Levitical washings

The Reformed doctrine of baptism and New Testament practice

Colossians chapter 2, verses 8 to 15: 

“See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority; and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.” 

Last week, we looked at the sign of the covenant under the administration of God in the time of Abraham and specifically we looked at circumcision as it fits into the scheme of the Lord’s assuring Abraham.  

We said that God had entered into a covenant relationship with Abraham, which was expressed in Genesis 12 and in Genesis 15 and elsewhere. But we noted that in Genesis 17 a confirming sign was given in order to assure Abraham of the sturdiness of the promises that God had given to him. And so we talked a little bit about circumcision itself, and what that sign means, and then we began to talk about parallels between circumcision and baptism.

As you approach the subject of Covenant Theology, one of the things that people always want to talk about is the theology of the sacraments, because, naturally, the covenant and the sacraments fit naturally together. 

Why? Because sacraments are, simply defined, covenant signs. That is what a sacrament is. It is a covenant sign. A sacrament is a covenant sign. So Covenant Theology and the Doctrine of the Sacraments do indeed belong together. And there have been various controversies about the issue of Christian baptism that have raged in our circles. 

In the Reformed community, since the sixteenth century, there has been a hardy debate going on over the mode, the meaning and the recipients of baptism. 

Since the sixteenth century, there have been those within the Reformed tradition who have argued that the mode of baptism must be immersion. They have also argued that the meaning of baptism, because it symbolizes our spiritual union with Christ, requires believers-only baptism. And their argument is three-fold: mode, meaning and recipients.

At the level of mode, the argument is that it must be by immersion only. At the level of meaning, it is because it symbolizes our spiritual union with Christ, our regeneration, therefore, it must only be applied to those who have actually experienced spiritual union with Christ. And that means, believers only. 

Now, in addition to Covenant Theology, your doctrine of the church plays into that issue. And I would suggest to you, if you have a good healthy dialogue between a Reformed paedobaptist, whether that paedobaptist is a Presbyterian or an Anglican, or a Congregationalist, someone who is Reformed and believes in covenant baptism or infant baptism, and you have a discussion with a person who is Reformed and does not believe in covenant baptism or infant baptism, but in believers baptism only, then one of the areas that you will discuss will be your doctrine of the church. This because there are certain aspects of the Baptist doctrine of the church that impact on how they view the issue of baptism itself. And so your interpretation of Jeremiah 31, not only in light of Covenant Theology, but also in light of your doctrine of the church, factors into a discussion. 

In fact, I would wager if you have really had a thorough discussion of baptism between yourself, if you are a Reformed paedobaptist, and a Reformed nonpaedobaptist or anti-paedobaptist, Jeremiah 31 and its interpretation in light of the New Testament doctrine of the church has been one of the key points on which you disagreed.  

Arguments for mode and recipients of baptism

The Baptist position

What I want to do now is look at the arguments for mode and recipients of baptism. And I want to start with the Baptist side and give you a little bit of an outline of their argumentation for the mode of baptism and then the recipients of baptism. Then I want to give you a Reformed padeobaptist response to those arguments, and then perhaps we can go back and look at a few other things about the doctrine of the sacraments in general. 

We are departing from our chronological textual approach for a moment to look at a specific topic and issue because it is of standing importance in our churches. It is not a distinction within the Reformed community which we see as the grounds for the breaking of evangelical fellowship but it is one of great significance on both sides. 

Historically, Baptists have not acknowledged other baptism than immersion. And therefore if you have received some other form of baptism, and you desire to join a Baptist church, and especially a Reformed Baptist church, immersion will be required. Now that is not because Reformed Baptists are just being mean and nasty and picky. It is because of their very theology of baptism that that is required, so there are definitely ecclesiastical divides on this issue. And it is an important one to study. 

Now that is not the only controversy with regard to the sacraments and baptism. One of the other issues, which I will have an opportunity to take a look at later on, is within the Reformed community with regard to what baptism actually does or accomplishes, and the whole issue of covenant succession and the implications of persons receiving baptism and their standing with regard to the Lord’s Supper.

Many of you have perhaps come into contact with people in Presbyterian and in Anglican circles who believe that not only should children receive the sign of baptism, they should also participate in the Lord’s Supper from the earliest capable age. So there are lots of controversies around the subject of the sacraments, and it pays us to pull back and from a covenant perspective to look at some of these issues and chart the arguments out as best as we can. 

I have drawn this basic argument from the Baptist position from the works of a Reformed Baptist minister, so as not to misrepresent in any way the case and also to try to put forward the strongest case I can possibly put. The argument for mode of baptism is where we will start. And we will start with a Baptist view of the mode of baptism. The Baptist argument for the mode of baptism is basically four-fold.

First of all, the Baptist argues that baptism ought to be by immersion because the meaning of the Greek word for baptize is to immerse, so the argument is to baptize is exactly synonymous with the word “to immerse”. And therefore, for a Presbyterian to say, we are going to baptize by sprinkling, is to say, from the Baptist perspective, okay, you are going to immerse by sprinkling. And that makes no sense to the Baptist. If the word “baptize” means to immerse, then that is the way that it is supposed to be done. And so every reference then to baptism in the New Testament, from the Baptist perspective, is a compounding argument for baptism by immersion. So the argument is that when the Lord said, “Go ye therefore and baptize”, what He meant was, “Go ye therefore and immerse.” So the mode was significant and was specified by the usage of the very word, and in popular circles, this argument that baptism means immerse will often be carried out this way. Just pick up your Arndt-Gingrich Greek Lexicon and see what the first meaning of baptism is. It is immerse. And you know that is the sort of argumentation that you get. 

But there is a more sophisticated kind of argumentation for it. We all know that as you work through your Greek New Testament, you can’t just take the first meaning of a word every time, otherwise, you are going to be a horrible exegete. You have to look at context to determine meaning in a number of places where the proper meaning or the precise meaning is more difficult to tell. But there is a more sophisticated argument for this perspective as well. In other words, there is an awareness that there are multiple uses of the Greek words “bapto” and “baptizo”, which are the most common verbal forms of the command to baptize. But the argument is that even in the context of the New Testament, the preferable understanding of those words ought to be to immerse, both contextually and lexically. Now obviously, if I were presenting this from a Baptist perspective, I would be piling up verses and examples and such. But if we did that, we would be here all semester. So what I want to give to you is the skeleton of the argument, which will then enable you, I hope, to engage more constructively as you discuss.   

Second, the argument that you will receive from Reformed Baptist perspective on baptism says that what baptism symbolizes confirms the idea of immersion. Baptism, it is stressed, is a sign of spiritual regeneration, death to the old nature and resurrection to newness of life, and therefore the best sign for that is to be immersed. If you have been at an immersionist service, you have seen the minister speak about the person being buried in Christ as they go down into the water and being raised again to newness of life. So the argument is the very mode of immersion best symbolizes, or reflects, or represents what baptism means. So you notice there again your understanding of the meaning of baptism impacting both mode and then later, in Baptist arguments, it also impacts recipients.   

The third line of argumentation coming from the Baptists is that the New Testament practice of baptism affirms immersion as the proper mode. And there are various verses appealed to. The language of the prepositions in the New Testament, “eis”, “en” and “apo”, are appealed to as language that actually we should not translate to baptize with water, but to baptize into or in water as the proper New Testament language. And there will be an appeal to the baptism of Jesus, as He and John go down into the Jordan River, or an appeal to Phillip and Ethiopian Eunuch in their going down into the river in order to be baptized. So there will be argumentation that the practice, that the examples of baptism in the New Testament confirm, baptism by immersion.   

And the final plank of the argument is that the practice of the early church affirms immersion. 

In summary, the argument is the meaning of the Greek word “baptizo” points to immersion. The picture of death, burial and resurrection in Romans 6 points to immersion. The testimony of the New Testament passages themselves point to immersion. And the testimony of the early church points to immersion.

You will also hear this: the Greek Orthodox church baptizes by immersion, and the Greek Orthodox church obviously understands Greek better than anybody else; therefore immersion is the proper understanding of the Greek term for baptism. So there will be appeals to the New Testament, as well as to history on these accounts.   

Now what I am going to do is give a four fold response to these things. But before we do that, perhaps I could just outline for you some data from the Old Testament that impinges upon our understanding of mode of baptism in the New Testament.

Baptism is not a unique, New Testament phenomenon. There were Old Testament baptisms, and that is very important. We are not just talking about proselyte baptism, which was mandated in the Old Testament; there were actually mandated baptisms in the Levitical code. Let me walk through with you some of the information for these.   

First of all, let’s talk about unrepeatable Old Testament baptisms.  

Unrepeatable Old Testament baptisms

You remember in Hebrews 9:10, there is a reference there to various washings or various baptisms. The Greek word there is βρώμασιν, or “baptismoy”, and it is a word found in the Septuagint version, the Greek version of the Old Testament. The writer in Hebrews 9:10 has in mind the various ritual baptisms, or ritual washings, by which ceremonial defilements were removed in the Old Testament. 

If we investigate the Old Testament, we find that there were two unrepeatable baptisms in the Mosaic law. First, there was a blood baptism, and second, there was a water baptism. And then there were at least eleven subsidiary repeatable baptisms which are associated with the sprinkling of blood. There is also evidence of purification rites prior to Moses. For instance, you find purification in Genesis 35 verses 1 to 5 in the life of Jacob. 

Now, what about the basic unrepeatable washings, the blood washings, and the water washing? They are found respectively in Exodus 24 and in Numbers 8. In Exodus 24, we have the sprinkling of the blood of the covenant at Sinai. That passage is referred to in Hebrews chapter 9 very directly. It is also referred to in all the synoptic Last Supper accounts. 

Then there is the water baptism. It is found in Numbers 8 and involves the consecration of the Levites. Now we looked in detail earlier at that passage in Hebrews chapter 9, where the definition or translation of covenant is difficult, and I want to remind you of that passage again, but this time, focusing on a different set of verses, verses 18 to 20 of Hebrews chapter 9, where we read: 

“Therefore even the first covenant was not inaugurated without blood. For when every commandment had been spoken by Moses to all the people according to the Law, he took the blood of the calves and the goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, “THIS IS THE BLOOD OF THE COVENANT WHICH GOD COMMANDED YOU.” 

So this particular Old Testament unrepeatable blood baptism is actually mentioned in the New Testament, and it is highlighted by the author of Hebrews, in chapter nine verses 18 to 20. This sprinkling of blood qualified the Israelites to enter into the presence of God. Exodus 24, subsequent to verse 8, goes on to record that Moses and the representatives of the people met and ate with the Lord. So this sprinkling of blood confirmed that God was the God of Israel. And that Israel was the people of God. Israel had been adopted into the family of God and enjoyed appropriate fellowship, and this was because of the blood that pointed to atonement for sin. 

Now in light of that Old Testament ritual and its New Testament reality, because you remember in all the synoptic “cup” words, especially in Matthew and Mark, the language of the “cup” words, that is, the words of institution that Jesus gave when He was explaining the cup to the disciples. What is their form? It is identical to the Greek Septuagint translation of Exodus 24:8 with one change. The impersonal form “the” is replaced by the personal pronoun “my”. We read, “This is the blood of the covenant” in Exodus 24:8, but in Mark and Matthew, we read, “This is My blood of the covenant.” So Jesus goes right to that Exodus 24 passage to explain His atoning work. 

In light of that Old Testament ritual and the New Testament reality in the death of Christ, it would not be surprising if the New Testament used baptismal language in reference to the death of Christ. And that is precisely what we found. For instance, in Mark chapter 10 verse 38, Jesus says, “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And in Luke 12:50, we read, “I have a baptism to be baptized with and how I am constrained until it is accomplished.” This usage confirms the position that the purifying rituals, using cleansing agents other than water, can come under the classification of baptism in the Old Testament. If someone says, “Well, you can’t count these blood rituals in the Old Testament as a baptism,” Jesus thinks you can, not only from what He says from Matthew and Mark in the cup sayings, but in these passages in Mark 10:38 and Luke 12:50. 

So the question is then, “How do you relate the Old Testament covenant with sprinkled blood with the ratifying of the New Covenant by Christ’s death?” Clearly, the correlation is not because of the mode of the administration of that baptism. In other words, although we know that baptism in Exodus 24 was by sprinkling, it is not the sprinkling that connects that with its New Testament realization, nor is the link to be found in the manner in which Christ died.

Now, this is the point: the ritual in its connection with the New Testament fulfilment is not linked by the external mode, but by its internal meaning. It is the meaning of the ritual that links it with the New Testament fulfillment.   

The Old Testament ritual of sprinkling of blood was an initiation or confirmation of a relationship. The death of Jesus was likewise an initiation. It meant the inauguration of a new state of affairs for Christ, as well as those for whom He died. And so His death is termed as a baptism. Now that is the blood baptism that I wanted to look at. The unrepeatable blood baptism. Let’s go then to the unrepeatable water baptism.   

Now, a question: where do you find that reference to Jesus’ death described as in baptismal language? We could go on to Romans 6, but we will just stick with the Gospel accounts. There are two references, Mark 10:38 and Luke 12:50, in which Jesus refers to the experience of suffering and death that He is going to undergo as a baptism.   

The second basic and unrepeatable washing in the Old Testament is connected with the first. In Exodus 13, we read that all the first-born males of Israel were dedicated to the Lord, in testimony to the fact that Israel was indebted to God for all that He had done for her. So the first born, were to be, as it were, living sacrifices by which the people expressed their gratitude towards God. Paul takes up that imagery in Romans 12:1, and he says in the New Covenant, you are all living sacrifices, not just the first born. All of you are to be living sacrifices to the Lord. 

But in the Old Covenant, in Numbers 3:11-45, God specified that He would take one tribe of Israel instead of the first born. And instead of all the cattle, He takes the Levites’ cattle. And that the Levites would have no inheritance rights in Canaan. We learn that in Deuteronomy 10:9. Why? Because the Lord was going to be their inheritance. And then the Lord makes arrangements for the Levites to be given over to Him in a public ceremony, a confirmation of their being given over to the Lord.

Before the Levites could be given to the Lord, however, they had to be purified. How did the purification happen? By the sprinkling of water and the shaving and washing of their clothes. And then the representatives of Israel laid their hands upon them, identifying the nation with them, and they were offered to the Lord as a wave offering. And then before the beginning of their service, they offered an atonement offering for their sin in Numbers 8 verse 12. 

Now this baptism has a connection with a New Testament as well. You will remember that in Matthew 3:15, Jesus’ baptism is called baptism to fulfil all righteousness. In other words, to meet all the requirements of God. As such, Jesus’ baptism indicated His identification with His people, the true Israel. He is consecrated for them, on their behalf in baptism. He is baptized at the age of thirty, Luke tells us in Luke 3:23, because that was the age necessary before the attainment of priesthood, according to Numbers 4:3 and verse 47. The spirit is pledged to Him to uphold Him in His office of mediation and as our true high priest, Christ is set apart to the Lord’s servant. 

So again, this sprinkling of the Levites is an example of unrepeated Old Testament baptism. And it is not that we call the purification of the Levites a baptism, because of the way that they were baptized, by sprinkling, but because of the meaning of the baptism. 

Let me summarize briefly. Two unrepeatable baptisms involve the sprinkling of the cleansing agent so that it falls upon those who are thereby cleansed as a ritual cleansing. The mode of the baptism is not at the forefront; the meaning is. These rites of purification speak of a new position or relation that has been obtained by the ones who are cleansed. In the first case, Israel’s unique relation to God as His people. In the case of the Levites, they have been consecrated and constituted as God’s priests. So what is being held out in that purification ceremony is not so much the mode, as it is the meaning of what they are doing. 

The repeatable Old Testament baptisms

Now, let’s look then at the repeatable baptisms in the Old Testament.  There are eleven subsidiary and repeatable rituals of cleansing in the Old Testament found in the ceremonial laws. They were given for a definite purpose, and that purpose was to instill certain truths about purity and holiness on a spiritual level, by material means. If you broke these laws, it could put you into the category of being unclean. And more importantly, the unclean person was excluded from the place where God met with His people in a special way, that is, from the tabernacle and later from the temple. 

Now, this kind of exclusion from the privileges of Israel because of ritual impurity was designed to result from serious sins of the heart. This wasn’t just an external sort of formalism. This was designed to symbolize serious sins of the heart. So, for instance, after David was convicted of his lust and adultery and murder and concealment, he said, in Psalm 51:7, “purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean. Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.” What is hearkening back to? Those purification rituals set forth in the law of Moses. From these words, we see that David recognized the meaning of sprinkling blood with the hyssop plant in the ceremonial ritual. He saw that it pointed to the need for the defilement of the heart to be removed by the atoning sacrifice provided by God’s covenant love. 

Now as the New Testament undoubtedly uses the word “baptism” in reference to many or all of these ritual washings, it appears clear that “baptizo” cannot mean only immerse when applied to such rituals. Rather, it refers to washing in general, which always involves the idea of removal of disqualification, bringing a person or a thing into a new relationship. The quantity and manner of the water in its application is not prominent, although in the promise of cleansing in Ezekiel 36 verse 25, the clean water is explicitly referred to as sprinkled.

Let’s look at these repeatable baptisms. I will give you names for them, I will give you a reference for them, and I will give you an indication of what kind of coverage or washing they involved. 

The first kind of repeatable baptism under Moses was at the investiture of priests. Exodus 29, verses 4 to 6, Exodus 40:12, Leviticus 8:6. In the investiture of priests, the washing was to entail the whole body. Their whole body was to be washed.  

The second kind of repeatable baptism was the priestly purification before entering the tabernacle. You find it in Exodus 30 verses 18 to 21. In that case, what was to be baptized, or ritually purified, was only the hands and feet. 

The third repeatable baptism: purification on the Day of Atonement. You see this in Leviticus 16 verses 4, 24, 26 and 28. In this case, the body was to be washed and the clothes were to be washed. 

The fourth purification or ritual baptism or ritual cleansing was on the occasion of the purification of the red heifer sacrifice, Numbers 19, verses 7 to 8. In this case, again, the body was to be washed and the clothes were to be washed. 

The fifth repeatable baptism was for the priestly purification before touching or eating the holy offerings. This is referred to in Leviticus 22, verses 1 to 7, especially verse 6. Here again, the body was to be washed. 

The sixth repeatable baptism was for purification if you touched something unclean; purification for those who touched something unclean, whether you were touching a dead body, a corpse, bones, the dwelling place of the dead, a graveyard or cemetery, or prisoners of war. You find this in Numbers 19, verses 11 to 22 and Numbers 31, verses 19 to 24. This purification was to be accomplished by sprinkling ash, a mixture of ash and water. It involved the washing of the clothes and the washing of the self. 

The seventh repeatable baptism was the baptism of Leviticus 14, verses 1 to 9. It was the purification for the infection of leprosy, and it was to be done by the sprinkling of blood. It involved the washing of the clothes and the washing of the self. 

The eighth repeatable baptism was required if you had eaten meat with its blood still in it. Leviticus 17, verses 14 to 16 address this. Again, the clothes are to be washed, and the person or body is to be washed. 

The ninth repeatable baptism is connected with unclean human discharges. If you have been made unclean by virtue of a particular discharge from your body, Leviticus 15, verses 1 to 13 describes the purification that occurs by the washing of clothes and the self. 

In connection with that, also in Leviticus 15, verses 16 to 33, the discharge connected with sexual reproduction, whether it be semen or the menstrual cycle, purification was to be accomplished by the washing of all the body. 

And then finally again, the repeatable baptism as a result of coming into contact with the dead or objects which had come into contact with persons who are dead. You find this in Leviticus 11, verses 25, 28, 32 and 33. Again, sometimes objects that have come into contact with a dead person were to be cleansed by water, other times they were just to be thrown away, and the clothes of the person who had done this were to be ritually cleaned. 

Now, what can we conclude from this? Let me summarize briefly. First, there is an absence in all of these examples of specification of mode in these washings, and I would invite you to go back and look them up and work through them. The emphasis in not on the manner in which these washings are done. 

Second, although the Pentateuch makes it clear that the whole person is defiled by uncleanness, the principle behind these washings indicates that only that part of the body or only that object affected by uncleanness requires the application of the cleansing agent. That is interesting, isn’t it, in light of Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet and the exchange with Peter? “You are never going to wash my feet, Lord.”  “If I don’t wash your feet, then you are going to be unclean.” “Well, then wash all of me.” “No. This is enough.” It follows an Old Testament pattern. Even though the whole person becomes unclean by certain ritual acts of disqualification, specific purification rights are often applied to part of that person, the hands, the feet, part of the body, etc. Only on one occasion did we see a specification that the complete body had to be involved.

Third, in every single one of these repeatable baptisms the emphasis is on the application of water to the person, rather than the action of putting the person into the water. 

Fourth, water in motion is aimed at in several rituals involving illness and death caused uncleanness, so fresh or running, or flowing, or living water is specified with the sixth, seventh and ninth of those eleven repeatable baptisms that we find in Moses. No doubt that is because the water symbolizes life in contrast with corruption and uncleanness and death, so flowing or living water is to be used.

Fifth and finally, all these washings were private. All the washings which could have been total – in other words, involving total touching of every part of the body with water – were private, and involved the removal of the clothes and were self administered. So there is no precedent for administering a total immersion to another person. In the Levitical ritual, whenever a total washing is involved, it is always self administered.

So “baptizo” in the Old Testament has the idea of application of a cleansing agent with a view to removing that which disqualifies us from acceptance with God. The mode of applying the cleansing agent varies in each of these baptisms, but the predominant mode is sprinkling or pouring. 

Now in further considering the Old Testament background of Christian baptism, we need to look at the word “baptizo” with regard to how it was used in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, the Septuagint, and if you don’t want to write Septuagint out every time, remember it is normally abbreviated “LXX” and that is a lot easier than writing “Septuagint”. 

The standard lexicons recognize that “baptizo” is an intensive and prequintative form of “bapto”, the word which means “to dip”. And so, apparently, the earliest meaning of “bapto” in the Greek language is “dipping”. And from that root, the word came to be used in many connections. It was used when people talked about dying cloth, the materials being immersed in the dye. It was used of tempering iron, since the metal was plunged into the water. 

And there are only two places in the Greek translation of the Old Testament where “baptizo” is used. The first is in Isaiah 21 and the second is in II Kings 5:14.

In the first, it has to do with Isaiah’s vision of the fall of Babylon, in which he said in Isaiah 21 verse 4, my heart pants and fearfulness baptizes me, or overwhelms me, or horrifies me. It is used in a figurative sense.

The second reference is in II Kings 5:14, and it is a description of Naaman’s washing in the Jordan. The common English versions indicate that he dipped himself seven times and the flesh was restored. The Hebrew uses the word “tabal”, which had the idea of dipping, although it does not always express mode, and it does not mean total submersion. But the Greek translation uses “baptizo”. 

The word “baptizo” appears in the Apocrypha, those non canonical, intertestamental books. In Ecclesiasticus, the wisdom book known as the Ecclesiasticus, Jesus ben Eleazar ben Sira(ch), we read something that sounds a lot like Numbers 19: “Be baptized after touching a dead body and then touch it again, what have you gained by your washing?” Again this refers back to that ritual of water purification that we saw. There is also a reference in the book of Judah. 

As we move into the New Testament, looking at passages connected with purification, Hebrews 9 is important. The writer is contrasting water purification and the putting away of sin accomplished by Christ with the Mosaic regulations. Again, at the marriage feast of Canna, there were six stone water pots, each able to hold about 25 gallons. And these were used, John tells us in John 2:6, for Jewish purification rites.  There was a ritual of washing your hands before you entered, before eating, and that ritual purification was done by pouring a quantity of water over the cupped hands and then bringing the water into contact with the surface of the entirety of the hands.  

In Mark 7 verse 2, and following, we have the incident where the Pharisees are pressing for the disciples’ compliance with that kind of purification, especially in verses 3 and 4. And there is archeological evidence in the first century that Jews in Palestine practising ceremonial washings in cisterns. 

Josephus, the Jewish writer of the first century is useful, because he uses the word fifteen times in his writings. He uses it once to refer to plunging a sword into an enemy, ten times of sinking or drowning, twice in destruction of cities in war, once in intoxication, and once in reference to the purification rituals of Numbers, especially Numbers 19. And these are consistent with the uses of “baptizo” by the pre-Christian classical writers. He says this of these writers: “These use ‘baptizo’, baptize, to describe the sinking of a ship, the drawing or water or wine by dipping one vessel into another, of bathing, in a metaphorical sense of a person being overwhelmed by questions or doubt, in addition to the more general usage of dipping or dying in any matter.”  It is interesting to note that in this latter usage, this verb soon ceases to be expressive of mode. 

So, the evidence that we have reviewed as we have looked at scriptural and extrascriptural usages of “baptizo”, prior and contemporary to the writing of the New Testament, indicates this: “baptizo” was used for a literal washing with a view to ritual cleansing. It is a washing which brings a change or which represents a change. And in that context, or in a religious context, that means a ritual purification which removes disqualification in the sight of God.

It is interesting to note that the Latin Vulgate, completed by Jerome in the late fourth century or early fifth century, translates “baptizo” by the Latin term “mergo”, which is the Latin for “immerse” or “submerge” or “dip”. And our English translators, by transliterating “baptizo” as “baptize”, instead of trying to render it in a strictly English term referring to mode, may have been wiser than anyone else, because they have kept the attention from being on the mode itself. It remains to determine whether “baptizo” in reference to religious ritual necessarily carries the idea of a literal immersion. But the examples, texturally from looking at the Old Testament, the New Testament, and extra-biblical literature, make it clear that you cannot linguistically preclude all reference to non-immersion forms of this washing. So all of this is piled up evidence to say that the argumentation that the language of “baptizo” settles the case just doesn’t do justice to the realities there in the literature, either in the scriptural literature or in the extra-scriptural literature. 

So having said that, let’s look at our four responsive arguments to the Baptists on immersion. These are the Reformed paedobaptist arguments for effusion or pouring or sprinkling. You remember we said the Baptist argument for immersion was that the meaning of the Greek word was “immerse”, that the meaning of baptism is best symbolized by immersion, that the New Testament practice of baptism affirms or confirms immersion, and that the practice of the early church affirms immersion. Here is my response. 

Read the full sermon by Ligon Duncan.