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BAPTISM (băp'tĭzm). A term derived from the Greek baptisma (antecedent, baptizō); the etymological significance of the word often has been obscured by a lack of exegetical clarity and by forced interpretation. Its true meaning can be found only in its usage and its theological significance. Its antecedent meaning involves the Judaic usage in the Old Testament times and the practice of John the Baptist. Its incipient meaning lies in Christ’s baptism and his interpretation of it. Its formal meaning is to be found in its apostolic interpretation, particularly by Paul.

Significance and Development

While later Judaism certainly attached a deeply pietistic significance to the cleansing act, John the Baptist, who followed in this tradition, infused into the ritual act of initiation and purification an ethical quality that baptism had not had before. His was a moral community of penitent souls seeking personal righteousness, and he associated with the act of baptism the imperative necessity for a thorough change in the condition of the soul, manifested in a remission of sins through repentance. His fervent exhortation to repent and flee from the wrath to come (Matt.3.7-Matt.3.8) was not a mere invitation to a religious ceremony, but was, rather, an indication of the change brought on by the act of baptism itself. The meaning of the act was deepened. Baptism was transformed from a rite to which one submitted oneself to a positive moral act initiated by the individual as a decisive commitment to personal piety.

John’s baptism was, nevertheless, only transitory—his baptism of repentance was but preparatory to a baptism of identification. The meaning and efficacy of baptism can be understood only in the light of the redemptive death and resurrection of Christ. Christ referred to his death in the words “I have a baptism to undergo” (Luke.12.59) and “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” (Matt.20.22; Mark.10.38). Here the word baptisma, which indicates the state or condition, is used instead of baptismos, which applies to Jewish rites and refers only to the act itself. Baptisma, used only in the NT and in Christian writings, never refers to the act alone but always incorporates into its meaning the entire scope of the redemptive significance of the incarnate person of Christ.

John’s baptism of Jesus, therefore, connects the act of water baptism with the meaning of the salvation events through his own person and work. To the act of water baptism Jesus added the promise of the baptism with the Spirit, the means by which his redemptive work is applied to human beings (Matt.3.11; Mark.1.8; Luke.3.16; Acts.1.4ff.; Acts.11.16). Using the initiatory and purificatory meaning found in water baptism, Christ made spiritual baptism (by the Holy Spirit) synonymous with the actual application of the virtues of his death and resurrection to sinners.

The apostolic writers, particularly Paul, related Spirit baptism to the whole of the redemptive act. The act of water baptism symbolizes cleansing, but Spirit baptism gives the believer entry into the righteousness of Christ through an identification with Christ himself. Through Spirit baptism the redeemed sinner is incorporated into the spiritual body of Christ, not merely as an act of initiation but as a state or condition of personal righteousness. It is, therefore, the only access to identification with the redeeming Christ.

Baptism may, therefore, be regarded from two perspectives. Subjectively, the baptism by the Holy Spirit brings the believer into positive relationship to God; symbolically, water baptism is the objective manifestation of the believer’s acquiescence in that relationship.

Its subjective significance is represented in the NT by many analogies. It is regarded as the means of participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus. In Rom.6.3-Rom.6.5, Paul relates the actual spiritual condition of his readers to such a participation in Jesus’ death and resurrection through Spirit baptism. “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” This identification is not merely to the death of Christ, in which the believer has also died to sin, but to the resurrection of Christ, in which the believer has found “newness of life.” Spirit baptism is, therefore, an entry into the new life in Christ—a passage from the old creation into the new creation. This involves not merely forgiveness of sins but also an impartation of the life and righteousness of Christ to the believer (2Pet.1.4). The believer is “in Christ,” and Christ is in the believer. Moreover, the identification effected through Spirit baptism cleanses the believer through the blood of Christ (Titus.3.5-Titus.3.6). Thus, Spirit baptism is the incorporation of the believer into Christ’s righteousness and an infusion of that righteousness into the believer.

Its symbolic significance is depicted in its objective form. While much debate has focused on the varying interpretations of the forms of baptism, each form (immersion, sprinkling, or pouring) is clearly associated with the concept of cleansing and identification, which are the two integral parts of Spirit baptism. Immersion, however, depicts more clearly the symbolic aspect of baptism since its three steps—immersion (going into the water), submersion (going under the water), and emersion (coming out of the water)—more closely parallel the concept of entering into the death of Christ, experiencing the forgiveness of sins, and rising to walk in the newness of Christ’s resurrected life (Rom.6.4).

The genius of Christian baptism, however, is to be found not merely in its symbolic significance but in its actual effect in the life of the believer. Spirit baptism is always vitally related to faith. Only through responsive faith to the regenerative work of Christ does the soul participate in Spirit baptism and, simultaneously, in vital union with God. Subsequently, the symbolic form of baptism (water baptism) should also be related to, and on the basis of, personal faith, as a public commitment to the person of Christ.

While much recent emphasis among Evangelicals has been on the “symbol only” concept of baptism, and while the NT pointedly abstains from ascribing a sacramental value to the act itself, a renewed emphasis on Spirit baptism will restore to its proper place a much neglected aspect of this doctrine. No statement of the doctrine can be a truly biblical one if it fails to emphasize that beyond the symbolic and commemorative act performed by a person there is also the Holy Spirit’s inward operation. Spirit baptism brings the regenerated person into a redemptive relationship through his participation in and identification with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ and the subsequent infusion of the merits of that death and resurrection into the life of the believer, by which he may live as one dead to sin but alive to God (Rom.6.11).

Bibliography: K. Barth. The Teaching of the Church Regarding Baptism, 1948; W. F. Flemington, The New Testament Doctrine of Baptism, 1948; O. Cullmann, Baptism in the New Testament, 1950; P. C. Marcel, The Biblical Doctrine of Infant Baptism, 1953; R. E. O. White, The Biblical Doctrine of Initiation, 1960; G. R. Beasley-Murray, Baptism in the New Testament, 1962, and Baptism Today and Tomorrow, 1966; E. Schlink, The Doctrine of Baptism, 1972; G. W. Bromiley, Children of Promise, 1979.——CBB

Additional Material

Source 1

The Christian rite of initiation whereby Christians confess their faith in Christ and are admitted into membership in the Christian Church. The origin of the rite probably is in the universal practice of sacred lustrations. The rite is variously interpreted as a sacrament essential to salvation; as merely a sign of one's Christian commitment; as a symbol picturing the believer's identification with Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection; or, as in the case of some spiritualist groups, as being entirely spiritual without material form. Apostolic age. Christian baptism has its specific background in the OT acts of ritual purification as well as the Jewish practice of proselyte baptism and the ritual lustrations of the Qumran community. Although Jewish proselyte baptism has been questioned, the references in Epictetus, the Sibylline Oracles, and the Mishnah confirm a first-century practice. The practice of Qumran differs from the NT practice in that it was frequently observed, and although the mode and specific directions for its administration are lacking, its association with the Holy Spirit, purity of life, messianism, and the judgment of Yahweh has led scholars to find parallels with both the baptism of John the Baptist and early Christian baptism.

The following facts may be noted regarding the baptism of John the Baptist and early Christian baptism: (1) John's baptism was primarily an ethical act whereby one prepared for the coming kingdom of God and associated oneself with the herald of that kingdom (cf. Matt. 3:1-17; 11:2-15; Acts 19:1-7). (2) Jesus began his public ministry by association with John's baptism, probably not as a sign of repentance but as the King of the kingdom (cf. Matt. 3:13-l7; cf. John 1:19-34), and according to John 4:2 Jesus Himself probably did not baptize. (3) The apostolic history of the Book of Acts reveals a developing practice and theology for the rite of baptism. In the early chapters beginning with the first Christian Pentecost, baptism is closely associated with repentance as a qualification for salvation and membership in the Christian community (cf. Acts 2:37-41), whereas the later passages place greater emphasis upon repentance and faith (cf. 3:16; 16:31) with baptism following (cf. 9:1-19, 16:31-34). The references to baptism “in the name of Jesus” are probably attempts to distinguish Christian baptism from Jewish proselyte baptism rather than a specific baptismal formula (cf. Acts 2:38; 8:16). Also, the ritual act was closely associated with the Holy Spirit and the confirmatory sign of the glomssai (cf. Acts 2:1-13; 10:44-48; 19:1-7). (4) Paul's baptismal theology is stated in several key passages: Romans 6:1-4; 1 Corinthians 12:12- 13; Galatians 3:26-29; Colossians 2:9-13. Baptism is primarily an act of identification with the dead, buried, and resurrected Christ, but it is also a sign of the covenant and is therefore corresponded to the OT rite of circumcision. That Paul did not conceive of baptism as an essential saving sacrament is clearly indicated by 1 Corinthians 1:10-18. For Paul there seems to be one essential baptism, the baptism of the Holy Spirit by which we are incorporated into the body of Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 12:12-13; Eph. 4:4). (5) The rest of the NT corpus does notpresent a unified picture regarding the meaning and administration of baptism. Hebrews 6:2 speaks of baptisms (RSV “ablutions”); 1 Peter 3:21 distinguishes between a bodily and a psychological cleansing associated with baptism; and Paul speaks of a mysterious “baptism for the dead” in 1 Corinthians 15:29 (cf. Matt. 28:18-20). Patristic and medieval period. Probably our earliest references to baptism outside the NT are to be found in the Didache.* Here the mode is clearly a tri-immersion in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but the Didache permits baptism by affusion if insufficient water is available. It seems clear that up until about the end of the fifth century, adult believer's baptism was the normal practice of the church. This fact is demonstrated by the emphasis in the Early Fathers on careful preparation for baptism, and the necessity to live a sinless life after baptism. As a result of this latter teaching, many postponed baptism until their deathbed, which came to be known as “Clinical Baptism” (cf. Gr. klinem, “bed”). Doctrinally, baptism very early came to be understood as a means of grace or a sacrament, in the sense of an instrumental means of regeneration. Justin Martyr bases his doctrine of baptismal regeneration on John 3:3,5 and Isaiah 1:16- 20. Although Irenaeus says almost nothing about the mode or practice of baptism, he is a strong defender of the Trinitarian formula and baptismal regeneration.

Schism within and heresy without forced the church to raise the question of the validity of the baptismal rite. In the second century, Tertullian denied the validity of baptism administered by heretics. Normally it was done by the bishop; however, on special occasions deacons and presbyters might be permitted to administer the rite. Even women were forbidden to perform it, according to the decrees of the Fourth Council of Carthage (c.255). The issue was raised in a somewhat different way with the Novatian* and Donatist* controversies. From these controversies the idea, if not the term, of ex opere operato developed.

The practice of infant baptism completes the early patristic developments. Infant baptism was practiced in the second century, but only with the aid of an adult sponsor. A full defense of this custom came to expression in the theology of Augustine in the late fourth and early fifth centuries. Only in the fifth century did the Syrian Church make infant baptism obligatory; prior to this time it was the exception rather than the rule. But with the developing conceptions of original sin,* a theological foundation for infant baptism was found. And it was Augustine more than anyone else who lent his theological genius to this issue. Basing his conception of an original act of sin by Adam in which all humanity participated, Augustine drew the conclusion that each child is not only born with an inherited tendency toward sin, concupiscence, but also shares in the guilt of Adam's sin. It is noteworthy that Augustine based this position largely upon the faulty text of Rom. 5:12-a Latin text which translated the Greek phrase “because that” as “in quo” (“in whom”). Prior to the fifth century, the normal practice was to administer baptism at Easter and Pentecost, but from the fifth century the importance of infant baptism placed great stress upon the rite's being administered prior to the eighth day after birth.

During the Middle Ages, the theology and practice of baptism were largely refinements of the earlier developments. The major concern during the period from the fifth to the eleventh centuries was the issue of heretical baptismal practices. At the Fourth Lateran Council,* baptism and the six other sacraments received their basic dogmatic definition. Hugh of St.-Victor modified the sign emphasis of Augustine, and Aquinas* provided the theological framework not only for baptism but for all seven official sacraments. Aquinas is the first to trace all seven back to Christ, and he taught that baptism, confirmation, and ordination stamp an indelible mark upon the soul; consequently, these three sacraments cannot be repeated. Greater stress was also given to the concept of ex opere operato, and the earlier teaching-which appeared prior to Augustine but which Augustine gave greater recognition, regarding a baptism of blood for martyrs and the baptism of desire for those who had not been officially baptized but who gave evidence of intending to do so-was further refined by Aquinas and the Scholastics. In the debate between Nominalism and Realism, both baptism and the Eucharist were involved in the manner in which grace was bestowed. The creedal formulations of the Fourth Lateran Council and the theological foundations of Thomistic theology were restated at the Council of Trent* (1545- 63) and have remained to this day the essential position of the Roman Catholic Church. Reformation and contemporary developments. During the sixteenth century, baptism along with the Eucharist became one of the major divisive issues not only separating reforming groups from Catholicism, but also dividing the rival sects. Nearest the Roman Catholic position was Luther's view, which reduced the number of sacraments finally to two-baptism and the Lord's Supper-but which stressed infant baptism on Augustinian grounds. In his Babylonian Captivity of the Church, Luther recognized the meaning of baptizom as immersion, but qualified this by regarding the mode as a matter of indifference to the sacramental power of the rite; and he further admitted that the normal NT pattern was adult believer's baptism. The absolutely essential element of faith was to be supplied by the sponsoring adult; Luther sometimes stated that God gave the infant faith in the baptismal act. Calvin treats the subject of baptism in his Institutes (IV, 15). For him, baptism is a sacrament, but its efficacy is limited to the elect. Later Calvinism made greater use of covenant theology, the effect of which was to minimize the sacramental nature of baptism and replace sacramentalism with a covenantal sign significance. Luther and Calvin's contemporary Zwingli had already reduced baptism to a mere sign, making it unnecessary to salvation. Zwingli's ideas were also represented by the Anabaptists,* whose major emphasis was upon believer's baptism rather than the mode. Only with the English Baptists about 1633 did the issue of immersion arise among the Particular Baptists. Prior to this, even the Baptists practiced affusion or sprinkling, since the issue was believer's baptism as opposed to paedo-baptism. Among the spiritualists, especially the seventeenth-century Quakers, baptism and the Lord's Supper were rejected as irrelevant to the age of the Spirit. On other grounds, eighteenth-century rationalism also set aside not only sacramentalism but also ecclesiastical insitutionalism which included baptism. The Tractarian Movement* and High Church Anglican theologians (cf. E.B. Pusey) sought to restore baptism to its earlier sacramentalism. American theology has tended more and more in the direction of Zwinglianism, largely because of the influence of revivalistic emphases. In the twentieth century there has been a revival of interest in baptism mainly as a result of the influence of Karl Barth* and his rejection of infant baptism, although he stood in a paedobaptist tradition. The ecumenical movement has also stimulated interest in baptismal and sacramental theology as the various branches of Christendom have attempted to work out a rapprochement. More often than not it has been the sacraments that have provided one of the greatest hindrances to achieving ecumenicity in spirit and form.

J. Corblet, Historie dogmatique, liturgique et archéologique du sacrament de baptême (2 vols., 1881-82); K. Barth, The Teaching of the Church Regarding Baptism (1948); G.W.H. Lampe, The Seal of the Spirit (1951); J. Murray, Christian Baptism (1952); P. Ch. Marcel, The Biblical Doctrine of Infant Baptism (ET 1953); J. Warns, Baptism: its History and Significance (ET 1958); T.F. Torrance, Conflict and Agreement in the Church, vol. 2 (1959), pp. 93-132; R.E.O. White, The Biblical Doctrine of Initiation (1960); W. Carr, Baptism: Conscience and Clue for the Church (1964); D. Moody, Baptism: Foundation for Christian Unity (1967).

Source 2

I. MEANING OF BAPTISM 1. Terminology

2. Proselyte Baptism

3. Greek Usage

4. New Testament Usage

5. The Didache

6. Baptismal Regeneration



This article is not a discussion of the whole subject, but is merely a presentation of the Baptist interpretation of the ordinance. The origin and history of the ordinance, as a whole, do not come within the range of the present treatment.

I. Meaning of Baptism. 1. Terminology:

If baptizo never occurred in connection with a disputed ordinance, there would be no controversy on the meaning of the word. There are, indeed, figurative or metaphorical uses of the word as of other words, but the figurative is that of immersion, like our "immersed in cares," "plunged in grief," etc. It remains to consider whether the use of the word for a ceremony or ordinance has changed its significance in the New Testament as compared with ancient Greek

It may be remarked that no Baptist has written a lexicon of the Greek language, and yet the standard lexicons, like that of Liddell and Scott, uniformly give the meaning of baptizo as "dip," "immerse." They do not give "pour" or "sprinkle," nor has anyone ever adduced an instance where this verb means "pour" or "sprinkle." The presumption is therefore in favor of "dip" in the New Testament.

2. Proselyte Baptism:

Before we turn directly to the discussion of the ceremonial usage, a word is called for in regard to Jewish proselyte baptism. It is still a matter of dispute whether this initiatory rite was in existence at the time of John the Baptist or not. Schurer argues ably, if not conclusively, for the idea that this proselyte baptism was in use long before the first mention of it in the 2nd century. (Compare The Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ, Div ii, II, 319 ff; also Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus, appendix, xii, Baptism of Proselytes). It matters nothing at all to the Baptist contention what is true in this regard. It would not be strange if a bath was required for a Gentile who became a Jew, when the Jews themselves required such frequent ceremonial ablutions. But what was the Jewish initiatory rite called proselyte baptism? Lightfoot (Horae Hebraicae, Mt 3:7) gives the law for the baptism of proselytes: "As soon as he grows whole of the wound of circumcision, they bring him to Baptism, and being placed in the water they again instruct him in some weightier and in some lighter commands of the Law. Which being heard, he plunges himself and comes up, and, behold, he is an Israelite in all things." To this quotation Marcus Dods (Presbyterian) HDB adds: "To use Pauline language, his old man is dead and buried in the water, and he rises from this cleansing grave a new man. The full significance of the rite would have been lost had immersion not been practiced." Lightfoot says further: "Every person baptized must dip his whole body, now stripped and made naked, at one dipping. And wheresoever in the Law washing of the body or garments is mentioned, it means nothing else than the washing of the whole body." Edersheim (op. cit.) says: "Women were attended by those of their own sex, the rabbis standing at the door outside." Jewish proselyte baptism, an initiatory ceremonial rite, harmonizes exactly with the current meaning of baptizo already seen. There was no peculiar "sacred" sense that changed "dip" to "sprinkle."

3. Greek Usage:

The Greek language has had a continuous history, and baptizo is used today in Greece for baptism. As is well known, not only in Greece, but all over Russia, wherever the Greek church prevails, immersion is the unbroken and universal practice. The Greeks may surely be credited with knowledge of the meaning of their own language. The substitution of pouring or sprinkling for immersion, as the Christian ordinance of baptism, was late and gradual and finally triumphed in the West because of the decree of the Council of Trent. But the Baptist position is that this substitution was unwarranted and subverts the real significance of the ordinance. The Greek church does practice trine immersion, one immersion for each person of the Trinity, an old practice (compare ter mergitamur, Tertullian ii.79 A), but not the Scriptural usage. A word will be needed later concerning the method by which pouring crept in beside immersion in the 2nd and later centuries. Before we turn directly to the New Testament use of bapti zo it is well to quote from the Greek Lexicon of the Roman and Byzantine Periods by Professor E. A. Sophocles, himself a native Greek. He says (p. 297): "There is no evidence that Luke and Paul and the other writers of the New Testament put upon this verb meanings not recognized by the Greeks." We expect therefore to find in the New Testament "dip," as the meaning of this word in the ceremonial sense of an initiatory Christian rite. Thayer’s Lexicon likewise defines the word in this ceremonial Christian use to mean "an immersion in water, performed as a sign of the removal of sin."

Baptists could very well afford to rest the matter right here. There is no need to call for the testimony of a single Baptist scholar on this subject. The world of scholarship has rendered its decision with impartiality and force on the side of the Baptists in this matter. A few recent deliverances will suffice. Dr. Alfred Plummer (Church of England) in his new Commentary on Matthew (p. 28) says that the office of John the Baptist was "to bind them to a new life, symbolized by immersion in water." Swete (Church of England) in his Commentary on Mark (p. 7) speaks of "the added thought of immersion, which gives vividness to the scene." The early Greek ecclesiastical writers show that immersion was employed (compare Barnabas, XI, 11): "We go down into the water full of sins and filth, and we come up bearing fruit in the heart." For numerous ecclesiastical examples see Sophocles’ Lexicon.

4. New Testament Usage:

There is nothing in the New Testament to offset this obvious and inevitable interpretation. There are some things which are brought up, but they vanish on examination. The use of "with" after baptize in the English translation is appealed to as disproving immersion. It is enough to reply that the Committee of the American Standard Revision, which had no Baptist member at the final revision, substituted "in" for "with." Thus: "I indeed baptize you in water unto repentance" (Mt 3:11; compare also Mr 1:8). The use of both "with" and "in" in Lu 3:16 is a needless stickling for the use of the Greek en with the locative case. In Mr 1:8 en is absent in the best manuscripts, and yet the American Revisers correctly render "in." In Ac 1:5 they seek to draw the distinction between the mere locative and en and the locative. As a matter of fact the locative case alone is amply sufficient in Greek without en for the notion of "in." Thus in Joh 21:8 the translation is: "But the other disciples came in the little boat." There is no en in the Greek, but "the boat" is simply in the locative case. If it be argued that we have the instrumental case (compare the instrumental case of en as in Re 6:8, "kill with sword"), the answer is that the way to use water as an instrument in dipping is to put the subject in the water, as the natural way to use the boat (Joh 21:8) as an instrument is to get into it. The presence or absence of en with baptizo is wholly immaterial. In either case "dip" is the meaning of the verb The objection that three thousand people could not have been immersed in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost is superficial. Jerusalem was abundantly supplied with pools. There were 120 disciples on hand, most of whom were probably men (compare the 70 sent out before by Jesus). It is not at all necessary to suppose that the 12 (Matthias was now one of them) apostles did all the baptizing. But even so, that would be only 250 apiece. I myself have baptized 42 candidates in a half-hour in a creek where there would be no delay. It would at most be only a matter of four or five hours for each of the twelve. Among the Telugus this record has been far exceeded. It is sometimes objected that Paul could not have immersed the jailer in the prison; but the answer is that Luke does not say so. Indeed Luke implies just the opposite: "And he took (took along in the Greek, para) them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized." He took Paul and Silas along with him and found a place for the baptism, probably, somewhere on the prison grounds. There is absolutely nothing in the New Testament to dispute the unvarying significance of baptizo.

5. The Didache:

Appeal has been made to the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, which may belong to the first half of the 2nd century. Here for the first time pouring is distinctly admitted as an ordinance in place of immersion. Because of this remarkable passage it is argued by some that, though immersion was the normal and regular baptism, yet alongside of it, pouring was allowed, and that in reality it was a matter of indifference which was used even in the 1st century. But that is not the true interpretation of the facts in the case. The passage deserves to be quoted in full and is here given in the translation of Philip Schaff (Presbyterian) in his edition of the Didache (pp. 184 ff): "Now concerning baptism, baptize thus: Having first taught all these things, baptize ye into (eis) the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, in living water. And if thou hast not living water, baptize into other water; and if thou canst not in cold, then in warm (water). But if thou hast neither, pour water thrice upon the head in (eis) the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." There is thus no doubt that early in the 2nd century some Christians felt that baptism was so important that, when the real baptism (immersion) could not be performed because of lack of water, pouring might be used in its place. This is absolutely all that can be deduced from this passage. It is to be noted that for pouring another word (ekcheo) is used, clearly showing that baptizo does not mean "to po ur." The very exception filed proves the Baptist contention concerning baptizo. Now in the New Testament baptizo is the word used for baptism. Ekcheo is never so used. Harnack in a letter to C. E. W. Dobbs, Madison, Ind. (published in The Independent for February 9, 1885), under date of January 16, 1885 says:

(1) Baptizein undoubtedly signifies immersion (eintauchen).

(2) No proof can be found that it signifies anything else in the New Testament and in the most ancient Christian literature. The suggestion regarding `a sacred sense’ is out of the question.

This is the whole point of the Baptists admirably stated by Adolph Harnack. There is no thought of denying that pouring early in the 2nd century came to be used in place of immersion in certain extreme cases. The meaning of baptizo is not affected a particle by this fact. The question remains as to why this use of pouring in extreme cases grew up. The answer is that it was due to a mistaken and exaggerated estimate put upon the value of baptism as essential to salvation. Those who died without baptism were felt by some to be lost. Thus arose "clinic" baptisms.

6. Baptismal Regeneration:

(For the doctrine of baptismal regeneration see Justin Martyr, First Apology, 61.) Out of this perversion of the symbolism of baptism grew both pouring as an ordinance and infant baptism. If baptism is necessary to salvation or the means of regeneration, then the sick, the dying, infants, must be baptized, or at any rate something must be done for them if the real baptism (immersion) cannot be performed because of extreme illness or want of water. The Baptist contention is to protest against the perversion of the significance of baptism as the ruin of the symbol. Baptism, as taught in the New Testament, is the picture of death and burial to sin and resurrection to new life, a picture of what has already taken place in the heart, not the means by which spiritual change is wrought. It is a privilege and duty, not a necessity. It is a picture that is lost when something else is substituted in its place.

See Baptismal Regeneration.

II. The Subjects of Baptism.

It is significant that even the Teaching of the Twelve apostles with its exaggerated notion of the importance of baptism does not allow baptism of infants. It says: "Having first taught all these things." Instruction precedes baptism. That is a distinct denial of infant baptism. The uniform practice in the New Testament is that baptism follows confession. The people "confessing their sins" were baptized by John (Mt 3:6). It is frankly admitted by Paedobaptist scholars that the New Testament gives no warrant for infant baptism. Thus Jacobus (Congregationalist) in the Standard Bible Dictionary says: "We have no record in the New Testament of the baptism of infants." Scott (Presbyterian) in the 1-vol HDB says: "The New Testament contains no explicit reference to the baptism of infants or young children." Plummer (Church of England), HDB, says: "The recipients of Christian baptism were required to repent and believe." Marcus Dods (Presbyterian), DCG, says: "A rite wherein by immersion in water the participant symbolizes and signalizes his transition from an impure to a pure life, his death to a past he abandons, and his new birth to a future he desires." It would be hard to state the Baptist interpretation in better terms. Thus no room is found in the New Testament for infant baptism which would symbolize what the infant did not experience or would be understood to cause the regeneration in the child, a form of sacramentalism repugnant to the New Testament teaching as understood by Baptists. The dominant Baptist note is the soul’s personal relation to God apart from ordinance, church or priest. The infant who dies unbaptized is saved without baptism. The baptized individual, child (for children are often baptized by Baptists, children who show signs of conversion) or man, is converted before his baptism. The baptism is the symbol of the change already wrought. So clear is this to the Baptist that he bears continual protest against that perversion of this beautiful ordinance by those who treat it as a means of salvation or who make it meaningless when performed before conversion. Baptism is a preacher of the spiritual life. The Baptist contention is for a regenerated church membership, placing the kingdom before the local church. Membership in the kingdom precedes membership in the church. The passages quoted from the New Testament in support of the notion of infant baptism are wholly irrelevant, as, for instance, in Ac 2:39 where there is no such idea as baptism of infants. So in 1Co 7:14, where note husband and wife. The point is that the marriage relation is sanctified and the children are legitimate, though husband or wife be heathen. The marriage relation is to be maintained. It is begging the question to assume the presence of infants in the various household baptisms in Acts. In the case of the family of Cornelius they all spake with tongues and magnified God (Ac 10:46). The jailer’s household "rejoiced greatly" (Ac 16:34). We do not even know that Lydia was married. Her household may have been merely her employes in her business. The New Testament presents no exceptions in this matter.

III. The Present Obligation. The Baptists make one more point concerning baptism. It is that, since Jesus himself submitted to it and enjoined it upon His disciples, the ordinance is of perpetual obligation. The arguments for the late ecclesiastical origin of Mt 28:19 are not convincing. If it seem strange that Jesus should mention the three persons of the Trinity in connection with the command to baptize, one should remember that the Father and the Spirit were both manifested to Him at His baptism. It was not a mere ceremonial ablution like the Jewish rites. It was the public and formal avowal of fealty to God, and the names of the Trinity properly occur. The new heart is wrought by the Holy Spirit. Reconciliation with the Father is wrought on the basis of the work of the Son, who has manifested the Father’s love in His life and death for sin. The fact that in the acts in the examples of baptism only the name of Jesus occurs does not show that this was the exact formula used. It may be a mere historical summary of the essential fact. The name of Jesus stood for the other two persons of the Trinity. On the other hand the command of Jesus may not have been regarded as a formula for baptism; while in no sense sacramental or redemptive, it is yet obligatory and of perpetual significance. It is not to be dropped as one of the Jewish excrescences on Christianity. The form itself is necessary to the significance of the rite. Hence, Baptists hold that immersion alone is to be practiced, sinc e immersion alone was commanded by Jesus and practiced in the New Testament times. Immersion alone sets forth the death to sin, and burial in the grave the resurrection to new life in Christ. Baptism as taught in the New Testament is "a mould of doctrine," a preacher of the heart of the gospel. Baptists deny the right of disciples of Jesus to break that mould. The point of a symbol is the form in which it is cast. To change the form radically is to destroy the symbolism. Baptists insist on the maintenan ce of primitive New Testament baptism because it alone is baptism, it alone proclaims the death and resurrection of Jesus, the spiritual death and resurrection of the believer, the ultimate resurrection of the believer from the grave. The disciple is not above his Lord, and has no right to destroy this rich and powerful picture for the sake of personal convenience, nor because he is willing to do something else which Jesus did not enjoin and which has no association with Him. The long years of perversion do not justify this wrong to the memory of Jesus, but all the more call upon modern disciples to follow the example of Jesus who himself fulfilled righteousness by going into the waters of the Jordan and receiving immersion at the hands of John the Baptist.


The Greek Lexicons, like Suicer, Liddell and Scott, Sophocles, Thayer, Preuschen; the Biblical Dictionaries; the Critical Commentaries on the New Testament; books of antiquities like Smith’s Dictionary of Christian Antiquities; the new Sch-Herz; Binghara’s Antiquities of the Christian Church; Schaff’s Creeds of Christendom; Neale’s History of the Holy Eastern Church; Lives of Christ, like Edersheim’s LTJM, or a survey of the customs of the Jews like Schurer’s HJP; books on John the Baptist like Reynolds’ John the Baptist, Feather’s Last of the Prophets, Robertson’s John the Loyal; special treatises on Baptism like Wall’s History of Infant Baptism, Stanley’s Christian Institutions, Dargan’s Ecclesiology, Conant’s Baptizein, Mozley’s Review of the Baptismal Controversy, Christian’s Immersion, Broadus’ Immersion, Frost’s The Moral Dignity of Baptism, Whitsitt’s a Question in Baptist History, Lofton’s The Baptist Reformation, Lambert’s The Sacraments of the New Testament, Dale’s Classic Baptism and Christian and Patristic Baptism, Kirtley’s Design of Baptism, Forester’s The Baptist Position, Frost’s Baptist Why and Why Not, Ford’s Studies in Baptism.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

I. THE TERM 1. The Derivation

2. The Meaning

3. The Application

4. Equivalent Terms

II. THE ORDINANCE 1. The Teaching of Scripture

(1) An Authoritative Command

(2) A Clear Declaration of the Object in View

(3) A Definite Promise

(4) A Plain Indication of the Scope

(5) A Prescribed Formula for Administering the Ordinance

2. The Biblical History of the Ordinance

3. Types of Baptism

III. DIFFICULTIES 1. Are Matthew 28:18-20 and Mark 16:15,16 Genuine?

2. Was the Trinitarian Formula Used in New Testament Times?

3. Was Christian Baptism Really a New Ordinance?

4. Should Infants Be Baptized?

5. Why Did Paul not Baptize?

6. What Is the Baptism for the Dead?

I. The Term. 1. The Derivation:

The word "baptism" is the Anglicized form of the Greek baptisma, or baptismos. These Greek words are verbal nouns derived from baptizo, which, again, is the intensive form of the verb bapto. "Baptismos denotes the action of baptizein (the baptizing), baptisma the result of the action (the baptism)" (Cremer). This distinction differs from, but is not necessarily contrary to, that of Plummer, who infers from Mr 7:4 and Heb 9:10 that baptismos usually means lustrations or ceremonial washings, and from Ro 6:4; Eph 4:1; 1Pe 3:21 that baptisma denotes baptism proper (Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible (five volumes)).

2. The Meaning:

3. The Application:

4. Equivalent Terms:

Scripture occasionally alludes to Christian baptism without employing the regular term. Thus in Tit 3:5, and Eph 5:26 we have the term loutron, "washing," instead lent terms of baptisma. From this term the Latin church derived its lavacrum (English "layer") as a designation of baptism. In Heb 10:22 we have the verbs rhantizo and louo, "sprinkle" and "wash"; in Eph 5:26 the verb katharizo, "cleanse"; in 1Co 6:11 the verb apolouo, "wash" are evidently synonyms of baptizo, and the act has been so denominated from its prime effect.

II. The Ordinance. 1. The Teaching of Scripture:

Christian baptism, as now practiced, is a sacred ordinance of evangelical grace, solemnly appointed by the risen Christ, prior to His entering into the state of glory by His ascension, and designed to be a means, until His second coming, for admitting men to discipleship with Him. Mt 28:18-20 and its parallel Mr 16:15,16 are the principal texts of Scripture on which the church in all ages has based every essential point of her teaching regarding this ordinance. The host of other baptismal texts of Scripture expand and illustrate the contents of these two texts. We have in these texts:

(1) An Authoritative Command

An authoritative (Mt 28:19) command, issued in plain terms: "Make disciples .... baptizing." This command declares (a) speciem actus, i.e. it indicates with sufficient clearness, by the use of the term "baptize," the external element to be employed, namely, water, and the form of the action to be performed by means of water, namely, any dipping, or pouring, or sprinkling, since the word "baptize" signifies any of these modes. On the strength of this command Luther held: "Baptism is not simple water only, but it is the water comprehended in God’s command"; and the Westminster Shorter Catechism (Ques. 94) calls baptism "a washing with water." Water is distinctly mentioned as the baptismal element in Ac 8:38; 10:47; Eph 5:26; Heb 10:22. "There is no mention of any other element" (Plummer). The phraseology of Eph 5:26, "the washing of water with the word," shows that not the external element alone, nor the physical action of applying the water, constitutes baptism; but "the word" must be added to the element and the action, in order that there may be a baptism. (Detrahe verbum, et quid est aqua nisi aqua? Accedit verbum ad elementum, et fit sacramentum, "Remove the word and what is water but water? The word is added to the element and it becomes a sacrament" Augustine). "Without the Word of God the water is simple water, and no baptism" (Luther). The command prescribes (b) exercitium actus, i.e. it enjoins a continued exercise of this function of the messengers of Christ for all time.

(2) A Clear Declaration of the Object in View.

The participle "baptizing" qualifies the imperative "make disciples," and expresses that, what the imperative states as the end, is to be attained by what the participle names as a means to that end. The participle "baptizing," again, is qualified by "teaching" (Mt 28:20). The second participle is not connected by "and" with the first, hence, is subordinate to the first (Meyer). Discipleship is to be obtained by baptizing-teaching. There is no rigid law regarding the order and sequence of these actions laid down in these words; they merely state that Christ desires His disciples to be both baptized and fully informed as to His teaching.

(3) A Definite Promise:

Salvation (Mr 16:16), i.e. complete and final deliverance from all evil, the securing of "the end of faith" (1Pe 1:9). This is a comprehensive statement, as in 1Pe 3:21, of the blessing of baptism. Scripture also states, in detail, particular baptismal blessings:

(a) Regeneration, Tit 3:5; Joh 3:3,5. Despite Calvin and others, the overwhelming consensus of interpreters still agrees with the ancient church and with Luther in explaining both these texts of baptism.

(c) The establishment of a spiritual union with Christ, and a new relationship with God (Ga 3:26,27; Ro 6:3,4; Col 2:12). In this connection the prepositions with which baptizein in the New Testament connects may be noted. Baptizein eis, "to baptize into," always denotes the relation into which the party baptized is placed. The only exception is Mr 1:9. Baptizein en, or baptizein epi, "to baptize in" (Ac 10:48; 2:38), denotes the basis on which the new relation into which the baptized enters, is made to rest (Cremer).

(d) The sanctifying gifts of the Holy Spirit (1Co 12:13; Tit 3:5). All these blessings Scripture declares to be effects of baptism (Wirkung der Taufe, Riehm, Handworterb.). "Baptism is called `washing of regeneration,’ not merely because it symbolizes it, or pledges a man to it, but also, and chiefly, because it effects it" (Holtzmann, Huther, Pfleiderer, Weiss). "Regeneration, or being begotten of God, does not mean merely a new capacity for change in the direction of goodness, but an actual change. The legal washings were actual external purifications. Baptism is actual internal purification" (Plummer). To these modern authorities Luther can be added. He says: "Baptism worketh forgiveness of sin, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe, as the words and promises of God declare" (Smaller Catech.). In Tit 3:5 the King James Version the force of the preposition dia, "by," deserves to be noted: it declares baptism to be the regenerating, renewing, justifying, glorying medium to the heirs of eternal life. The baptismal promise is supported, not only in a general way, by the veracity and sincerity of the Speaker, who is the Divine Truth incarnate, but also in a special way, by the Author’s appeal to His sovereign majesty (Mt 28:18), and by the significant assurance of His personal ("I" = ego, is emphatic: Meyer) presence with the disciples in their afore-mentioned activity (Mt 28:20; compare Mr 16:20).

(4) A Plain Indication of the Scope:

"All nations," "the whole creation" (pase te ktisei to be understood as in Col 1:23 = "all men"). Baptism is of universal application; it is a cosmopolitan ordinance before which differences such as of nationality, race, age, sex, social or civil status, are leveled (compare Col 3:11 with 1Co 12:13). Accordingly, Christ orders baptism to be practiced "alway" (literally, "all days"), "even unto the end of the world," i.e. unto the consummation of the present age, until the Second Advent of the Lord. For, throughout this period Christ promises His cooperative presence with the efforts of His disciples to make disciples.

(5) A Prescribed Formula for Administering the Ordinance:

"Into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." The belief in the Trinity is fundamental to Christianity; accordingly, the sacred rite by which men are initiated into the Christian religion justly emphasizes this belief. The three Persons are mentioned as distinct from one another, but the baptismal command is issued upon their joint and coequal authority ("in the name," not "names"), thus indicating the Unity in Trinity. This ancient baptismal formula represents "the Father as the Originator, the Son as the Mediator, the Holy Ghost as the Realization, and the vital and vitalizing blessing of the promise and fulfillment," which is extended to men in this ordinance (Cremer).

2. The Biblical History of the Ordinance:

In 1Co 10:1,2 the apostle states that the Israelites "were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea." Farrar attempts the following solution of this type: "The passing under the cloud (Ex 14:19) and through the sea, constituting as it did their deliverance from bondage into freedom, their death to Egypt, and their birth to a new covenant, was a general type or dim shadow of Christian baptism (compare our collect, `figuring thereby Thy holy baptism’). But the typology is quite incidental; it is the moral lesson which is paramount. `Unto Moses’; rather, into. By this `baptism’ they accepted Moses as their Heavensent guide and teacher" (Pulpit Comm.). In 1Pe 3:21 the apostle calls baptism the antitupon of the Deluge. Delitzsch (on Heb 9:24) suggests that tupos and antitupon in Greek represent the original figure and a copy made therefrom, or a prophetic foretype and its later accomplishment. The point of comparison is the saving power of water in either instance. Water saved Noah and his family by floating the ark which sheltered them, and by removing from them the disobedient generation which had sorely tried their faith, as it had tried God’s patience. In like manner the water of baptism bears up the ark of the Christian church and saves its believing members, by separating them from their filthy and doomed fellow-men.

III. Difficulties. 1. Are Matthew 28:18-20 and Mark 16:15,16 Genuine?:

Feine (PER3, XIX, 396 f) and Kattenbusch (Sch-Herz, I, 435 f) argue that the Trinitarian formula in Mt 28:19 is spurious, and that the text in Mr belongs to a section which was added to this Gospel at a later time. The former claim had first been advanced by Conybeare, but later research by Riggenbach has established the genuineness of the Trinitarian formula in Mt. Feine still maintains his doubts, however, on subjective grounds. As to the concluding section in Mr (16:9- 20), Jerome is the first to call attention to its omission in most Greek manuscripts to which he had access. But Jerome himself acknowledged Mr 16:14 as genuine. Gregory of Nyssa reports that, while this section is missing in some manuscripts, in the more accurate ones many manuscripts contain it. No doctrinal scruple can arise on account of this section; for it contains nothing that is contrary to the doctrine of Scripture in other places on the same subject; and it has always been treated as genuine by the Christian church. The question is a purely historical one (see Bengel, Apparatus Criticus, 170 f).

2. Was the Trinitarian Formula Used in New Testament Times?:

No record of such use can be discovered in the Ac or the epistles of the apostles. The baptisms recorded in the New Testament after the Day of Pentecost are administered "in the name of Jesus Christ" (Ac 2:38), "into the name of the Lord Jesus" (Ac 8:16), "into Christ" (Ro 6:3; Ga 3:27). This difficulty was considered by the Fathers; Ambrose says: Quod verbo tacitum fuerat, expressum est fide, "What had not been expressed in word, was expressed by faith." On close inspection the difficulty is found to rest on the assumption that the above are records of baptismal formulas used on those occasions. The fact is that these records contain no baptismal formula at all, but "merely state that such persons were baptized as acknowledged Jesus to be the Lord and the Christ" (Plummer). The same can be said of any person baptized in our day with the Trinitarian formula. That this formula was the established usage in the Christian church is proven by records of baptisms in Justin (Apol., I, 61) and Tertullian (Adv. Prax., XXVI). 3. Was Christian Baptism Really a New Ordinance?:

5. Why Did Paul not Baptize?:

Paul did baptize Crispus, Gaius and Stephanas with his household. These baptisms he performed at Corinth alone; we have no record of his baptisms at other places. What Paul declares in 1Co 1:14-17 is, that by his baptizing he could not have become the cause of the divisions in the Corinthian congregation, because he had baptized only a few persons at Corinth, and, moreover, he had not baptized in his own name, hence had attached no one to his person. The statement, "Christ sent me not to baptize," is made after the Semitic idiom, and means: "not so much to baptize as to preach" (Farrar in Pulpit Commentary). If they are taken in any other sense, it is impossible to protect Paul against the charge that he did something that he was not authorized to do, when he baptized Crispus, etc.

6. What Is the Baptism for the Dead?:

1Co 15:29 is sometimes taken to mean that the early Christians practiced baptism by proxy. After they had been converted to Christianity, it is held, they desired to convey the benefits of their faith to their departed friends who had died in paganism, by having themselves baptized "in their behalf," perhaps on their graves. We have no evidence from history that such a practice prevailed in the early Christian churches. Nor does the text suggest it. The Greek preposition huper expresses also the motive that may prompt a person to a certain action. In this case the motive was suggested by the dead, namely, by the dead in so far as they shall rise. The context shows this to be the meaning: If a person has sought baptism in view of the fact that the dead are to rise to be judged, his baptism is valueless, if the dead do not rise.

See Baptism for the Dead.

W. H. T. Dau


II. PRE-CHRISTIAN BAPTISM 1. Baptism of Proselytes

2. Baptism of John

3. Baptism in the Pagan Mysteries

III. CHRISTIAN BAPTISM 1. The administration of the Rite

2. The Mode of Using the Water

(1) Immersion

(2) Affusion

(3) Aspersion

3. Who May Perform Baptism

4. Who May Receive Baptism

(1) Baptism of Infants

(2) Baptism for the Dead


V. THE DOCTRINE OF BAPTISM The Doctrine of Infant Baptism


Baptism (baptisma, baptismos, baptizein) has been from the earliest times the initiatory rite signifying the recognition of entrance into or of presence within the Christian church. We find the earliest mention of the ceremony in the Epistle to the Galatians (Ga 3:27), written about 20 years after the death of Jesus. There and in 1 Corinthians (1Co 1:13; 12:13) Paul takes for granted that everyone who becomes a Christian (himself included) must be baptized. The rite seems also to have existed among the discipleship of Jesus before His death. We are told (Joh 4:1,2) that, although Jesus Himself did not baptize, His disciples did, and that their baptisms were more numerous than those of John.

II. Pre-Christian Baptism. 1. Baptism of Proselytes:

Converts in the early centuries, whether Jews or Gentiles, could not have found this initiatory rite, in which they expressed their new-born faith, utterly unfamiliar. Water is the element naturally used for cleansing the body and its symbolical use entered into almost every cult; and into none more completely than the Jewish, whose ceremonial washings were proverbial. Besides those the Jew had what would seem to the convert a counterpart of the Christian rite in the baptism of proselytes by which Gentiles entered the circle of Judaism. For the Jews required three things of strangers who declared themselves to be converts to the Law of Moses: circumcision, baptism, and to offer sacrifice if they were men: the two latter if they were women. It is somewhat singular that no baptism of proselytes is forthcoming until about the beginning of the 3rd century; and yet no competent scholar doubts its existence. Schurer is full of contempt for those who insist on the argument from silence. Its presence enables us to see both how Jews accepted readily the baptism of John and to understand the point of objectors who questioned his right to insist that all Jews had to be purified ere they could be ready for the Messianic kingdom, although he was neither the Messiah nor a special prophet (Joh 1:19-23).

2. Baptism of John:

The baptism of John stood midway between the Jewish baptism of proselytes and Christian baptism. It differed from the former because it was more than a symbol of ceremonial purification; it was a baptism of repentance, a confession of sin, and of the need of moral cleansing, and was a symbol of forgiveness and of moral purity. All men, Jews who were ceremonially pure and Gentiles who were not, had to submit to this baptism of repentance and pardon. It differed from the latter because it only symbolized preparation to receive the salvation, the kingdom of God which John heralded, and did not imply entrance into that kingdom itself. Those who had received it, as well as those who had not, had to enter the Christian community by the door of Christian baptism (Ac 19:3-6). The Jewish custom of baptizing, whether displayed in their frequent ceremonial washings, in the baptism of proselytes or in the baptism of John, made Christian baptism a familiar and even expected rite to Jewish converts in the 1st century.

3. Baptism in the Pagan Mysteries:

Baptism, as an initiatory rite, was no less familiar to Gentileconverts who had no acquaintance with the Jewish religion. The ceremonial washings of the priests of pagan in the religions have been often adduced as something which might familiarize Gentileconverts with the rite which introduced them into the Christian community, but they were not initiations. A more exact parallel is easily found. It is often forgotten that in the earlier centuries when Christianity was slowly making its way in the pagan world pagan piety had deserted the official religions and taken refuge within the Mysteries, and that these Mysteries represented the popular pagan religions of the times. They were all private cults into which men and women were received one by one, and that by rites of initiation which each had to pass through personally. When admitted the converts became members of coteries, large or small, of like-minded persons, who had become initiated because their souls craved something which they believed they would receive in and through the rites of the cult. These initiations were secret, jealously guarded from the knowledge of all outsiders; still enough is known about them for us to be sure that among them baptism took an important place (Apuleius Metamorphoses xi). The rite was therefore as familiar to pagan as to Jewish converts, and it was no unexpected requirement for the convert to know that baptism was the doorway into the church of Christ. These heathen baptisms, like the baptism of proselytes, were for the most part simply ceremonial purifications; for while it is true that both in the cult of the Mysteries and beyond it a mode of purifying after great crimes was baptizing in flowing water (Eurip. Iph. in Tauri 167) or in the sea, yet it would appear that only ceremonial purification was thought of. Nor were ceremonial rites involving the use of water confined to the paganism of the early centuries. Such a ceremony denoted the reception of the newly-born child into pagan Scandinavian households. The father decided whether the infant was to be reared or exposed to perish. If he resolved to preserve the babe, water was poured over it and a name was given to it.

III. Christian Baptism. 1. The Administration of the Rite:

In the administration of the rite of Christian baptism three things have to be looked at: the act of baptizing; those who are entitled to perform it; and the recipients or those entitled to receive it. A complete act of baptizing involves three things: what has been called the materia sacramenti; the method of its use; and the forma sacramenti, the baptismal formula or form of words accompanying the use of the water. The materia sacramenti is water and for this reason baptism is called the Water Sacrament. The oldest ecclesiastical manual of discipline which has descended to us, the Didache, says that the water to be preferred is "living," i.e. running water, water in a stream or river, or fresh flowing from a fountain; "But if thou hast not living water, baptize in other water; and if thou canst not in cold, then in warm" (c. 7). In those directions the prescriptions of the ceremonial for the Jewish baptism of proselytes are closely followed. The earlier canons of the church permit any kind of water, fresh or salt, provided only it be true and natural water (aqua vera et naturalis).

2. The Mode of Using the Water:

(1) Immersion.

The use of the water is called ablutio. According to the rules of by far the largest portion of the Christian church the water may be used in any one of three ways: Immersion, where the recipient enters bodily into the water, and where, during the action, the head is plunged either once or three times beneath the surface; affusion, where water was poured upon the head of the recipient who stood either in water or on dry ground; and aspersion where water was sprinkled on the head or on the face. It has frequently been argued that the word baptizein invariably means "to dip" or immerse, and that therefore Christian baptism must have been performed originally by immersion only, and that the two other forms of affusion and aspersion or sprinkling are invalid--that there can be no real baptism unless the method of immersion be used. But the word which invariably means "to dip" is not baptizein but baptein. Baptizein has a wider signification; and its use to denote the Jewish ceremonial of pouring water on the hands (Lu 11:38; Mr 7:4), as has already been said, proves conclusively that it is impossible to conclude from the word itself that immersion is the only valid method of performing the rite. It may be admitted at once that immersion, where the whole body including the head is plunged into a pool of pure water, gives a more vivid picture of the cleansing of the soul from sin; and that complete surrounding with water suits better the metaphors of burial in Roman 6:4 and Col 2:12, and of being surrounded by cloud in 1Co 10:2.

(2) Affusion.

On the other hand affusion is certainly a more vivid picture of the bestowal of the Holy Spirit which is equally symbolized in baptism. No definite information is given of the mode in which baptism was administered in apostolic times. Such phrases as "coming up out of the water," "went down into the water" (Mr 1:10; Ac 8:38) are as applicable to affusion as to immersion. The earliest account of the mode of baptizing occurs in the Didache (c. 7), where it is said: "Now concerning Baptism, thus baptize ye: having first uttered all these things, baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, in living water. But if thou hast not living water, baptize in other water; and if thou canst not in cold, then in warm. But if thou hast neither, pour water upon the head thrice in the name of Father, and Son, and Holy Ghost." This seems to say that to baptize by immersion was the practice recommended for general use, but that the mode of affusion was also valid and enjoined on occasions. What is here prescribed in the Didache seems to have been the practice usually followed in the early centuries of the Christian church. Immersion was in common use: but affusion was also widely practiced: and both were esteemed usual and valid forms of baptizing. When immersion was used then the head of the recipient was plunged thrice beneath the surface at the mention of each name of the Trinity; when the mode was by affusion the same reference to the Trinity was kept by pouring water thrice upon the head. The two usages which were recognized and prescribed by the beginning of the 2nd century may have been in use throughout the apostolic period although definite information is lacking. When we remember the various pools in Jerusalem, and their use for ceremonial washings it is not impossible to suppose that the 3,000 who were baptized on the day of Pentecost may have been immersed, but, when the furnishing and conditions of Palestinian houses and of oriental jails are taken into account, it is difficult to conceive that at the baptisms of Cornelius and of the jailer, the ceremony was performed otherwise than by affusion. It is a somewhat curious fact that if the evidence from written texts, whether ancient canons or writings of the earlier Fathers, be studied by themselves, the natural conclusion would seem to be that immersion was the almost universal form of administering the rite; but if the witness of the earliest pictorial representation be collected, then we must infer that affusion was the usual method and that immersion was exceptional; for the pictorial representations, almost without exception, display baptism performed by affusion, i.e. the recipient is seen standing in water while the minister pours water on the head. It may therefore be inferred that evidence for the almost universal practice of immersion, drawn from the fact that baptisms took place in river pools (it is more than probable that when we find the names of local saints given to pools in rivers, those places were their favorite places of administering the rite), or from the large size of almost all early medieval baptisteries, is by no means so conclusive as many have supposed, such places being equally applicable to affusion. It is also interesting to remember that when most of the Anabaptists of the 16th century insisted on adult baptism (re-baptism was their name for it) immersion was not the method practiced by them. During the great baptismal scene in the market-place of the city of Munster the ordinance was performed by the ministers pouring three cans of water on the heads of the recipients. They baptized by affusion and not by immersion. This was also the practice among the Mennonites or earliest Baptists. This double mode of administering the sacrament--by immersion or by affusion--prevailed in the churches of the first twelve centuries, and it was not until the 13th that the practice of aspersio or sprinkling was almost universally employed.

(3) Aspersion.

The third method of administering baptism, namely, by aspersio or sprinkling, has a different history from the other two. It was in the early centuries exclusively reserved for sick and infirm persons too weak to be submitted to immersion or affusion. There is evidence to show that those who received the rite in this form were somewhat despised; for the nicknames clinici and grabatorii were, unworthily Cyprian declares, bestowed on them by neighbors. The question was even raised in the middle of the 3rd century, whether baptism by aspersio was a valid baptism and Cyprian was asked for his opinion on the matter. His answer is contained in his lxxvth epistle (lxix Hartel’s ed.). There he contends that the ordinance administered this way is perfectly valid, and quotes in support of his opinion various Old Testament texts which assert the purifying effects of water sprinkled (Eze 36:25,26; Nu 8:5-7; 19:8,9,12,13). It is not the amount of the water or the method of its application which can cleanse from sin: "Whence it appears that the sprinkling also of water prevails equally with the washing of salvation .... and that where the faith of the giver and receiver is sound, all things hold and may be consummated and perfected by the majesty of God and by the truth of faith." His opinion prevailed. Aspersio was recognized as a valid, though exceptional, form of baptism. But it was long of commending itself to ministers and people, and did not attain to almost general use until the 13th century.

The idea that baptism is valid when practiced in the one method only of immersion can scarcely be looked on as anything else than a ritualistic idea.

3. Who May Perform Baptism:

The Scripture nowhere describes or limits the qualifications of those who are entitled to perform the rite of baptism. We find apostles, wandering preachers (Ac 8:38), a private member of a small and persecuted community (Ac 9:18) performing the rite. So in the sub-apostolic church we find the same liberty of practice. Clement of Alexandria tells us that the services of Christian women were necessary for the work of Christian missions, for they alone could have access to the gynaeceum and carry the message of the gospel there (Strom., III, 6). Such women missionaries did not hesitate to baptize. Whatever credit may be given to the Ac of Paul and Theckla, it is at least historical that Theckla did exist, that she was converted by Paul, that she worked as a missionary and that she baptized her converts. Speaking generally it may be said that as a sacrament has always been looked upon as the recognition of presence within the Christian church, it is an act of the church and not of the individual believer; and therefore no one is entitled to perform the act who is not in some way a representative of the Christian community--the representative character ought to be maintained somehow. As soon as the community had taken regular and organized form the act of baptism was suitably performed by those who, as office-bearers, naturally represented the community. It was recognized that the pastor or bishop (for these terms were synonymous until the 4th century at least) ought to preside at the administration of the sacrament; but in the early church the power of delegation was recognized and practiced, and elders and deacons presided at this and even at the Eucharist. What has been called lay-baptism is not forbidden in the New Testament and has the sanction of the early church. When superstitious views of baptism entered largely into the church and it was held that no unbaptized child could be saved, the practice arose of encouraging the baptism of all weakling infants by nurses. The Reformed church protested against this and was at pains to repudiate the superstitious thought of any mechanical efficacy in the rite by deprecating its exercise by any save approved and ordained ministers of the church. Still, while condemning lay-baptism as irregular, it may be questioned whether they would assert any administration of the rite to be invalid, provided only it had been performed with devout faith on the part of giver and receiver.

4. Who May Receive Baptism:

The recipients of Christian baptism are all those who make a presumably sincere profession of repentance of sin and of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour; together with the children of such believing parents. The requirements are set forth in the accounts given us of the performance of the rite in the New Testament, in which we see how the apostles obeyed the commands of their Master. Jesus had ordered them to "make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Mt 28:19)--to "preach the gospel to the whole creation. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that disbelieveth shall be condemned" (Mr 16:15,16). The apostle Peter said to the inquirers on the Day of Pentecost, "Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins; and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit"; and 3,000 were added to the church through the initiatory rite of baptism. The Samaritans, who believed on Jesus through the preaching of Philip, were admitted to the Christian community through baptism; though in this case one of the baptized, Simon Magus, after his reception, was found to be still in "the bond of iniquity" (Ac 8:12,23). The jailer and all his, Lydia and her household, at Philippi, were baptized by Paul on his and her profession of faith on Jesus, the Saviour. There is no evidence in any of the accounts we have of apostolic baptisms that any prolonged course of instruction was thought to be necessary; nothing of classes for catechumens such as we find in the early church by the close of the 2nd century, or in modern missionary enterprise. We find no mention of baptismal creeds, declarative or interrogative, in the New Testament accounts of baptisms. The profession of faith in the Lord Jesus, the Saviour, made by the head of the family appears, so far as the New Testament records afford us information, to have been sufficient to secure the baptism of the "household"--a word which in these days included both servants and children.

(1) Baptism of Infants.

This brings us to the much-debated question whether infants are to be recognized as lawful recipients of Christian baptism. The New Testament Scriptures do not in so many words either forbid or command the baptism of children. The question is in this respect on all fours with the change of the holy day from the seventh to the first day of the week. No positive command authorizes the universal usage with regard to the Christian Sabbath day; that the change is authorized must be settled by a weighing of evidence. So it is with the case of infant baptism. It is neither commanded nor forbidden in so many words; and the question cannot be decided on such a basis. The strongest argument against the baptizing of infants lies in the thought that the conditions of the rite are repentance and faith; that these must be exercised by individuals, each one for himself and for herself; and that infants are incapable either of repentance or of faith of this kind. The argument seems weak in its second statement; it is more dogmatic than historical; and will be referred to later when the doctrine lying at the basis of the rite is examined. On the other hand a great deal of evidence supports the view that the baptism of infants, if not commanded, was at least permitted and practiced within the apostolic church. Paul connects baptism with circumcision and implies that under the gospel the former takes the place of the latter (Col 2:12); and as children were circumcised on the 8th day after birth, the inference follows naturally that children were also to be baptized. In the Old Testament, promises to parents included their children. In his sermon on the Day of Pentecost Peter declares to his hearers that the gospel promise is "to you and to your children" and connects this with the invitation to baptism (Ac 2:38,39). It is also noteworthy that children shared in the Jewish baptism of proselytes. Then we find in the New Testament narratives of baptisms that "households" were baptized--of Lydia (Ac 16:15), of the jailer at Philippi (Ac 16:32), of Stephanas (1Co 1:16). It is never said that the children of the household were exempted from the sacred rite. One has only to remember the position of the head of the household in that ancient world, to recollect how the household was thought to be embodied in its head, to see how the repentance and faith of the head of the household was looked upon as including those of all the members, not merely children but servants, to feel that had the children been excluded from sharing in the rite the exclusion would have seemed such an unusual thing that it would have at least been mentioned and explained. our Lord expressly made very young children the types of those who entered into His kingdom (Mr 10:14-16); and Paul so unites parents with children in the faith of Christ that he does not hesitate to call the children of the believing husband or wife "holy," and to imply that the children had passed from a state of "uncleanness" to a state of "holiness" through the faith of a parent. All these things seem to point to the fact that the rite which was the door of entance into the visible community of the followers of Jesus was shared in by the children of believing parents. Besides evidence for the baptism of children goes back to the earliest times of the sub-apostolic church. Irenaeus was the disciple of Polycarp, who had been the disciple of John, and it is difficult to draw any other conclusion from his statements than that he believed that the baptism of infants had been an established practice in the church long before his days (Adv. Haer., II, 22; compare 39). The witness of Tertullian is specially interesting; for he himself plainly thinks that adult baptism is to be preferred to the baptism of infants. He makes it plain that the custom of baptizing infants existed in his days, and we may be sure from the character and the learning of the man, that had he been able to affirm that infant-baptism had been a recent innovation and had not been a long-established usage descending from apostolic times, he would certainly have had no hesitation in using what would have seemed to him a very convincing way of dealing with his opponents. Tertullian’s testimony comes from the end of the 2nd century or the beginning of the 3rd century. Origen, the most learned Christian writer during the first three centuries and who comes a little later than Tertullian, in his 14th Homily on Luke bears witness to the fact that the baptism of infants was usual. He argues that original sin belongs to children because the church baptizes them. At the same time it is plain from a variety of evidence too long to cite that the baptism of infants was not a universal practice in the early church. The church of the early centuries was a mission church. It drew large numbers of its members from heathendom. In every mission church the baptism of adults will naturally take the foremost place and be most in evidence. But is is clear that many Christians were of the opinion of Tertullian and believed that baptism ought not to be administered to children but should be confined to adults. Nor was this a theory only; it was a continuous practice handed down from one generation to another in some Christian families. In the 4th century, few Christian leaders took a more important place than Basil the Great and his brother Gregory of Nyssa. They belonged to a family who had been Christians for some generations; yet neither of the brothers was baptized until after his personal conversion, which does not appear to have come until they had attained the years of manhood. The whole evidence seems to show that in the early church, down to the end of the 4th century at least, infant and adult baptism were open questions and that the two practices existed side by side with each other without disturbing the unity of the churches. In the later Pelagian controversy it became evident that theory and practice of infant baptism had been able to assert itself and that the ordinance was always administered to children of members of the church.

(2) Baptism for the Dead.

Paul refers to a custom of "baptizing for the dead" (1Co 15:29). What this "vicarious baptism" or "baptism for the dead" was it is impossible to say, even whether it was practiced within the primitive Christian church. The passage is a it very difficult one and has called forth a very large number of explanations, which are mere guesses. Paul neither commends nor disapproves of it; he simply mentions its existence and uses the fact as an argument for the resurrection. See Baptism for the Dead.

IV. The Formula of Baptism.

V. The Doctrine of Baptism. The sacraments, and baptism as one of them, are always described to be

(1) signs representing as in a picture or figure spiritual benefits (1Pe 3:21), and also

(2) as seals or personal tokens and attestations corroborative of solemn promises of spiritual benefits.

The Doctrine of Infant Baptism:

The latter taking their stand on the fundamental doctrine of all evangelical Christians that faith is necessary to make any sacrament efficacious, and assuming that the effect of an ordinance is always tied to the precise time of its administration, insist that only adults can perform such a conscious, intelligent, and individually independent act of faith, as they believe all Protestants insist on scriptural grounds to be necessary in the right use of a sacrament. Therefore they refuse to baptize infants and young children.

The great majority of evangelical Protestants practice infant baptism and do not think, due explanations being given, that it in any way conflicts with the idea that faith is necessary to the efficacy of the sacrament. The Baptist position appears to them to conflict with much of the teaching of the New Testament. It implies that all who are brought up in the faith of Christ and within the Christian family still lack, when they come to years of discretion, that great change of heart and life which is symbolized in baptism, and can only receive it by a conscious, intelligent and thoroughly independent act of faith. This seems in accordance neither with Scripture nor with human nature. We are told that a child may be full of the Holy Ghost from his mother’s womb (Lu 1:15); that little children are in the kingdom of Christ (Mt 19:14); that children of believing parents are holy (1Co 7:14). Is there nothing in the fact that in the New Testament as in the Old Testament the promise is "to you and your children"? Besides, the argument of those who oppose the baptism of infants, if logically carried out, leads to consequences which few of them would accept. Faith is as essential to salvation, on all evangelical theology, as it is for the right use of the sacrament; and every one of the arguments brought against the baptism of infants is equally applicable to the denial of their salvation. Nor can the Baptist position be said to be true to the facts of ordinary human nature. Faith, in its evangelical sense of fiducia or trust, is not such an abrupt thing as they make it. Their demand for such a conscious, intelligent, strictly individualist act of faith sets aside some of the deepest facts of human nature. No one, young or old, is entirely self-dependent; nor are our thoughts and trust always or even frequently entirely independent and free from the unconscious influences of others. We are interwoven together in society; and what is true generally reveals itself still more strongly in the intimate relations of the family. Is it possible in all cases to trace the creative effects of the subtle imperceptible influences which surround children, or to say when the slowly dawning intelligence is first able to apprehend enough to trust in half-conscious ways? It is but a shallow view of human nature which sets all such considerations on the one side and insists on regarding nothing but isolated acts of knowledge or of faith. With all those thoughts in their minds, the great majority of evangelical churches admit and enjoin the baptism of infants. They believe that the children of believing parents are "born within the church and have interest in the covenant of grace and a right to its seal." They explain that the efficacy of a sacrament is not rigidly tied to the exact time of administration, and can be appropriated whenever faith is kindled and is able to rest on the external sign, and that the spiritual blessings signified in the rite can be appropriated again and again with each fresh kindling of faith. They declare that no one can tell how soon the dawning intelligence may awaken to the act of appropriation. Therefore these churches instruct their ministers in dispensing the sacrament to lay vows on parents that they will train up the infants baptized "in the knowledge and fear of the Lord," and will teach them the great blessings promised to them in and through the sacrament and teach them to appropriate these blessings for themselves. They further enjoin their ministers to admonish all who may witness a baptismal service to look back on their own baptism in order that their faith may be stirred afresh to appropriate for themselves the blessings which accompany the proper use of the rite.


The literature on the subject of baptism is very extensive. It may be sufficient to select the following: J. S. Candlish, The Sacraments, 10th thousand, 1900; J. C. W. Augusti, Denkwurdigkeiten aus d. christ. Archaologie, V, 1820; Hofling, Das Sakrament der Taufe, 1846-48; J. B. Mozley, Review of the Baptismal Controversy, 2nd edition, 1895; W. Goode, The Doctrine of the Church of England as to the Effects of Baptism in the Case of Infants, 1849; W. Wall, History of Infant Baptism, 1705; E. B. Underhill, Confessions of Faith .... of Baptist Churches of England (Hanserd Knollys Soc., IX), 1854.

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