Baptism: A Word Study
Although knowing the Greek language is not necessary as long as the
reader has a decent, scholarly, translation such as the KJV, NKJV, NASB, etc.
However, knowing some Greek can assist the Bible reader. For instance,
knowing that two different Greek words are translated into the English word love
in John 21:15-17 changes the meaning of this conversation. Sometimes words
are transliterated into the English language (Presbyter) enables the true meaning
of a word to literally be lost in translation. The word of our study today happens
to be one of these transliterated words; Baptism.
Baptism in the Bible
The word baptism is found over 100 times in the New Testament. There
are, however, no occurrences of the word in the Old Testament. Therefore the
only language we need to dive into is the language of the New Testament, the
Greek language. The word all derivatives of baptism comes from is the word
baptidzo. As can easily see our word is merely a transliteration.
By transliterating this word the true meaning can be easily lost. Most
modern English dictionaries claim baptism is merely a ritual one undergoes to
enter the Christian church and that the ritual or ceremony involves either
immersion into water, or the application of water by means of sprinkling or
pouring. A thesaurus provides perhaps the most intriguing dilemma. It lists the
synonyms for baptism as both sprinkling and immersion. It is intriguing that the
only time these two words can mean the same thing is when they are placed
within a religious context.
Perhaps the most frightening truth concerning is that Greek dictionaries
are now “covering up” the true meaning of a word. For instance, Strong’s
Dictionary states that baptidzo means “to be overwhelmed, to make fully wet.”
By that definition one could make a claim that the method of getting wet can be
by pouring, sprinkling, or immersion. Vine’s points out that the method is clear in
the true meaning of the word! Vine’s points out that baptism requires, immersion,
submersion and emergence. Thayer’s adds, “To dip.” So why the apparent
Baptism in Translations
Before the Bible was translated into the English in 1611 (The King James
Version) most services featured the Bible being read in either the Latin (Roman
Catholic Church) or in the Greek (The Greek Orthodox Church). With the Latin
word for Baptism being a transliteration itself (baptizare) everyone was
accustomed to that word. Furthermore, the average Christian did not have
access to the Bible as they were very expensive nor was he generally able to
read it as most could not read Latin nor Greek. During this time the practice of
immersion was dieing out. In 1311, the Catholic church claimed it did not matter
what method was used, and by expedience, pouring and sprinkling were
exclusively used. For the better part of 300 years Baptism was not used
BEFORE the English Bible was written. Therefore when the scholars who
translated the KJV came to the word baptidzo they were faced with a dilemma.
They could either correct the mistakes that were made for the last 300 plus years
and expose themselves as teachers of error, or they could transliterate the word
and continue to hide the truth. Needless to say, the hid the truth.
Nearly 400 years later and we are still without a reputable, scholarly
translation that translates baptidzo rather than transliterate it. In fact, this writer
knows of only three that have translated the word. Alexander Campbell’s Living
Oracles, and two other rare translations. The problem with these is not that they
are not scholarly, they just are not accepted outside of their “circles.”
Is There Another Way?
The answer to the question above is yes. Although tearing down the
language issue is perhaps the quickest and most efficient way of eliminating the
“that’s just your interpretation argument.“ By establishing a proper definition, it
becomes impossible to prove otherwise. Up always means up. Down always
means down. Exit always implies leaving something, and entering always
implies going into something. Baptism always means immersion. It is not an
interpretation, it is a fact.
Still, you can prove that baptism is immersion without knowing the Greek
language. John the Baptist baptized where there was much water (John 3:23).
If pouring and sprinkling are alternative forms for baptism, then why is much
When Phillip baptized the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:26-39 Luke gave us
several clues into what baptism truly is. First, let me clarify the use of the word
desert in Acts 8:26. This does not at all mean desert as in the Mohave and
Sahara deserts. This is a desert in the since of deserted or uninhabited. Luke is
not giving us a lesson on the fact that a man can be baptized where there is little
water, he is giving a lesson on obedience to the Spirit. Phillip went where it
appeared there would be no one around as the Spirit directed him. Secondly,
many claim that the water that was used to baptize the eunuch came from his or
Phillip’s wineskin. The language used in Acts 8:36 makes this impossible. They
were going down the road and came to water! Thirdly, Phillip and the eunuch
both went down into the water. If baptism requires just enough water to sprinkle
or pour, then why get into the water? Clearly those who “baptize” in this matter
today understand the foolishness of getting in the water when it is not needed.
Finally, read Rom. 6:1-11. This passage is perhaps the best proof for
immersion as baptism. In order for a person to be anew creature in Christ he
must die to his old self, he must die to sins (Rom. 6:6-7, 11) and be buried
(Rom. 6:4). Now, which one of us buries our loved ones by sprinkling or pouring
some dirt on them? Just as we can’t bury them in that manner, we cannot be
buried unless we are immersed into the watery grave of baptism and truly mimic
the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. -WTK