Home > Systematic Theology > A Treatise on Church Order: Baptism- Chapter 1- Section II- To Baptize is to Immerse

A Treatise on Church Order: Baptism- Chapter 1- Section II- To Baptize is to Immerse




We have seen that the commission which Christ gave to his apostles, instituted baptism as an ordinance to be observed by his disciples to the end of the world. It becomes important, therefore, to ascertain the meaning of the word “baptizing,” by which this duty is enjoined.

The commission has come down to us in the Greek language; land the word translated ” baptizing” is a participle of the Greek verb baptizo. Our present inquiry is, what does this Greek verb mean?

In the ordinary process of translating the writings of a Greek author, when we wish to ascertain the meaning of some word that he uses, we satisfy ourselves, for the most part, by consulting a Greek lexicon.[13]

The laws of interpretation require us to take the primary signification of words, unless there be something in the context, or nature of the subject, inconsistent with this signification. As there is no such difficulty in the present instance, our first decision, if we follow the lexicons, must be in favor of the sense to immerse.

When, from any cause, the decision of lexicons is unsatisfactory, the ultimate recourse is to Greek authors who have used the word in question. We search out the various examples of its use; and, by an examination of these, we learn in what sense the authors used the word. Since use is the law of language, the sense in which Greek authors used a word is its true meaning. The lexicons themselves yield deference to this law, and cite examples from authors in proof of the significations which they assign to words.

Our search of Greek authors, for the use of baptizo, is greatly facilitated by the labors of learned men who have preceded us in the investigation.

Professor Stuart[14] has collected, from different Greek writers, a number of examples in which baptizo, and its primitive, bapto, occur, with a view to determine the meaning of the words. To his collection, which he considered sufficiently copious for the purpose, I have added many other examples, from a similar collection by Dr. Carson, and a few others, from a smaller collection by Dr. Ryland. All these are included in the following tables, which may, therefore, be regarded as a fair exhibition of the use made of these words in Greek literature. The examples are so classified as to render the examination of them easy. In rendering the words in question, I have not closely followed the learned men of whose labors I have availed myself, but have aimed at a more literal and uniform translation. This is always put in italics; and the reader may consider the spaces, occupied by the italicized words, as so many blanks which he may fill with any other rendering that he may think better fitted to express the author’s meaning. Let it be regarded as a problem to be solved, how these several blanks shall be filled, so that the supply may fit every example, and, at the same time, be consistent, throughout the table, as the meaning of the same word.

In a few of the examples the italicized words are marked with an asterisk. In these cases they are renderings, not of the verbs themselves, which are placed at the head of the tables, but of substantives or adjectives derived from them, and involving the same signification. In the English prepositions which are construed with the verbs, I have sometimes followed Professor Stuart, when, without his authority, I should have been inclined to adopt other renderings. This remark applies especially to the use of “with,” in Class III. of Table II. A different rendering would correspond more exactly with the idea of immersion; but it has been my wish to give immersion no advantage to which it is not clearly entitled.







1. For the purpose of imbuing or covering.–1. He took a thick cloth and dipped it in water.[15] 2. Dipping sponges in warm water.[16] 3. And a clean person shall take hyssop, and dip it in the water, and sprinkle it upon the house.[17] 4. Send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water.[18] 5. Cakes dipped in sour wine.[19] 6. Dip thy morsel in the vinegar.[20] 7. One of the twelve that dippeth with me in the dish.[21] 8. Who dippeth his hand in the dish.[22] 9. And when he had dipped the sop.[23] 10. Dipping hay into honey, they give it them to eat.[24] 11. Venus dipped the arrows in sweet honey.[25] 12. He put forth the end of the rod that was in his hand, and dipped it in a honeycomb.[26] 13. Ye shall take a bunch of hyssop, and dip it in the blood which is in the basin.[27] 14. The priest shall dip his finger in the blood, and sprinkle of the blood.[28] 15. The priest shall dip his finger in the blood of the bullock, and sprinkle it.[29] 16. He dipped his finger into the blood.[30] 17. And shall dip them and the living bird in the blood.[31] 18. And he shall dip it into the blood.[32] 19. The Greeks dipping the sword and the Barbarians the spear-head [in blood.][33] 20. Having dipped a crown into ointment.[34] 21. The priest shall dip his right finger in the oil that is in his left hand.[35] 22. :Dip the probes in some emollient.[36] 23. Dipping the rag in white sweet-smelling Egyptian ointment.[37] 24. :Dipping the rags in ointment.[38] 25. By reason of heat and moisture, the colors enter into the pores of things dipped into them.[39] 26. They dip it [into the dye-stuff.][40]

2. For the purpose of filling, or of drawing out, the verb sometimes taking the sense to dip out.–27. The youth held the capacious urn over the water, halting to dip it.[41] 28. Take a vessel, ancient servant, and having dipped it into the sea, bring it hither.[42] 29. The bucket must be first dipped and then be drawn up again.[43] 30. The lad directed his large pitcher towards the water, hastening to dip it.[44] 31. He dipped his pitcher in the water.[45] 32. Instead of water, let my maid dip her pitcher into honeycombs.[46] 33. Bubbling water dipped up with pitchers.[47] 34. To-day, ye bearers of water, dip not [from the river Inachis].[48] 35. Dip up the sea-water itself.[49]

3. For the purpose of cleansing.–36. The Egyptians consider the swine so polluted a beast, that if any one in passing touch a swine, he will go away and dip himself with his very garments, going into the river.[50] 37. It shall be dipped into water: so shall it be cleansed.[51] 38. First they dip the wool in warm water, according to ancient custom.[52]

4. For the purpose of hardening.–39. The smith dips a hatchet into cold water.[53] 40 Iron dipped.[54]

5. For other purposes.–41. Bring the torch, that I may take and dip it.[55] 42. They cannot endure great changes, such as that, in the summer time; they should dip into cold water.[56] 43. If the crow has dipped his head into the river.[57] 44. The feet of the priests that bare the ark were dipped in the brim of the water.[58] 45. Of which the remedy is said to be a certain stone which they take from the sepulchre of a king of ancient times, and having dipped it in wine, drink.[59] 46. If any one dips anything into wax, it is moved as far as he dips.[60] 47. Having melted the wax, he took the flea, and dipped its feet into the wax.[61] 48. With his own hand, he shall dip his sword into the viper’s bowels.[62] 49. He dipped his whole chin into the belly of the ram.[63] 50. The one dipped his spear between the other’s ribs, who at the same moment [dipped his] into his belly.[64] 51. Taking his sounding scimitar from the dead, he dipped it into the flesh.[65]



1. In appearance.–52. If the sun dip himself cloudless into the western flood.[66] 53. Cepheus dipping his head or upper part :into the sea.[67]

2. In effect.–54. From the dew of heaven, his body was dipped [as wet as if it had been dipped.][68] 55. Having dipped [wetted or filled as if he had dipped] the hollow of his hand, he sprinkles the tribunal.[69] 56. He was clothed with a vesture dipped [colored as if it had been dipped] in blood.[70]



1. By dipping.–57. The color of things dyed is changed by the aforesaid causes.[71] 58. The dyers,* when they are desirous to dye wool so as to make it purple; . . . and whatever may be dyed in this manner, the thing dyed becomes strongly tinctured. If any one dye other colors. That they may receive the laws in the best manner, as a dye,* that their opinion may be durable. And those streams cannot wash out the dye,* although they are very efficient to wash out.[72] 59. Some dyed with hyacinth, and some with purple.[73] 60. Thou hast well dyed thy sword against [in close conflict with] the Grecian army.[74] 61. For the wife has deprived each husband of life, dyeing the sword by slaughter.[75]

2. Without regard to mode.–62. When it drops upon the garments, they are colored.[76] 63. Nearchus relates that the Indians color their beards.[77] 64. He endeavored to conceal the hoariness of his hair by coloring * it. 65. The old man-with the colored hair.[78] 66. Does a patron affect to be younger than he is? Or does he even color his hair?[79] 67. This garment, colored by the sword of Aegisthus, is a witness to me.[80] 68. He fell, without even looking upward, and the lake was colored with blood.[81] 69. Garments of variegated appearance, colored* at great expense. 70. A colored* bird.[82] 71. Lest I color you with a Sardinian hue.[83] 72. Then perceiving that his beard was colored, and his head.[84] 73. The physiologists, reasoning from these things, show that native warmth has colored the above variety of the growth of the things before mentioned.[85] 74. Using the Lydian music or measure, and making plays, and coloring himself with frog-colored [paints.][86]



1. Allusion to dipping.–75. Let him dip his foot in oil.[87] 76. Thy foot may be dipped in the blood of shine enemies.[88] 77. Thou hast dipped me deeply in filth.[89] 78. They are all dipped in fire.[90] 79. Dipping up pleasure with foreign buckets.[91]

2. Allusion to coloring.–80. Dyer, who dyest all things, and dost change them by thy colors; thou hast dyed poverty also, and now appearest to be rich.[92] 81. For the soul is colored by the thought: color it then by accustoming yourself to such thoughts.[93]





I. Sinking ships.–1. Shall I not laugh at the man who immerses his ship by overlading it?[94] 2. Such a storm suddenly pervaded all the country, that the ships that were in the Tiber were immersed.[95] 3. When the ship was about to be immersed.[96] 4. For our ship having been immersed in the midst of the Adriatic Sea.[97] 5. The wave high-raised immersed them.[98] 6. They were immersed with the ships themselves. 7. How would not his ship be immersed by the multitude of our rowers.[99] 8. They were either immersed, their ships being bored through.[100] 9. Those from above immersing them [ships] with stones and engines.[101] 10. They immersed many of the vessels of the Romans.[102] 11. The ships being in danger of being immersed.[103] 12. Many of the Jews of distinction left the city, as people swim away from an immersing [sinking] ship.[104] 13. Whose ship being immersed.[105] 14. As you would not wish, sailing in a large ship adorned and abounding with gold, to be immersed.[106]

2. Drowning.–15. He would drive him from the bank, and immerse him headlong, so that he would not be able again to lift up his head above water.[107] 16. He may save one in the voyage that had better be immersed in the sea.[108] 17. The boy was sent to Jericho by night, and there by command, having been immersed in a pond by the Galatians, he perished.[109] 18. Pressing him down always as he was swimming, and immersing him as in sport, they did not give over till they entirely drowned him.[110] 19. The river being borne on with a more violent stream, immersed many.[111] 20. Killing some on the land, and immersing others into the lake with their boats and their little huts.[112] 21. The dolphin, vexed at such a falsehood, immersing him killed him.[113] 22. Many of the land animals immersed in the river perished.[114]

3. For purification.–23. Naaman immersed himself seven times in Jordan.[115] 24. He that immerseth himself because of a dead body.[116] 25. He marveled that he had not first immersed before dinner.[117] 26. Except they immerse, they eat not.[118] 27. Divers immersions.[119]* 28. She went out by night into the valley of Bethulia, and immersed herself in the camp at the fountain of water.[120] 29. He who is immersed from a dead [carcass] and toucheth it again, what does he profit by his washing?[121] 30. The immersion* of cups and pots, &c.[122]

4. Other cases.–31. The person that has been a sinner, having gone a little way in it [the river Styx], is immersed up to the head.[123] 32. He breathed as persons breathe after being immersed.[124] 33. Then immersing himself into the Lake Copais.[125] 34. Immerse yourself into the sea.[126] 35. They marched a whole day through the water, immersed up to the waist.[127] 36. The bitumen floats on the top, because of the nature of the water, which admits of no diving; nor can any one who enters it immerse himself, but is borne up.[128] 37. But the lakes near Agrigentum have indeed the taste of sea water, but a very different nature, for it does not befall the things which cannot swim to be immersed, but they swim on the surface like wood.[129] 38. If an arrow be thrown in, it would scarcely be immersed.[130] 39. As when a net is cast into the sea, the cork swims above, so am I unimmersed.[131]* 40. When a piece of iron is taken red hot out of the fire and immersed in water, the heat is repelled.[132] 41. Thou mayest be immersed, O bladder! but thou art not fated to sink.[133] 42. Having immersed some of the ashes into spring water, they sprinkled.[134] 43. I found Cupid among the roses; taking hold of him by the wings I immersed him into wine.[135] 44. The sword was so immersed in blood that it was even heated by it.[136] 45. He set up a trophy, on which, immersing his hand into blood, he wrote this inscription.[137] 46. They are of themselves immersed and sunk in the marshes.[138] 47. He immersed his sword up to the hilt into his own bowels.[139]



1. In appearance.–48. But when the sun immerses himself in the water of the ocean.[140]

2. In effect.–49. Certain uninhabited lands which at the ebb are used not to be immersed [covered over as if they had been immersed], but when the tide is at the full, the coast is quite inundated.[141] 50. And were all immersed [surrounded on all sides as if they had been immersed] unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea.[142]



1. For drunkenness.–51. I am one of those who immersed yesterday [who drank wine freely].[143] 52. Having immersed Alexander with much wine.[144] 53. Seeing him in this condition, and immersed by excessive drinking into shamelessness and sleep.[145] 54.. They easily become intoxicated before they are entirely immersed.[146] 55. Immersed with wine.[147] 56. Immersed by drunkenness.[148] 57. He is like one dizzy and immersed.[149]

2. For afflictions.–58. Perceiving that he was altogether abandoned to grief and immersed in calamity.[150] 59. Since the things you have met with have immersed you.[151] 60. Iniquity immerses me.[152] 61. I have an immersion* to be immersed with.[153] 62. immersed by misfortune.[154] 63. Else what shall they do who are immersed for the dead?[155] 64. Are you able to be immersed with the immersion* that I am immersed with?[156]

3. Other uses.–65. The mind is immersed [drowned like plants by excessive watering] by excessive labor.[157] 66. Immersed with business.[158] 67. Immersed with innumerable cares–having the mind immersed on all sides by the many waves of business, immersed in malignity.[159] 68. Immersed into sleep.[160] 69. He [Bacchus] immerses with a sleep near to death.[161] 70. When midnight has immersed the city with sleep.[162] 71. Immersed with sins.[163] 72. But the common people they do not immerse with taxes.[164] 73. They immersed [sunk as a ship] the city.[165] 74. This as the last storm immersed [sunk as a ship] the tempest-tossed young men.[166] 75. Being immersed in debts of fifty millions of drachmae.[167] 76. He shall immerse you in the Holy Spirit.[168] 77. In one spirit have we been immersed into one body.[169]


The chief difficulty in classifying Table I., respects Class III. Under it I have placed all the examples in which the sense to color is given to the word, either by Professor Stuart, or Dr. Carson. Many of these examples might have been placed in Class I., 1; and others in Class II., 2.

To color.–Some learned men have maintained that the verb never signifies to color, without regard to mode. It is possible to explain the examples in which it appears to have this signification, like Ex. 56. Here the translators of the English Bible supposed the word, though denoting color, to be used with a reference to its primary meaning. :But when we consider how many words from the root BAP were used for things pertaining to the dyer’s art; and how frequently the verb bapto was used to denote to color; it seems most probable, that when employed for this purpose, it suggested to the minds of the Greeks in their familiar use of it, the idea of color directly, without that process of thought which was necessary to deduce this meaning from its primary sense to dip.

To smear.–Professor Stuart has assigned smear, as a secondary sense of the verb, and cites in proof from the Greek classic writers, Ex. 60, 61, 74. To the first two of these the rendering to smear is quite inappropriate. The warrior in battle does not redden his sword by smearing over it the blood of his enemies, but by plunging it into their bodies. In the other example, the rendering is less objectionable; but even here caution is necessary lest it mislead us. The verbs dip, plunge, immerse, wash, wet, pour, sprinkle, and smear, are construed with reference to two substances: one a solid, and the other a liquid. The first five have the solid for their direct object: to pour has the liquid for its direct object. We say to dip the hand in water, and to pour water on the hand; but not to dip water on the hand, or to pour the hand with water. The last two verbs, to sprinkle and to smear, admit both constructions. We say, to sprinkle the floor with water, and to sprinkle water on the floor; to smear the body with paint, and to smear paint over the body. In both these constructions, they always denote an application of the liquid to the solid, agreeing in this particular with the verb to pour. The verb bapto is always construed with the solid as its direct object. Throughout the table of examples, there can be found but one exception, which will be noticed hereafter. Even when it signifies to color, the verb takes for its object the solid, and does not signify that the color is produced by applying the coloring matter, as is done in the process of smearing. Hence, the rendering to smear is liable to mislead us into the belief that bapto like to smear, may signify an application of the liquid to the solid. The verb never signifies this process. It may signify the effect of it, but never the process itself.

To dip out.–The exception above referred to, is Ex. 35. In this, which is Nicander’s comment on the preceding example, the verb takes the liquid for its direct object, and assumes the sense to dip out. In the metaphoric use of the word, Ex. 79 conforms to this construction. It is worthy of remark that the English verb to dip is used in the same way, taking the liquid for its direct object, contrary to its usual construction; thus: He dips water from the pool. We never say, He plunges, or immerses water from the pool. In this sense of abstracting a part of the liquid from the rest, the verb bapto when it takes the solid for its direct object, may be construed with the genitive of the liquid, either with, or without the preposition apo This remark will explain Ex. 13,15, 21; to which Professor Stuart has given the sense to smear, because the verb is construed with APO They do not signify to smear with blood or oil by applying it; but to dip into it so as to bring away a part of it from the rest.


Our search is for the meaning of baptizo. This is a derivative from bapto; and because some aid in ascertaining its meaning, has been expected from the primitive word, examples in which this occurs, have been introduced in the preceding collection.

Some lexicographers have regarded baptizo as a frequentative, and have rendered it to immerse repeatedly. Robinson says it “is frequentative in form, but not in fact.” Professor Stuart has examined this question at length, and decides “that the opposite opinion, which makes baptizo a frequentative (if by this it is designed to imply that it is necessarily so by the laws of formation, or even by actual usage), is destitute of a solid foundation, I feel constrained, on the whole, to believe. The lexicographers who have assigned this meaning to it, appear to have done it on the ground of theoretical principles as to the mode of formation. They have produced no examples in point. And until these are produced, I must abide by the position that a frequentative sense is not necessarily attached to baptizo; and that, if it ever have this sense, it is by a specialty of usage of which I have been able to find no example.” The termination izo, is, with greater probability, supposed by others to add to the primitive word the signification of to cause, or to make, like the termination ize in legalize, to make legal; fertilize, to make fertile. According to this hypothesis, if bapto signifies to immerse, baptizo signifies to cause to be immersed. This makes the two words nearly or quite synonymous. But, however nearly two words may agree with each other in their original import, it seldom happens that they continue to be used in practice as equally fitted for every place which either of them may occupy. We must, therefore, examine the usus loquendi, to ascertain the peculiar shades of meaning which they acquire. In studying the preceding table of examples, the following things may be observed:–

1. bapto more frequently denotes slight or temporary immersion, than baptizo. Hence, the English word dip, which properly denotes slight or temporary immersion, is more frequently its appropriate rendering. In nearly one-half of the examples in which baptizo occurs in the literal sense, it signifies the immersion which attends drowning, or the sinking of ships.

2. bapto appears, in some cases, to be used in the secondary sense to color, without including its primary signification to immerse. No example occurs in which baptizo has lost the primary meaning. A similar fact may be observed in the use of the English words older and elder. The words have the same primary meaning; or, rather, they are different forms of the same word: yet, while older has inflexibly retained its primary meaning, elder has adopted a secondary signification, in which it denotes an officer without regard to age.

3. Bapto sometimes signifies to dip up: baptizo never takes this sense.


Though lexicographers frequently assign numerous significations to a word, they regard one as the primary or radical meaning from which all the rest are derived. If meanings have no relation to each other, they do not belong to the same word: hence to lie, signifying to be recumbent; and to lie, signifying to speak falsehood, though agreeing in orthography and pronunciation, are accounted different words, because their significations are independent of each other. No one imagines that there are two Greek verbs, baptizo. We must, therefore, seek for one primary or radical meaning, and endeavor to account by it for all the uses to which the word is applied.

An important distinction needs to be made between the proper meaning of a word, and the accidental signification which it may obtain from the connection in which it is used. This distinction may be illustrated by the following passage:–“If I wash myself with snow water, and make my hands never so clean; yet thou shalt plunge me in the ditch, and mine own clothes shall abhor me.”[170] In this sentence the word plunge, besides its proper meaning, obtains the signification to defile, from the connection in which it is used. This accidental signification is the most prominent and important idea conveyed by the word; yet it is not, strictly speaking, any part of its meaning. We may substitute defile for it, and the general sense of the passage will be conveyed; yet to plunge and to defile are different things. We must not conclude that we have ascertained the meaning of a word, when we have found another word which may be substituted for it in a particular sentence.

Since the lexicons give immerse for the primary meaning of baptizo, let us try the meaning in the examples in which the word occurs, that we may ascertain whether this signification will suffice to account for all the uses to which the word is applied.

In the several examples, in which the word is applied to sinking ships, it obtains the accidental signification to cause to sink to the bottom. On this account it has been explained, in such connections, by the word buthizo, to throw into the deep. But the fact that immersed ships sink to the bottom is not affirmed by the word baptizo. It is a natural consequence of their immersion. There is no necessity for supposing it to be included in the meaning of the word. The same distinction must be made in the examples which relate to drowning. The drowning is a consequence of the immersion, and is not included in the meaning of the word baptizo. In several of the examples the immersion denoted by the word is clearly distinguished from the effect produced by it. So in 3, we must distinguish between the immersion and the purification resulting from it. The immersion only is properly denoted by the word. All the other examples in Class I. perfectly agree with the sense to immerse; and some of them clearly require it. From Ex. 36, 37, 38, 39, it appears that substances which float on water are not baptized. This proves conclusively that the mere application of water to a part of the surface does not satisfy the meaning of the word. Ex. 41 proves that sinking to the bottom is not necessary to its meaning; but the other examples just referred to, prove that descent below the surface is indispensable.

The examples in Class II. require the meaning to immerse. The same is true of the examples in Class III. The propriety and force of the metaphorical allusions cannot be understood, if the word does not signify to immerse.

After thoroughly examining the collection of examples, we find that they fully establish the meaning to immerse. Christ, in giving the commission, must have employed the word in its usual sense. The commission is given in the language of plain command, and every other word in it is used in its ordinary signification. We are not at liberty to seek for extraordinary meanings, but are bound to take the words according to their ordinary import, where no reason to the contrary exists. What they mean, according to the ordinary rules of interpretation, is the meaning of Christ’s command; and, if we do not receive and observe it in this sense, we are disobedient to his authority.

Let us now re-examine the collection of examples, trying any of the other significations which have been proposed, as, to wash, to purify, to wet, to sprinkle, to pour. The experiment will soon convince us that none of these is the proper meaning of the word. Immersion, and nothing but immersion, will always satisfy its demands.


The correctness of our deduction is confirmed by the circumstances which attended some of the baptisms recorded in the Bible. The forerunner of Christ is called “the Baptist,” because he administered this rite. He was sent to baptize, and it must be supposed that he understood the meaning of the word. Now, if a small quantity of water will suffice, why did John resort to the Jordan for the administration? The reason must have been that which the inspired historian has expressly assigned for his baptizing in Enon, near to Salim; namely, “because there was much water there.” The people were baptized by John in the Jordan. In this river our Lord was baptized, and his own example explains the meaning of his command.

The baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch is very circumstantially described. The style in which he travelled forbids the supposition that he had no drinking vessel, in which a sufficient quantity of water might have been brought into the chariot to wet the hand of the administrator. But, if they chose not to perform the rite in the chariot, there was certainly no need for both of them to go into the water, if the mere wetting of Philip’s hand was sufficient. Why did they both go into the water? and why did the sacred historian so particularly state this fact? “They both went down into the water, both Philip and the eunuch, and they both came up out of the water.” These circumstantial facts are described in language which no one ought to misunderstand, and which no one ought to overlook, who desires to know his duty.

The Greek language continued to be spoken for many years after the times of the apostles. During all this period they, to whom the word baptizo was vernacular, understood it to signify immerse; and immersion has always been the practice of the Greek church to the present day. The Greeks must have understood the meaning of their own word. The Latin fathers also understood the word in the same way; and immersion prevailed in the western as well as in the eastern churches, until near the time of the reformation. Affusion was allowed instead of immersion, in case of sickness; but it was accounted an imperfect baptism. The testimony to these several facts I prefer to give in the words of Professor Stuart:

“In the writings of the apostolic fathers, so called, i. e., the writers of the first century, or, at least, those who lived in part during this century, scarcely anything of a definite nature occurs respecting baptism, either in a doctrinal or ritual respect. It is, indeed, frequently alluded to; but this is usually in a general way only. We can easily gather from these allusions that the rite was practiced in the church; but we are not able to determine, with precision, either the manner of the rite or the stress that was laid upon it.

“In the Pastor of Hermas, however, occurs one passage (Coteler. Patr. Apostol. I., p. 119, sq.), which runs as follows: “But this seal [of the sons of God] is water, in quam descendunt homines morti obligati, into which men descend who are bound to death, but those ascend who are destined to life. To them that seal is disclosed, and they make use of it that they may enter the kingdom of God.

“I do not see how any doubt can well remain, that in Tertullian’s time the practice of the African church, to say the least, as to the mode of baptism, must have been that of trine immersion.

“Subsequent ages make the general practice of the church still plainer, if, indeed, this can be done. The Greek words kataduo and katadusis were employed as expressive of baptizing and baptism, and these words mean going down into the water, or immerging.

“The passages which refer to immersion are so numerous in the fathers, that it would take a little volume merely to recite them.

“But enough. ‘It is,’ says Augusti (Denkw. VII., p. 216), ‘a thing made out,’ viz., the ancient practice of immersion. So, indeed, all the writers who have thoroughly investigated this subject conclude. I know of no one usage of ancient times which seems to be more clearly made out. I cannot see how it is possible for any candid man who examines the subject to deny this.

That there were cases of exception allowed, now and then, is, no doubt, true. Persons in extreme sickness or danger were allowed baptism by effusion, &c. But all such cases were manifestly regarded as exceptions to the common usage of the church.”


The significancy of baptism requires immersion. Paul explains it: “Know ye not that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ, were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death; that, like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”[171] And again: “Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.”[172] Peter alludes to the same import of the rite, when he says: “The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”[173]

The faith which we profess in baptism is faith in Christ; and the ceremony significantly represents the great work of Christ, on which our faith relies for salvation. We confess with the mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in the heart that God has raised him from the dead.[174] His burial and resurrection are exhibited in baptism, as his broken body and shed blood are exhibited in the supper. In both ordinances our faith is directed to the sacrifice of Christ. Under the name of sacraments they have been considered outward signs of inward grace; and, in this view of them, they signify the work of the Holy Spirit within us. But faith relies, for acceptance with God, on the work of Christ. It is a perverted gospel which substitutes the work of the Spirit for the work of Christ as the object of our faith; and it is a perverted baptism which represents the faith that we profess, as directed, not to the work of Christ, the proper object of faith, but to the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.

Objection 1.–There is an antithesis between the burial and resurrection which are here mentioned. The resurrection is moral, being to newness of life; and the same appears in the parallel passage in Colossians, where it is said to be “by the faith of the operation of God.” If the resurrection is moral, the antithetic burial cannot be physical.

If consistency of interpretation requires the burial to be moral the baptism must also be moral. The Quakers suppose that the baptism first mentioned in the passage is moral: “So many of us as were baptized into Christ.” But Pedobaptists admit that physical baptism is intended in this clause. Now, in passing from physical baptism at the beginning of the passage, to moral resurrection at its close, there must be a point in the progress where we pass from what is physical to what is moral. Where is that point? Some have imagined that it stands between the clause last quoted, and that which immediately follows, “were baptized into his death;” they suppose that “to be baptized into Christ,” is physical; but that to be baptized into his death is moral. The passage in Galatians has been quoted as parallel: “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ.” The first clause in this verse, they say refers to physical baptism; and the last to moral. But this is an erroneous interpretation. To put on Christ, is to put on his religion by outward profession, the profession which is made in baptism. The baptism and the profession are alike, in implying a moral change in the subject, only so far as he is sincere. Some are physically baptized, who do not morally put on Christ; but this, though unquestionably true, is directly contradicted by the passage, if the proposed interpretation of it is correct. So in the passage under consideration, it is affirmed that the same persons, and the same number of persons that are baptized into Christ, are baptized into his death. This could not be true, if the first baptism is physical, and the second moral. Between these two clauses, therefore, there is no place for a division between what is physical and what is moral.

We extend our examination further to find a place for the division, and we find it plainly marked by the word “should;” even so we also should walk in newness of life. Here the obligation to suitable morals is deduced from what goes before. This obligation is deduced from the physical baptism with which the passage begins, and everything in the passage, until we arrive at the word “should,” is closely connected with this physical baptism, and explanatory of it. These intermediate links of explanation are necessary to connect the moral obligation at the close, with the physical baptism at the outset of the passage. If these intermediate links were moral, the proper position for the word “should,” would be in the first sentence–thus, so many of us as are baptized into Christ, should be baptized into his death

In the parallel passage referred to in Colossians, the expression is “Buried with him in baptism.” The word baptism stands without adjuncts. It is not baptism into death; but simply baptism. If the word baptism, thus standing alone, can signify something wholly moral, it will be difficult to reject the Quaker interpretation of these passages, and of “baptizing” in the commission. In the preceding verse, circumcision is mentioned; but that we may know physical circumcision not to be intended, it is expressly called “the circumcision made without hands;” and “the circumcision of Christ.” No such guard against misinterpretation attends the mention of baptism; and when it is recollected that Christians are not bound to receive physical circumcision, but are bound to receive physical baptism, we must conclude that physical baptism is here intended. The completeness of Christians requires the moral change denoted by circumcision, and also the obedience rendered in physical baptism. In all who are thus complete, this physical act is performed “in faith of the operation of God.” This passage does not, like that in Romans, deduce moral obligation from baptism; and, therefore, the word should is not introduced: but it affirms the completeness of true believers in their internal moral change, and in their very significant outward profession of it.

0bjection 2.–Everywhere else in Scripture, water is an emblem of purification; and it violates all analogy to suppose that in baptism it is an emblem of the grave, which is the place of putridity and loathsomeness.

That water in baptism is an emblem of purification, is clear from the words “Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins.” But that water is an emblem of nothing but purification, cannot be affirmed. In numerous passages it is an emblem of afflictions, of deep afflictions, without any reference to purification. When the Saviour said, “I have a baptism to be baptized with;” an immersion is intended, not into a means of purification, but into sufferings and death.

The grave is a place of putridity and loathsomeness, but not until the corruptible body is deposited in it; and when it leaves the grave the corruptible will put on incorruption. Even the- grave, therefore, is a place of regeneration and purification; and, instead of bearing no analogy to the purifying water of baptism, the analogy is striking.

Some of the Scripture allusions to baptism, are made to it as a purifying rite, but this is not true of all. An exception is found in 1 Cor. x. 2. On this Professor Stuart remarks: “Here, then, was the cloud which first stood before them, and then behind them; and here were the waters of the Red Sea, like a wall on their right hand and on their left. Yet neither the cloud nor the waters touched them. ‘They went through the midst of the sea upon dry ground.’ Yet they were baptized in the cloud and in the sea. The reason and ground of such an expression must be, so far as I can discern, a surrounding of the Israelites on different sides by the cloud and by the sea, although neither the cloud nor the sea touched them. It is, therefore, a kind of figurative mode of expression, derived from the idea that baptizing is surrounding with a fluid. But whether this be by immersion, effusion, suffusion, or washing, would not seem to be decided. The suggestion has sometimes been made, that the Israelites were sprinkled by the cloud and by the sea, and this was the baptism which Paul meant to designate. But the cloud on this occasion was not a cloud of rain; nor do we find any intimation that the waters of the Red Sea sprinkled the children of Israel at this time. So much is true, viz., that they were not immersed. Yet, as the language must evidently be figurative in some good degree, and not literal, I do not see how, on the whole, we can make less of it, than to suppose that it has a tacit reference to the idea of surrounding in some way or other.” This author urges the objection which we are considering, as his “principal difficulty in respect to the usual exegesis;” yet we have here, according to his own exposition, an allusion to baptism, without any reference to purification. Another such reference is found in 1 Peter iii. 21, and again in the words of Christ before quoted, “I have a baptism to be baptized with.”

Objection 3.–Very little resemblance can be found, between a man’s being dipped in water, and Christ’s being laid in a sepulchre hewn out of a rock. The supposed allusion requires resemblance.

Positive proof of allusion must be attended with difficulty; because, if it be mere allusion, it is always made without express affirmation,. The proof of allusion must therefore be circumstantial; yet there may be circumstances which exclude all rational doubt of its existence.

If there is no resemblance between immersion and Christ’s burial, the passage before us contains no allusion. If the resemblance is so slight, that but few persons are able to perceive it, the probability is, that the supposed allusion exists only in the fancy of those who imagine they see it. But if men have generally believed that allusion exists in the passage, the fact goes far to prove, that there is resemblance.

Have men generally believed in the existence of the supposed allusion? It is not necessary to examine the writings of authors attached to every different creed, and differing from each other in their views of baptism. Professor Stuart tells us their opinion in few words: “Most commentators have maintained, that sunetaphemen has here a necessary reference to the mode of literal baptism, which they say, was by immersion; and this, they think, affords ground for the employment of the image used by the apostle, because immersion (under water) may be compared to burial (under the earth). It is difficult, perhaps, to procure a patient rehearing for this subject, so long regarded by some as being out of fair dispute.” Now this general agreement of commentators, answers the objection which we are considering, far more successfully than any efforts of ours to point out the resemblance, which these commentators have perceived. The fact that it is seen is the best proof that it exists. The Scripture nowhere affirms that Paul, in this passage, alluded to a resemblance between immersion and Christ’s burial; and, therefore, “the common exegesis” cannot be sustained by positive proof from Scripture; but it finds proof, the best proof that the nature of the case admits, in the fact that men generally have seen and felt the allusion.

Although positive proof of the common exegesis cannot be found in Scripture, a circumstantial proof may be drawn from the passage itself, amounting to little less than full demonstration. After making mention of baptism into Christ’s death, Paul, before he refers to Christ’s resurrection, goes out of the usual course to speak of Christ’s burial. This was not necessary for the moral instruction which he designed to convey, if nothing but moral conformity to Christ’s death was intended. It was not necessary for the purpose of finding an antithesis to the resurrection of Christ. The Scriptures usually speak of Christ’s rising from the dead, not from the grave: and his death is the common antithesis to his resurrection. An example occurs in the present chapter, “If we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection.” In Colossians, after the passage “Buried with him in baptism,” the antithesis is again made, between the death (not the burial) of Christ, and his resurrection: “Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ, from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, &c.”[175] “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above,” &c. “For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.”[176] Why did the apostle step out of the usual course, in two different passages to mention the burial of Christ? and to mention it in connection with baptism? It cannot be accounted for if the common exegesis be rejected.

The objection states that little resemblance can be found between immersion and Christ’s burial: and the same might be said with respect to the resemblance between a loaf of bread, and the body of Christ. A well executed picture of the crucifixion, such as may be seen in Catholic chapels, has much more resemblance to the body of Christ, than is furnished by a piece of bread; yet, considering all the ends to be answered by the Eucharist, the divine wisdom has determined that we should keep Christ’s death in memory, not by looking at a crucifix, but by the eating of bread. In like manner, some means might have been devised for representing the burial and resurrection of Christ, supplying a nearer resemblance than is furnished by immersion in water. But when we consider that baptism not only represents the burial and resurrection of Christ, but also our fellowship with him in both, and the consequent removal or washing away of our guilt, nothing could more conveniently, aptly, and instructively accomplish all these ends at once.

[13] The Lexicons of Donnegan, and of Liddell and Scott, are in common use and high repute. They give the meaning of the word as follows:–

Donnegan.–“To immerse repeatedly into a liquid; to submerge, to soak thoroughly, to saturate; hence to drench with wine Met., to confound totally; to dip in a vessel and draw.–Pass. Perf.. bebaptismai, to be immersed, &c.”

Liddell and Scott.–“To dip repeatedly, to dip under. Mid. to bathe; hence to steep, wet; metaph. oi bebaptismenoi, soaked in wine; to pour upon, drench, eisphorais ophlemasi beb. over head and ears in debt. Plut. meirakion Baptizomenon, a boy overwhelmed with questions, Heind. Plat. Euthyd.–to dip a vessel, draw water–to baptize. N. T.”

[14] Dissertation on the question, “Is the mode of Christian Baptism prescribed in the New Testament?”

[15] 2 Kings viii. 15.

[16] Hippocrates.

[17] Num. xix. 18.

[18] Luke xvi. 24.

[19] Hippocrates.

[20] Ruth ii. 14.

[21] Mark xiv. 20.

[22] Matt. xxvi. 23.

[23] John xiii. 26.

[24] Aristotle.

[25] Anacreon.

[26] 1 Sam. xiv. 27.

[27] Ex. xii. 22.

[28] Lev. iv. 6.

[29] Lev. iv. 17.

[30] Lev. ix. 9.

[31] Lev. xiv. 6.

[32] Lev. xiv. 51.

[33] Xenophon.

[34] Aelian.

[35] Lev. xiv. 16.

[36] Hippocrates.

[37] Hippocrates.

[38] Hippocrates.

[39] Aristotle.

[40] Plato.

[41] Theocritus.

[42] Euripides.

[43] Aristotle.

[44] Theocritus.

[45] Hermolaus.

[46] Theocritus.

[47] Euripides.

[48] Callimachus.

[49] Nicander.

[50] Herodotus.

[51] Lev. xi. 32.

[52] Aristophanes.

[53] Homer.

[54] Plutarch.

[55] Aristophanes.

[56] Aristotle.

[57] Aratus.

[58] Josh. iii. 15.

[59] Aristotle.

[60] Aristotle.

[61] Aristophanes.

[62] Lycophron.

[63] Philippus.

[64] Dionysius of Halicarnassus.

[65] Euripides.

[66] Aratus.

[67] Aratus.

[68] Dan. iv. 33, v. 21.

[69] Suidas.

[70] Rev. xix. 13.

[71] Aristotle.

[72] Plato.

[73] Josephus.

[74] Sophocles.

[75] Aeschylus.

[76] Hippocrates.

[77] Arrian.

[78] Aelian.

[79] Nicolas of Damascus.

[80] Aeschylus.

[81] Homer.

[82] Aristophanes.

[83] Aristophanes.

[84] Plutarch.

[85] Diodorus Siculus.

[86] Aristophanes.

[87] Deut. xxxiii. 24.

[88] Psalms lxviii. 23.

[89] Job ix. 31.

[90] Moschus.

[91] Lycophron.

[92] Helladius.

[93] Marcus Antoninus.

[94] Hippocrates.

[95] Dion Cassuis.

[96] Josephus.

[97] Josephus.

[98] Josephus.

[99] Dion Cassius.

[100] Dion Cassius.

[101] Dion Cassius.

[102] Polybius.

[103] Aesop.

[104] Josephus.

[105] Diod. Siculus.

[106] Epictetus.

[107] Lucian.

[108] Themistius.

[109] Josephus.

[110] Josephus.

[111] Diodorus Siculus.

[112] Heliodorus.

[113] Aesop.

[114] Diodorus Siculus.

[115] 2 Kings v. 14.

[116] Ecclus. xxxiv. 30.

[117] Luke xi. 38.

[118] Mark vii. 4.

[119] Heb. ix. 10.

[120] Judith xii. 7.

[121] Ecclus. xxxiv. 25.

[122] Mark vii. 8.

[123] Porphyry.

[124] Hippocrates.

[125] Plutarch.

[126] Plutarch.

[127] Strabo.

[128] Strabo.

[129] Strabo.

[130] Strabo.

[131] Pindar.

[132] Heraclides Ponticus.

[133] Plutarch.

[134] Josephus.

[135] Anacreon.

[136] Dionysius.

[137] Plutarch.

[138] Polybius.

[139] Josephus.

[140] Orpheus.

[141] Aristotle.

[142] 1 Cor. x. 2.

[143] Aristophanes.

[144] Plato.

[145] Josephus.

[146] Philo Judaeus.

[147] Chrysostom.

[148] Justin Martyr.

[149] Lucian.

[150] Heliodorus.

[151] Heliodorus.

[152] Isa. xxi. 4.

[153] Luke xii. 50.

[154] Heliodorus.

[155] 1 Cor. xv. 29.

[156] Mark x. 38.

[157] Plutarch.

[158] Plutarch.

[159] Chrysostom.

[160] Clemens Alexandrinus.

[161] Plutarch.

[162] Heliodorus.

[163] Justin Martyr.

[164] Diod. Siculus.

[165] Josephus.

[166] Josephus.

[167] Plutarch.

[168] Matt. iii. 11; Acts i. 5.

[169] 1 Cor. xii. 13.

[170] Job ix. 30,31.

[171] Rom. vi. 3,4.

[172] Col. ii. 12.

[173] 1 Peter iii. 21.

[174] Rom. x. 9.

[175] Col. ii. 20.

[176] Col. iii. 1-3.

John L. Dagg- Manual of Theology- Volume 2

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