How Should We Baptize?

My friends next question involves the mechanics of baptism.  Specifically, he wants to know if baptism should be by sprinkling or by immersion.  My response:

Though I want to make clear that there has been too much discord and division over this secondary issue, and we should look upon Christians who disagree with charity, I believe the best policy is to immerse for the following reasons. 

mikvah1.  Immersion best fits the definition of baptism. 

The word “baptizo” in the Greek literally means “to immerse.”  It was the word used in ancient Greek to describe sunken ships.  When the earliest translators into English came to the word “baptizo” in the Greek, it presented a problem because the practice of sprinkling or pouring was already common and so to translate the word as “immerse” would create controversy, and in the case of the 1611 translators, would have prevented the translation from being authorized by King James.  So, instead of translating the word, they merely transliterated the word.  Much confusion could have been avoided if they had translated the word with its actual meaning.

mikvah22.  Immersion best captures the reality being symbolized. 

a.  Baptism symbolizes our identification with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection.  When we bury someone, we do not pour a handful of dirt over them, we completely immerse them in the earth.  And when someone is immersed, the visual image of them disappearing beneath the surface of the water and then being raised out of the water is a graphic portrayal of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection.

b.  Baptism symbolizes that our sins have been washed away (Acts 22:16).  When Jesus saves us, it is complete cleansing.  No one would sprinkle a little water on his head and say, “I am completely clean.” 

baptism-Place3.  Immersion best fits the Biblical record.  Every time someone was baptized in the Bible, they went down into water. 

a.  This is true of Jesus’ baptism.  Notice that God’s Spirit descended upon Him “as He came up out of the water” (Matt. 3:16; Mark 1:10).

b.         When John baptized, he usually did so in the Jordan River, pictured here (see Matt. 3:6; Mark 1:5; John 10:40).  On one occasion, we are told that he selected a particular spot “because there was much water there” (John 3:23).  One doesn’t need “much water” to sprinkle. J

c.         This is true of Philip’s baptism (Acts 8:36-30).  Notice that they did not use the drinking water that the eunuch would have had available, they stopped because there was a body of water big enough for them to walk down into it.

Given the unanimity of the Scriptures on this point, I believe that anyone who had never heard of baptism, but was learning about it for the first time by reading the Scriptures, would deduce that baptism was by immersion.  No one starting without preconceived notions of baptism would ever deduce from the Scriptures that baptism might be done by sprinkling.

Qumran mikvah4.  Immersion best fits the historical record.  Baptism appears to have emerged from the Jewish ritual of purification, or “mikvah” cleansing.  When I was in Israel some years ago, I saw a number of “mikvah” pools. I’ve included some photos in this post. I remember one in particular outside the entrance to the scriptorium at Qumran (pictured here).  A scriptorium is a place where scribes would copy books by hand.  This would include making copies of the Scriptures, and they believed they had to be spiritually pure to do this.  So before they would begin copying Scriptures, they would bathe themselves.  The cleansing pools were very clearly designed for immersion.  In fact, they looked very much like modern baptisteries.

I once had a wise friend, a godly man, who disagreed with me on this subject.  When we discussing it once, he said, “I have a sliding scale of certainty when it comes to such issues.  I’m more sure of some issues than others.  On the issue of baptism, on a scale of 1 to 10, I would rate my certainty as a 5.”  I thought that was a remarkably wise thought process and a remarkably humble admission.  While my certainty level is higher than a 5, I do want to echo my friend’s humility.  Let’s all remember that whatever our position, Christians much smarter and much holier than ourselves have disagreed with us.

gkr1996 posted at 2009-11-13 Category: Theological