Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
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The Meaning of Baptism
with Special Reference to the Baptist View

Rev. Angus Stewart

(Slightly modified from articles first published in the British Reformed Journal)


(I) Introduction

The Bible is the verbally inspired revelation of the Triune God of heaven and earth. Thus the meaning of its words must be carefully ascertained. Whole controversies can hinge on this. Consider Luther and the Reformation versus the Roman Church in the sixteenth century. Does the Greek word metanoein mean to do penance or to change one's mind (with respect to sin and to God in Christ)? Similarly, does dikaioun mean to declare just (a solely legal act) or does it also include a making just (an organic work)?

Here our concern is with the word baptizein, the Greek word usually translated in the New Testament as "to baptize." With the rise of the Anabaptists, this word also became a subject of debate. Its meaning is especially important since it concerns one of the two sacraments in the Christian church. One section of the church world boldly proclaims that they know the meaning of baptizein. Baptists are adamant that this word always and only means dip or immerse. Consider the following baptist statements:

"Immersion, or dipping of the person in water, is necessary to the due administration of the ordinance" (The Baptist Confession of Faith of 1688 29:4).[1]

"Christian Baptism is the immersion in water of a believer" (The New Hampshire Baptist Confession 14 [1833]).[2]

"[Baptizein] in the whole history of the Greek language has but one [meaning]. It not only signifies to dip or immerse, but it never has any other meaning." "[Baptizein] ... always signifies to dip; never expressing anything but mode" (Alexander Carson).[3]

"To baptize is to immerse" (J. L. Dagg).[4]

Baptism is "immersion and immersion only" (A. H. Strong).[5]

Furthermore, baptists delight to quote John Calvin: "it is evident that the term baptize means to immerse."[6] In short, the baptist argument is that God commands baptism. Baptism is immersion. Therefore, God commands immersion.

If the baptists are right then the whole Reformed and Presbyterian church world is sinning by baptizing by sprinkling or pouring, and has been guilty of this sin for almost five hundred years.[7] This is a very serious charge. If the baptists are right we must alter our confessions, change our Form for the Administration of Baptism and begin to practice immersion in our churches, in obedience to the command of the Lord God.[8]

Thus, according to baptists, Reformed and Presbyterian churches not only abuse the sacrament of baptism by administering it to infants of believers, but even our adult baptisms are conducted improperly, since our mode of baptism is contrary to God's command. Reformed and Presbyterian congregations are doubly condemned, having extremely few members who are properly baptized.

Therefore, although our main controversy with baptists concerns the inclusion of infants in God's everlasting covenant of grace and their right to baptism, we must also consider the baptist contention regarding the mode of baptism. The argument of this paper is not, however, merely negative. Rather it seeks to present a positive understanding of the meaning of baptism drawn out of the Scriptures and in keeping with the Reformed confessions. If a baptist asks a Reformed believer what he thinks baptism (baptizein) means, what answer ought he give? In other words, this paper asks, What is the heart or essence of baptism?[9] This has implications for our understanding of paedobaptism and the gracious character of God's sovereignly bestowed salvation.


(II) Baptizein Does Not Mean Immerse

Baptists use two English words as synonyms of baptizein: dip and immerse. However these two words differ in four respects. First, dipping involves the movement of one object into and out of a fluid. In immersion, an object is submerged, but nothing is said of its removal from the fluid. Thus in Greek literature a person baptized in water is often one who has drowned.

Second, whereas the action of dipping is specific (entrance into and removal from a fluid), immersion can be achieved in many different ways. A man sitting in an empty bath could be immersed by the water that flows from the tap. Similarly immersion can be effected by pouring or even by sprinkling. A stone sitting in a bucket could be immersed by water from a watering can.

Third, immersion and dipping also differ regarding the time for which the object is submerged. Dipping speaks of a very brief period of envelopment in a fluid, whereas an immersion is a protracted submersion, possibly of hours, days, weeks or even many years.[10]

Fourth, dipping does not convey to what extent the object was submerged. A man on a beach may speak of going into the sea for a dip, though he only went in to his waist. Immersion suggests a more complete submersion, though baptists often feel that the word does not convey the thought strongly enough, so they speak of total immersion.[11]

Thus dipping and immersion differ regarding (1) the action (immersing and emerging or only immersing); (2) the means of the action (immersion can be effected in various ways); (3) their duration; and (4) the extent to which the object is submerged. To express accurately the meaning of baptizein according to the baptists, we may speak of it as a total immersion by dipping. This ought to be understood as allowing the non-dipping of the legs, since in their baptism the initiate usually wades into the water before he is dipped.

Though the baptist understanding of baptizein in the initiatory sacrament is very specific, they understand the word with a great latitude of meaning elsewhere. The baptist use of both dipping and immersion as synonyms of baptizein is very helpful for baptist apologetics. Thus baptizein, according to baptists, can refer to an act (dipping) or a state (immersion).[12] Though dipping is a weak verb (since the object is only submerged very briefly), immersion is a strong word, since whatever is submerged in a fluid for some time will probably partake of its peculiar characteristics. Furthermore, by figure, baptizein is used with great latitude by baptists when it comes to answering biblical objections to their position, as we shall see.

Nevertheless, at the very least, the baptist has to show that the baptized object is enveloped in the fluid or that the state resulting from the baptism was through dipping or immersion. This is his one great problem, and it is compounded by his definition of baptizein as always and only to immerse or dip. This claim is exclusive. No other ways of baptism can be permitted by a baptist. Thus his theory is easily falsified. One instance of a baptism not by immersion or dipping is enough to falsify the whole theory, whether it be found in classic, Judaic, patristic or biblical usage.

Though the immersionists claim to be the only ones who faithfully obey the biblical mandate for baptism by dipping, one is surprised that they often seek to make their case for immersion primarily from sources other than the Bible. Thus J. L. Dagg, in seeking to determine the meaning of baptizein, gives many examples from the classics (from Aristotle to Aristophanes and Homer to Hippocrates) with a few biblical references thrown in.[13] These claims are very difficult for most Christians to verify. Moreover, they are apt to be blinded by such a display of learning.

The question here is much more simple and much more easily tested: From the usage of baptizein in the New Testament, does it appear that it always and only means to immerse? The answer to this question is "No." That baptizein means to dip or immerse may be refuted in various ways:

(1) Baptism cannot mean immersion if the object to be baptized is too large to be immersed. Mark 7:4 speaks of the baptism (baptismos) of couches or beds. However, the Talmudic tractate, Kelim, and Maimonides, a Jewish scholar in the twelfth century, speak of the immersion of beds. Carson points out that "the couches might have been so constructed, that they might be conveniently taken to pieces, for the purpose of purification."[14] Thus we cannot certainly prove that the beds of Mark 7:4 were not immersed.

(2) Baptism cannot mean immersion if there was not sufficient water for immersion. In Acts 8, we read of the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch, by Philip in the wilderness between Jerusalem and Gaza (v. 26). The eunuch—apparently surprised—saw some water as he and Philip talked, so they left the chariot and Philip baptized him. Are we to suppose that there was enough water to submerge a grown man?

Some have sought to strengthen the case for non-immersion by pointing out that the passage that the eunuch was reading (Isa. 53:7-8; cf. Acts 8:32-33) is only a few verses after a reference to the Messiah sprinkling many nations.[15] It ought to be pointed out, though, that the Septuagint version, which the eunuch was probably using, does not so translate the Hebrew.[16] Although it cannot be proved that Philip did not explain to the eunuch the proper rendering of this verse, the non-immersionist case is not necessarily strengthened by this appeal to Isaiah.

Dagg tries to turn the case around.[17] He says that few are so stupid as to fail to bring water supplies with them in a journey across a desert. Why then, he argues, was there need for water outside the chariot? If baptism was by sprinkling or pouring, surely the eunuch could have stopped the chariot and Philip could have used some of the eunuch's supplies. Against this we must say that since water is precious to those travelling through a wilderness a sight of water outside would naturally suggest using it instead of one's own reserves.[18]

Thus we return to the issue of water in the desert. Again a conclusive case against immersion cannot be made. One cannot rule out the possibility that there may have been a sufficiently large pool in that wilderness to submerge a man. It is, however, highly unlikely.

(3) Baptism cannot mean immersion if there were too many people to be immersed. On the day of Pentecost, three thousand converts were baptized (Acts 2:41). The five thousand new Christians of Acts 4:4 were also undoubtedly baptized. Three concerns arise for the baptists here. First, we note the relative scarcity of water in Jerusalem. Second, consider the amount of time required to baptize the multitude.[19] Third, remember the hostility of the Jewish authorities. Are we to suppose that they permitted the despised Christians to use Jerusalem's water supplies?

The first issue is easily overcome. The baptists are quite right: there was enough water to do it. Regarding the second, they note that there were not merely one but twelve apostles and point out similar occasions of mass immersions by baptists. The third factor might make it more difficult but probably not impossible. We must admit that immersion cannot absolutely be ruled out. It is much easier, however, to think of the mass baptism on the inauguration of the New Testament church as being by sprinkling or pouring. Thus Moses sprinkled the blood of the (old) covenant on the Israelites in Exodus 24.

(4) Baptism cannot mean immersion if the one baptized is in a position unsuitable for immersion. In both Acts 9 and 22 we read of Saul's conversion and baptism. Saul, later named Paul, was praying in a house in the street called Straight, when Ananias came to him and laid his hands on him. Ananias commanded Paul, "Arise and be baptized" (Acts 22:16) and Paul "arose and was baptized" (Acts 9:18). Paul had neither eaten nor drank in the last three days (Acts 9:9) and only after his baptism does he have a meal.

The question is, How can a man standing in a house be immersed? Most baptist scholars do not address this question.[20] John Gill makes an attempt, but it is not very successful. He says that there was probably a bath in the house since, he reckons, it was the house of a Jew. Next, he tries to derive some horizontal and not merely vertical motion from the word "arise."[21] This does not, however, come from the word itself, but merely from Gill's immersionist presuppositions. For Gill, since baptizein means immerse, there must be a bath in the house, and "arise" must mean "get up and go to it."[22]

(5) Baptism cannot mean immersion if one party is described as baptized, while another party is immersed. We have occasions of this in the only two Old Testament events referred to as baptisms in the New Testament: I Corinthians 10:1-2 and I Peter 3:20-21.[23] In the former, Moses and the Israelites pass through the Red Sea on dry land, while Pharaoh and his host are immersed in the water. In the latter, Noah and seven other souls are saved in the ark, while the "world of the ungodly" (II Peter 2:5) is drowned in the waters of the flood. Thus the two great redemptive events in the Old Testament that concern great volumes of water are referred to as baptisms. However, contrary to what would follow from the baptist view of baptizein, the Bible teaches that in the flood and in the Red Sea the ungodly who are not baptized are immersed and the church which is baptized is not immersed!

Baptist attempts to prove an immersion of the godly are not convincing. Carson argues that the Israelites did have a sort of immersion, since the sea was walled on either side of them and the cloud was above them.[24] Dagg is, perhaps, even bolder. He reckons that the English translation of I Corinthians 10:2 ought to read, "And were all immersed unto Moses."[25]

Regarding I Peter 3:20-21, Carson says that the ark was occasionally dipped into the flood waters as they rose and swelled.[26] John Gill reckons that "the ark with those in it, were as it were covered with and immersed in water," since "the fountains of the great deep were broken up below, and the windows of heaven were opened above." Not content with merely discovering an immersion, Gill exhibits even greater ingenuity in discovering both a burial and a resurrection in Noah's baptism. Noah and his family being "shut up" in the ark "represented a burial;" and the resurrection of Jesus Christ "was typified by the coming of Noah and his family out of the ark."[27]

Other baptists deny that the analogy or "like figure" (v. 21) is between Christian baptism and a Noahic baptism. They say that I Peter 3:20 speaks of Noah's salvation not baptism and verse 21 of our salvation and baptism.[28] Though we reject the sacramentarianism of the Lutheran scholar, W. H. T. Dau, he does point out the appropriate point of comparison between Noahic and Christian baptism:

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.[29]

(6) Baptism cannot mean immersion if a baptism is effected by pouring. The risen, but not yet ascended, Christ promised His disciples that they should "be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence" (Acts 1:5). He was referring to the day of Pentecost, as the succeeding narrative makes clear. The baptist attempt at finding an immersion here is valiant but futile. Some say that they were immersed by the Spirit who filled the room in which they were sitting. To this we must point out that it is not the Spirit but a sound from heaven that filled the house (Acts 2:2).

Carson attempts a more sophisticated evasion. He says that the baptism of Acts 2 is "a figurative baptism in which there is no literal immersion, pouring or sprinkling."[30] "The baptism of the Spirit is ... explicable on the principle of a reference to immersion," he affirms. "To be immersed in the Spirit (sic), represents the subjection of soul, body and spirit to his influence."[31]

It ought to be clear to all that Pentecost's baptism of the Spirit was effected by pouring.[32] This is made clear by the account of Acts 2. The Spirit is "poured out" (Acts 2:17, 18) and "shed forth" by the ascended and enthroned Christ, who "received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost" (Acts 2:33). That this pouring out of the Spirit is described as a baptism is easily proved from Scripture.[33]

However, Carson attempts to refute this position. He makes three fallacious arguments. First, he begs the question. He states that baptizein means to immerse, when this is exactly the point under debate.[34] Second, he resorts to absurd accusations. To those who speak of the Spirit being poured out as the baptism of Pentecost he ascribes "the egregious and blasphemous error which teaches that God is material."[35] Needless to say, he is unable to prove that this follows from the Reformed position. Third, he fails to make the proper distinctions. He states that our argument equates pouring and baptizing.[36] This is not true. We hold that the baptism of the Holy Ghost was effected by pouring, but we do not say that baptizein means to pour.

On the significance of this baptism, Jay Adams writes,

If any baptism in the Scriptures is important, it is that which occurred at Pentecost. Joel prophesied it [Joel 2:28-29]; John predicted it [Matt. 3:16]; Christ promised it [Acts 1:4-5]; and Luke proclaimed it [Acts 2]. No other baptism is given as much space or prominence.[37]

The highly important baptism of Acts 2 was most definitely not by immersion.

(7) Baptism cannot mean immersion if a baptism is effected by sprinkling. Our last example proved a baptism effected by pouring; Hebrews 9 speaks of baptisms effected by sprinkling. Verse 10 of that chapter tells us that the Old Testament economy consisted of "meats and drinks, and divers washings [literally, baptisms, baptismos], and carnal ordinances." That there were a few immersions amongst the purifications of the Mosaic dispensation, we might grant. That immersion was the only, or even the most frequent, method of ceremonial cleansing no one would be foolish enough to assert. But we are not left to search the Old Testament to see to which baptisms (baptismos) the Holy Spirit is referring.

The inspired text goes on to enumerate some of the Mosaic baptisms. In verse 13 we read of the "sprinkling" of "the blood of bulls and of goats" and of "the ashes of an heifer" (cf. Num. 19:17-18). Verses 19-20 speak of Moses' purifying both "the book and all the people" in Exodus 24. With "scarlet wool and hyssop," he "sprinkled" "the blood of calves and of goats [which was mixed] with water." Verse 21 adds that later "he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle and the vessels of the ministry."[38] Not once does the Holy Spirit refer to a baptism by immersion, but three times He speaks of sprinkling.[39] Thus when Dagg translates Hebrews 9:10 as "divers immersions," we can only wonder at how zealously men will seek to cling to a pet theory.[40]

One evasion would be to admit that the baptisms (baptismos) of Hebrews 9:10 were indeed effected by sprinkling, but to argue that this is not determinative for the meaning of the verb baptizein. This argument, however, will not do. Greek nouns with the suffix "-mos" indicate the abstract name for the action. If baptizein means to immerse or dip, then Dagg is correct: Hebrews 9:10 must be translated "divers immersions." Since the context forbids this, baptizein does not mean to immerse or dip.[41]

From our consideration of baptizein in Scripture, it is clear that it does not always and only mean "to immerse."[42] Moreover, even if it could be proved that baptism was effected by immersion in a few places, the baptist view still would not hold water. Just one example of a baptism not by dipping is enough to falsify the baptist position; and we have found several such examples. Therefore, the Word of God does not forbid but permits baptism by sprinkling or pouring. Reformed and Presbyterian churches are not disobeying the Scriptures in their mode of baptism.


(III) Baptist Arguments For Immersion

One is forced now to consider why baptists argue that baptizein always and only means to immerse. The biblical arguments they adduce for their position can be considered under three heads: places, prepositions and symbolism.

(1) Concerning places, baptists point to John's baptizing "in Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there" (John 3:23). The baptists emphasise the last clause-"because there was much water [hudata polla] there"-but they should also consider the place, Aenon. Thayer says that Aenon is derived from a Hebrew word for spring.[43] This helps us to understand the hudata polla, translated "much water" by the Authorised Version (KJV). Aenon was probably named after the many waters or fountains or springs that arose there. This is the way hudata polla ought to be translated. Wilbur Christy writes,

Unfortunately for those who are accustomed to find here proof of immersion, these springs trickling through marshy meadow land on their way to the Jordan, as they do to this day, offer little or no facilities for immersion.[44]

Second, baptists point out that John also baptized at the River Jordan. Why go to a river to baptize, they argue, unless you need a large quantity of water, such as is required for immersion?

First of all, it ought to be noted that John's location in the wilderness is more important than his choice of baptismal site. His wilderness setting is primary, for in this he fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah (Isa. 40:3; Mark 1:2-4).

The connection between the Messiah's forerunner and the prophecy regarding the wilderness is not arbitrary. John's mission was to prepare the way for the Christ by calling Israel to repentance. "The biblical concept of repentance, however, is deeply rooted in the wilderness tradition," writes William Lane.

Essential to the prophetic concern with repentance in Hosea, Amos and Isaiah is the concept of Israel's time in the wilderness as the period of true sonship to God, a status into which the Lord is going to lead his people once again in a future time.[45]

Thus John's location in the wilderness was essential to his mission. Water is scarce in the wilderness, and many people came to John (Mark 1:5). People need water for refreshment and for any animals they may bring with them. Water supplies also vary according to the season. Furthermore, as James Dale notes, "It is notorious that both Gentile and Jew [cf. Lev. 14:51-52] attached a specially purifying value to running water."[46] What better place to baptize then than at the (lower) River Jordan (which was included in the wilderness region)? Dale argues that in working here, John, who came "in the spirit and power of Elias" (Luke 1:17) was acting in accordance with "his great prototype, Elijah." Elijah went "into the same wilderness" and made "his home by the banks of the same river." Dale adds,

The Scriptures teach us, that Elias for a long period together made his home by the brook Cherith, which empties into the Jordan (precisely the same spot occupied by John); but the only use which he made of its waters, so far as we are informed, was for drinking.[47]

(2) Baptists argue that baptizein means to immerse or dip from prepositions. First, they appeal to the Greek preposition en (in, on, at, with, by, among).[48] A. T. Robertson writes, "The simple narrative in Mt. 3:6 is that 'they were baptized of him in [en] the river Jordan.'"[49] Robertson here understands en to indicate the receptive element into which the baptized person is dipped or plunged, but he cannot prove it.[50] En may refer merely to the place where John baptized them, as it does elsewhere.[51] For example, we read in John 1:29 that "John was baptizing in [en] Bethabara beyond Jordan." Later we find John "baptizing in [en] Aenon" (John 3:23). Mark 1:4 even records that "John did baptize in [en] the wilderness." Were people baptized into Bethabara, Aenon and the wilderness as receptive elements?

Furthermore, Matthew 3:6 says that the multitudes who confessed their sins were baptized in the Jordan. It does not say that they were baptized in the water of the Jordan. Robertson would have to appeal to other texts which speak of a baptism en udati (in water), such as Matthew 3:11 and John 1:33. The phrase, "I indeed have baptized you with water: but he [the coming Messiah] shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost," is found-essentially, not verbatim-in parallel passages in Mark 1:8 and Luke 3:16, as well as in Acts 1:5 and Acts 11:16. In these four passages the en is omitted; only udati is used. However, all scholars recognise that this is a dative of instrument: "I will baptize you with water."[52]

There is, therefore, no necessity to translate the en in Matthew 3:11 and John 1:33 as "in" and then understand this as indicating the receptive element for an immersion.[53] It is more reasonable to interpret these two verses in the light of their parallel passages, as indicating the substance (water) that John used in his baptism. Just as Jesus baptized with the Holy Ghost, according to the biblical parallel, John baptized with water.[54]

Secondly, Robertson appeals to the preposition eis (into, to, towards, for, among), especially where used in combination with ek (from out of, out from, forth from, from).[55] He quotes Acts 8:38-39:

They went down both into [eis] the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. And when they were come up out of [ek] the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip.

Robertson reckons that this and his previous argument present a formidable case, for he wonders "if [any]one could still be in doubt about the matter."[56] However, his optimism is ill-founded.

First, the text makes it clear that both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, but that only the eunuch was baptized. Therefore, the eunuch's baptism did not consist of going down into (eis) the water and coming out of (ek) the water. Second, since water collects in the lowest places, what else would one do but go down to it and come up from it? Third, this presents no evidence for immersion as opposed to sprinkling or pouring. The latter methods of applying water could just as well have taken place after Philip and the eunuch went down into the water. Fourth, Robertson makes no reference to the difficulty of finding sufficient water in the wilderness for two men to wade into and one to be dipped.

Probably, the most plausible argument for immersion from prepositions is based upon Mark 1:9:

And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in [eis] Jordan.

The baptists argue that eis, which is stronger than en, indicates the enveloping element of the baptism. Thus Jesus, they say, was dipped into the Jordan.[57] If the text had read eis (into) water and not eis ton Jordanen (into the Jordan) their case would have been stronger, but still it requires a solid response.

First, we have seen that water is used as the instrument of baptism. Second, the preposition eis with baptizein in the baptism by John indicates the resultant state. Thus John baptized "unto [eis] repentance" (Matt. 3:11), and he preached "the baptism of repentance into [eis] the forgiveness of sins" (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3; my translation). This was the "baptism of John" (Luke 7:29; Acts 19:3). Similarly, eis used with Christian baptism, as we shall see later, always indicates "the receiving element (in the New Testament always ideal) into which the baptized element (verbally) passes." It expresses the full subjection of those baptized to the controlling influence of that element.[58] Thus a baptist reading of Mark 1:9 does not fit with the established New Testament pattern.

The baptist error lies in reading motion into the verb ebaptisthe (He was baptized) and thereby insisting that eis here can only mean "into." Thus they understand the text to indicate that Jesus was dipped (a verb of motion) into-and then taken out of-the Jordan. This conceives of the Jordan not as a locality, as in the parallel passage (Matt. 3:13)[59] and in the preceding context (Mark 1:5), but as a receptive element. However, as Lenski points out, eis the Jordan (v. 9) is equivalent to en the River Jordan (v. 5). Both are locative "stating where the baptism took place ... and nothing more."[60]

The question now arises, Why does Mark 1:9 use eis and not en as Mark 1:4 or epi (on, upon, at) as Matthew 3:13? The answer is not far away. Mark 1:9 uses two verbs with respect to Jesus: elthen (He came) and ebaptisthe (He was baptized). It uses one preposition apo (from) to indicate that He came from Nazareth. However, it uses only one preposition to indicate both the place to which Jesus came and where He was baptized.

In his book on the baptism of John, James Dale gives biblical examples where a prepositional phrase with eis (such as eis ton Jordanen) immediately follows a verb of rest (such as ebaptisthe, He was baptized), which is preceded by and connected with a verb of motion (such as elthen, He came). He concludes that in such cases the prepositional phrase modifies both the verb of rest and the verb of motion, in a manner consistent with each verb.[61] Thus Mark 1:9 tells us that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee to the Jordan and was baptized at the Jordan.[62]

Thus there is a great deal to be said for Robert L. Reymond's position that "there is not a single recorded instance of a baptism in the entire New Testament where immersion followed by emersion is the mode of baptism."[63] However, it must be stressed that even if the reader still thinks that the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch or Christ's baptism or the baptisms of John at Aenon were by dipping, the baptist position still falls to the ground. All the baptisms of the Scriptures must be immersions for their view to hold and for the pourings or sprinklings of Reformed and Presbyterian churches to be unlawful.

(3) Another argument that baptists adduce for immersion is derived from the symbolism of Colossians 2:12 and Romans 6:3-5. The latter passage reads,

[3] Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? [4] Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. [5] For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection.

From this text, baptists argue that going down under the water (immersion) portrays our union with Christ in His burial, and that our emersion signifies His resurrection and our share in it.[64] It is not surprising that baptists should so use this text. After all, they say that one of the Christian sacraments essentially consists of a dipping into and removal from water. In itself there is nothing at all in immersion in and emersion from water that has any particular value. Therefore they need to find some symbolism for their act. What is surprising is that so many non-immersionists think that this text supports the theory that baptizein means to dip.[65]

First, we should note that Paul is not speaking of ritual baptism but of real baptism, as the context makes clear.

Second, Christ was not buried at sea in a watery grave. Nor was he buried in the same manner in which people are today, that is, by being placed in a hole in the earth. He was laid in a tomb hewn out of a rock (Matt. 27:60). This is enough to explode the baptist theory. A baptist submerged in water cannot symbolise Jesus' burial if Christ's body did not physically descend in His burial. Furthermore, what is the sense of using pure water? How can this symbolise the element into which a dead body is buried? Surely a sand solution or dirty water would be more appropriate.

Third, Romans 6:4-5 does not parallel Christ's physical resurrection with our physical emersion from water, but with our new spiritual life (v. 4) and our future physical resurrection on the last day (v. 5).[66]

Fourth, the passage can have no reference to the mode of baptism whatsoever since, as John Murray observes:

We have no more warrant to find a reference to the mode of baptism in [sunetaphen, we were buried with Him] here in vs. 4 than in [sumphutoi, planted together with Him] in vs. 5 [sunestaurothe, crucified with Him], in vs. 6 [or in] [enedusasthe, clothed with Him] in Gal. 3:27.[67]

John Owen’s analysis is similar:

There is not one word nor one expression that mentions any resemblance between dipping under water and the death and burial of Christ, nor one word that mentions a resemblance between our rising out of the water and the resurrection of Christ. Our being "buried with him by baptism into death" [Rom. 6:4] is our being "planted together in the likeness of his death," verse 5. Our being "planted together in the likeness of his death" is not our being dipped under water, but "the crucifying of the old man," verse 6. Our being "raised up with Christ from the dead" is not our rising from under the water, but our "walking in newness of life," verse 4, by virtue of the resurrection of Christ, I Pet. iii. 21.[68]

What then is the apostle saying? He has just shown that justification is by faith alone and not by the works of man (Rom. 1-5). Someone might respond: "Let us sin that grace may abound!" (cf. 6:1). The apostle first states (v. 2) and then proves (vv. 3ff.) that we are dead to sin. He reminds us of our union with Christ. In Romans 5:12-21, he spoke of our union with Him with regard to blessings: justification, righteousness, life and grace. Now he speaks of our union with Christ with respect to His great redemptive acts. To which event does Paul point to show believers are dead to sin? Not to His ascension into heaven or session at God's right hand (as Eph. 2:6), but to His death and burial, of course (Rom. 6:2ff.).

Since the Christian's position is not merely negative (dead to sin) but positive (alive to God), the apostle goes on to speak of our resurrection with Christ (vv. 4ff.). Thus the apostle refers to our baptism "into Christ" (v. 3). We are engrafted and united to Christ by the Spirit. Paul puts this first. Since we are united to Christ, therefore, we share in His death, burial and resurrection. In other words, partaking of Christ's death and resurrection is through baptism into Him. It has nothing to do with our physical descent into and ascent from water, nor is it signified thereby.

Robert Harbach's analysis bears repeating:

The object of Paul's words is not to show that Christians ought to walk in newness of life because [they were] figuratively raised from a watery grave in a symbolic ritual, but because [they were] spiritually, objectively, historically, unitedly, corporately and representatively raised ... through the death [of Christ].[69]

The correct interpretation of Colossians 2:12 runs along similar lines. In Colossians 2 the apostle teaches believers about the sole sufficiency of Christ. Through baptism into Him not only are we dead to sin, but we are also dead to the world and to the law (as a means of establishing our own righteousness).[70] Again, mode has nothing to do with it.[71]

I have sought to be thorough and fair in my treatment of baptist arguments for immersion from the Bible. One argument-and it is their main one-I have not yet touched upon: the use of baptizein in sources other than the Scriptures. This lies outside the scope of this brief article.[72] I can only point the interested reader to the works of James Wilkinson Dale, a nineteenth century, American Presbyterian.[73] Suffice to say that I am in full accord with the position advocated in Dale's works: neither in the Bible, nor in the classics, nor in Jewish nor patristic usage does baptizein always and only mean to immerse or dip.

Why then do the baptists so vehemently insist that it does? Jay Adams gives as his "studied conclusion" that "immersion is propagated as a biblical mode more by repetition and assertion than from conviction stemming from careful Bible study."[74] Buswell points out the perennial attraction of the immersionist view:

There has always been a tendency, since the New Testament times, to regard immersion as more vivid and spectacular, and thus, somehow more holy than baptism by sprinkling or by pouring.[75]


(IV) The True Meaning of Baptizein

Now the question comes to us again, What does baptizein mean? Does it mean to pour? No, this would not agree with the baptisms of Hebrews 9. Does it then mean to sprinkle?[76] No, this would not fit with the baptism of the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost and its "extension" in Cornelius' house (Acts 10-11). Furthermore, neither of these modes describe the baptism of the Israelites into Moses in I Corinthians 10 or Noah's baptism in I Peter 3, never mind many other instances which we could refer to in the classics.[77]

Does baptizein, then, mean to purify? There appears to be some support for this in Hebrews 9. The "divers baptisms" (v. 10) effect ceremonial purification or sanctification (vv. 13, 22, 23). The baptisms of "cups and pots, brazen vessels and couches" (Mark 7:4) were purifications. So were the ceremonial cleansings of the Pharisees (Luke 11:38-39). Furthermore, John 3:22-26 seems to support this contention. John is baptizing in Aenon (vv. 23-24), when the Holy Spirit records a question between John's disciples and the Jews "about purifying" (v. 25). Then they came to John and asked him about Jesus' baptism (v. 26). "Without a doubt," writes Jay Adams, "the two words 'purification' and 'baptism' are equated as naturally as 'bishop' and 'elder' in Paul's letter to Titus."[78]

However, to purify does not agree with all the Biblical references to baptism. Were the children of Israel purified into Moses (I Cor. 10:2)? Was Christ purified with a purification, by His penal sufferings on the cross (Mark 10:38; Matt. 20:22; Luke 12:50)? Nor is this definition wide enough to include many usages in the classics. For example, a man is baptized by an alcoholic drink, when he consumes too much. Origen, a third century Christian theologian, even speaks of certain persons who were baptized "by wickedness."[79] These baptisms are clearly not purifications.

We need a definition of baptizein that includes purification but is broad enough to do justice to all the various baptisms. Dale's general definition of baptizein is sufficient:

Whatever is capable of thoroughly changing the character, state or condition of any object is capable of baptizing that object; and by such change of character, state or condition does, in fact, baptize it.[80]

John Murray's analysis is similar:

[Baptizein], we must conclude, is one of those words which indicate a certain effect without itself expressing or prescribing the particular mode by which this effect is secured.[81]

Thus baptizein means to change thoroughly the character, state or condition of an object.[82] Now we must show that this understanding of baptizein fits the New Testament data.

(1) First, we shall consider the baptism on the day of Pentecost. Before Pentecost, the disciples were weak and fearful, but, after they were baptized by the Holy Spirit, they were fully equipped to serve as the apostles of the risen Christ. Now they could speak in various foreign languages—symbolised by the cloven tongues that sat on each of them (Acts 2:3)—and be used in gathering Christ's catholic church. The disciples were baptized into the apostolate. Their condition had been thoroughly changed.

(2) The Scriptures speak of a baptism into Moses (I Cor. 10:1-2). Here, we must note the prepositions. The Israelites were baptized by (en with an instrumental dative) the cloud and the sea into (eis) Moses. When the Hebrews saw Pharaoh's mighty host pursuing them they were "sore afraid" (Ex. 14:10; cf. v. 13) and doubted Moses, accusing him of bringing them out of Egypt to have them killed in the wilderness (vv. 11-12). Moses cried out to the people,

Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will shew to you to day ... The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace (vv. 13-14).

Then God made bare His mighty arm and moved the cloud from in front of the Israelites to between them and the Egyptians. This separated the two people. It brought darkness upon the Egyptians but it was a light to the Hebrews by night (vv. 19-20).

Next, Moses stretched out his rod over the sea which then divided before him. The Israelites crossed the Red Sea on dry ground, with the sea as two great walls on either side of them (vv. 21-22, 29). When God's people had all safely crossed, Moses stretched out his hand again and the waters returned and immersed the Egyptians (vv. 26-28, 30). Significantly the narrative ends:

And Israel saw that great work which the LORD did on the Egyptians: and the people feared the LORD, and believed the LORD, and his servant Moses (v. 31).

Thus having seen God's mighty power and love toward them in His use of the cloud and the sea, they now believed or leaned upon or trusted Moses (v. 31). As Dale says,

The Israelites having been wavering, unstable and unreliable in their relations to Moses, were made (as a result of the miracles which they had witnessed) to trust, to confide in, to believe upon him, with a confidence second only to that cherished toward Jehovah himself, whose minister and representative they now fully believe him to be.[83]

Thus Paul says they were baptized into Moses. John Murray expresses it well: "To be 'baptized into Moses' (I Cor. 10:2) is to be bound to Moses in the fellowship of that covenant of which Moses was the mediator."[84] The Israelites were now under Moses' "controlling influence."[85] Their condition had been thoroughly changed.

(3) For our final example, we may consider Christ's baptism by John at the Jordan. Though John did indeed baptize Jesus, Jesus did not receive "the baptism of John" (Luke 7:29). After all, John's baptism was only open to guilty penitents and Jesus was sinless. John's ritual baptism signified an inner transformation and was "into the forgiveness of sins" (Mark 1:4; my translation). Of this baptism, Jesus could not partake. Though he suffered for us, He did not undergo vicarious repentance for us. The incongruity was not missed by John: "I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?" (Matt. 3:14).

What was Jesus' baptism then? John 1 puts us on the right track. In the Gospel according to John, John the Baptist is presented primarily as a witness.[86] Not only his preaching but also his baptism served to identify and to witness to the Messiah. Thus the Baptist tells us that he came baptizing with water to manifest to Israel the Messiah (v. 31).[87] John witnesses to Jesus as the supremely worthy One (v. 27), the One who was before him (v. 31), the One who baptizes with the Holy Ghost (v. 33) and the Son of God (v. 34).

Most significantly, the Baptist witnesses to Him as "the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (v. 29). "The Lamb of God" is the only title he uses twice (vv. 29, 36) and it is the only one introduced by the exclamation, "Behold!" (in both vv. 29 and 36). Furthermore, it is on hearing Jesus spoken of as "the Lamb of God" that Andrew and another disciple begin to follow Jesus (vv. 35-40). This title presents Jesus, not as prophet or king, but in His priestly role. He is the One who would bear the sins of all the elect throughout the world.

Thus Christ's role as priest is uppermost in John's baptism in John 1.[88] It was to this aspect of Christ's work that John's baptism pointed. Other details need to be supplied to complete the picture, including the circumstances of Jesus' baptism. John, who baptized Jesus, was a priest for he was the son of Zechariah, a priest (Luke 1). Furthermore, Luke 3:23 tells us that Jesus was about thirty years old-the time when priests were ordained (cf. Num. 4:3, 35, 47)-when he began his ministry. Significantly, Luke tells us Jesus' age in the context of His baptism (Luke 3:21-23). Does it now sound unreasonable to say that Jesus' baptism by John was his initiation into His priesthood?

There remains more to be said for this position. We must also consider something of the significance of Jesus' baptism. First, unless we hold this view, we must maintain that Jesus resorted to evasive answers when asked a difficult question. In Matthew 21:23-27 (cf. Mark 11:27-33; Luke 20:1-8), Jesus is challenged by the chief priests, scribes and elders regarding his purging the temple (Matt. 21:12-14) and teaching in its sacred precincts (v. 23). At the heart of their accusations was the issue of authority (vv. 23 [twice], 24, 27). What right did Jesus have to do these things (v. 23)?

Jesus answered their questions with a question of His own: "The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven, or from man?" (v. 25). The rulers were in a quandary. The people would be enraged if they denied John's divine call. And if they affirmed it, they would condemn themselves, since they did not heed John's admonitions (vv. 25-27). They opted out: "We cannot tell" (v. 27).

If Jesus received from John the "baptism for the remission of sins," this would not give Him authority to cleanse the temple. Then Jesus merely answered a hard question with a hard question. His response, therefore, would have been equally appropriate on any other occasion when the Jewish religious leaders sought to corner him, since it did not deal with the specific issue which the chief priests raised. For their part, they did not respond by accusing Him of an irrelevant answer. They realised they were beaten by a response which perfectly explained Jesus authority to teach in and cleanse the temple. John had ordained Jesus as a priest, and priests had authority to do these things.[89]

Second, Jesus' words to John the Baptist in Matthew 3:15 are very important: "Thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness." Righteousness, as both John and Jesus well knew, is that which is according to the law of God. Jay Adams asks a highly pertinent question:

Christ underwent the law of circumcision (Lev. 12:3 and Luke 2:21); he was presented in the temple (Luke 2:22-23); he went to the passover (Ex. 34:23 and Luke 2:42); he observed the Jewish feasts commanded by the law (Mark 14:12, Luke 22:3, John 17:10); but what law was he obeying at his baptism?[90]

That law was that of the ordination of priests.

Furthermore, since Jesus speaks of "us" in Matthew 3:15, we must ask, What happened at Jesus' baptism that both John and Jesus fulfilled all righteousness? Or, to put it differently, if Jesus' water baptism was a purification for us, how did John fulfil all righteousness? The only satisfactory answer to these questions is that John fulfilled all righteousness in ordaining Jesus to the priesthood.

In this way, Jesus was possessed of the ceremonial qualifications necessary for obtaining our righteousness with God. He did this through His substitutionary life of obedience and death on the cross. Thus Jesus was not baptized into the forgiveness of His own sins-a blasphemous position-nor was He baptized vicariously, so that the water of His baptism washed away our sins symbolically. Instead, He was ordained our high priest, that He might obtain the righteousness of God for us by faith in His blood.

As an ordination to the priesthood, Jesus' baptism was by sprinkling. This is the manner in which the Old Testament priests were ceremonially authorized for their functions (cf. Num. 8:6-7). They were most definitely not immersed.[91]

However, most important for our current inquiry is that Jesus' baptism by John fits with our proposed definition of baptism. Jesus' baptism was a change of state, in which He was ceremonially initiated into the priesthood.[92]

At the time of His physical baptism, God also baptized Jesus spiritually and inwardly by the Holy Spirit (Matt. 3:16-17). Jesus' baptism by water and His baptism by the Spirit were two aspects of the one great act of God appointing and equipping Him as the Servant of Jehovah. The former speaks of Jesus' authorization as Messiah from a formal and outward point of view, while the latter speaks of His inner and spiritual qualification for this office.

Jesus received the Spirit in full measure (John 3:34) to enable Him to fulfil His Messianic mandate (Luke 4:18-19; Isa. 61:1-2). That the Spirit descended on Christ "like a dove" (Matt. 3:16) indicates that He was anointing Him as our gracious high priest (Heb. 4:15; 2:17).

Only by the Spirit's strength was Jesus able to withstand the temptations of Satan, to cast out demons (Matt. 12:28), to proclaim the gospel of grace and, finally, to go to the cross to die as "the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29; cf. Heb. 9:14). The Spirit's controlling influence upon Jesus is indicated in many ways in the four gospel accounts, and especially in Luke. After returning from His baptism, Jesus "was led by [en] the Spirit into the wilderness" (Luke 4:1). After His temptation in the wilderness, He "returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee" and His fame spread "through all the region round about" (v. 14). Thus in Christ's spiritual baptism, we have another illustration of our definition of baptizein.


(V) The Meaning of Christian Baptism

Having ascertained the meaning of baptizein, it only remains to explain the meaning or significance of Christian baptism. So far we have referred to various examples of baptism in the Bible, arranged below in chronological order:

1. the baptism of Noah and his family (I Peter 3:20-21)
2. the baptism of the Israelites into Moses (I Cor. 10:1-2)
3. the various Old Testament purifications (Heb. 9:10)
4. the Pharisaic purifications (Mark 7:2ff.)[93]
5. John's baptism into the forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:4)
6. John's water baptism of Jesus, ordaining Him as a priest (Matt. 3:13-15)
7. Jesus' baptism by the Holy Spirit, equipping Him for His Messianic mission (Matt. 3:16-17)[94]
8. Jesus' baptism by penal sufferings on the cross (Mark 10:38)
9. the apostles' baptism by the Spirit on Pentecost (Acts 2)
10. Christian baptism into the name of the Holy Trinity (Matt. 28:19) of families and individuals in Acts and I Corinthians 1[95]

Numbers 1 to 4 (amongst other things) illustrate the meaning of baptizein. Numbers 5 to 9, while also serving this purpose, are essential (though in different ways) to the establishment of Christian baptism (number 10).

In the New Testament, Christian baptism is intimately connected with many blessings. From the lists of T. M. Lindsay and G. R. Beasley-Murray, we may produce the following compilation:[96]

1. forgiveness of and cleansing from sin (Acts 2:38; 22:16)
2. bestowal of the Holy Spirit (I Cor. 12:13)
3. union with Christ (Gal. 3:27), including union with Him in His death, burial and resurrection (Rom. 6:3-11; Col. 2:12)
4. regeneration (Titus 3:5)
5. adoption (Gal. 3:26-27)[97]
6. membership in the spiritual body of Christ (I Cor. 12:13)
7. membership in the church institute (Acts 2:41)

While neither scholar intended to be exhaustive in their lists, two glaring omissions are found in both men's presentations.[98] First, neither mentioned the essence of these blessings as covenant blessings. The Westminster Confession of Faith is much to be preferred at this point. At the very beginning of its treatment of the spiritual blessings of (real) baptism, the Confession speaks of baptism as "a sign and seal of the covenant of grace" (28:1).[99] Jesus Christ is the covenant Christ and initiation into Him is partaking of all the blessings of God's covenant with His people.

Beasley-Murray, coming from a baptist standpoint, links the blessings of baptism not with the covenant but with (conscious) faith: "In the New Testament precisely the same gifts of grace are associated with faith as with baptism."[100] He errs by omission in not seeing the proper covenantal significance of baptism, but his statement is profound. All the blessings of salvation are related to baptism. This necessarily follows from the nature of baptism as a sign and seal of salvation.

Second, and even more serious, the lists of both Lindsay and Beasley-Murray fail to mention union with the Triune God-the very heart of baptism! This is expressly stated by Christ, as He inaugurates the New Testament sacrament of baptism in Matthew 28:19:

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in [into, eis] the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.[101]

Hoeksema's concise explanation of the phrase "into the name" bears repeating:

This does not mean "upon the authority of the name of the Triune God," but rather "into the fellowship of God Triune as He has revealed Himself in the name of Jesus Christ."[102]

The Reformed have always emphasised the Trinitarian character of baptism. Leonard Riisen expresses it admirably:

Therefore when the pastor says, I baptize thee, it is the same as if he were saying, I declare in God's name that this water in which I wash you is a symbol of your admission into God's covenant and His Church; that the Father accepts you as a son, the Son as a member of His body and a brother, and the Holy Spirit as a host with whom He is willing to dwell for ever; and that you worship Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in virtue of the terms of your duty to the triune God, with worship and obedience, and consecrate yourself wholly to the worship of the Trinity for ever.[103]

As a Trinitarian sacrament, baptism is intrinsically intertwined with the covenant.[104] It concerns union and communion with the covenant God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The implications of this Trinitarian understanding are manifold. Here we shall consider just one: its relation to sovereign grace.

In the final chapter of his book, The Drama of Decision: Baptism in the New Testament, Oscar Stephenson Brooks engages in a study of the baptismal teaching of I Peter.[105] His thesis is that I Peter is a "baptismal tract," written to congregations with many new members in need of instruction.[106] Even though baptism is mentioned only once in I Peter (i.e., 3:20-21), Brooks does produce some interesting arguments for his position. Though he is wrong in holding that I Peter is "given completely to a concern for baptism" and that baptism is "the key to understanding the entire book," there is something to be said for his position.[107]

Certainly the book says a lot about initiation into salvation. Those addressed in I Peter were regenerated (1:3, 23; 2:2) and (effectually) called (1:15; 2:9, 21; 3:9; 5:10), through the preaching of the gospel (1:12, 25). Their "saving response" to the gospel, R. E. O. White notes,

is ... described both in terms of belief (i 5, 8, 9, ii 6, 7, v 9, once "confidence" i 21) and in terms of obedience (i 1, 22, ii 8, iii 1, iv 17, once love for Christ i 8f).[108]

Brooks proceeds to outline the book.[109] (1) 1:3-12 is the opening section which tells us how God saved us. (2) 1:13-2:10 describes the calling of the Christian. (3) 2:11-3:12 contains instructions as to how the new Christian should live in the world. (4) 3:13-22 insists that "a convert must maintain faithfulness and integrity at all costs."[110] Peter refers to the example of Christ and the importance of baptism to enforce His point.

The opening section (1:3-12) is key to our understanding of I Peter. Brooks rightly points out that it is Trinitarian, dealing with the Father (vv. 3-5), the Son (vv. 6-9) and the Spirit (vv. 10-12). Baptism points to our salvation. The most important thing about that salvation, Peter tells us, is that it is Trinitarian.[111] Flowing from the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, salvation can be nothing other than by sovereign grace. Thus 1:3-12 tells us not what we have done but what God has done for us. It is amazing that Brooks after all his insightful remarks fails to note this. So enthralled is he with Arminianism that he misses what stares him in the face.

Furthermore, Brooks fails to take I Peter 1:2 into consideration. First, here we have another testimony to the Holy Trinity:

Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace be unto you and peace be multiplied.

Second, Peter addresses these new converts as "elect according to the foreknowledge of God." He wishes to tell them at the beginning of his epistle that their salvation is all of God's eternal electing grace. This is "the true grace of God" (5:12) that is signified and sealed in baptism.[112]

Third, I Peter 1:2 portrays the application of Christ's blood to our hearts by the Holy Spirit as a sprinkling. Since the reality is described as sprinkling, how can the baptists forbid this mode in the administration of the sign? It is no wonder that the Brooks as an Arminian baptist left this verse well alone!

This treatment of I Peter shows us the proper methodology in understanding the significance of baptism. We must study what the Scriptures teach about salvation, and especially about its initial application, and then understand that our ritual baptism is a sign and seal of that grace of God.[113] Thus, for example, the "one baptism" of Ephesians 4:5 is that spiritual baptism revealed as a work of sovereign grace by the Triune God in Ephesians 1:3-14 and the rest of the book.[114]

It only remains to relate the various blessings signified by baptism and then to show how Christian baptism is brought about by the various baptisms taught in the Scriptures. Our real and spiritual baptism is effected by the Holy Spirit (I Cor. 12:13). He engrafts us into Christ (Gal. 3:27) and thus we are united with the Triune God (Matt. 28:19). Our union with Christ consists of fellowship with Him in His great redemptive events, including His death, burial and resurrection (Rom. 6:3-5), and in the graces He obtained for us. Thus we partake of regeneration (Titus 3:5), justification (Acts 2:38), adoption (Gal. 3:26-27) and sanctification (I Cor. 6:11); in short, all the blessings of the covenant of grace.

Moreover, being united to Christ our head, we are also joined to His invisible, spiritual body (I Cor. 12:13). Thus the believer joins himself to a true church institute (Acts 2:41). In all this, the believer lives a life of holy fellowship with the Triune God. He is baptized into Christ's death and resurrection (Rom. 6:3-5). He has put on Christ (Gal. 3:27). He will live a sanctified life, putting sin to death and growing in grace. His ritual baptism, as a constant reminder of the truth of God's covenant of grace, serves to encourage him to obey the Lord his God out of thankfulness.

This everlasting bond will never be broken. On the last day, God will raise up all the bodies of His elect children that they may dwell with Him forever in the new heavens and the new earth. God's covenant with man will be consummated (Rev. 21:3). These are the ramifications of the salvation signified and sealed in our baptism.

All this serves to confirm our understanding of baptizein. Real baptism is a radical spiritual transformation from death to life, from darkness to light, from unrighteousness to righteousness, from the power of Satan to the kingdom of God, from children of wrath to children of our Father in heaven. This fits perfectly with our definition of baptizein as to change thoroughly the character, state or condition of an object.[115] Contrariwise, we must ask, How does dipping indicate this glorious translation? How do immersion and emersion signify the transforming work of God in saving us?

Now the question comes, Why does the Bible speak of "one baptism" (Eph. 4:5), when there are many baptisms spoken of in its sacred pages? First, contrary to many baptists, we must affirm that the baptism of Ephesians 4 is a spiritual baptism not a ritual baptism, never mind a dipping![116] This baptism is effected by the "one Spirit" into "one body" and "one Lord" and, hence, into the "one [Triune] God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all" (vv. 4-6). This baptism was purchased by Christ on the cross and effected in His elect by the Holy Spirit (vv. 7ff.). Thus, in the context of Ephesians 4, all believers must be longsuffering and endeavour to keep the unity of the Spirit (vv. 1-3), since we all have "one Lord, one faith, one baptism" (v. 5).

It is clear, therefore, that not merely is this a spiritual baptism, but it is also, second, an explicitly Christian baptism. Thus the ceremonial cleansings ordered in the books of Moses (cf. Heb. 9:10) and those foisted on the people by the legalist Pharisees (Mark 7:2ff.) are not included in this one baptism. The baptism of Noah and his family (I Peter 3:20-21), the baptism of the Israelites into Moses (I Cor. 10:1-2) and Johannic baptism (Acts 19:1-5)[117] also are not Christian baptism. However, like the baptisms taught in the law they have significance in teaching us something about the meaning of our one baptism.

The baptisms which Christ received—His baptism by the Spirit signified by His water baptism at the Jordan (Matt. 3:13-17) and His baptism by penal sufferings on the cross (Mark 10:38)—and the baptism into the apostolate in Acts 2 are not Christian baptism either. Rather, they "constituted a basis on which Christian baptism was to rest, and without which it could not exist."[118] On that historic day at the Jordan, Jesus undertook to fulfil the duties of our great high priest and was equipped to do so by the Holy Spirit. On the cross, He drank to the dregs the cup of God's wrath against us for our transgressions of His law. There our covenant head was baptized by penal sufferings into death that we might be baptized into His death and into His resurrection life.[119] His baptism enabled us to receive the "one baptism" of Ephesians 4:5.[120]

What then of the Pentecostal baptism? That too was necessary for our baptism, because God was pleased by the labours of the apostles to erect the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church on Christ, the chief cornerstone. Through this church, God has been pleased to preserve His truth through the ages that we might be brought into fellowship with the Triune God in Christ, through our one Christian baptism.


(VI) The Errors of Immersionist Baptism

We must now consider the many weaknesses inherent in the baptist presentation of Christian baptism. All of these stem from the mistaken notion that baptizein means always and only to dip or immerse. We have seen how this forces them into an unwarranted use of prepositions (en and eis). We have also seen that the immersionist theory foists an alien interpretation on Romans 6:3-5 and Colossians 2:12, which texts are then called upon to lend support for their theory of dipping.

Here we must clearly state that the Reformed do not reject immersion as a valid baptism.[121] Westminster Confession 28:2 gives the classic Reformed view of the requirements for a valid baptism:

The outward element to be used in this sacrament is water, wherewith the person is to be baptized into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, by a minister of the gospel, lawfully called thereunto.

Thus, according to the Westminster Confession, three things are needful for a valid baptism. First, water must be applied to the baptismal candidate. Second, he must be baptized into the name of the Triune God. Third, the sacrament must be administered by a lawfully called minister. Immersions in Trinitarian baptist churches fulfil these criteria. Therefore, they have a valid sacrament and we view it as such.

We do, however, object to their unscriptural view of immersion-only baptism.[122] When they bind the consciences of the people of God to something that He has left free, they offend Christian liberty and divide the body of Christ. They convert a gospel ordinance into a new legalism.

Their second error lies in their signification of immersion. Romans 6:3-5 and Colossians 2:12 do not teach that the believer ought to go down into water and arise from it in baptism and thus signify his death and resurrection with Christ. This error compounds the first. Not only do baptists (wrongly) make the mode of dipping obligatory, but they also make the mode itself significant, even the key for understanding baptism.[123]

These errors have their effect upon the baptist presentation of the sacrament of baptism and, therefore, on their teaching regarding salvation. As Jay Adams observes:

The symbol in the sacrament (which is an important thing) is either disclosed (a purpose of the sacrament) or destroyed by a true or false mode of observing the sacrament. Mode and symbol, and therefore mode and meaning, cannot be divorced.[124]

(1) First, they err by misrepresenting the symbolism of the sacrament of baptism. "Immersion in water and emersion out of it," states John Gill, is "a very expressive emblem of Christ, his death, burial and resurrection from the dead." He proceeds to mock the notion of "sprinkling a few drops of water on the face."[125] A. H. Strong gives six instances of the symbolism of baptism. Cleansing is not included, whereas the death-burial-resurrection picture not only comes first, but it is also the basis for several of his other instances.[126] All other items of baptismal symbolism are "only subsidiary pictures of the act of baptism," writes W. A. Jarrell:

its main design being to picture the 'Gospel'—THE DEATH, THE BURIAL AND THE RESURRECTION OF CHRIST. The 'gospel'—the death, the burial and the resurrection of Christ-being the FOUNDATION and the PROCURING CAUSE of all these other things pictured in baptism, only the watery burial and resurrection therefrom can be the picture expression and profession of the 'gospel.'[127]

We agree with the baptists that Christ's vicarious death, burial and resurrection on the third day, according to the Scriptures, is indeed the gospel (cf. I Cor. 15:3-4). However, we deny that the rite of baptism was ordained by God to show forth Jesus Christ's death, burial and resurrection by immersion in and removal from water. The sacrament of baptism is definitely not "a parable of Christ's death and resurrection in the [immersion and emersion] of believers." Herman Ridderbos is quite right to describe this view as "fiction" and as having "no support whatever."[128]

(2) This false conception largely displaces the true symbolism of the sacrament of baptism. Sadly, the baptists are so taken up with the notion that baptism portrays our descending into and rising from Christ's grave that they take insufficient note of the sacramental element, the water.[129] Water is spoken of in the Scriptures in two main senses: as a refreshing drink or as a cleansing agent.[130] In its internal use, that is, when a man drinks it, it is symbolic of life. When used externally, on the skin, it speaks of purification. This latter use is found time and time again on the sacred pages of the Bible, and, indeed, the world over. Water is recognised as the universal solvent.

The representation of the Spirit by water is not uncommon in the Old and New Testaments.[131] The problem is that it does not play the proper role in baptist thinking about baptism. William Williams states that he knows of no standard baptist confession that "declares that baptism symbolises the washing of the Holy Spirit."[132] Baptist works uniformly fail to do justice to the picture of cleansing in the sacrament of baptism. This is not surprising, since, in the baptist scheme, water is forced to signify two things: a burial element and a cleansing agent.[133]

In fact, the baptists see two signs in baptism: that of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ and that of purification. As is the often the case in such situations, the seven lean kine eat up the seven fat kine. How different is the intensely biblical treatment of baptism in the Heidelberg Catechism! In the two Lord's Days that deal with baptism, we find one reference to purging, two to cleansing and no less than twelve to washing.[134] Belgic Confession 34 expresses well the signification of the baptismal rite:

as water washeth away the filth of the body, when poured upon it, and is seen in the body of the baptized, when sprinkled upon him; so doth the blood of Christ, by the power of the Holy Ghost, internally sprinkle the soul, cleanse it from its sins, and regenerate us from children of wrath, unto children of God.[135]

Had the baptists gotten hold of the one signification of the water in the sacrament, they would have been guarded against the death-burial-resurrection notion. Ridderbos' comment is correct:

So far as the water of baptism is concerned, its symbolical significance, as appears from the whole of the New Testament, is that it purifies, not that one can sink down into it and drown, to say nothing of being buried in the water.[136]

(3) Rather than focusing attention on the action of the water, the baptist sacrament makes man the main sign. In effect, the baptist tells those who witness an immersion, "Watch the man being dipped. As he goes down into the water, think of Christ's burial. As he comes up out of it, think of Christ's resurrection." We are in full accord with the baptists regarding the necessity of looking to Christ. Hebrews 12:1-2 describes the Christian life as an arduous marathon. Only by looking to Jesus will we ever complete the course. That is not the issue.

The problem is that God has not constituted the sinner as the sign in the rite of baptism. Whereas baptists berate the Reformed for disobeying Christ's command to dip, the truth of the matter is that they have misconstrued the baptismal sign. Westminster Confession of Faith 27:2 states,

There is in every sacrament a spiritual relation, or sacramental union, between the sign and the thing signified; whence it comes to pass, that the names and effects of the one are attributed to the other.[137]

Thus we ask, Where is the sacramental union between the dipped sinner and the dead, buried and resurrected Christ? Any semblance of such a thing in Romans 6:3-5 has already been exploded. If it is true that what God has joined together man must not put asunder, it is also true that what God has not joined together, man must not seek to unite. There is no sacramental union between the dipping sinner and Christ's death, burial and resurrection, and baptists must not speak as if there were.[138]

That the sacramental union is between the water and the cleansing of the Holy Spirit is affirmed by the Heidelberg Catechism's Answer 71: "The Scripture calls baptism the washing of regeneration [Titus 3:5], and the washing away of sins [Acts 22:16]." This is the heart of the sacrament of baptism. As Louis Berkhof says,

The sacramental union between the sign and that which is signified ... is usually called the forma sacramenti (forma here meaning essence), because it is exactly the relation between the sign and the thing signified that constitutes the essence of the sacrament.[139]

We may express this in other terminology: it is the sacramental union which constitutes baptism as a means of grace. Thus Belgic Confession 33 states that the sacraments

are visible signs and seals of an inward and invisible thing, by means whereof God worketh in us by the power of the Holy Ghost.

The baptist, in tampering with the sign of baptism, affects the sacramental union, which is the essence of the sacrament, and, hence, the sacrament as a means of grace. In short, the baptist has been led away from looking at the water, which speaks of the sovereign, heavenly, purifying work of the Spirit of Christ, into looking at the submerging and emerging of a sinful man. That it is the farthest thing from the divine mind to desire us to look at man is evident to all with even a basic knowledge of the Bible. That God should wish us to do this at a Christian sacrament, which speaks of His mighty purifying work, is blasphemous.[140]

(4) The presentation of man as the object of contemplation at the sacrament of baptism-though they say it is to make them think of Christ-has disastrous effects on the sacrament's ability to witness to God's salvation. That an Arminian, like Oscar Brooks, voices Arminian views when speaking of baptism does not surprise us.[141] When, however, he says that his views on baptism arose from a contemplation of his (ritual) baptism (or immersionism), we take notice.[142]

More disturbingly, we find Calvinistic baptists, like Samuel Waldron, making strange remarks that baptism is, in part, a sign of our faith.[143] If baptism is a sign of our faith is it also a seal of our faith as well? As if God's sacraments point anywhere other than to His salvation!

Again, we are surprised when we consider the treatment of baptism given by Dagg, another Calvinistic baptist. Dagg divides his chapter on baptism into five sections. The fourth, "The Design of Baptism," concerns itself with the significance of this sacrament. Dagg's thesis is: "Baptism was designed to be the ceremony of Christian profession."[144] What about baptism as a sign and seal of the covenant of grace? or of renewal by the Holy Spirit? Dagg subsumes all these under the subject of our profession. Amazing! The best way to account for these oversights is to say that these Calvinistic men were led astray by the symbolism of a man's dipping in water, which symbolism is far removed from the true significance of biblical baptism.

(5) In the baptist immersion, water is the receptive element. Instead of en exclusively indicating instrumentality-baptizing with water or with the Spirit-they make water the passive, receptive element.

The water of baptism symbolises the Holy Spirit. This is obvious to all and the baptists admit this. Also this is proven by the Bible's frequent paralleling of "baptizing with [en] water" with "baptizing with (en) the Holy Spirit." The baptist misunderstanding of the role of water in baptism has serious implications for understanding the role of the Holy Spirit in a baptism by dipping.

The primary error of the baptist imagery is that it makes the Holy Spirit passive. They might object that the water (and hence the Spirit) is also passive in pouring or sprinkling, but there is an important difference. The issue of the Spirit's role as active or passive does not concern the human administrator of the sacrament but the relation between the baptized sinner and the water. In effusion (pouring) or aspersion (sprinkling) the sinner is passive, and the water (the Spirit) is active. In dipping the sinner goes down (active) into the (passive) water. The symbolism is all wrong! "The baptist view ... in presenting the Holy Ghost as a quiescent receptacle," as Dale says, "revolutionises the gospel scheme and, logically, subverts the cross of Christ."[145]

The Spirit of Christ is the omnipotent, immanent agent of the Triune God. He is "the power of the Highest" (Luke 1:35). He is the one who revealed His might by raising up Jesus from the dead (Rom. 8:11). He comes in Acts 2:2 with a sound like "a rushing mighty wind" from heaven. Nowhere more clearly is His power set forth, however, than in His saving work upon the fallen sons of Adam. He sovereignly regenerates dead sinners (John 3:5-8). He works faith in us (Gal. 5:22). He distributes spiritual gifts (I Cor. 12:4). In short, He is the great bestower of salvation. This salvation, the Bible tells us, is entirely "the gift of God" and not in any way "of works" (Eph. 2:8-9).

In effusion or aspersion we see this. Through the symbolism of baptism, we see the heavenly Spirit coming upon the dead sinner and cleansing him and giving him life. The sinner just stands there. He did nothing for his own salvation. He was entirely passive. The sign fits with the reality of salvation.

However, in dipping, it is not the Spirit who comes down, but the sinner who goes down into the water. Man enters the Spirit, symbolised by the waters.[146] The Spirit is passive. The baptismal sign has been subverted. It does not properly point to the great work of salvation applied by the Spirit of Christ.

To make matters worse, one finds throughout baptist literature such statements as Dagg's: "The significancy [sic] of baptism requires immersion."[147] Note that Dagg is not merely saying that the symbolism of baptism permits immersion but that it requires it. Thus, for him, effusion or aspersion do not convey the significance of baptism. In so writing, Dagg is in harmony with the baptist confessions.

"Immersion, or dipping of the person in water, is necessary to the due administration of this ordinance" (The Baptist Confession of Faith of 1688 29:4).[148]

"We believe that Christian baptism is the immersion in water ..." (The New Hampshire Baptist Confession 14 [1833]).[149]

"CHRISTIAN BAPTISM—This is the immersion of believers in water ..." (Confession of the Free-Will Baptists 17:1 [1834, 1868]).[150]

(6) The notion that baptism equals immersion produces another problem. Baptists effect their baptism by two distinct acts: a going into and a coming out of water. The water, as we said, symbolises the Holy Spirit, who unites the sinner with Christ and, therefore, with the Triune God. The question then arises, Why take the believer out of the water (the Holy Spirit)? How can union with the Triune God possibly be signified by a dipping in and a coming out of water? Moreover, how can union with God in Christ possibly be signified by a momentary immersion in and emersion from water? Surely if dipping into water symbolises union with Christ, the sinner ought to be kept there! Do we not believe the preservation and perseverance of the saints? Then, of course, the confessing Christian would drown. Such are the problems involved when the significance of the sacrament is changed from its divinely given original.

(7) From all this it follows that the baptists ought to reconsider their understanding of baptism. They often attack non-immersionists for "disobeying the Lord's command to dip." They accuse us of "will-worship" and say that we hold to the "commandments of men."[151] W. A. Jarrell repeatedly enters into a diatribe against the "incomplete reformation" of the sixteenth century.[152] He even asks,

How can anyone say that the substitution and practice [of effusion] in the incompleteness of the sixteenth century "Reformation" is not a fulfilment of Da[n]. 7:25 ["he shall speak great words against the most High ... and think to change times and laws"]??[153]

However, from what we have seen, it is the baptists need to return to the "old paths" of the Word of God. They need reformation in the area of the sacrament of baptism. Their theory is false. Though we grant their baptism as valid, we urge them to drop the rite of dipping. Instead, they ought to baptize by effusion or aspersion. These are the best modes.

Should a baptist minister become convinced of this, he should not just preach the proper understanding of baptism, while continuing with the faulty sign of dipping. The people will still be so bewitched by the baptismal pool, the dippings and the dripping robes that they will maintain their old misunderstanding of baptism. They will continue to view it as the re-enactment of Christ's burial and resurrection and be prone to conceive of man as active and the Spirit as passive.

(8) Thus the guilt of schism, which they would attach to us, lies wholly on their side. They have disfigured one of the sacraments.[154] They have made binding one (poor) mode of baptism to the abandonment of two excellent modes. Therefore, the sin against the unity of the church is with the baptists.

In so far as they insist on a rite that is difficult to administer in certain circumstances and in certain climates, they also sin against the catholicity of the church.[155] Remember that this sacrament is intimately connected with the church's attribute of universality in Acts 2:38-39 and her calling in missions (cf. Matt. 28:19-20). Furthermore, since they lay down and insist on laws which are not biblical and frame a baptism which points to an Arminian conception of salvation, we must conclude that they also sin against the apostolicity and holiness of the church.


(VII) Conclusion

Many points could be made by way of conclusion. We shall content ourselves with enlarging upon just three positive implications.

(1) We have a glorious doctrine of baptism to believe and to preach. What a great comfort to have the great work of the Triune God signified and sealed in such a wonderful sacrament! Reformed and Presbyterian churches must explain to Christ's sheep the meaning of Christian baptism, not neglecting to warn against the faulty baptist notions regarding the mode.

We have the "one baptism" of Ephesians 4:5 to proclaim. This baptism is based upon and dependent on the baptism of Christ on the cross, for which He was equipped, both ceremonially and really, by His baptism at the Jordan. It comes to us by way of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, which is, through the apostolic baptism on Pentecost, "built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone" (Eph. 2:20). Reformed saints must live in the light of their baptism. They must continually grow in their understanding of the significance of their baptism "into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost" (Matt. 28:19).

They must not be allowed to think that just because one group of churches is called by the name "baptist," that they have any particular insight into the initiatory sacrament. Their position is false and does not properly sound forth the glory of the gospel of grace. Let them not surpass us, in their zeal for promoting their faulty baptism. We have the true, God-glorifying view. Let it sound forth clearly and antithetically.

(2) This paper has deliberately avoided a discussion of paedobaptism until now. That would have greatly lengthened it and led it away from its one subject: the meaning of baptism. However, the two cannot be separated, and this study has implications for the subjects of baptism too. If baptism is, as the baptists say, a sign of our profession of faith, then it is obvious that babies cannot partake of the sacrament. If baptism is, however, a sign and seal of what God does in saving His people through the blood of Jesus, then infants of believers are worthy subjects of the sacrament.

Baptism, as we have seen, is rooted in Old Testament revelation, with its ceremonial purifications and sprinklings of blood, which pointed to the blood of Christ (Heb. 9:10ff.). In the Old Testament, especially, it is clear that children were in God's covenant and received the sign of circumcision.[156] We have also seen that baptism is purification by the Spirit of Christ and that baptism concerns the promise of salvation (Acts 2:38-39). These things pertain to the essence of baptism. They tell us what baptism is all about. All these things are fully consistent with paedobaptism.

Paedobaptism is particularly good at showing forth the Triune God's covenantal salvation in the line of generations.[157] God is a family God, as the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit. The Father eternally generates the Son and the Son is eternally begotten of the Father. God also deals with His covenant people in generations. He saves His people in this way since the whole idea of generating is something that is rooted in His very Godhead.[158]

By rejecting the sacrament of baptism for their children, baptists deny the covenantal dealings of God in the generations of His people and fail to realise the implications of believing in the great Triune God. Thus baptists-even Reformed baptists (or, more accurately, Calvinistic baptists)-fall into individualism, and, hence, have a predisposition toward Arminianism. Such are the dangers of the antipaedobaptist view.[159]

Second, paedobaptism is a wonderful declaration that in baptism man is passive. The Form for the Administration of Baptism expresses this well:

Although our young children do not understand these things, we may not therefore exclude them from baptism, for as they are without their knowledge, partakers of the condemnation in Adam, so are they again received unto grace in Christ … Children of Christian parents (although they understand not this mystery) must be baptized by virtue of the covenant.[160]

As a final point we note that in the Bible it is clear than infants can have the real baptism.[161] Why then can they not have the sign of salvation?[162] Being partakers of the covenant, the church, the kingdom and the promise, children of believers must not be forbidden Christian baptism.[163]

(3) Lastly, this view of baptism expresses perfectly the doctrine of sovereign grace. Real Christian baptism is the thorough change of the state and condition of the elect sinner by the sovereign Spirit of God who graciously applies the blood of Jesus Christ to his heart. Ritual Christian baptism is the sign and seal of this almighty purifying work of the Spirit, who washes us from our sins and consecrates us to the Triune God in Jesus Christ our Lord.


1Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, vol. 3 (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1877), p. 741.
2Ibid., vol. 3, p. 747.
3Alexander Carson, Baptism: Its Mode and Subjects (Grand Rapids: Kregel, repr. 1981), pp. 19, 55.
4J. L. Dagg, Manual of Church Order (Harrisonburg, VA: Gano Books, repr. 1990), p. 21.
5Augustus Hopkins Strong, Systematic Theology, Three Volumes in One (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, repr. 1979), p. 933.
6Calvin, however, believed that sprinkling was also a lawful mode of baptism (Institutes of the Christian Religion, Henry Beveridge trans., vol. 2 [Great Britain: James Clarke & Co., repr. 1949], p. 524 [4.15.19]).
7Also Lutherans, Anglicans, Congregationalists and others are not immersionists.
8The Form for the Administration of Baptism is found in The Psalter (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, repr. 1988), pp. 85-89.
9Logically, the issue of the subjects of baptism is preceded by that of the meaning of baptism. "What is baptism?" is a more fundamental question than "Who are to be baptized?"
10Such as a ship lying at the bottom of the sea, like the Titanic.
11The baptist insistence on the completeness of the covering by water is similar to the Jewish error expressed by Peter (John 13:9-10).
12This is problematic for the baptists since many protest that a verb can only be active (such as dipping) or transitive (describing a state such as immersion) but not both active and transitive.
13Dagg, Op. cit., pp. 23-31.
14Carson, Op. cit., p. 76.
15"So shall he sprinkle many nations" (Isa. 52:15).
16Cf. W. A. Jarrell, Baptizo-Dip-Only (Dallas: All Color Press, repr. 1973), p. 58.
17Dagg, Op. cit., p. 36.
18Apparently, it is an unwritten rule of the desert that all carried water is for drinking only.
19The length of time required to immerse the great crowd of converts would have far exceeded that of Peter's sermon. It would be strange if God chose to begin the New Testament church with such an occupation with the sacramental rather than the kerugmatic (cf. I Cor. 1:17-18).
20E.g., Strong, Op. cit.; R. E. O. White, The Biblical Doctrine of Initiation: A Theology of Baptism and Evangelism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1960); G. R. Beasley-Murray, Baptism in the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973).
21John Gill, A Body of Doctrinal and Practical Divinity (USA: The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1995), p. 913.
22Neither in Acts 9 or anywhere else in the New Testament do we read anything of baptized persons having to dry themselves or change their clothes, something one might expect if all baptisms were by immersion.
23Interestingly, both these baptisms are referred to in the prayers in the Form for the Administration of Baptism used by the Reformed churches (The Psalter, pp. 86, 88).
24Carson, Op. cit., pp. 119-120, 328-331, 366-367.
25Dagg, Op. cit., p. 29; italics Dagg's.
26Carson, Op. cit., p. 388.
27Gill, Op. cit., p. 911.
28Beasley-Murray, however, opposes this view (Op. cit., pp. 259-260).
29W. H. T. Dau, "Baptism," in James Orr gen. ed., The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, vol. 1 (USA: Hendrickson, repr. 1996), p. 396.
30Carson, Op. cit., p. 366.
31Ibid., p. 104.
32The Spirit is poured out in Acts 2:17, 18, 33; 10:45. In Acts 1:8, He is spoken of as coming down on the apostles. He falls upon believers in Acts 10:44; 11:15. This is in full agreement with the presentation of the coming of the Spirit in the Old Testament (Prov. 1:23; Isa. 32:15; 44:3; Eze. 39:29; Joel 2:28-29; Zech. 12:10).
33Matt. 3:11; Luke 3:16; Acts 1:4-5; cf. Acts 8:16; 10:44-48; 11:15-16. Carson can write that "the pouring out of the Spirit is [totally] different ... from the baptism of the Spirit," only because he is thoroughly blinded by the notion that baptism always and only means to immerse (Op. cit., p. 109).
34Ibid., pp. 104-105.
35Ibid., p. 105.
36Ibid., pp. 108-109.
37Jay E. Adams, The Meaning and Mode of Baptism (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 1980), p. 22. This is a most helpful little book on the subject of this article.
38James Oliver Buswell may well be correct in seeing in the sprinkled hearts of Hebrews 10:22 "an allusion to the significance of baptism," in accordance with the usage of sprinkle in Hebrews 9 (A Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion, Two Volumes in One [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, repr. 1975], part 2, pp. 249-250).
39It is no wonder that Westminster Confession of Faith 28:3 refers to Hebrews 9 first, when dealing with the mode of baptism.
40Dagg, Op. cit., p. 28; italics Dagg's. Similarly, Carson also states, "The translation ought to be 'different immersions,' not 'different washings'" (Op. cit., p. 76). Gill likewise understands the baptisms of Hebrews 9:10 as immersions (Op. cit., p. 897).
41Thus the "doctrine of baptisms" of Hebrews 6:2 is not "the doctrine of dippings or immersions."
42John Owen concludes from his study of the use of the word baptizein in the Bible: "No one instance can be given in the Scripture wherein [it] doth necessarily signify either 'to dip' or 'plunge'" (The Works of John Owen [Edinburgh: Banner, 1968], vol. 16, p. 266).
43Joseph Henry Thayer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (New York, Cincinnati, Chicago: American Book Company, rev. 1889), p. 16. Thus baptist author D. A. Carson comments on John 3:23, "‘Aenon’ is a transliterated Semitic word meaning ‘springs’; both potential sites are well endowed with plenty of water (lit. ‘many waters’, which doubtless means ‘many springs’)" (The Gospel According to John [Leicester: IVP, 1991], p. 209).
44Christy believes that John left the Jordan for the "many springs" of Aenon to avoid "the foul, muddy flood of the Jordan overflowing all its banks, as it usually did at this season of the year (Joshua 3:15)." After all, "clean water" was "the insistent requirement of the law" (quoted in Adams, Op. cit., p. 13).
45William L. Lane, The Gospel According to Mark, NICOT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), pp. 49-50.
46James W. Dale, Johannic Baptism (USA: Bolchazy-Carducci, P & R and Loewe Belfort, repr. 1993), p. 332; italics Dale's. Dale gives many examples to support his position (pp. 332-336).
47Ibid., p. 329. Elijah certainly did not use the water for dipping!
48Thayer, Op. cit., p. 209.
49A. T. Robertson, "Baptism," in James Orr gen. ed., The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, vol. 1 (USA: Hendrickson, repr. 1996), p. 386.
50Robert C. Harbach is correct. It is only "a superficial reading of Matthew's account" of Jesus' baptism which would "lead one to presuppose immersion" (The Biblical Mode of Baptism [A Pamphlet Issued and Distributed by the Sunday School of the First Protestant Reformed Church, Grand Rapids], p. 13).
51That the Jordan is used as a locality is proven by Matthew 3:13, which speaks of Jesus coming "to [epi, upon, at] Jordan unto John."
52However, a baptist grammarian, Daniel B. Wallace, tries to use udati in both senses. He states that udati in Luke 3:16 "seems to function in a double-duty capacity-specifying both the place of baptism and the means of baptism" (Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996], p. 155; italics Wallace's).
53Dale gives extensive instances of the instrumental use of en in Classic and Hellenistic Greek and in the Septuagint, Apocrypha and New Testament (Johannic Baptism, pp. 155-178). Buswell quotes A. T. Robertson's Greek grammar as saying, "The instrumental use of en is common" (Op. cit., part 2, p. 253).
54Cf. Albrecht Oepke, "baptoo, baptizoo, baptismos, baptisma, baptistes," in Gerhard Kittel ed., Geoffrey W. Bromiley trans. and ed., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), p. 539.
55Thayer, Op. cit., pp. 183, 189.
56Robertson, "Baptism," pp. 386-387.
57Thus Strong, with reference to Mark 1:9, affirms that the Jordan "is the element into which the person passes in the act of being baptized" (Op. cit., p. 935; cf. Gill, Op. cit., p. 910). However, Wallace, a contemporary baptist grammarian, is more cautious. He notes the overlap in the usage of eis and en and states that ebaptisthe eis ton Jordanen" ("He was baptized eis the Jordan") in Mark 1:9 is "less than an iron-clad argument for baptismal immersion." He also states that eis approaches the domain of en more than vice versa (Op. cit., p. 363, n. 18; emphasis Wallace's).
58Dale, Christic Baptism and Patristic Baptism, p. 310.
59Cf. A. T. Robertson, A Harmony of the Gospels For Students of the Life of Christ (New York, Hagerstown, San Francisco, London: Harper & Row, repr. 1952), p. 19.
60R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Mark's and St. Luke's Gospels (Columbus, Ohio: Lutheran Book Concern, 1934), p. 22; cf. pp. 29-30.
61See John 20:19. Also compare Luke 21:37 with Matthew 21:7 and John 9:7 with John 9:11 in the Greek.
62For further discussion of Mark 1:9, see Dale, Johannic Baptism, pp. 377-406, esp. pp. 388-396.
63Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998), p. 935; italics Reymond’s. See Harbach, Op. cit., p. 23. Harbach also writes that baptist baptisms are "valid, although not Scriptural" (p. 3).
64Robertson refers to this as the "obvious and inevitable interpretation" ("Baptism," p. 387). Significantly, neither the Three Forms of Unity nor the Westminster Standards nor any of the historic Reformed, Anglican or Lutheran creeds know of such symbolism in the sacrament of baptism (cf. Peter Hall trans. and ed., The Harmony of the Reformed Confessions [USA: Still Water Revival Books, repr. 1992], pp. 301-315).
65W. A. Jarrell quotes Philip Schaff (1819-1893) on Romans 6:4-5:
All commentators of any note [except {Moses} Stuart and {Charles} Hodge] expressly admit or take it for granted that in this verse the ancient prevailing mode of baptism by immersion is implied as giving force to the idea (Op. cit., p. 103).
66One baptist, Oscar Stevenson Brooks, admits,
[Paul] does not follow the expected analogy [only expected by baptists!] of Christ's resurrection and the believer's resurrection from the waters of baptism. If this were the symbolism in baptism, Paul failed to capitalise on it (The Drama of Decision: Baptism in the New Testament [USA: Hendrikson, 1987], p. 119).
Brooks also admits that Colossians 2:12 does not prove that the believer's immersion signifies Christ's burial nor that his emersion signifies His resurrection (p. 125). Yet he still clings to the standard baptist representation throughout his book!
67John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, NICOT, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, repr. 1964), p. 215, n. 3. Herman Ridderbos also firmly rejects the baptist eisegesis of this text: "Baptism is not a grave and a resurrection" (Paul: An Outline of His Theology, John Richard De Witt trans. [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, repr. 1992], p. 404).
68Owen, Works, vol. 16, p. 268.
69Harbach, Op. cit., p. 22.
70Baptists tend to refer to Romans 6:3-5 first, rather than Colossians 2:12, probably because they want to avoid awkward questions arising from the verse preceding the latter (i.e., Col. 2:11), regarding the parallel between circumcision and baptism, and its implications for paedobaptism.
71For a fine exposition of Colossians 2:12, in opposition to the baptist view, see John Eadie, A Commentary on the Greek Text of the Epistle of Paul to the Colossians (London and Glasgow: Richard Griffin and Co., 1856), pp. 152-157. Eadie, who is not a man prone to make rash statements, writes, "The Colossians did not personate death and burial in baptism any more than they imitated the circumcision of Moses" (p. 154).
72Nevertheless, as Jay Adams says, "The outcome of the debate hangs entirely upon the teaching of the Scriptures, and nothing more" (Op. cit., p. 5, n. 6).
73James W. Dale, Classic Baptism (USA: Bolchazy-Carducci and P & R, repr. 1989); Judaic Baptism (USA: Bolchazy-Carducci, P & R and Loewe Belfort, repr. 1991); and Christic Baptism and Patristic Baptism, pp. 473-630.
74Adams, Op. cit., p. 5, n. 6. Similarly, Lenski speaks of the baptists' "uncritical exegetical traditionalism" (Op. cit., p. 23).
75Buswell, Op. cit., part 2, p. 243.
76W. A. Jarrell in his Baptizo-Dip-Only spends most of his time fighting against the straw-man he has erected. The Reformed do not understand baptizein to mean either sprinkling or pouring, or that it indicates mode at all!
77We must agree with the baptists that if baptizein does indicate a mode in the Greek classics, immersion is the only mode which would have any appearance of fitting the facts. After all how can a ship which has sunk to the bottom of the sea be said to have been sprinkled or poured? Immersion, however, also fails. For example Dale, in his Classic Baptism, refers to baptizein being used by classical authors in instances where the intellect was baptized by blood boiling up the veins (p. 259) and the soul was baptized by the body (p. 264). Baptisms are also affected by anger, grief, misfortunes, calamity, multitude of evils, diseases, acts of a wizard, taxes, debts (pp. 284-285), drugs, wine and sleep (p. 317). Also the ancients spoke of a garment being baptized by solar rays (i.e. dyed by the sun).
78Adams, Op. cit., p. 14.
79Quoted in Dale, Johannic Baptism, p. 401.
80Dale, Classic Baptism, p. 354. W. A. Jarrell was clearly aware of Dale's thesis regarding the meaning of baptizein, but he does not engage in any significant interaction with it (Op. cit., pp. 17-18, 44, 55). He refers rather disparagingly to Dale's works as being "against baptism" (pp. 17, 55), as if to attack the notion that baptizein means "to immerse" or "to dip" were to attack the ordinance of God.
81John Murray, Christian Baptism (Philadelphia: The Committee on Christian Education, The Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 1952), p. 33; italics mine.
82We should add that ritual baptisms (both Johannic and Christian) symbolize the great change wrought by the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the elect. This understanding of baptism agrees with the baptists in that it sees baptizein as a powerful word. It differs from their definition in seeing the power of baptizein not as an immersion but a radical transformation.
83Dale, Christic Baptism and Patristic Baptism, p. 308.
84Murray, Christian Baptism, p. 32.
85Dale, Christic Baptism and Patristic Baptism, p. 309.
86Cf. John 1:7, 8, 15, 23, 26-27, 29-37; 3:26, 29-36; 5:32-36.
87Cf. Brooks: "John the Baptist's vital message was: 'I have been sent from God to baptize with water; my baptism will reveal the unknown Messiah'" (Op. cit., p. 78).
88As the Servant of Jehovah, Jesus is, of course, also our prophet and our king.
89Robertson refers to Jesus' counter-question to the chief priests as "pertinent" and says that, "He did not dodge in His answer." He also states, "Jesus bases His human authority on John the Baptist, His forerunner who baptized Him." He does not, however, explain how Jesus' authority depended on John's baptism and, with his baptist principles, it is hard to see how he could (A Harmony of the Gospels, p. 160).
90Adams, Op. cit., p. 17; italics mine.
91The water of Jesus' baptism, like the water of Mosaic baptism (I Cor. 10:1-2), but unlike the water of Christian baptism, does not signify the forgiveness of sins. Water was the element with which He was consecrated to His high office.
92For more on Jesus' water baptism by John as His initiation into the priesthood, see Dale, Christic Baptism and Patristic Baptism, pp. 27-31; Adams, Op. cit., pp. 16-20.
93These were not divinely prescribed.
94As we have seen, numbers 6 and 7 are intimately related since Jesus' real baptism by the Spirit was signified by His ritual water baptism.
95The Scriptures also speak (hypothetically) of a baptism into the name of Paul (I Cor. 1:13, 15).
96T. M. Lindsay, "Baptism," in James Orr gen. ed., The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, vol. 1 (USA: Hendrickson, repr. 1996), 393; Beasley-Murray, Op. cit., pp. 263-264. I have rearranged and omitted some of their material.
97Calvin stresses the relationship between baptism and adoption. He writes at the very beginning of his treatment of baptism: "Baptism is the initiatory sign by which we are admitted to the fellowship of the Church, that being engrafted into Christ we may be accounted children of God" (Op. cit., vol. 2, p. 513 [4.15.1]; italics mine). See also the Second Helvetic Confession 20 (Schaff, Op. cit., vol. 3, pp. 889-890).
98Beasley-Murray issues a disclaimer: he is not attempting "to give exhaustive references" (Op. cit., p. 263).
99The baptist confessions make no reference to the covenant in their treatment of baptism.
100Beasley-Murray, Op. cit., p. 272. Herman Ridderbos makes a similar association between the Spirit and baptism: "given the connection between the Spirit and baptism, what applies to the Spirit can be easily transferred to baptism" (Op. cit., p. 400).
101Belgic Confession 9 even uses this text as one of its proofs for the doctrine of the Trinity. It also appeals to the Father's speaking and the Spirit's descending at our Lord's baptism at the Jordan.
102Hoeksema, Reformed Dogmatics (Grand Rapids: RFPA, 1966), p. 674. For a defence of this understanding of the phrase "into the name," see Dale, Christic Baptism and Patristic Baptism, pp. 403-469.
103Heinrich Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics, G. T. Thompson trans. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978), p. 615. See also the Form for the Administration of Baptism (The Psalter, p. 85).
104The Trinitarian and covenantal nature of baptism under girds the Form for the Administration of Baptism (The Psalter, pp. 85-89).
105Brooks, Op. cit., pp. 135-159.
106Cf. Ibid., pp. x, 149. Brooks is not alone in holding that baptism plays a very significant role in I Peter (cf. White, Op. cit., pp. 228-231; Beasley-Murray, Op. cit., pp. 251-258).
107Brooks, Op. cit., pp. 157, 143.
108White, Op. cit., pp. 228-229.
109Brooks, Op. cit., pp. 144-157.
110Ibid., p. 153. Brooks' analysis of I Peter as a "baptismal tract" breaks down in his rather brief treatment of 4:1-5:14 (p. 157).
111Cf. Christ's institution of baptism in Matthew 28:19.
112Peter goes on to treat election alongside reprobation in I Peter 2:8-9. The elect church is formed into the covenant people of God (vv. 5, 9-10) and founded on the elect Christ (vv. 4, 6), the chief cornerstone (vv. 4-8).
113Baptism presents our initiation, whereas the Holy Supper is a sign and seal of our continuation in God's salvation (cf. Westminster Larger Catechism, Q. & A. 177; Heppe, Op. cit., p. 627). In the words of Turretin, our "nativity is adumbrated by baptism," but our "nutrition by the Supper" (Institutes of Elenctic Theology, George Musgrave Giger trans., vol. 3 [Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 1997], p. 378; italics mine).
114Brooks (an Arminian) unwittingly quotes Romans 1:16 in connection with the baptism of Romans 6:3-5 (Op. cit., p. 111). Baptism is thus a sign and seal of "the gospel of Christ" as "the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth."
115The translators of our Authorised Version (KJV) did well to render baptizein as "to baptize."
116E.g., V. C. Mayes believes in "one immersion" (see the "Foreword" to W. A. Jarrell, Op. cit., pp. vi-vii). For a defence of the position that the "one baptism" of Ephesians 4:5 is spiritual baptism, see Dale, Christic Baptism and Patristic Baptism, pp. 344-351.
117John's baptism was preparatory for the coming of the Messiah and ended with his (John's) death.
118Dale, Christic Baptism and Patristic Baptism, p. 94.
119Thus in our spiritual baptism we partake of the baptism of Christ on the cross, for we share in His sufferings (cf. Westminster Confession of Faith 26:1). Similarly, James and John drank of the cup of Christ's sufferings, though not of course as a propitiation for their own sins or for the sins of others (Mark 10:39).
120As John Henry Heidegger observes, "The [early Church] Fathers rather aptly declared that our baptism derived its power and efficacy from contact with the Christ baptized by John" (quoted in Heppe, Op. cit., p. 617).
121Cf. Westminster Confession of Faith 28:3; Form for the Administration of Baptism (The Psalter, p. 85).
122Cf. Westminster Confession of Faith 28:3:
Dipping of the person into the water is not necessary; but baptism is rightly administered by pouring or sprinkling water upon the person.
123Baptist immersionism is not alone in adding something to the simple biblical ordinance of baptism and then making that addition significant. Some advocate trine (i.e. triple) immersion and see in the three dippings a pointer to the three days and nights Christ was in the grave. The ancient church, especially in the West, increasingly practised anointing with oil or the laying on of hands by the bishop after baptism and saw in this the conferral of the Holy Spirit.
124Adams, Op. cit., p. vi; italics mine. After all, church ceremonies, if given theological significance, will surely have doctrinal ramifications.
125Gill, Op. cit., p. 899. For other references to the death-resurrection symbolism, see pp. 905, 911, 914.
126Strong, Op. cit., pp. 940-942. See also pp. 942-945.
127Jarrell, Op. cit., p. 99, n. 1; emphasis Jarrell's.
128Ridderbos, Op. cit., pp. 404, 402.
129There are three sacramental elements: water in baptism and bread and wine in the Lord's Supper (Westminster Confession of Faith 28:2; 29:3, 5-7; French Confession of Faith 38 [Schaff, Op. cit., vol. 3, p. 381]; Second Helvetic Confession 19 [Ibid., vol. 3, p. 887]; Heppe, Op. cit., pp. 593-594).
130Scripture also has several references to water at the creation and at the flood (cf. Leonhard Goppelt, "hudoor," in Gerhard Kittel ed., Geoffrey W. Bromiley trans. and ed., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 8 [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964], pp. 314-333).
131E.g., Isa. 44:3; Joel 2:28; John 3:5; I Cor. 6:11; Titus 3:5.
132William G. Williams, Baptism: A Discussion of the Words, "Buried with Christ in Baptism" (Cincinnati: Jennings & Pye and New York: Eaton & Mains, 1901), pp. 75-76.
133For example, W. A. Jarrell speaks of a "watery burial and resurrection" (Op. cit., p. 99, n. 1; italics mine).
134Heidelberg Catechism, Lord's Days 28-29.
135Cf. Heidelberg Catechism, Q. & A. 69, 73; Westminster Larger Catechism, Q. & A. 165; Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q. & A. 94. The Form for the Administration of Baptism also brings out the cleansing symbolism (The Psalter, pp. 85-89).
136Ridderbos, Op. cit., p. 402; italics mine.
137Cf. Belgic Confession 35: "the sacraments are connected with the thing signified."
138One wonders if the baptist weakness regarding the sacramental union was in any way responsible for the omission of most of the material in the Westminster Confession's chapter "Of the Sacraments" (27) by the Baptist Confession of Faith (28). Samuel E. Waldron, however, does not suggest this (A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith [Great Britain: Evangelical Press, 1989], pp. 337-338).
139Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, rev. 1996), p. 618; italics mine. Cf. Turretin, Op. cit., vol. 3, p. 348; Heppe, Op. cit., pp. 597, 638.
140Calvin's statement may be taken as axiomatic: "it is certain that all ceremonies are corrupt and noxious which do not direct men to Christ" (Op. cit., vol. 2, p. 424 [4.10.15]).
141Thus Brooks writes,
Believers, accepting the presentation of the gospel with its emphasis on Christ's death, gladly entered the baptismal waters to dramatise their faith response to the salvation event in Christ and to indelibly associate themselves with their Lord (Op. cit., p. 120; italics mine).
142Ibid., pp. ix, 161. See also the back cover.
143Waldron writes, "Baptism symbolises a saving response to the gospel." "Baptism symbolises compliance with the demands of the gospel." "Baptism is a symbol of both the blessings of the gospel and the saving response to the gospel. It symbolises repentance and forgiveness" (Op. cit., pp. 347, 350; italics mine).
144Dagg, Op. cit., p. 70.
145Dale, Johannic Baptism, p. 178.
146Interestingly, while the baptist puts the sinner in the Spirit, the Bible puts the Spirit in the elect sinner: "I will put my Spirit within you" (Eze. 36:27; cf. Harbach, Op. cit., p. 16).
147Dagg, Op. cit., p. 38; italics mine.
148Schaff, Op. cit., vol. 3, p. 741; italics mine.
149Ibid., vol. 3, p. 747; italics mine.
150Ibid., vol. 3, p. 755; italics mine.
151E.g., Gill, Op. cit., pp. 899, 909. Jarrell puts it very pointedly: "Dear Christian minister, Christian scholar, Christian, WILL YOU OBEY GOD IN IMMERSION, OR WILL YOU OBEY MEN BY EFFUSION?" (Op. cit., p. 43; emphasis Jarrell's).
152Ibid., pp. 72-85, 98.
153Ibid., p. 77; italics Jarrell's.
154Remember that the proper administration of the sacraments is one of the three marks of a true church (cf. Belgic Confession 29).
155This charge is made by many, including Charles Hodge (Systematic Theology, vol. 3 [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, repr. 1986], p. 538).
156For an excellent, brief treatment of the significance of Old Testament circumcision for New Testament infants, see J. Barton Payne, The Theology of the Older Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1962), pp. 391-394.
157This is taught repeatedly in the Scriptures (Gen. 3:15; 17:9, 12; Ex. 20:5-6; Ps. 78:4-6; 90:1; 105:8ff.; Isa. 59:21; Acts 2:38-39; II Tim. 1:5).
158This view is violently opposed to the anabaptist notion of the Schleitheim Confession of 1527, which speaks of infant baptism as "the highest and chief abomination of the pope" (John H. Leith ed., Creeds of the Churches [New York: Anchor Books, 1963], p. 284). Thus we confess with Belgic Confession 34: "we detest the error of the Anabaptists, who ... condemn the baptism of the infants of believers, whom we believe ought to be baptized and sealed with the sign of the covenant."
159John Murray points out that the facile individualism of antipaedobaptism is part of its fatal attraction: "To think organically of the Scripture revelation is much more difficult than to think atomistically" (Christian Baptism, p. 2). Similarly, Brian Chapell writes, "What is foreign to our thought today is the biblical principle of representative headship. Our lack of familiarity with this principle is one of the reasons why our individualistic culture struggles to accept the covenant family principles and practices of Scripture" ("A Pastoral Overview of Infant Baptism" in The Case for Covenantal Infant Baptism, ed. Greg Strawbridge [Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 2003], p. 20).
160The Psalter, pp. 86, 87.
161Cf. Ps. 22:10; 139:13; Jer. 1:5; Matt. 21:16; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 1:15; Eph. 6:1-3.
162Cf. Acts 10:47. Second Helvetic Confession 20 argues similarly (Schaff, Op. cit., vol. 3, p. 891).
163Cf. Heidelberg Catechism, Q. & A. 74.