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Bible Basics (5th. ed.)


Study 1: God || Study 2: The Spirit Of God || Study 3: The Promises Of God || Study 4: God And Death || Study 5: The Kingdom Of God || Study 6: God And Evil || Study 7: The Origin Of Jesus || Study 8: The Nature Of Jesus || Study 9: The Work Of Jesus || Study 10: Baptism Into Jesus || Study 11: Life In Christ   10.1 The Vital Importance Of Baptism || 10.2 How Should We Be Baptized? || 10.3 The Meaning Of Baptism || 10.4 Baptism And Salvation || Digression 19: Re-baptism || Digression 20 The Thief On The Cross || Doctrine In Practice 19: The Certainty Of Salvation


10.2 How Should we be Baptised?

There is a widely held view that baptism can be performed, especially on babies, by sprinkling water on their foreheads (i.e. ‘christening’). This is in stark contrast to the Biblical requirement for baptism.

The Greek word ‘baptizo’, which is translated ‘baptise’ in the English Bible, does not mean to sprinkle; it means to completely wash and immerse in a liquid (see the definitions in the concordances of Robert Young and James Strong). This word is used in classical Greek concerning ships sinking and being ‘baptised’ (i.e. submerged) in water, or a bucket being submerged in well water. It is also used with reference to a piece of cloth being dyed from one colour to another by ‘baptising’, or dipping it into a dye. To change the colour of the cloth, it is evident that it had to be fully immersed under the liquid, rather than have the dye sprinkled upon it. Jn. 13:26 uses the Greek bapto to describe how the Lord dipped a piece of bread in wine. That immersion is indeed the correct form of baptism is borne out by the following verses:-

§          “John also was baptising in Aenon near  Salim, because there was much water there. And they came and were baptised” (Jn. 3:23). This shows that “much water” was required for baptism; if it was done by sprinkling a few drops of water, then just one bucket of water would have sufficed for hundreds of people. The people came to this spot on the banks of the River Jordan for baptism, rather than John going round to them with a bottle of water.

§          Jesus, too, was baptised by John in the River Jordan - into the Jordan (Mk. 1:9 RVmg.). “As soon as Jesus was baptised, he went up out of the water” (Mt. 3:13-16NIV). His baptism was clearly by immersion - he “went up...out of the water” after baptism. One of the reasons for Jesus being baptised was in order to set an example, so that no one could seriously claim to follow Jesus without copying his example of baptism by immersion.

§          In similar fashion, Philip and the Ethiopian official “went down into the water...and he baptised him. Now when they came up out of the water...” (Acts 8:38,39). Remember that the official asked for baptism when he saw the oasis: “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptised?” (Acts 8:36). It is almost certain that the man would not have undertaken a desert journey without at least some water with him, e.g. in a bottle. If baptism were by sprinkling, it could therefore have been done without the need of the oasis.

§          Baptism is a burial (Col. 2:12), which implies a total covering.

§          Baptism is called a ‘washing away’ of sins (Acts 22:16). The point of true conversion is likened to a ‘washing’ in Rev. 1:5; Tit. 3:5; 2 Pet. 2:22; Heb. 10:22 etc. This language of washing is far more relevant to baptism by dipping than to sprinkling.

There are several Old Testament indications that acceptable approach to God was through some form of washing.

The priests had to wash completely in a bath called the ‘laver’ before they came near to God in service (Lev. 8:6; Ex. 40:7,32). The Israelites had to wash in order to cleanse themselves from certain uncleanness (e.g. Dt. 23:11), which was representative of sin.

A man called Naaman was a Gentile leper who sought to be healed by the God of Israel. As such he represents sin-stricken man, effectively going through a living death due to sin. His cure was by dipping in the River Jordan. Initially he found this simple act hard to accept, thinking that God would want him to do some dramatic act, or to dip himself in a large and well-known river, e.g. the Abana. Similarly, we may find it hard to believe that such a simple act can ultimately bring about our salvation. It is more attractive to think that our own works and public association with a large, well-known church (cf. the river Abana) can save us, rather than this simple act of association with the true hope of Israel. After dipping in Jordan, Naaman’s flesh “was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean” (2 Kings 5:9-14).

It is worth noting that most of the early artistic descriptions of baptism in Roman catacombs and sarcophagi show the candidate standing in water, being baptized by immersion.

There should now be little room for doubt that ‘baptism’ refers to a complete dipping in water after first understanding the basic message of the Gospel. This Bible-based definition of baptism does not make any reference to the status of the person who actually does the baptism physically. Baptism being an immersion in water after belief of the Gospel, it is theoretically possible to baptise oneself. However, because baptism is only baptism by reason of the correct faith which one holds at the time of the immersion, it is definitely advisable to be baptised by another believer of the faith, who can first of all assess the degree of understanding a person has before actually immersing them.

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