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




Argument 1.–There are many reasons for supposing that baptizo, being a derivative from bapto, has a less definite and less forcible sense than the original. And yet even bapto does not always signify a total immersion. This is perfectly evident from Mat. xxvi. 23: “He that dippeth his hand with me in the dish.” Mark has it o embaptomenos, he that dippeth himself. Now, whatever liquid the dish contained, it cannot be supposed, that Judas plunged his hand all over in that liquid; much less that he dipped his entire person.

What the “many reasons” are, for supposing that baptizo has a less definite and less forcible signification than bapto, the argument does not inform us. The mere fact that it is a derivative, furnishes not the slightest proof; for derivatives may be amplificative or intensive. To assume that they must be diminutive, would be utterly fallacious. The termination izo, whether it be frequentative, or causative, is not diminutive. Our examination of the preceding tables has shown, that the primitive generally denotes a slight and temporary immersion; but that the derivative, in nearly one-half of the examples in which it is used, literally signifies total and permanent immersion. This fact is decisive against the supposition, that baptizo is less definite and forcible.

But if the less forcible primitive bapto had been used in the commission, no sufficient reason would exist, for supposing anything less than dipping to be intended. The meaning even of this word, is clearly to dip. The numerous examples of its use which have been adduced, establish this point; and even the very example brought forward in the argument, proves it. Judas dipped his hand in the dish. He did not wash, purify, wet, sprinkle, or pour his hand; but he dipped it. To dip, therefore according to this very example, is the meaning of bapto; and if this word had been employed in the commission, the command would have been, “Go teach all nations, dipping them.” Dipping was commanded in many of the ceremonies prescribed in the Old Testament, and the word bapto expresses the duty enjoined. No one imagines that it signifies, in these cases, to sprinkle or pour. Had this word been used in the commission, Christian worshippers would be less obedient than the Israelites, if they satisfied themselves with anything less than dipping.

But it is alleged, that the word does not always denote total immersion. On re-examining the Table of Examples, we find that frequently, in the use of bapto, less frequently in the use of baptizo, the immersion is not total; but, in no case, does this arise from any defect in the meaning of either verb. When a teacher directs his pupil to dip his pen in the ink for the purpose of writing, no one understands that an immersion of the whole pen is intended. When we read, “Send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue;”[177] every one understands that the whole of the part designated, the tip of the finger, is to be immersed. The difference in the two cases does not arise from any difference in the meaning of the verb dip. It is the same word in both cases, and has the same meaning; but the purpose for which the act is to be performed determines the extent to which the immersion is to proceed. If the pupil should stupidly mistake the teacher’s design, the command would be explained, “Dip the nib of the pen in the ink;” and this is all that the first command meant. The greater definiteness of the last command, does not arise from any greater definiteness given to the verb dip. It is definite in the last case, and was equally definite in the first; but in the first, by a very common figure of speech, the whole pen was put for a part. The teacher relied on the nature of the case to limit the meaning of his command, and language is always sufficiently definite, so long as there is no danger of being misunderstood. We say that a pen is dipped, when in strict language the nib only is dipped; but the nib is totally immersed, and hence, in its proper meaning, to dip signifies total immersion. In all cases where the command is to dip, so far as depends on the meaning of the word, total immersion must be understood; and if we had received the commission in English, Go teach all nations, dipping them, it might safely be left to the common sense of mankind to determine whether partial or total immersion was intended.

The middle voice of Greek verbs is used, when an agent acts for his own benefit. This sufficiently explains Mark’s use of embaptomenos in the example cited in the argument. What Judas dipped in the dish, is said by Matthew to have been his hand. A hand may be totally immersed in the cavity of an empty dish, or of a dish containing solids; but the probable meaning in the present case is, that something which the hand held, was dipped in a liquid which the dish contained. The hand, by a figure of speech, is put for what it held; and the dish, by a like figure, is put for what it contained: but amidst these figures, the word dip retains its literal and proper meaning; and nothing was literally and properly dipped, except what was totally immersed.

If the reader will again look through the examples in which baptizo occurs, he may observe that, with very few exceptions, they are all cases of total immersion. Among the few exceptions, there are three (Ex.’s 31, 35, 49) in which the immersion is partial by expressed limitations: “up to the head;” “up to the waist;” “up to the hilt.” The fact that these limitations are expressed, demonstrates that without them, the word would signify total immersion. This is the word which is used in the commission, without any limiting clause, and without anything either in the context, or the nature of the subject, to suggest that partial immersion was intended. Because an example may be found, in which, from the nature of the case, the immersion denoted is partial, we are not justified in inferring that partial immersion is here intended. The humble and teachable disciple desires to know and do what his divine Master meant that he should do; and the language of the command is as definite, as if it had been expressed in English, “Go, teach all nations, immersing them.” It does not read totally immersing; but if any one will refuse total immersion until he finds this expressly written, we must leave him to his own conscience, and to the judgment of Him who gave the command.

Argument 2.–Baptizo does indeed signify to immerse but it also signifies to wash, and under this last meaning, ceremonial purification is included. The Syrian leper was commanded to wash in Jordan; and the act of obedience to this command, is expressed by baptizo. A dispute between the Jews and John’s disciples about his baptism, is called “a question about purifying.”[178] The Hebrew purifications were performed in various ways; chiefly by sprinkling consecrated water. Among their rites, “divers baptisms” are mentioned.[179] The word divers is the same that is applied to spiritual gifts in Rom. xii. 6, and signifies, of different kinds. Now, the baptisms could not be of different kinds, if they were all performed by immersion. Moreover, one of these kinds is expressly stated in the context to be “sprinkling.” Further, the Pharisees are said to have baptized themselves, after returning from market, when nothing more than the washing of hands is intended. They are also said to have held the baptism of pots, cups, brazen vessels, and tables; or, as the last word should have been translated, of beds, or the couches on which they reclined at meals. That all these purifications, and especially of the beds, were performed by immersion, is wholly incredible.

If to immerse, and to wash or purify are two different senses of baptizo, the question arises, in which of these senses did Christ use the term in the commission? We are not at liberty to take either of them at our pleasure. When a teacher commands his pupil to “dip the pen in the ink,” the pupil may, by turning to Johnson’s Dictionary, find that the word dip has four senses; and that one of these is to wet, to moisten. This sense is exemplified by a quotation from Milton:

“A cold shuddering dew dips me all o’er.”

With so high authority for this interpretation of dip, the pupil may conclude to wet or moisten the pen, by putting the ink into it in some other way: and he may adopt this conclusion with the less hesitation, because all the purpose for which he understands the command to have been given, will be as well accomplished. But when he has filled his pen in some other mode, has he obeyed his teacher’s command? Every one knows that he has not. But why? Does not the word dip signify to wet or moisten? We answer, it does not usually signify this; and the usual sense, is that in which the teacher employed the term. So Christ used the word baptizo in its usual sense; and we as truly disobey his command, if we do not obey it in the sense which he intended, as if we substituted some other command in its place. What the usual sense of the word was, the examples which have been adduced fully establish.

But does baptizo signify to wash? Lexicographers say that it does, just as Johnson says that to dip signifies to wet or moisten. Words acquire secondary or accidental significations, from peculiar connections, or tropical usage; and these are enumerated by lexicographers as distinct meanings. Nor are they to be censured for this. Their design is, to give a view of the language, and not a mere collection of primary meanings. Our care, however, should be, when strict accuracy is required, to distinguish what is merely accidental in the signification of a word, from what is its true and proper meaning. To immerse and to wash, cannot both be the primary meaning of baptizo. The last meaning cannot account for the use of the word, in the various examples in which it occurs; and the other meaning, to immerse could not well be derived from it. On the other hand, to immerse, accounts fully and satisfactorily for every use of the word. It must therefore be the primary sense; and so lexicographers have decided. The secondary sense, which is unknown to a large part of the examples, is, in strict criticism, merely the purpose for which the immersion happens to be performed. When the immersion is designed for the purpose of washing, or of ceremonial purification, the accidental signification to wash or purify is ascribed to the word: but its proper meaning remains unchanged, just as the proper meaning of bapto, in Job ix. 30, remains unchanged, by the accidental signification, to defile, which it acquires. In sound criticism, such accidental significations of words are not, strictly speaking, any part of their meaning, as was stated on p. 34. They are ideas, not expressed by the words, but suggested by the connection in which they are used.

A further proof that baptizo does not signify to wash, to purify, to wet, to sprinkle, or to pour, may be drawn from the fact, that the copiousness of the Greek language supplies distinct words to express all these several ideas. If Jesus designed to command any one of these acts, why did he not use the proper word for denoting it? Why did he employ a word which properly denotes a different act, and which, therefore, could not convey his meaning, or must convey it very doubtfully?

The Syrian leper was commanded to wash in Jordan, and, for this purpose, he immersed himself in the river. The word baptizo, denotes the immersion; and informs us, not only that he obeyed the command, but also how he obeyed it. He did not wash, by sprinkling a few drops on his face.

We are informed that “there arose a question between some of John’s disciples and the Jews about purifying.”[180] What the precise question was, we are not told; and it is impossible to determine, what its relation was to John’s baptism. But the passage contains no proof, that to baptize and to purify are identical.

Paul says of the Hebrew worship: “Which stood in meats, and drinks, and divers baptisms, and carnal ordinances.” It is true, as stated in the argument, that the same word “divers” is applied to the gifts mentioned in Rom. xii. 6; but these “gifts” were all gifts. They were gifts of various kinds; but the variety did not cause any of them to cease to be gifts. In like manner, the divers baptisms, or immersions, mentioned in this passage, are all immersions. Their variety does not change them into something different from immersions. The immersion of divers persons and things, at divers times, under divers circumstances, and for divers kinds of uncleanness, constitutes divers immersions, without the supposition that some of them were performed by sprinkling. Had the phrase been, divers sprinklings, instead of divers immersions, no one would have inferred that some of these sprinklings were performed by immersion.

But it is alleged, that Paul has informed us in the context, that some of these divers baptisms were performed by sprinkling. This is a mistake. Paul mentions in the context, “the sprinkling of the ashes of an heifer, sanctifying to the purifying of the flesh. “He classifies the various rites under four heads: 1. Meats. 2. Drinks. 3. Divers immersions. 4. Carnal ordinances, or ordinances concerning the flesh. Under the last of these heads, the sprinkling which sanctified to the purifying of the flesh, was manifestly included. The assumption that it was one of the divers baptisms, is unauthorized and erroneous.

In maintaining that sprinkling and immersion are divers baptisms, the argument opposes the position usually taken by the advocates of sprinkling. Jewish baptisms were divers; but Christian baptism Paul declares to be one: “One Lord, one faith, one baptism.” In explaining this passage, the advocates of sprinkling allege that sprinkling and immersion are merely different modes of the same rite; but different modes of one baptism do not constitute divers baptisms. If sprinkling is really a different baptism how can the use of it be reconciled with the unity of the Christian rite?

The word baptizo, in Mark vii. 4, does not signify the mere washing of the hands. This act is expressed in the preceding verse, by nipto, the proper word for denoting it. Instead of confounding the meaning of the two words, the sense of the passage requires that they should be carefully distinguished. The act which one of them denotes, was performed on ordinary occasions; but the act denoted by the other, was performed on extraordinary occasions: “when they came from the market.” Some understand an immersion of the things brought from the market; some, an immersion of the arm up to the elbow; and some, an immersion of the whole body. I suppose the last to be the true meaning; but, for our present purpose, there is no necessity of deciding between these interpretations. According to either of them, the word retains its usual signification to immerse.

What has been said on this passage, will assist in explaining a similar one in Luke: “When the Pharisee saw it, he marvelled that he had not first washed [baptized] before dinner.”[181] Jesus had been mingling with a crowd of people, who had “gathered thick”[182] around him; and the danger of ceremonial defilement was as if he had come from the market. Hence, the Pharisee expected him to use immersion before dinner, as necessary to the proper sanctity of a religious teacher.

The immersion of beds, the argument rashly pronounces incredible. Dr. Gill, in his comments on the passage, has proved that such immersions were practiced, by quoting at length the regulations of the Rabbins respecting them. To pronounce the statements of the Bible incredible, unless the words be taken in an unusual sense, is not honorable to divine inspiration.

Argument 3.–The Jewish rites were of two kinds; some atoning; others, purifying. The Christian sacraments are a summary of the Jewish rites: the eucharist corresponding to those which were atoning, and baptism to those which were purifying. If both of them took the place of the atoning rites, by referring to the work of Christ, the Christian system would be defective, in having no ceremony to represent the purifying work of the Holy Spirit. But if baptism represents this, it is sufficient to perform it in any mode that will represent purifying; and especially by sprinkling, which is the mode that was commonly employed for this purpose.

It is better to learn the design of the Christian rites, from the Holy Scriptures, than from our own reasonings, as to what is necessary to render the Christian system complete. The supper represents the atoning work of Christ, and it, at the same time, represents our feeding on Christ by faith, which is produced by the influence of the Holy Spirit. Because the supper represents the atoning work of Christ, we have no right to confine it to this single purpose, and refuse to eat and to drink, because these acts do not represent a part of Christ’s work. Baptism represents our purification from sin; but it, at the same time, represents our fellowship with Christ in his burial and resurrection; and if we so perform it as to make it serve one of these purposes only, we do what no one claims the right to do with respect to the other Christian ceremony. We mutilate an ordinance of Christ, and render it unfit to fulfil all the purposes which his wisdom had in view.

Argument 4.–The language of the New Testament, although written in Greek letters, is not the Greek of classic authors; but modified by peculiarities of Hebrew origin. On this account, it avails but little, in ascertaining the sense of baptizo in the New Testament, to collect examples of its use by profane authors. The examples in which the word has reference to purification, Cl. I. 3, are numerous in the Greek Scriptures. As the primitive bapto loses the original sense to dip, when it takes the secondary sense to color; so baptizo was used by the Hebrews in the sense to purify, without regard to the primary sense to immerse. By profane writers, the word was usually construed with the preposition eis; but, in the Scriptures, it is usually construed with the preposition en, and sometimes with the dative without a preposition. This peculiarity of construction may be regarded as proof, that the sense of the word is not identical with that in which it is employed by Greek classic authors.

We cheerfully admit that the Greek of the New Testament contains many Hebrew idioms. It is also true, that some of the words are used to denote things which were unknown to writers unacquainted with the religion of the Hebrews; and these words must therefore be used in a peculiar sense. But notwithstanding all this, the language of the New Testament is Greek. This language, because of its general prevalence, was wisely selected to be the vehicle of the New Testament revelation. The Holy Spirit made the revelation for the benefit of mankind, and not for the Jews exclusively. The selection of a language which was generally understood among the nations, was in accordance with this design; provided the words were generally employed in their known signification. But if the words were used in senses to which men were unaccustomed, the prevalence of the language was a strong objection to its use. Men would unavoidably be misled, by taking words which were familiar in the customary sense.

Baptizo did not denote something peculiar to the Hebrew religion or customs, but an act which had no necessary connection with religion, and which was as well known in every heathen land as it was in the land of Judea. If a peculiar use of it could be proved to have prevailed in Judea, it might still be questioned, whether, in a revelation designed for all nations, the Holy Spirit would have conformed to this peculiar usage. But no such proof exists. Not a single passage can be found, either in the Septuagint, or the New Testament, in which the word departs from its ordinary signification. When it denoted immersion, performed for the purpose of ceremonial purification, the meaning of the word was precisely the same, as if the immersion had been performed for any other purpose. Bapto frequently occurs in the Old Testament in commands which enjoin religious observances. Yet no one concludes that this word had a Hebrew sense different from that which it obtained among the Gentiles; and the supposition that baptizo had a peculiar Hebrew sense, is destitute of foundation.

The language of Christ, “I have a baptism to be baptized with,” cannot be explained, on the supposition that the Hebrew mind attached the sense purify to the word baptize. To render the phrase intelligible and expressive, we must admit the classical sense immerse.

Josephus was a Jew, and wrote soon after the time of Christ. From his use of the word, we may learn what it signified to the mind of a Jew. Table II. contains several examples from this author, in not one of which does the supposed Hebrew meaning to purify appear; but the meaning in all is precisely the same as in the Greek of gentile authors.

That the Hebrews attached the ordinary meaning to the word, may be learned from Jewish proselyte baptism. All admit that this was immersion. Many have maintained that this baptism was practiced as early as the time of Christ. If it was, the fact decides what the word meant in that age and country. But if, as is more probable, the practice did not originate till the second century, the proof is still decisive, that the Jews had not been accustomed to a different sense of the word.

The use of immersion for the purpose of purifying, was not confined to the Hebrew nation. One design of bathing, a process which classic Greek sometimes expresses by baptizo, is the cleansing of the body. The dipping denoted by bapto, in Ex. 36 and 38, is clearly for the purpose of cleansing. The peculiarity in the Hebrew use of these words is, that the immersion which they signify, was performed for the purpose of religious purification. This resulted from the religious character of the nation, and not from a peculiar sense of the terms. Immersion, when performed for religious purification, does not cease to be immersion.

We admit that bapto has a secondary sense to color, as well as the primary sense to dip; but both these senses are found in classic, as well as sacred literature. The case, therefore, furnishes no analogy which can give countenance to the supposition, that to purify is a secondary sense, in which the primary sense of baptizo is lost. No one pretends that this secondary sense is found in classic Greek.

The alleged peculiarity of construction in the New Testament, does not prove that the word has a different meaning in Scripture, from that which prevailed in uninspired writings. As, in English, we say to dip into, or to dip in; so, in Greek, baptizo is construed with either eis or en. Both these prepositions agree perfectly with the sense to immerse. Were one of them invariably used in the Scriptures in construction with the verb, the circumstance would furnish no valid argument for a peculiar meaning in the sacred writing. Though en is commonly used, eis is also found;[183] and the example in which it occurs, Mark i. 9, so connects the sacred use of the word with the classical, as to deprive the argument for a peculiar meaning, of the plausibility which an invariable use of one construction might be supposed to give it. The fact that both constructions appear in the inspired writings, supplies additional assurance that the meaning of the verb is not peculiar. We feel that the Greek language is the same, whether we read it on the sacred or the classic page. Dr. Campbell, in his notes on Matt. iii. 11, says:–“In water–in the Holy Spirit . . .Vulgate in aqua in Spiritu Sancto. Thus also the Syr., and other ancient versions. . . . I am sorry to observe that the Popish translations from the Vul. have shown greater veneration for the style of that version than the generality of Protestant translations have shown for that of the original. For in this the Latin is not more explicit than the Greek. Yet so inconsistent are the interpreters last mentioned, that none of them have scrupled to render en to Iordane in the sixth verse, in Jordan, though nothing can be plainer, than that if there be any incongruity in the expression in water, this in Jordan must be equally incongruous. But they have seen that the preposition in could not be avoided there without adopting a circumlocution, and saying, with the water of Jordan, which would have made their deviation from the text too glaring. The word baptizein, both in sacred authors, and in classical, signifies, to dip, to plunge, to immerse, and was rendered by Tertullian, the oldest of the Latin fathers, tingere the term used for dyeing moth which was by immersion. It is always construed suitably to this meaning.”

Argument 5.–If it were the case that baptizo clearly signifies to dip, or immerse all over in water, when applied to other subjects, it would by no means certainly follow, that it has this signification, when applied to the Christian rite of baptism. The word supper in English, and deipnon in Greek, have a very different sense, when applied to the eucharist, from what they have in ordinary cases. Eating a morsel of bread does not constitute a supper, in the ordinary sense; but it is called a supper, in this religious rite. Now, if the word which denotes one Christian rite, has a sense so very different from its usual sense; why may it not be so, with the word which denotes the other Christian rite? Why may it not signify, instead of a complete dipping or washing, the application of water in a small degree?

This argument claims. that words may have a peculiar sense in religious rites. It does not claim this for Greek words only; for it does not object to supper as a proper rendering of deipnon. It claims that these words, both the Greek and the English, have a sense unknown elsewhere, when they are applied to the eucharist. There is. therefore. no necessity in controverting the argument, to transport ourselves to the foreign territory of the Greek language; but we are at liberty to meet it, and try its validity, on English ground. It does not object that immerse is an improper rendering of baptizo; but it claims that these words, when applied to a religious rite, may have a meaning which they possess in no other case. We are consequently at liberty, in trying the validity of the argument. to use the word immerse as a correct translation of the

The whole argument rests on what is supposed to be a peculiar use of a single word, deipnon; and it deserves special consideration, that there is but a single instance of this peculiar signification, even with respect to this word. The instances are exceedingly numerous, in which other words are used with reference to religious rites; and even deipnon is frequently used with reference to the paschal supper. In all these instances it is invariably true, that words when applied to religious rites, have the same signification as in other cases, and are subject to the same rules of interpretation. If deipnon in 1 Cor. xi. 20, is an exception, it is a solitary exception. It is certainly the part of true criticism, in determining the meaning of baptizo to follow the general rule rather than the single exception. Besides, we have frequent use of bapto with reference to religious rites. The Jewish priests seem never to have thought, that, when Moses enjoined dipping in religious rites, he meant a diminutive dipping, or one that might be performed by sprinkling; and no one has suggested, that these priests mistook the meaning of their lawgiver. Is it not infinitely more probable, that baptizo follows its kindred word bapto, in obeying the general rule, than that it follows a very different word in a solitary deviation from all rule and analogy?

If on a single instance we may establish a rule, that words, when applied to a religious rite, may have a meaning which they obtain nowhere else; who will limit the application of this rule, and tell us, how many of the words which apply to religious rites, obtain an extraordinary meaning, or how far their meaning differs from that which they obtain elsewhere? Perhaps the words, which, in the institution of the supper, are rendered eat and drink, although they have this meaning everywhere else, signify, when applied to a religious rite, nothing more than to handle and to look upon. Who will determine for us? Has the legislator of the Church committed to any one a lexicon of ritual terms, by which his simple-hearted disciples may find out what he meant? Or has he given to any persons on earth authority to decree what ceremonies they may think proper, by assigning to all the ritual terms of Scripture what sense they please?

That the terms used in reference to religious rites, may sometimes have a figurative rather than the literal meaning, a secondary sense rather than the primary, may be admitted. But this is what happens in all other speaking or writing, and the same rules of criticism are to be applied in this as in other cases. We must prefer the literal and primary signification, if nothing forbids it. We understand the word is, in the phrase “This is my body,” to signify represents; because the literal primary signification would make the sense absurd and false. But this word has the same signification, when not applied to a religious rite, in the phrase, “The field is the world.” For the same reason, the phrase “As often as ye drink this cup,” is to be interpreted according to a common figure of speech, as often as ye drink the liquor contained in this cup. The same literal sense of the terms, and the same rules of figurative interpretation, are found here, as in all other cases.

The premises stated in the argument, cannot, in any view of them, justify the conclusion that baptism may be administered by using a small quantity of water. The proper conclusion would rather be, that we ought to change our mode of administering the eucharist. If we do not literally and fully obey the divine command when we restrict ourselves in this ordinance to a morsel of bread and a few drops of wine, we do wrong so to restrict ourselves; and we ought rather to correct the error than establish it as a precedent.

It deserves to be noticed, further, that baptizo and deipnon are not applied to the two religious rites in the same manner. One of them is found in the words of Christ’s command; the other is not, but is, at most, merely a name which the rite has received. Our conduct, in obeying the commands of Christ, must be regulated, not by the names which His institutions may receive, but by the words of his commands. Believers are said, in Scripture, to be buried with Christ in baptism, at least twice as often as the Eucharist is called a supper. Baptism may, therefore, be called a burial; but no one would infer hence that the body should be left for a long time under the water, as in a real interment. Baptism represents a real burial, in which the body of Christ continued three days in the grave. The eucharist represents the free and abundant communion in which the Lord sups with His people,[184] in which a great supper is spread,[185] and which will be perfected at the marriage supper of the Lamb.[186] Yet Christ did not say, “Go, teach all nations, burying them;” nor, “Take a supper in remembrance of me.” His command in the latter case is, “Eat this bread and drink this cup;” and he did not institute this ordinance as a supper, but “after supper.” Now, if the command is eat, drink, could this command be obeyed any otherwise than by eating and drinking? Would it suffice merely to apply the bread and cup to the lips? In like manner, when Christ said, “Go, teach all nations, immersing them,” can the command be obeyed in any other way than by performing a real immersion? In the eucharist, he commanded to eat bread and drink wine, but not to take a full meal; and we know, from the circumstance that this ordinance was instituted immediately after the disciples had taken a full meal, that a full meal was not intended. The Corinthians, when they converted this ordinance into a full meal, did truly eat and drink, yet they did not fulfil the command more strictly and literally than we do; while, on the other hand, they departed from the example, and manifest intention of Christ, and were censured for so doing by the Apostle Paul.

We have suggested that the eucharist may possibly be called a supper, because of the spiritual feast which it represents. So one of the Jewish feasts was called the Passover, because of what it commemorated. But, after all, it is not certain that the eucharist is, in Scripture, called a supper. The eucharist is several times mentioned in the New Testament, but is never called the Lord’s Supper, unless in this instance; and many learned men are of opinion that, what is here called by this name, is not the eucharist itself, but the Love Feast which was anciently celebrated in connection with it. Perhaps it denotes the perversion which the Corinthians made of the eucharist. The phrase is without the definite article in the original text, and might be rendered “a supper of the Lord.” Paul does not deny that the Corinthians had made a supper of it, but he denies that it was a supper of the Lord–a supper which the Lord had instituted, or which he approved. What proof, then, is there, that the Holy Spirit has ever called the eucharist by the name Lord’s Supper? We have no objection to the name in itself considered; but, when so much is made to depend on it, the authority for it needs to be examined. If a universal law of Biblical interpretation, respecting ritual words, is to be established on a single fact, the fact should be well ascertained.

Everywhere throughout the New Testament, the words baptize and baptism are applied to one of the Christian rites; if the word supper is ever applied to the other, it is but in a single instance, and it may be that it is there applied to it as converted by abuse into a full meal. The word baptize was used in Christ’s command, and directly expresses the act commanded. The word supper was not used in the command; and, if it be used as a name of the institution, is not directly descriptive of it. The two cases have no analogy between them to sustain the argument.

Argument 6.–The circumstances attending the baptisms of the New Testament, do not, in any case, prove that they were administered by immersion.

They who urge this argument have alleged that, in the account of Christ’s baptism, the phrase “went up straightway out of the water,” ought to have been translated, “went up straightway from the water.”[187] The emendation of the translation leaves us without proof, they say, that he went into the water to be baptized. We admit, in this case, the correction of the translation. This clause, we concede, does not prove that Christ was in the water. But we have proof of this, in another verse of the same chapter: “And were baptized of him in Jordan.”[188] The testimony of Mark to the same point, is very decisive. His record of the transaction may be properly translated thus: “And was immersed by John into the Jordan.”[189]

In the account of the eunuch’s baptism, the phrases, “they went down into the water,” and “they came up out of the water,” have been subjected to a similar criticism. It has been alleged that these may be translated with equal propriety, “they went down to the water,” and “they came up from the water.” This we deny. The preposition apo used in the former case, is not found here, and our translators have, in the present case, rendered the prepositions eis and ek according to their usual import. The opponents of immersion do not deny this, or maintain that they must be translated otherwise; but a departure from their ordinary signification ought not to be supposed without necessity. That these prepositions signify into and out of, in the common use of them by Greek authors, might be proved by innumerable citations; but, instead of these, the following extracts from Robinson’s Lexicon ought to suffice:–

Apo is used of such objects as before were on, by, or with another, but are now separated from it (not in it, for to this ek corresponds).” “Ek [is] spoken of such objects as before were in another, but are now separated from it.”

This decides that our common version gives the true sense of the passage, in the rendering, “they went up out of the water.” It follows that they must have been in the water when the baptism was performed; and that they must have gone down into the water for its performance.

It has been argued that, if going down into the water proves immersion, Philip was immersed as well as the eunuch; for they both went down into the water. If we maintained that going down into the water signifies going beneath its surface, this argument would be applicable; and it might also be argued against us that the clause which the inspired historian has added, “he baptized him,” is superfluous. But we understand the immersion to be denoted by this last phrase; and which of the two persons was immersed, the context clearly shows. But while the phrase, they went down into the water, does not express the immersion, it proves it. No other satisfactory reason, for going into the water, can be assigned. But in truth this circumstantial proof is not needed. The phrase, “he baptized him,” states expressly what was done.

In the passage, “John was baptizing in Enon, near to Salim, because there was much water there,”[190] it has been alleged that the proper translation is many waters; and it is argued that the waters were many small springs or rivulets, not adapted to the purpose of immersion, but needed for the subsistence and comfort of the crowds that attended John’s ministry.

The word rendered water properly denotes the element, and not a spring or rivulet. It was used in the plural, as we use the word ashes to denote the element, and not separate collections of it. In the phrase “ofttimes it hath cast him into the fire and into the water,”[191] fire is singular, and water is plural in the original text. If the latter word was put in the plural form, to denote the different collections of the element into which the afflicted youth fell at different times, the word fire would, for the same reason, need to be plural. Hence the phrase many waters does not signify many small springs or streams. When Isaiah said, “The nations shall rush like the rushing of many waters;”[192] when David said, “The Lord on high is mightier than the noise of many waters, yea, than the mighty waves of the sea;”[193] and again: “He drew me out of many waters;”[194]–when John said, “His voice was as the sound of many waters;”[195] the supposition that many little springs or rivulets are intended, is inadmissible. The same phrase, many waters, is used for the river Euphrates.[196] It follows, therefore, that the proposed change of translation, can be of no avail to lessen the evidence of the passage in favor of immersion. As to the allegation, that the water was needed for the subsistence and comfort of the people; we answer, that this, whether true or not, is not what the historian has stated. “John was baptizing, because there was much water.” Water was needed for baptizing; and the connection of the clauses shows that the place was selected with reference to the administration of the rite.

Argument 7.–In several cases the circumstances which attended baptism forbid the belief that it was administered by immersion.

This is a dangerous argument. If the Holy Spirit affirms persons were baptized, and if to baptize signifies to immerse, it becomes us to receive his testimony; and, if any difficulty respecting the probability of the fact presents itself to our imagination, we should ascribe it to our ignorance. If an ordinary historian relates what cannot be believed, when understood according to the established laws of language, we do not invent new laws to relieve his veracity; but we pronounce his statement incredible. They who urge this argument, should beware lest they impugn the veracity of the Holy Spirit.

It has been imagined that there was not sufficient water to be obtained in Jerusalem for the immersion of three thousand on the day of Pentecost. Jerusalem was the religious capital of a religious nation, whose forms of worship required frequent ceremonial purifications. These purifications were not performed exclusively by the sprinkling of consecrated water; but in various cases, the defiled person was required to wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water.[197] Provision for such bathing was needed throughout the land. At Cana, an obscure town of Galilee, a poor family unable to supply a sufficient quantity of wine for a wedding feast, had six water pots of stone containing two or three firkins apiece, for the purpose of purifying.[198] Such provision was specially needed at Jerusalem, the centre of their worship. Here their sacrifices were to be offered, and here the whole nation were required to assemble for their appointed feasts; and these they were forbidden to celebrate, if in a state of defilement. In preparation for these feasts, we know from the express testimony of John, that the people went up to Jerusalem “to purify themselves.”[199] Some provision, therefore, must have existed, accessible to the people, and sufficient for their use, at these great gatherings. The privilege which was open to the whole multitude out of every nation under heaven at this pentecostal feast, belonged equally to the apostles, and to the three thousand who were baptized; for all these were Jews, fully entitled to enter the temple, and unite in all the public services of the nation. If any of the rulers were inclined to hinder them, they as yet feared the people; for when these baptisms were performed, the administrators and subjects had “favor with all the people.” If, therefore, any one persist in asking where water was found to immerse so many, we ask in turn where was water found sufficient for the purifying of the assembled nation?

In Jerusalem, as it now is, there are large cisterns of water on the grounds attached to private dwellings; and we may suppose that, when the city was in its ancient prosperity, such reservoirs were far more numerous. It is probable that access to these, as to rooms for keeping the Passover, was often obtained by the assembled worshippers. Of the converts who were baptized on the day of Pentecost, it is likely that many resided in the city; and if the use of private tanks was needed for baptism, their tanks were doubtless at the service of the apostles. There were also public pools, of which Chateaubriand, who visited Palestine about the beginning of the present century, gives the following account:–

Having descended Mount Zion on the east side, we came, at its foot, to the fountain and pool of Siloe, where Christ restored sight to the blind man. The spring issues from a rock, and runs in a silent stream. The pool, or rather the two pools of the same name, are quite close to the spring. Here you also find a village called Siloan. At the foot of this village is another fountain, denominated in Scripture Rogel. Opposite to this fountain is a third, which receives its name from the blessed Virgin. The Virgin’s fountain mingles its stream with that of the fountain of Siloe.

We have now nothing left of the primitive architecture of the Jews at Jerusalem, except the Pool of Bethesda. This is still to be seen near St. Stephen’s Gate, and it bounded the temple on the north. It is a reservoir, one hundred and fifty feet long, and forty wide; the pool is now dry, and half filled up. On the west side may also be seen two arches, which probably led to an aqueduct that carried the water into the interior of the temple.

The dimensions of the Pool of Bethesda, as given by Maundrell, are one hundred and twenty paces long, forty broad, and eight deep. Even the smaller dimensions given by Chateaubriand, indicate a sufficient supply of water in this single pool for the whole pentecostal baptism. A doubt has been recently raised, whether the excavation measured by these travellers, is identical with the ancient Bethesda: and attention has been directed to a neighboring intermittent fountain, the water of which, instead of flowing equably, sometimes rises by a sudden movement, and, after a time, subsides to its former level. This has been thought to agree with John’s account of the ancient pool: “For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water.[200] The hypothesis is liable to strong objections, which our purpose does not require us to present. Nor is it necessary for us to defend the correctness of the tradition, which points to this excavation as the ancient Bethesda. Much water was needed in the city; and, when so many tanks were dug at great labor and expense, it is altogether probable that a cavity, which could hold a large supply of the needed element, was not permitted to remain useless. If it contained water, the pool, by whatever name called, may have been the baptizing place on that memorable day.

But the Pool of Bethesda was not the only reservoir sufficiently capacious for the immersion of three thousand. The facilities for travelling which the present times afford have rendered visits to the old world frequent; and men now living, have greatly increased our knowledge of its geography and antiquities by their investigations. The learned Dr. Robinson has twice explored Palestine, with a special view to biblical illustration; and the result of his researches has been given to the world in a large work abounding with valuable information. The Rev. George W. Samson has also visited the same country within a few years, and has directed particular attention to the question now before us, in a short but excellent work entitled, “The Sufficiency of Water for Baptizing at Jerusalem, and elsewhere in Palestine, as recorded in the New Testament.” In this work, the present condition of the pools at Jerusalem, six in number, is described; and the dimensions of five, according to the measurement of Dr. Robinson, are given in feet as follows:–





Pool of Bethesda




Pool of Siloam




Old or Upper Pool in the Highway of the Fuller’s Field





Pool of Hezekiah




Lower Pool of Gihon






The depth of the Pool of Hezekiah varies, its bottom being an inclined plane, and the sides of the Lower Pool of Gihon, which covers more than four acres of ground, are sloping. In these any convenient depth of water for baptizing might be readily obtained. When facilities for immersion were so abundant we can have no plea for inventing a new meaning for the word which the sacred historian has employed in recording the baptisms at Jerusalem. If we were unable to offer any probable conjecture with respect to the supply of water, we ought still to receive the testimony of the Holy Spirit according to the proper import of his words, and to believe his statement to be true; but the investigations which have been made remove all difficulty.

It has been further imagined, that there was not time for the immersion of so many; but this difficulty is not one which ought to impair the credibility of the narrative. Many, if not all of the seventy whom Christ had commissioned, were probably present on the occasion; and the apostles had undoubted authority to command their services in the administration of the rite. With so many agents, the work required but little time. In modern revivals, the number of persons immersed on profession of faith is sometimes large; and, from observing the time required, some have maintained that the apostles themselves could have baptized all the converts on the day of Pentecost. Sprinkling, if performed with the solemnity due to a religious rite, would require not much less time than immersion. We may therefore believe the sacred narrative, without inventing a new meaning for the word baptize.

It has been supposed that the baptism of the Philippian jailer and his household could not have been by immersion; because it took place at night, and in the prison. As to the time; the persecution which had been raised against Paul and Silas, and the relation which the jailer sustained to the government of the city, rendered it more convenient to administer the immersion at night than to postpone it till the next day. As to the place; there is no proof that it was administered in the jail. Paul and Silas had been brought out, and had preached the Word to the jailer, and “to all that were in his house.” After the preaching, they must have left the house for the administration of baptism; for it is expressly stated that the jailer afterwards “brought them into his house and set meat before them.”[201] Where the rite was performed we are not told. There may have been, as is common in the East, a tank of water in the prison enclosure; and we know, because the inspired historian has so informed us, that there was a river[202] near at hand. There was, therefore, no want of water.

Argument 8.–Jesus said to his disciples, “John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.”[203] This promise was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost. The Spirit was then poured out upon them; and since Christ called this baptism, we have proof that pouring is baptism.

The Holy Spirit is not a material agent; and all representations of his operation, drawn from material things, are necessarily imperfect. To immerse in the Spirit, and to pour out the Spirit, are figurative expressions, and the things which they signify are conceived to bear some resemblance to immersion in water, and to the pouring out of water. But the resemblance is in our conception, and not in the things themselves; for between what is spiritual and what is material, there cannot, strictly speaking, be any likeness. Different figures may be employed to represent the same thing, and if the figurative expressions pour out the Spirit, and baptize with the Spirit, referred to precisely the same thing, it would not follow that the figures by which they represent it are identical. But if the figures are not identical, they can furnish no proof that to pour is to baptize.

God had promised by the prophet Joel, “I will pour out of my Spirit;”[204] and Christ had promised his disciples, “Ye shall be immersed in the Holy Spirit.”[205] Both the promises were fulfilled on the day of Pentecost; but the two promises exhibit the influence of the Spirit then communicated, in different aspects. In one it is viewed as proceeding from God, and is likened to water poured out; in the other it is viewed as affecting all the powers of the apostles, surrounding and filling them, as water surrounds and imbues substances which are immersed in it. The figures, therefore, not only differ from each other, but are employed to represent different things. Hence, they can furnish no proof that to pour is to baptize.


Argument 1.–Baptism is a mere ceremony, and, in the sight of God, is of far less importance than moral duties. In instituting it, Christ did not design to bind his followers to the very letter of his command; but intended that they should be at liberty to accommodate the mode of their obedience to circumstances which might arise, provided they accomplished the end which he had in view. He commanded his disciples to wash the feet of one another. This command was given at a time when the washing of feet was a usual act of hospitality; and we now rightly judge, that since this usage has passed away, we ought to fulfil the command in some other way. So he commanded to immerse, when immersion for the purpose of purification was in almost daily use; but to us whose ordinary ablutions are partial, another mode of representing purification is better adapted. This has been the judgment of the pious; and God’s abundant blessing on them, shows that they have his approbation.

Baptism is indeed a ceremony; but it is a ceremony of God’s appointing. In moral duties arising from the relations which we bear, and founded on reasons which we are able to comprehend, the duty must vary according to the varying relations, and there is scope for the exercise of enlightened reason; but positive institutes are founded on the mere will of the lawgiver, and with respect to them, to obey or disobey is the only question, and the only variety. A ceremony of positive institution may possibly be in itself of little moment; but obedience in performing it, is of great value in God’s sight; and disobedience to mere ceremonial requirements, he has in some cases punished in an exemplary manner. If he abundantly blesses many who neglect the baptismal command, the fact proves his great goodness, and not their innocence.

They who, acknowledging a departure from the letter of Christ’s command, satisfy themselves with the belief that they attain all the ends of baptism, though they be not immersed, assume that they fully comprehend the subject, and all the ends which the lawgiver had in view. Is not this arrogating too much? It is certainly safer to believe that Christ is wiser than we are, and to render implicit obedience to his precepts. If baptism represents the burial and resurrection of Christ, as well as the washing away of sin, they do not attain all the ends of baptism who neglect immersion. We have reason to believe that positive institutes were in part given, to test and to promote the spirit of obedience They who fail to comply strictly with the divine precepts, not only fail to accomplish these ends which infinite wisdom had in view, but counterwork the designs of the lawgiver.

The command to wash one another’s feet, is not parallel to that which enjoins baptism. The latter, the advocates of sprinkling acknowledge to be of perpetual obligation, a Christian ceremony of positive institution; but the former they do not so regard. This is not the proper place to enter on the inquiry, whether the washing of feet was designed to be a ceremony of perpetual obligation. In our judgment it was not. If it can be made to appear that we have judged wrong, it will be our duty, not to make our error an argument for disobedience, but to amend our practice, and conform strictly to every divine requirement.

Argument 2.–When Christ instituted the eucharist, he commanded, “this do.”[206] Yet no one imagines that we are bound to do all that he did on that occasion. He met in an upper room, and at night; and he reclined while eating. We do not suppose ourselves under obligation to imitate him in these particulars; but only to do so much as is necessary to the moral ends of the institution. By the same rule of interpretation, we are not bound to a literal compliance with the command of baptism.

No reason exists for supposing that the pronoun “this,” in the command “this do,” refers to the place, the time, or the manner, in which Christ ate the last supper. It evidently refers to the acts of eating bread and drinking wine; and precisely what it does signify, is what we are bound to do; and precisely what the word baptize signifies, is what we are bound to do in obeying the command which enjoins baptism. To relieve ourselves from the obligation of strict obedience, on the plea that the moral ends of Christ’s institutions may be attained without it, is to legislate for Christ.

Argument 3.–Christ designed his religion to be universal, and adapted to every climate of earth, and every condition and rank among men. Immersion is not suited to cold climates–is frequently impossible to the infirm and sick–is repulsive to the delicate and refined; and the invariable observance of it cannot have been required by him who said, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Our simple reply to this argument is, that it is Christ’s command. We dare not, by our fallible reasonings from general principles, attempt to determine the will of our divine lawgiver, when we have in our possession his express command on the very subject. Christ knew all the climates of the earth, and all the conditions and ranks among men, and he has adapted his religion to these as far as appeared best to his infinite wisdom. If the infirm and sick cannot obey, there is an end of responsibility in their case. If the delicate and refined will not, they must leave the pleasure of obedience to those, who think it no humiliation to tread where they find the footsteps of their Lord and Master. Though Christ’s yoke is easy, it is still a yoke; and pride and false delicacy may refuse to wear it; but love can make it welcome and delightful.

[177] Luke xvi. 24.

[178] John iii. 25.

[179] Heb. ix. 10.

[180] John iii. 25.

[181] Luke xi. 38.

[182] Ver. 29.

[183] In classic Greek also, both constructions are found. Ex. 45 has eis; Ex. 17 has en.

[184] Rev. iii. 20.

[185] Luke xiv. 16.

[186] Rev. xix. 9.

[187] Matt. iii. 16.

[188] Matt. iii. 6.

[189] Mark i. 9.

[190] John iii. 23.

[191] Mark ix. 22.

[192] Isaiah xvii. 13.

[193] Ps. xciii. 4.

[194] Ps. xviii. 16.

[195] Rev. i. 15.

[196] Jer. li. 13.

[197] Lev. xiv. 8, 9; xv. 5, 8, 11, 22; xvi. 26, 28.

[198] John ii. 6.

[199] John xi. 55.

[200] John v. 4.

[201] Acts xvi. 34.

[202] Acts xvi. 13.

[203] Acts i. 5.

[204] Acts ii. 17.

[205] Acts i. 5.

[206] Luke xxii. 19.

John L. Dagg- Manual of Theology- Volume 2

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