Some appeal to the baptism of the Spirit to show that baptizo means something other than immersion
But another class of persons endeavor to go deeper, not relying upon the opinions of others. They say, grant that the classical use of baptizo is as the lexicons mentioned teach, that it always means immerse, and kindred ideas; yet the Biblical use is very different, for in the Bible it certainly sometimes means sprinkle or pour. The attempt is made to show this from various passages; really, it seems that so many are tried because it is felt that none of them are exactly conclusive. I should be glad to go over all that have been thus appealed to, but time does not allow that, and I can only mention those which are most frequently relied on, or which seem most plausible.
(5) One more passage may be mentioned, which some think quite conclusive against immersion, viz.: “baptized with the Holy Ghost.” John the Baptist predicted that the mightier one who was coming would baptize with the Holy Spirit. Literally, it is “in the Holy Spirit,” and this primary and common signification of the preposition ought certainly to be retained unless it can be shown to be inappropriate. And just before his ascension our Lord said: “Ye shall be baptized with (in) the Holy Spirit not many days hence.” On the day of Pentecost this was fulfilled. “There came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing, mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them distributed tongues as of fire, and it sat on every one of them, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” And Peter, in defence and explanation of the speaking with tongues, says that this is that which was spoken through the prophet Joel, “I will pour out of my spirit upon all flesh.” … Here a baptism with (in) the Spirit is promised, and the fulfillment is represented by a tongue-shaped flame of fire resting over the head of each person, and is afterwards described as a pouring out; therefore, we are told, there may be baptism without immersion.
Now if you contend that the symbol must be the same in the fulfillment as in the promise, pray notice that the Spirit is as truly represented by the sound which filled all the house, so that they were enveloped in it, as by the tongue-shaped flame over the head. But what is the sense of maintaining that when two symbols or images represent the same thing they must therefore be the same image or symbol? What was predicted as a baptism is afterwards described as a pouring. Well, if I say a man is bathed in pleasure, and presently speak of him as drinking from the cup of pleasure, would any one argue that the action of bathing is the same as drinking from a cup? Peter quotes the prophet as using the image of pouring, while our Lord had used the image of baptism; therefore pouring and baptism are the same thing. Christ is called a lamb, and is also called a shepherd; therefore a shepherd and a lamb are the same thing.
But some say it is absurd in itself to speak of immersion in the Holy Spirit. Why? You cannot conceive of this, and you can conceive of the Spirit as poured out. But both are of necessity figures. The Spirit was not literally poured out any more than men were literally immersed in the Spirit; and why is the one figure any harder to conceive than the other? Cannot you conceive of breath, wind (that is what the word Spirit, pneuma, means) as filling a space, and men immersed in it? Surely that is a perfectly conceivable figure. And does it not most strikingly represent the persons as completely brought under the influence of the Spirit, as encompassed, surrounded, pervaded by it? We are at present more familiar with the image of the Spirit as poured upon men, but how can one deny that the image of men as immersed in the breath of God is both conceivable and impressive?
Some other passages are occasionally brought forward as being supposed to yield an argument against immersion. I have mentioned those which are most relied on, and which look most plausible. And what do they amount to, when even cursorily examined? Remember, that it is necessary to find some case in which the word not only might, but must, have a different meaning. It is not enough to find passages in which some other idea would seem to you more appropriate, but to find one in which the established meaning of the word is quite impossible. If we abandon this great principle, all strict and sure interpretation of language comes to an end. And can it be said that the established meaning of baptizo, viz. : immerse, and kindred expressions is impossible because of the condition of the river Jordan, or the imagined scarcity of water at Jerusalem, or the immersion of cups and couches, or the baptism in the cloud and the sea, or the baptism in the Holy Spirit? You might prefer some other conception, but is the idea of immersion impossible in any of these cases? If not, it must stand.
Men who are determined to get rid of an unacceptable teaching can always raise some doubts as to the meaning of the plainest words. The Universalist works away at the word “everlasting,” until some minds grow confused, and those who wish to agree with him are misled. The Unitarian insists that instead of “and the Word was God,” it might be translated “and God was the Word.” The orthodox answer is that language is necessarily imperfect, and may sometimes be plausibly explained away by a skillful advocate. If God has mercifully given a revelation in human language, we should accept and follow its plain teachings, and not try to gather doubt around them, in order to escape conclusions which we do not fancy. And just this is what we say about the word baptize.
John A. Broadus-Immersion Essential to Christian Baptism