Home > Baptism > Some argue that the word baptizo doesn’t always mean immerse in various passages of scripture

Some argue that the word baptizo doesn’t always mean immerse in various passages of scripture

broadusChapter 7-3: Baptizo – Classical and Biblical.

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.

3. But besides these more general considerations, various particular passages are urged as showing that the word baptizo in the New Testament is not always taken in the classical sense of immerse and kindred ideas.

(i) The river Jordan is mentioned. I learn that some years ago a clergyman in South Carolina stated that the Jordan is quite too small a stream to admit of immersion. It is more than two hundred miles long, and in all the region where the baptizing is described as performed is very hard to ford, even at the lowest water of summer. On the other hand, an estimable minister who died some time ago in Kentucky, stated in a sermon that he had been to the traditional place of our Lord’s baptism, and that the bank is so steep and the current so swift and deep, and strong as to make immersion there impracticable. Now this honored gentleman perfectly knew that every spring, when the river is high as he saw it, in the week preceding Easter, there come four or five or seven or eight thousand pilgrims from all parts of the East, to this very place, the traditional place of our Lord’s baptism, and there these thousands – men, women, and children – do actually immerse themselves and one another in the river, not as baptism (for they have been immersed in infancy), but as a sacred bath at that holy spot. He knew as well as I do that this happens every spring at that very place, and yet it never occurred to him to connect that fact in his mind with his own timid notion that immersion would there be impracticable. I am satisfied he was a good man, and have no idea that he meant to deceive; but how strangely good men can sometimes manipulate their own minds. The traditional place is not particularly well suited to baptism when the river is high. As to the bank, it could be cut down and made perfectly convenient in an hour. But there are much better places higher up the Jordan toward the Sea of Galilee. I saw some which struck a practiced eye as admirably convenient and beautiful – and that may possibly have been one reason why John moved up the river, as he appears to have done.

(2) Much is said about the scarcity of water in Jerusalem rendering it unlikely that the three thousand, on the day of Pentecost, were immersed. This seems, to some unreflecting people, a very strong argument when they are told that around Jerusalem there is, in ordinary dry weather, no running stream whatever, except the little rivulet from the fountain of Siloam; that even the brook Kidron does not contain a drop of water except in the rainy season, and the city was supplied by aqueducts, pools, and cisterns. Accustomed to think, with the schoolboy, that it is a remarkable providence that great rivers so often flow by great cities, and having never studied the water arrangements of ancient Jerusalem, these persons very naturally say: “Why, certainly; in a city without a river, a city so scarce of water, they would not have spared enough for immersing three thousand men.” But only think a moment. Even if we knew nothing of the methods by which Jerusalem was actually supplied, here was a city of say two hundred thousand as its ordinary population, besides several hundred thousand visitors for a week at a time, during the feasts – a great population, with all their wants, including the washing of their clothes, and a people who attached extraordinary importance to ceremonial purifications and to personal cleanliness – and you say that in this great city they could not spare water enough for baptizing three thousand persons?

Besides, Jerusalem was repeatedly besieged. During the siege by Titus a vast multitude from the country crowded the space within the walls, and were kept enclosed there from April to September. There was scarcity of food, but , in none of the great sieges, not even in this last, of which we have so minute an account in Josephus, is there a word said about the scarcity of water in the city. In the one apparent exception, it is the besiegers that suffered from a scarcity of water (Josephus, Ant., 13, 8, 2). It is plain that Jerusalem must have possessed remarkable arrangements of some kind, giving an immense supply of water. And examination has sufficiently disclosed the character of these arrangements, as various writers have shown. (See especially a tract by Dr. G. W. Samson, “On the Water Supply of Jerusalem.” published by the American Baptist Publication Society.)

I will add, not as caring to lay any stress on it, that in observing the remains of the immense pool just outside of Jerusalem on the West, which Robinson identifies with the Lower Pool of Gihon, I was struck with its adaptation to baptism. The pool, six hundred feet long, was made by building two walls across the deep ravine, so as to retain the water brought down in the rainy season. The steep banks on either side present a succession of flat limestone ledges at various depths and often many feet wide, so that at whatever depth the water might be standing in the pool, there would be excellent standing room for a great number of persons, with the proper depth for baptizing. As there was an abundance of drinking water in the city from the cisterns and aqueducts, this pool was probably used for watering cattle and perhaps for washing clothes, while the limestone sides and bottom would keep it always clear. Persons who have educated themselves to dislike immersion might fear to stand on these ledges and practice it, but the Jews of that day were accustomed to purificatory immersions, and would have no fear nor difficulty.

(3) The gospel according to Mark (7:1-5) tells us that it was the custom of the Jews to baptize (immerse) themselves when they came from the market, and to baptize (immerse) cups, couches, etc. It is said with great confidence that of course this cannot have been immersion. But did you ever notice that if you understand it as merely washing (as in our version) you make the latter part of the evangelist’s statement feeble and almost meaningless?

Some Pharisees and scribes were watching Jesus and his followers, to find fault with them. And seeing some of his disciples eating bread without having washed their hands, they asked Jesus why his disciples did not walk in this matter according to the tradition of the elders. In narrating this the Evangelist Mark, who writes especially for Gentiles, pauses in the midst of the narrative to explain to his Greek and Roman readers that the Jews were very particular about this matter of washing the hands before eating, and washing them “with the fist,” scrubbing one hand with the other, that is, washing very carefully – observing the tradition of the elders. In fact, he says, they do something more remarkable than this; when they come from the market – where some unclean person or thing may have touched some portion of their body – they do not eat till they have immersed themselves. And he adds that many other things they have received by tradition to hold, immersions of cups, and pots, and brazen vessels, and tables (or it should be “couches “). These practices were so wonderful, and gave such proof of the extreme scrupulosity of the Jews, that it is not strange the writer of the Gospel should have gone on to mention them, though nothing was necessary to explain his narrative but the first statement, that they did not eat without having washed their hands.

But if you say that the word baptizo, in the fourth verse, only means “wash,” as the word does in verse second and verse third, then what was the use of adding verse fourth at all? If, according to verse third, they do not eat without having carefully washed their hands, what is the use of adding that when they come from the market they do not eat unless they have washed? This certainly must mean something different from washing their hands, and something much more remarkable, or it would have been a waste of words, a very empty tautology, first to tell us that they do not eat at all, under any circumstances, without having carefully washed their hands, and then to add that when they come from market they do not eat without having washed. One would suppose not, if they wash before eating even when they have not been to market. Perhaps some one says, the washing in verse fourth means purifying, they purify themselves when they come from market. Of course it means a purification, but the washing of verse third means a purification too. That of verse fourth must be a different and more thorough purification, something more than the careful washing of hands, or else you make the inspired evangelist talk nonsense.

And notice the further addition. He goes on to tell his Gentile readers that these singular and scrupulous Jews have many other traditional observances, as immersions of cups, and pots, and brazen vessels, and couches. Now if you say this cannot have been immersion, but only washing in some other way, then why should the sacred writer have gone so far away from the immediate subject of his narrative merely to say that the Jews washed cups and pots? Most people do. And if it be said the point is that this was a ceremonial washing, a religious purification of the articles mentioned, we may answer that that would not seem remarkable to the Romans. They practiced numerous lustrations. A Roman shepherd would sprinkle his sheep with water once a year, accompanied by sacrifices, to preserve them from disease and other evils. Why should Mark go out of his way to inform Romans that the strange Jews made lustrations of cups and couches? But understand baptizo in its own proper sense, and all becomes plain and forcible. The Jews not only wash their hands carefully before eating, but when they come from market, where they know not what may have touched some part of their persons, they immerse themselves; and this suggests, and leads the evangelist to mention that they have many other like thorough and painstaking purifications enjoined upon them by their traditions, as immersion of cups, and pots, and brazen vessels, and couches. Thus the several facts of verse third and verse fourth rise as a climax, and we see the propriety of pausing to mention these various proofs of painstaking scrupulosity. (Compare Meyer on Mark. Some early documents show that this statement was regarded as wonderful, by changing “immerse themselves” to “sprinkle themselves,” and by omitting “couches.” if these Greek-speaking folks had enjoyed our modern lights, and known that baptizo itself may mean sprinkle, or anything you please, they would have felt no occasion for making such changes.)

But one says : “I cannot believe that they immersed beds; that is absurd.” Well, the beds might mean pallets, consisting of several thicknesses of cloth quilted together – as when the paralytic was told to take up his bed and walk, or like the beds they give you now in some houses of Palestine. More probably, however, they mean the couches beside the table, on which the guests reclined to eat, as the subject of the whole connection is their observances about eating. Now suppose there has been contagious disease in one of our houses, that a person has died of small-pox, or even of typhoid fever, will any careful housewife think it too much to take the bed, on which be died, all to pieces – if, in fact, she does not burn it – and carefully cleanse every part of it? Well, if she would be thus anxious to avoid contagion in her household, the Jews were equally anxious to avoid ceremonial impurity, when, for example, some “unclean” person was found to have reclined on one of their couches. And if she would not shrink from such pains in order to effect a thorough cleansing, why should we pronounce it incredible that the scrupulous Jews would take equal pains to effect a thorough religious purification?

Grant that in such cases the law of Moses did not always require immersion of the unclean object or of the person. The evangelist is expressly speaking of the traditional observances, and the Jews had become so very scrupulous that the tradition often required more than the law did. So we find them still doing in the time of Maimonides (twelfth century), and he asserts that such was the real requirement of the law. “Whenever in the law,” he says, “washing of the flesh or of the clothes is mentioned, it means nothing else than the dipping of the whole body in a laver; for if any man dip himself all over, except the tip of his little finger, he is still in his uncleanness.”

“A bed that is wholly defiled, if a man dips it part by part, it is pure.” (Quoted in Ingham’s “Manual of Baptism,” p. 373).

This last statement of his may relieve the extreme solicitude sometimes expressed as to how a bed could be immersed; and both statements show how scrupulous the Jews had become in employing the most thorough form of purification even where it was not required.

This also explains the conduct of Judith in the Jewish romance, who, living in a heathen tent and eating the food of the heathen, goes at midnight with her maid into a ravine and immerses herself, and returns “clean.”

The church-Father, Epiphanius, born in Palestine, of Jewish parents, in the fourth century, describes, in his great work on Heresies, a party of Jews whom he calls Hemerobaptistae ” Daily baptizers,” whose doctrines, he says, are the same as those of the scribes and Pharisees. Their peculiarity is that “both spring and autumn, both winter and Summer, they baptize themselves every day, maintaining that a man cannot live unless he baptizes himself in water every single day, washing himself off and purifying himself from every fault.” Epiphanius says this shows lack of faith; for if they had faith in yesterday’s baptism they would not think it necessary to repeat it to-day. And he declares that if they keep sinning every day, thinking that the water will cleanse them, it is a vain hope; “for neither ocean, nor all the rivers and seas, perennial streams and fountains, and the whole rain-producing apparatus of nature combined, can remove sins when, namely, it is done not according to reason nor by the command of God. For repentance cleanses, and the one baptism through the naming of the mysteries.” The same “Daily Baptizers ” are mentioned in the so-called “Apostolical Constitutions ” in a portion probably quite as late as Epiphanius.

John A. Broadus-Immersion Essential to Christian Baptism

  1. August 23, 2013 at 7:26 am

    Reblogged this on My Delight and My Counsellors.

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