pour. Instead Yeshua and the New Testament authors chose the word "baptizo," or some form thereof, meaning to immerse:

baptizo (bap-tid'-zo) … to immerse, submerge; to make overwhelmed (i.e. fully wet); used only (in the N. T.) of ceremonial ablution, especially (technically) of the ordinance of Christian baptism. 5

baptisma (bap'-tis-mah); from … [baptizo]; immersion … (technically or figuratively). 5

baptizo … primarily a frequentative form of bapto, to dip, was used among the Greeks to signify the dyeing of a garment, or the drawing of water by dipping a vessel into another, etc. Plutarchus uses it of the drawing of wine by dipping the cup into the bowl (Alexis, 67) and Plato, metaphorically, of being overwhelmed with questions (Euthydemus, 277 D). 6

baptisma … consisting of the processes of immersion, submersion and emergence (from bapto, to dip)…. 6

baptizo; 1. properly, to dip … to immerge, submerge (of vessels sunk, Polybius 1, 51, 6; 8, 8, 4; of animals, Diodorus 1, 36). 2. to cleanse by dipping or submerging, to wash, to make clean with water … to wash oneself, bathe…. Metaphorically, to overwhelm.... 3. and alone, to inflict great and abounding calamities on one: ebaptisan teen polin, Josephus, b. j. 4, 3, 3; hee anomia me baptizei, Isa 21:4, Sept. hence, baptizesthai baptisma (compare W., 225 (211); (Buttmann, 148 (129)); compare louesthai to loutron, Aelian de nat. an. 3, 42), to be overwhelmed with calamities, of those who must bear them, Matt 20:22 f, R; Mark 10:38 f; Luke 12:50. 7

baptisma, baptismatos, … immersion, submersion; 1. used tropically of calamities and afflictions with which one is quite overwhelmed: Matt 20:22 f, R; Mark 10:38 f; Luke 12:50 (see baptizoo, I. 3)…. 3. of Christian baptism; this, according to the view of the apostles, is a rite of sacred immersion, commanded by Christ, by which men confessing their sins and professing their faith in Christ are born again by the Holy Spirit unto a new life, come into the fellowship of Christ and the church (1 Cor 12:13), and are made partakers of eternal salvation…. 7

These definitions confirm that immersion is the scriptural mode of baptism.

Baptism in Context

Baptism requires much water:

And John also was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there: and they came, and were baptized. (John 3:23)

Only immersion would necessitate John the Baptist traveling somewhere where there was much water. If sprinkling or pouring would have sufficed for baptisms, John could have carried enough water for either of these methods. Instead, John had to locate a place where there was enough water for immersions.

Matthew 3:5-6 declares that those who came to John the Baptist were "baptized of him in Jordan." Replace the word "baptized" with the word "sprinkling" or "pouring" and this statement becomes illogical – "sprinkled of him in Jordan" or "poured of him in Jordan." Replace "baptized" with "immersed" and it makes perfect sense – "immersed of him in Jordan." If John had been sprinkling or pouring, he and the person whom he was baptizing would have simply stood at the edge of the river; only if John were immersing would they be in the Jordan River.

In Mark 1:9-10, Yeshua is described as being in and coming up out of the Jordan after being baptized:

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)

This would have only occurred if immersion was the mode.

In Acts 8, we are informed that both Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch went down into the water prior to the eunuch being baptized, and both came up out of the water following the eunuch being baptized:

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 8:38-39)

If pouring or sprinkling meets the requirements for baptism, Philip and the eunuch would have only needed to go to the edge of the water rather than down into the water. In fact, they would not have needed a body of water at all because the eunuch certainly would have been carrying sufficient water with him for sprinkling or pouring, which could have been accomplished right in his chariot.

Immersion is depicted in these biblical accounts just as it is implicit in the Greek word.

Twice the Bible identifies "baptisma" as a burial and a resurrection there from:

Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus [the] Christ were baptized into his death? 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 6:3-4)

In whom [Yeshua] also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him…. (Colossians 2:11-12)

Only immersion meets the criteria for a burial and a resurrection.

"Baptisma" is the same word used for Yeshua’s suffering and for the baptism with the Holy Spirit. If water baptism is to be performed by sprinkling, then Yeshua was only sprinkled with suffering, and those who were baptized with the Holy Spirit were only sprinkled with the Spirit.

Only immersion satisfies both the Greek word and the biblical context in fulfilling the scriptural command to be baptized.

Following are two lists of objections – the first list answers objections to immersion and the second list answers objections to the biblical position that only adults should be baptized.

Objections to Immersion Answered

Objection 1: In the Greek text, baptism was never described as taking place in or within water, but rather with or by means of water.

Answer: Because the Greek word "baptisma" means to immerse, it makes no difference if a person was instructed to be immersed in, with, or by means of water.

Objection 2: In 1 Corinthians 10:1-2, the Apostle Paul informed the Corinthians that their Israelite forefathers departing from Egypt were baptized "in the cloud and in the sea" while crossing over on dry ground. The pursuing Egyptians were immersed in the water, but the Israelites would have only been sprinkled as a consequence of the mist that would certainly have been produced by the cloud above and the walls of water on each side.

Answer: Analogies, type-antitypes, and other Old to New Testament parallelisms can only be taken as far as the New Testament context allows. Because Paul made no mention of the Egyptians, no application concerning the Egyptians can be made from his analogy.To say there was a mist or sprinkling during the Red Sea crossing when the Bible does not mention either one is speculation at the best.Paul used the Greek word "baptizo" in 1 Corinthians 10:1-2. All Greek lexicographers agree that "baptizo" means to immerse, and immersion fits perfectly Paul’s description of what occurred. He declared that the Israelites were baptized "in the cloud and in the sea." In other words, they were surrounded above by the cloud and on both sides with water, just as someone today is when he is immersed in water for the remission of his sins. Therefore, there is no reason to attempt to force sprinkling into a word that to the people of that day could only mean immersion.The ancient Greek writings of Polybius, Josephus, Epictetus, Plutarch and others reveal that bapitizo was used to indicate immersion. "Baptizo" was the word they employed when writing about a sunken ship, soldiers who were covered with water to their chests while crossing a river, a harpoon sinking in water, a hyssop branch dipped in liquid, a sword plunged into a body, an overwhelming dept, and people drowning. The Greek-speaking people clearly understood baptizo to mean immersion.Had sprinkling or pouring been Yahweh’s8 intent, He would have been the author of confusion, and the people of that day would have been unable to fulfill the command to be sprinkled or poured.

Paul would not have used the word "in" when he wrote, "And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea," if he had intended sprinkling. Insert the word "sprinkled" or "poured" in place of the word "baptized" and it does not make sense – "And were all sprinkled unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea" or "And were all poured unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea." Insert the word "immersed" and it makes perfect sense – "And were all immersed unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea."

Objection 3: The baptism with the Holy Spirit is identified with pouring in Acts 2:17-18 and 10:45. Therefore, pouring is the mode of baptism.

Answer: There is no reason to interpret baptizo as meaning anything other than what it naturally means in the Greek language. When Yahweh flooded the earth in the days of Noah, it occurred by sprinkling or pouring, but it immersed both the dry ground and the wicked thereon (Genesis 7:17-24). Likewise when Yahweh poured out His Spirit, it was suffient to immerse the apostles in Acts 2 and Cornelius and his household in Acts 10.9

Objection 4: The Old Testament has much to say about "sprinkling."

Answer: The Old Testament also frequently refers to dipping or immersion. For example, "tabal" is the Hebrew word employed in 2 Kings 5:14, in the Masoretic text, when Naaman "dipped himself seven times in Jordan." In the Septuagint, the Hebrew word "tabal" is replaced with the Greek word "bapto."

Objection 5: Young’s Literal Translation renders the phrase in John 3:23 as saying "many waters" rather than "much waters":

And John was also baptizing in Aenon, nigh to Salem, because there were many waters there, and they were coming and were being baptized.

Answer: It makes no difference which way this phrase is translated because only immersion would require much or many waters.

Objection 6: Because there were no Holiday Inns or Hiltons nearby for lodging, John the Baptist very well could have selected the Jordan as the place for people to come and hear his preaching as a place where they would have adequate water for drinking, food preparation and bathing.

Answer: The text does not say that John was preaching in Aenon because there was much water. It says he was baptizing in Aenon because there was much water.

Objection 7: Mark 7:4 describes the Pharisees as washing (baptismos) couches. They certainly were not immersing their couches.

Answer: Couches in that day were more accurately bedrolls and as such were small and light so they could be carried wherever a person might travel. These bedrolls, along with everything else listed in Mark 7, could have been easily immersed.

Objection 8: The burying in Romans 6:4 and Colossians 2:12 is not indicative of immersion. The Greek word translated buried is "entapheasmos," meaning to entomb. "Six feet under" did not come along until much later.

Answer: It does not make any difference whether one uses the word "buried" or "entombed;" only immersion fits the analogy of either one. Sprinkling or pouring cannot fulfill either buried or entombed, unless by pouring one means a waterfall.

Genesis 35:8, 1 Samuel 31:12-13 and Matthew 27:7 reveal that "six feet under" did not come later, but sooner. The term "burial" or "entomb" were generic terms and could apply to whatever means was used to inter a person, whether in the ground, a cave, or a sepulcher. In all cases the person was laid down, which was also the only position from which a person could be raised. Therefore, only immersion fulfills Paul’s analogy of entombment or a burial.

Immersion is the only mode that fits Paul’s analogy in Romans 6 wherein baptismal burial is compared with Yeshua’s burial. If baptism could be accomplished by sprinkling or pouring, Yeshua’s body would have also needed to have had dirt sprinkled or poured over parts of it. This would have then allowed the vultures, hyenas and other scavengers to devour and scatter His body parts.

Objections to Adult-Only Baptism

Objection 1: From the beginning of New Testament Christianity to our time, unbroken and uninterrupted; the church has always baptized babies.

Answer: What the church has done is not the basis for our beliefs. The Bible, and only the Bible, must determine what we practice, even if history demonstrates something different.

Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it…. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? And in thy name have cast out devils? And in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. (Matthew 7:13-23)

There may be good reason to question whether much of the history that has been retained is that of the apostate church rather than that of the true church. History is nearly always written by and from the perspective of those in power. Possibly Yahweh allowed this to happen to test us to see if we would follow His Word or the traditions of men.

Objection 2: In his Dialog with Trypho the Jew, Justin Martyr (110-165 AD) states that baptism is the circumcision of the New Testament. Therefore, because physical circumcision was to be performed at eight days of age, baptism can likewise be performed on an infant.

Answer: What Justin Martyr taught is not how we should determine doctrine. Nevertheless, it is a biblical fact that in Colossians 2:11-13 the Apostle Paul equated New Covenant baptism with Old Covenant circumcision. However, analogies, type-antitypes, and other Old to New Testament parallelisms can only be taken as far as the New Testament context allows. Because Paul’s analogy made no mention of age, no application to age can be made from this passage.

If someone can apply the age of eight days old to baptism because that was the age they circumcised under the Old Covenant, then someone else could just as legitimately demand that baptism can only be administered to those of the male gender.

Objection 3: Irenaeus (130-200 AD), some thirty-five years after Justin Martyr, wrote in Against Heresies II 22:4 that Yeshua "came to save all through means of Himself – all, I say, who through Him are born again to God – infants and children, boys and youth, and old men."

Answer: Our beliefs should not be based upon Irenaeus, but upon the Bible.

Objection 4: Similar expressions are found in succeeding generations by Origen (185-254 AD) and Cyprian (215-258 AD) who reflect the consensus voiced at the Council of Carthage in 254. The sixty-six bishops said, "We ought not hinder any person from baptism and the grace of God … especially infants … those newly born." To prevent misunderstanding by rural bishops, perhaps not as well-schooled as others or even new to the faith, the Sixteenth Council of Carthage in 418 unequivocally stated, "If any man says that newborn children need not be baptized … let him be anathema."

Answer: Our beliefs should not be based upon the Council of Carthage or anyone else, but upon the Bible.

Objection 5: Preceding this council, Origen wrote in his Commentary on Romans 5:9, "For this also it was that the church had from the Apostles a tradition to give baptism even to infants. For they to whom the divine mysteries were committed knew that there is in all persons a natural pollution of sin which must be done away by water and the Spirit." Elsewhere Origen wrote in his Homily on Luke 14, "Infants are to be baptized for the remission of sins."

Augustine (354-430 AD) wrote in De Genesi Ad Literam, X:39 that "The custom of our mother church in baptizing infants must not be … accounted needless, nor believed to be other than a tradition of the apostles."

Answer: Origen’s and Augustine’s statements cannot be found in the Bible. Worse yet, they contradict Yeshua’s and the Apostles’ teaching that faith, repentance and confession were prerequisites to baptism. Origen and Augustine’s statements are therefore heretical to the Bible.

Objections 6: Augustine further stated, "If you wish to be a Christian, do not believe, nor say, nor teach, that infants who die before baptism can obtain the remission of original sin."

Answer: Infants or children who die before the age of accountability are covered by the blood of Yeshua, provided one of their parents has, in faith and repentance, been baptized into Yeshua for the forgiveness of their sins.

Objection 7: Entire households were baptized by Yeshua’s original twelve Apostles as described in 1 Corinthians 1:16; Acts 11:14, 16:15, 33, 18:8.

Answer: It is speculation to declare that the term "households" in the previous passages, taken by itself, included infants or children under the age of accountability. It is also speculation for someone else to declare that the term "households" in those instances did not include children. Those passages simply do not provide us with that information. It is, however, a fact of Scripture that faith, repentance and a confession of faith were prerequisites to baptism. What we do not know from scripture must be determined by what we do know from scripture. Therefore, the term "household" in the previous passages either did not include children or if there were children in those households, they were covered by their father’s baptism – until they had reached the age of accountability and needed to be baptized themselves.

Objection 8: In 2 Thessalonians 3:10 we are told that "if any would not work, neither should he eat." The clear command was that only those who work should eat. There is no New Covenant command that tells us to feed infants, even though they cannot fulfill the New Covenant’s requirement of work prior to eating. This command only applies to those who can work but refuse to. To apply it to infants would be absurd. Yet this is what those who hold to an adult-only position as it pertains to baptism do – they inconsistently require that unless someone believes and repents he cannot be baptized.

Answer: The inconsistency actually lies with those who demand that infants and children must be baptized to be saved. To be consistent, they must teach that infants must also work before they can eat.

Because children are under the covering of their fathers, they are automatically included in both cases. Children of a father who works are fed without having to work themselves. In like manner, children of a father who has been baptized are automatically saved without having to be baptized themselves, until they reach the age of accountability. The age of accountability is provided to us in Numbers 14 as the age of twenty. 10

The Old Testament provides a biblical precedent. Just prior to the Israelites leaving Egypt, the fathers of each household took a hyssop branch soaked in blood and covered their houses with it. Did this act also cover their children therein or did each child also have to perform the same act? The children were, of course, covered by the obedience of their father and so it is with baptism.

In Matthew 18:3, we are not told that little children need to be converted and baptized to be right with Yahweh, but instead that adults need to become like little children, who are obviously already in good standing with Yahweh. In Matthew 19:3-4, Yeshua informed the disciples that the kingdom of heaven consists of children, with no indication that they had to do anything to get into the kingdom.

Objection 9: According to 1 Corinthians 10:1-2, the entire congregation of Israel, including the infants, who came out of Egypt were baptized in the cloud and in the sea.

Answer: If their fathers had not stepped down into the Red Sea, then neither would have the children. The children were baptized, not because they individually went through the Red Sea but because they were a part of the household of their obedient father.

Objection 10: Who would be so blind as to limit this expression of Yahweh’s grace and mercy to adults, excluding infants and children?

Answer: One who teaches adult baptism is not denying Yahweh’s expression of grace and mercy to infants and children, but just the opposite. The truth is that anyone who demands that baptism is required for infants is condemning untold numbers of infants murdered in their mother’s womb or who die immediately after birth or anytime prior to having the opportunity to be baptized.

Objection 11: Who would dare declare so gracious an invitation to be invalid for infants or children?

Answer: Why would we want to demand that an infant or child be baptized when he is already covered by the grace of God and the blood of Yeshua?

Objection 12: In Matthew 18:6, Yeshua declared that "Whoever offends one of these little ones who believe in Me" – such as those who would deny baptism to infants – "it were better that he were drowned in the depth of the sea."

Answer: It is those who teach that infants and children need to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins, thereby condemning all children who die before having that opportunity, who offend these little ones.

Objection 13: Yeshua’s command in the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20 to baptize all nations was irrespective of age.

Answer: Yeshua’s command in Matthew 28:18-20 was not irrespective of age. Prior to baptism a candidate had to first be a disciple of Christ, and therefore first believe and repent or surrender his life to Yeshua the Christ. Infants and small children cannot fulfill these prerequisites and, therefore, age was a factor in the Great Commission.

Objection 14: In Acts 2:39 the Apostle Peter declared that "The promise [of forgiveness of sins obtained in baptism] is unto you and to your children."

Answer: The word "children" in this passage no more indicates age than does the term "the children of Israel" used repeatedly in the Old Testament. The word "children" in Acts 2:39 is not referring to infants and small children, but to successive generations of Israelites.

The fact that the candidates in Acts 2 were told to repent before being baptized (Acts 2:38) proves that only adults should be and need to be baptized.

End Notes

1. For a more thorough explanation concerning baptism and its relationship to salvation, “Baptism by the Scriptures” and “Fifty Objections to Baptism Answered” may be read online, or the book Baptism: All You Wanted to Know and More may be ordered from Bible Law vs. the United States Constitution, PO Box 248, Scottsbluff, Nebraska 69363, for free.

2. Yeshua, is the English transliteration of our Savior’s Hebrew name, preferred by this author. For a more thorough explanation concerning the use of the sacred names of God,“The Third Commandment” may be read online, or the book Thou shalt not take the name of YHWH thy God in vain may be ordered from Bible Law vs. the United States Constitution, PO Box 248, Scottsbluff, Nebraska, 69363, for a suggested $4 donation.*

3. Transliteration commutes the letters of a word from one language to another language and should be used exclusively for the names of people, places, etc.

4. Translation commutes the meaning of a word from one language to another language and should be used for words other than the names of people, places, etc.

5. James Strong, "Greek Dictionary of the New Testament," The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1990) p. 18.

6. W.E. Vine, Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (McLean, VA: MacDonald Publishing Company) pp. 98-99.

7. Joseph Henry Thayer, Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, Electronic Database. Copyright © 2000, 2003 by Biblesoft, Inc.

8. "Yahweh" is the personal Hebrew name of the God of the Bible. For a more thorough explanation concerning the use of the sacred names of God,“The Third Commandment” may be read online, or the book Thou shalt not take the name of YHWH thy God in vain may be ordered from Bible Law vs. the United States Constitution, PO Box 248, Scottsbluff, Nebraska, 69363, for a suggested $4 donation.*

9. Thanks to Matthew Janzen for his contribution in answering this objection.

10. For a more exhaustive discussion on the age of accountability, "Who is Accountable?," a thirty-minute message on cassette tape or CD, is available from Bible Law vs. the United States Constitution, PO Box 248, Scottsbluff, Nebraska 69363 for a suggested $4 donation or it is available on a listen-and-return basis.



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