"Then Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said, 'Men of Israel, and you who fear God, listen...'" (Acts 13:16)
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The What & How of Baptism

by Stephen R. Bradd

Part one in this series of three lessons defines what Bible baptism is and explains its proper mode.

On Sunday morning, millions of people in all parts of the world will attend various churches to worship Almighty God. Some will go to a Presbyterian Church, others to a Baptist Church, still others to a Catholic Church, on and on we could go. There are so many different churches out there--so many different places a person could go to worship--and in a future lesson we'll try to understand why this is the case. But today we have another subject to consider--baptism. What do you think would happen if I got in my car and traveled from one church to another asking questions about baptism? I'll tell you what would happen. Some denominations would tell me that baptism is not important at all and that a person can be saved without it. Others would say that it's a good idea for a person to be baptized but there are circumstances where a person can be saved without it. Still others would say that a person must be baptized if they hope to enter heaven one day. In addition, some would say that babies should be baptized; others would say they should not. Some would tell me that baptism can be done by sprinkling; others would say that pouring is acceptable; still others would say that baptism must be by immersion.

So, depending upon whom I talked to, I would get a variety of different answers regarding the subject of baptism. Now let's be candid. Is it possible that all of these views on baptism could be correct? Of course not, because many of these positions contradict one another! Well, how can a person know which view is correct? This is a critical question we should always ask regarding religious questions. The answer all boils down to this: Who is the ultimate authority in religion--God or men? God, of course! Ultimately it does not matter what any particular group thinks; what matters is what God has declared through His inspired word. As Paul wrote in II Timothy 3:16 - "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness." Did you hear that? God's word, the Bible, is profitable for doctrine (i.e., religious teaching)! We can find the answers to our questions pertaining to doctrine by consulting the Scriptures, and that is exactly what we will do today regarding baptism.

We're going to pursue this study from a journalistic perspective. What do I mean by that? Simply this: If you were a journalist intending to write an article for a newspaper or magazine you would try to accomplish two things: (1) You would want to include all of the important information regarding your subject in the least amount of space & (2) you would strive for accuracy. Since we'll be studying God's infallible word, accuracy should not be a problem, as long as we are careful students (II Tim. 2:15). We will study what the Scriptures say about baptism and we will ask the important journalistic questions: who, what, when, where, why, & how. If we can answer these questions, as they relate to baptism, then we should have all of the important information out on the table, so to speak. Today, we will only have time to consider two of these six questions; we'll consider the remaining questions in our next two feature lessons.

With that being said, let's consider the first question: WHAT IS BAPTISM?

The English word for "baptize" in the New Testament comes from the Greek word baptizo. Do you notice the similarity? The English word "baptize" was not translated from the Greek word, it was transliterated from it. That is, the letters from the Greek language were literally brought into our language by using the corresponding English letters (e.g., the Greek letter beta corresponds to our letter b, alpha corresponds to our letter a, etc.). That's why these two words are so similar!

Now, in order to properly understand what "baptize" means, we must first understand what the Greek word baptizo means. If you consult any Greek authority, you will learn that baptizo means "to immerse; to submerge; to make overwhelmed." Can you see how these three ideas are all related to each other? For example, if I took a glass filled with Pepsi and dropped a coin into the liquid, what have I just done? I have baptized that coin. It has been immersed in Pepsi; it has been submerged; it has been overwhelmed with that liquid (since it is completely surrounded). It's true that typically most people restrict the use of the word "baptize" to a religious context, but such is not demanded by the word "baptize" itself. One could immerse an object in water, Pepsi, honey, etc.

So, according to Bible usage, the word "baptize" means: to be immersed, to submerge, to make overwhelmed. In Luke 12:50, Jesus used the word "baptism" in reference to His crucifixion. There is a sense in which the crucifixion was a baptism because Christ was overwhelmed with pain and suffering; He was immersed in anguish, so to speak. We've answered our first question: Baptism is immersion. Now don't forget that! It's very important in this study.

And now for our second question, which is an extension of the first: HOW SHOULD A PERSON BE BAPTIZED?

Now remember, I'm not interested in the opinions of men. I want to know what the Bible says. Does the Bible specify what substance should be used for baptism? Indeed it does. The answer is water, and I don't think many religious folks would argue with that. Acts 8:36 clearly teaches that human baptism is to be in water - "Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, 'See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?'" The eunuch understood that water was necessary for baptism; his words clearly convey that thought. But, how exactly should that water be used in baptism? Some will say: You just need to be sprinkled with water. Others say that pouring the water over the person is sufficient. Still others teach that one must be completely submerged in the water.

Which is it? We've already learned the answer, haven't we? Baptism in the Bible means immersion! But, many people do not realize this. They do not know that there are two completely different Greek words that convey the ideas of pouring and sprinkling. These two words are distinct from the Greek word baptizo. Think about this though: What do most people do when they want to find out what a word means? They go to Webster's dictionary and look it up. But, do you see the problem with this? What does a dictionary tell us about words? It gives us their current meanings. Let me ask you this: Do words ever change meanings? Certainly so! Want an example? How about the word "gay" ? Most adults can remember when this word meant "happy," but today it has been given a perverted usage also. Today that word is generally used to refer to someone who is a homosexual. Word meanings change and when you read in Webster's today that baptism means to sprinkle, pour, or immerse, then you really haven't proven anything about what the word meant back in the first century (which was when the New Testament was written)! To most people today, when you say the word "baptism" they think of sprinkling, pouring, or immersing, but is that what God wanted us to think of when He used the word baptizo in the New Testament? No, it is not! He wanted us to think of immersion! Men, over the last 2000 years, have perverted the meaning of the word "baptism" --they've broadened it to include the ideas of sprinkling and pouring. But, God never intended it to be this way!

Are you skeptical of what I'm saying? If you are, that's okay. I don't expect you to take my word for it, but you better check it out for yourself! Even if a person didn't know anything about the Greek language, they could still prove from the New Testament that Bible baptism is immersion, and it is not sprinkling or pouring. Look at John 3:23 - "Now John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there. And they came and were baptized." Interesting, isn't it? If God had wanted John the baptizer to sprinkle or pour water on these people, do you think John would have went to a place where there was "much water" ? Maybe, but probably not. Yes, you need water to immerse, sprinkle, and pour, but you don't need "much water" if you're just going to sprinkle or pour it.

Consider Acts 8:38,39 - "So he [i.e., the eunuch] commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing." Now, let's be reasonable. If God would have approved of Philip pouring or sprinkling water on the eunuch's head, why did they both go down into the water? That doesn't make any sense! I don't know about you, but if it's not necessary for me to get soaked, then I'm not going to! Of course, if the Lord wants me to be immersed, then I'll gladly comply. If the eunuch could have been "baptized" by just having water sprinkled on his head or by having water poured on him, then the chariot probably would not have had to stop! I can't imagine anyone traveling as far as this man did who would leave home without taking some water with him! Certainly he had a canteen or something! If God had approved of baptism by sprinkling or pouring, then certainly this man of great authority wouldn't have stopped the chariot and got completely soaked. He would have had Philip sprinkle or pour some water on him as they continued traveling down the road. Friends, you don't have to go down into the water to be sprinkled or poured upon, but you do have to go down into the water to be immersed! And that is what the eunuch did!

The same points could be made about Jesus' baptism in Matthew 3:16 - "When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water..." Notice carefully, Jesus came up from the water (implying that He had been immersed). I've seen paintings of this event in the life of Christ and most of them are ridiculous. More often than not, the artist will depict John pouring water over Jesus' head while they are both standing in the river. I think to myself: why? Why would anyone in his right mind wade out into a river only to have someone pour a little water on his head? It doesn't make sense. They could have done that on the shore! To think of Jesus' baptism in such a way really doesn't reflect too highly on the intelligence of John or Jesus.

Are you convinced yet that Bible baptism is always immersion? Let's consider another passage or two. Romans 6:4 says - "Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life." Baptism is supposed to be a burial--this is a very important point! There is nothing about sprinkling or pouring that in any way resembles a burial! Allow me to illustrate: Let's pretend that I own a dog, a German shepherd, and let's say that after many happy years of life on this earth, the dog happens to die. My wife tells me to bury that dog in the backyard. So, I go outside and take some dirt in my hand and sprinkle it over the body of that dog. Then, I go back in the house and say, "All done! I buried the dog." She's gonna wonder how I got finished so quickly, and she'll probably look out the window and see the dog lying out in the yard with a little dirt on it. Will she think that I buried the dog? No way, and she'll say, "I told you to bury that dog, Stephen, please do it!" So, I go back outside and fill a bucket with dirt and then I pour all of that dirt on top of the dog. Then I go in the house and say, "All done! I buried the dog." You know what's going to happen, don't you? She's going to send me back outside and tell me not to come back in until that dog is buried! I'm going to have to completely cover that dog! That's what a burial is! And Paul says that baptism is a burial! Sprinkling won't get the job done and neither will pouring! Only immersion is a burial, and that's what God commands.

I encourage you to study Colossians 2:12 also in this regard. That verse clearly refers to baptism as a burial and then a resurrection follows. Think about it, you can be buried and then raised out of water if you were immersed in it, but you cannot be buried or raised in any way from water if you merely have it sprinkled on you or poured over you.

Friends, Bible baptism is always immersion in water! We'll continue this study on baptism next week when we consider "The Where & Why of Baptism." Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.

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