Does ‘Baptism’ mean immersion only?

Q. My question is regarding the term immersion. Where does it state in scripture that one must be immersed for it to be a legitimate, biblical baptism?

The Greek word “baptizo” means immersion. It cannot be translated in any other way and give the meaning of the original language. baptizo {bap-tid’-zo} – Translated in the KJV – baptize (76),wash 2, baptist 1, baptized + 2258 1; 80

1) to dip repeatedly, to immerse, to submerge (of vessels sunk)
2) to cleanse by dipping or submerging, to wash, to make clean with water, to wash one’s self, bathe
3) to overwhelm

Not to be confused with “bapto.” The clearest example that shows the meaning of baptizo is a text from the Greek poet and physician Nicander, who lived about 200 B.C. It is a recipe for making pickles and is helpful because it uses both words. Nicander says that in order to make a pickle, the vegetable should first be ‘dipped’ (bapto) into boiling water and then ‘baptized’ (baptizo) in the vinegar solution. Both verbs concern the immersing of vegetables in a solution. But the first is temporary. The second, the act of baptizing the vegetable, produces a permanent change. When used in the New Testament, this word more often refers to our union and identification with Christ than to our water baptism. e.g. Mark 16:16. ‘He that believes and is baptized shall be saved’. Christ is saying that mere intellectual assent is not enough. There must be a union with him, a real change, like the vegetable to the pickle!

All of the examples in the New Testament indicate immersion. Consider for example the baptism of Jesus:

Joh 3:23 “John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there; and people were coming and were being baptized–“

John would not need “much water” to baptize any other way.

Consider Romans 6

Romans 6:1-7
1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?
2 May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?
3 Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?
4 Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
5 For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection,
6 knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin;
7 for he who has died is freed from sin.

Baptism is a burial in water (immersion).

In conclusion, the Greek word “baptism” means immersion, all of the examples found in the New Testament demonstrate immersion (i.e. John 3:23 and Acts 8, Romans 6 and others). 

Q. Thank you very much for your quick and informative response. I very much agree that baptism is of the utmost importance, and your examples are very convincing. I am still confused on the issue of the Greek word. You stated that the Greek Lexicon says it pertains only to immersion, but Easton’s Bible Dictionary states.

“The mode of baptism can in no way be determined from the Greek word rendered “baptize.” Baptists say that it means “to dip,” and nothing else. That is an incorrect view of the meaning of the word. It means both (1) to dip a thing into an element or liquid, and (2) to put an element or liquid over or on it. Nothing therefore as to the mode of baptism can be concluded from the mere word used. The word has a wide latitude of meaning, not only in the New Testament, but also in the LXX. Version of the Old Testament, where it is used of the ablutions and baptisms required by the Mosaic law. These were effected by immersion, and by affusion and sprinkling; and the same word, “washings” (Hebrews 9:10, 13, 19, 21) or “baptisms,” designates them all. In the New Testament there cannot be found a single well-authenticated instance of the occurrence of the word where it necessarily means immersion. Moreover, none of the instances of baptism recorded in the Acts of the Apostles (2:38-41; 8:26-39; 9:17, 18; 22:12-16; 10:44-48; 16:32-34) favours the idea that it was by dipping the person baptized, or by immersion, while in some of them such a mode was highly improbable.”
—- (end quote)

My concern is that there are different views of varying degrees and it is very confusing to know what one must do.

Although I was baptized as an infant, and still can’t find any reason not to feel this is valid, (up until now with the Greek Lexicon quote you stated), I have felt the urge from the Lord to get baptized as an adult and to publicly proclaim my union with him.

Thank you again for your response and your wisdom and insight. The website is great and I will let my friends know about it.

Hi Steve,

Baptism is of such importance that one should be absolutely certain that it is done Biblically. I do not know of a single Bible scholar that would agree with Eason’s definition.

If you have access to Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. 1, page 529 (a standard in studying Greek Words) you can read the history of the word in both Hebrew and Greek traditions. Credible research reveals that only immersion satisfies the mode as indicated in antiquity. The Jews had a tradition of baptizing proselytes. They built baptisteries which we have now found all over the Bible lands. They are little pools deep enough for a person to be completely immersed. Every extra biblical example we have of proselyte baptism involves immersion. The Jews had ritual cleanings that required immersion.

The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, page 129, says in part:
“the standard lexicons, like that of Liddell and Scott, uniformly give the meaning of (baptizo) as “dip,” “immerse.” They do not give “pour” or “sprinkle,” the presumption is therefore in favor of “dip” in the New Testament.”

The preponderance of evidence from the Scriptures, from secular writers, from the use of the word before New Testament times and afterward, and from scholars all points to immersion as the mode of baptism.

I believe that Romans 6:1-6 is very helpful.

Rom. 6:1-6 (mode of baptism 2)
1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?
2 May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?
3 Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?
4 Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
5 For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection,
6 knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin;
7 for he who has died is freed from sin.

I have officiated at many funerals. When we bury someone we do not “sprinkle” a little dirt on the coffin and walk away. A burial completely covers the coffin. We are “buried” with Christ in baptism. Immersion is the only mode that fits with the symbol given in this passage.

I hope these thoughts help you in your study.

Brotherly,
Mike

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