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Does 'Baptism' mean Submerse?

We continue in this issue with the questions raised in the last issue concerning baptism. In this article we want to focus on the meaning of the word "baptism." Baptists, for the most part, insist that the word means "immerse" or "submerse." It can be easily shown that this is not so.

Hebrews 9:10 refers to the various washing of the OT as baptisms, using the ordinary N.T. to describe them. These "baptisms" are further described as "sprinklings" in the same passage (vss. 13, 19, 21). There at least the word does not mean "immerse" or "submerse."

Further, the gift of the Holy Spirit is described as a baptism (Matt. 3:11, Mk. 1:8, Lk. 3:16, Jn. 1:33, Acts 1:5, 11:16). In no passage of Scripture is it even suggested that this baptism is by submersion. Rather, believers are always said to have the Holy Spirit poured, sprinkled, shed forth or fallen on them (Acts 2:17, 18, 33, 8:16, 10:44, 47, 11:15, 16; cf. also Ezek. 36:25-28).

Scripture even speaks of being baptized with fire (Matt. 3:11) or with death (Matt. 20:22, 23), neither of which imply submersion at all. Not only that, but the O.T. prophecy that speaks of Christ baptizing speaks of sprinkling (Is. 52:15).

Some object that the baptisms of Christ (Matt. 3:16) and of the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:38, 39) were definitely by submersion because the passages speak of going down into and coming up out of the water. We beg to differ.

First, a simple study will show that the words translated "down into" and "up out of" or "up from" could be and often are translated "down to" or "up from." The words used do not in themselves even imply that Jesus or the Eunuch were standing in the water, much less that they were submersed in it.

Second, if these words are describing the actual baptism by submersion of the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8:38, 39, then Philip baptized himself as well as the Eunuch. He is described in the passage in exactly the same terms as the Eunuch as going down into and up out of the water. Obviously, then, these words refer not to the baptism itself but to what happened immediately before and after the baptism and they say nothing about the mode of baptism.

It might also be objected that baptism (real baptism in this case, not water baptism) is described in terms of burial and resurrection with Christ in Romans 6:3-6 and Colossians 2:11-12. In answer, we would point out (1) that Christ was not buried under the ground but in a sepulchre; and (2) that the point in Romans 6 and Colossians 2 is not that we are submersed in death and resurrection with Christ, but rather that we are united to His death and resurrection by baptism.

In reality, the word "baptism" really says nothing by itself about the mode or manner of baptism. That must be learned from other parts of Scripture and they teach baptism by sprinkling or pouring, not by submersion.

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Additional Info

  • Volume: 6
  • Issue: 7
Hanko, Ronald

Rev. Ronald Hanko (Wife: Nancy)

Ordained: November 1979

Pastorates: Wyckoff, NJ - 1979; Trinity, Houston, TX - 1986; Missionary to N.Ireland - 1993; Lynden, WA - 2002; Emeritus October 15, 2017

Website: www.lyndenprc.org/sermons/

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