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The Meaning of Baptism

It has often been claimed that the NT word baptism ever only means “to immerse” or “to submerse.”  Without entering into the whole question of the mode of baptism, a little word study will show that this is not the case.

Such study will show that there are a number of passages in the NT in which the word cannot and does not have the meaning “immerse/submerse.”  We plead, therefore, with those who believe otherwise, to hear our side of the matter and not just blindly charge us with following human traditions in not practicing baptism by immersion.

(1) One passage is John 20:22, 23.  To understand “baptism” as immersion in this passage is meaningless.  Jesus is referring, of course, to his suffering and death in these verses (cf. Lk. 12:50).  To say that He was to be immersed in suffering or death means little.

(2) Then there are the verses that speak of baptism in or with the Holy Spirit, none of which refer to an immersion, but to the outpouring, shedding forth or sprinkling of the Spirit (we do not believe that the word “baptism” means “to sprinkle” either - the word says nothing about the mode of “baptism” whether it be water baptism or any other kind).

(3) Even more important is I Corinthians 10:2, which speaks of the Israelites being “baptized” into Moses (note: they were not baptized in the cloud or sea, but literally “into” Moses himself by the cloud and sea).  Can the verse possibly be saying that they were immersed in Moses?  The word must mean something else.

(4) Paul uses the same language in I Corinthians 1:13 and Jesus Himself speaks similarly in Matthew 28:19.  What could it possibly mean to be immersed in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit or in any other name?

(5) The same is true of I Corinthians 12:13.  Can the Word of God be saying that we are immersed in one body?  It is difficult to see how that could have any meaning.  Indeed, the Word itself there speaks not of immersion but of drinking!

What, then, does the word mean?  It means to bring two things into the closest  contact, so that the condition of the one is changed by the other.  The word says nothing about how this contact comes about, sprinkling, pouring, immersion, or any other mode.

Thus, to be baptized into Moses meant that Israel was brought into contact with him as the God appointed and typical mediator.  In that way their condition was changed from slavery to freedom.

That Christ was baptized with death does not mean He was immersed in it, but that He was brought into the closest possible contact with it so that His condition was changed from being accounted guilty before God for our sakes, to being justified on our behalf.

When Scripture says, therefore, that we are baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection (Rom. 6:1-6), it is not saying that somehow we are immersed in those events (whatever that would mean).  It refers to the fact that we through faith are brought into contact with His death and resurrection, by which our condition is wholly changed.  That is the meaning of baptism and the reality of baptism for us!    

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Additional Info

  • Volume: 6
  • Issue: 26
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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