Baptism

 

Robert L. Reymond

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Old Testament Background

The Old Testament refers many times to ritual washings. The law prescribed ritual bathing for persons deemed ceremonially unclean (Lev. 14:8-9; 15). Aaron and his sons were ceremonially washed at their ordination to the priesthood (Lev. 8:5-6). Sprinkling of the furniture employed in the tabernacle and temple was also prescribed. These ritual washings led to their symbolic application in prayer for spiritual cleansing (Ps. 51:1-2; 7-10; see Ezek. 36:25-26). John’s baptism of repentance in preparation for Messiah’s coming (Matt. 3:6, 11; Mark 1:4-5; Luke 3:3), given the fact that his ministry belonged to the preparatory age of the Old Testament (Matt. 11:13), should very probably be viewed as a ceremonial or ritual cleansing (denoting spiritual cleansing) standing in this Old Testament context.[26]

26. Many scholars, some more cautious than others, for example, Jean Steinmann (Saint John the Baptist and the Desert Tradition, translated by Michael Boyes [New York: Harper, 1958], pp. 58-61), Millar Burrows (More Light on the Dead Sea Scrolls [New York: Viking, 1958], pp. 56-63), and Charles H. H. Scobie (John the Baptist[Philadelphia: Fortress, 1964] pp. 34-40), contend or concede that there may have been some connection between John the Baptist’s baptism of repentance and the baptism of initiation of the Essene sect at Qumran.

While an attractive case can be made–if not for a direct connection between Qumran and John–for at least the influence of Qumran upon John, I would still counsel caution here for, while such an influence is possible, one must not lose sight of the fact that, while John’s personal lifestyle was ascetic, perhaps even Naziritic (Matt. 3:4; 11:18; Luke 1:15; 7:33; see Num. 6:1-21; Judg. 13:5, 7; I Sam. 1:11), (1) his ministry was essentially prophetic (Matt. 3:1-12 11:7-14; Mark 1:2-3; Luke 3:2-9; John 1:23-27) while Qumran’s was esoteric; (2) he issued a broad, public call to repentance (Matt. 3:2, 8; Luke 3:8) while Qumran was reclusive and monastic in its orientation; (3) he demanded probative evidence of repentance in the affairs of ordinary life (Luke 3:8, 10-14) while Qumran required submission to the rigors of ascetic life; (4) he, as Messiah’s forerunner, announced that he had come (John 1:29, 35) while Qumran still awaited his appearance; (5) he had a knowledge of the nature of Messiah and of his work (Matt. 3:11-12; John 1:29-35; 3:27-30) which Qumran did not have; (6) his disciples felt at liberty to leave him and to follow Jesus (John 1:35-37)–indeed, he encouraged them to do so (John 1:29; 35; Acts 19:4)–while Qumran’s inhabitants felt no such easy freedom to leave the sect; and (7) his baptism was precisely what the New Testament represents it as being, namely, a "baptism of repentance" by which those who repented of their sins and were baptized became members of the broad public community of faith that awaited the appearance of the Messiah and his twofold baptism while Qumran’s baptism of initiation was for its initiates the entryway into that monastic sect which viewed itself as the new Israel. These features of John’s ministry suggest that it was distinctly different from the sectarian teachings, expressions and attitudes of Qumran.

Institution

Our Lord himself instituted the sacrament of baptism on the eve of his ascension when he gave to his disciples the Great Commission: "go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing [baptizontes] them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matt. 28:19). The church has then the sanction of heaven to baptize its members; indeed not to baptize them is disobedience to heaven.

The present participle in this verse seems to be a "means" participle. That is to say Jesus seems to represent baptism here as one of the two outward means whereby the nations are to be made his disciples, "teaching them to obey everything I have commanded" (in the next clause) being the second. I do not mean to suggest that baptism simply as an institution effects discipleship. I am thinking of baptism here as the ceremony in connection with which Christians normally and formally publicly declare for the first time their commitment to Jesus Christ.

Import

Following John Murray, [27]

27. John Murray, Christian Baptism (Philadephia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1962),5.

I would urge that the import of baptism should be derived from the terms of its institution and from the several references to it in the New Testament. When we take our point of departure from the formula that Jesus used in its institution, namely, "baptizing into the name" (baptizontes eis to onoma; see 1 Cor. 1:13, 15–"baptized into the name of Paul"; 1 Cor. 10:2– "baptized into Moses"), it becomes apparent that the formula expresses a relationship to the person into whom or into whose name the person is being baptized. [28]

28. Edmund Clowney in The Church (Downers Grove, III.: InterVarsity Press, 1995) says in this regard: "Christian baptism is a naming ceremony. The baptized is given a name,... the name of the triune God....Baptism gives Christians their family name, the name they bear as those called the children of God (Is, 43:6b–7)" (278), He refers to the Aaronic blessing in Numbers 6:24-27 and to Paul’s statement in Ephesians 3:14-15 for support.

Baptism then basically denotes the fact of a relationship. What kind of relationship? When such passages as Romans 6:3-6, 1 Corinthians 12:13, Galatians 3:27-28, and Colossians 2:11-12 are taken into account (see expositions below), it becomes plain that the nature of the relationship is one of union with Christ, more particularly, union with Christ in his crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection (not just union with him in the last two). Of this basic union baptism is the sacramental sign and seal. But since Jesus speaks of being baptized into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, baptism also [29]

29. signifies union with the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, and this means with the three persons of the Trinity, both in the unity expressed by their joint possession of the one name and in the richness of the distinctive relationship which each person of the Godhead sustains to the people of God in the economy of the covenant of grace. Murray, Christian Baptism, 7.

There is another aspect of the import of baptism that must not be overlooked. Because the ordinance involves the use of the visible element of water and the observable action of applying that water to the person, and in view of the teaching of Ezekiel 36:25-26, John 3:5, I Corinthians 6:11, and Titus 3:5 concerning the ceremonial use of water and washing for cleansing, as well as the teaching of Colossians 2:11-12 where circumcision (which is a sign of cleansing from sin’s defilement) is related to baptism, baptism signifies more specifically the cleansing or purification from sin’s defilement and guilt. This cleansing results from the sinner’s union with the persons of the Godhead in their respective labors in the ordo salutis.

Finally, because the very name of the ordinance is what it is, namely, baptism (baptisma), it obviously symbolizes the only spiritual work given that name in Holy Scripture, namely, Christ’s work of baptizing his people with the Holy Spirit (see Matt. 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33; Acts 1:5; 2:33; I Cor. 12:13), which work unites them to himself and to the other persons of the Godhead in their saving labors of regenerating, purifying, justifying, and cleansing.

Apostolic Baptisms in the New Testament

There are relatively few instances–only eleven–of actual Christian baptisms recorded in the New Testament. This is remarkable, since actual baptisms must have been very frequent in the days of the apostles. The recorded instances are the following:

Actual Baptisms Recorded in the New Testament

1. Jews - Acts 2:37-41
2. Samaritans - Acts 8:12-17
3. The Ethiopian eunuch - Acts 8:35-38
4. Paul - Acts 9:18; see 22:16
5. Caesareans - Acts 10:44-48
6. Lydia - Acts 16:13-15
7. Philippian jailer Acts 16:30-34
8. Corinthians Acts 18:8
9. John’s disciples - Acts 19:1-7
10. Crispus and Gaius - 1 Corinthians 1:14
11. Stephanas’ household - 1 Corinthians 1:16

One interesting thing to note about the baptisms in Acts is that they are administered "upon," "into," or ‘in" the name of Jesus (Acts 2:38, epi; Acts 8:16, eis; Acts 10:48, en; Acts 19:5, eis; see also Gal. 3:27; Rom. 6:3) and not in the name of the Triune God as is specified in the Matthew 28 formula. While some critics believe this proves that Matthew 28:19 is "a later Matthean redaction of a more primitive apostolic commissioning," I would suggest that Luke is simply giving an abbreviated form of the words actually used in the baptismal ceremony, highlighting by his use of Jesus’ name alone both the fact that it is through Jesus’ mediation that one enters into union with the triune God and the fact that these persons were being admitted to the Christian church.

Exposition of the Pauline References to Baptism

The references to baptism in the epistles are also relatively few, with only one non-Pauline instance (I Pet. 3:21), and none in the Apocalypse. [30]

30. I am indebted to David C. Jones’s unpublished classroom lecture on baptism for several insights in this section.

The eight Pauline instances are as follows: Galatians 3:27, 1 Corinthians 1:13-17 (6 times); 10:2; 12:13; 15:29 (2 times); Romans 6:3-4; Ephesians 4:5; and Colossians 2:12. [31]

31. The paucity of Pauline references to baptism in his epistles should not be construed to mean that Paul held the ordinance in low esteem. Though he will say that Christ did not send him to baptize but to evangelize (I Cor. 1:17), when he then expounds the significance of baptism he gives it high meaning (Rom. 6:3-4) and places alongside the one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, and one God and Father, "one baptism" as an additional reason for the unity of the body of Christ (Eph. 4:4-5).

Galatians 3:26-27: "For all of you are sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus; for as many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ." I believe that Paul has in mind by his statement here Christ’s baptismal work of baptizing the elect by his Spirit (for surely not all who have been baptized by water have actually "put on Christ"), by which work they are brought into union with him through faith, their union with him being described here metaphorically as their having "put on Christ" in the sense that one would enrobe oneself in a garment.

1 Corinthians 1:13-17; 10:2: The six references to baptism in I Corinthians 1 "confirm the apostolic practice of baptism as it is reflected in Acts, and are significant theologically in that they presuppose the relational import of Christian baptism (eis to onoma), which is also expressed in I Corinthians 10:2 (eis ton Moysen)" (Jones). Jones also notes here the evident primacy of the Word over the sacrament in Paul’s statement that Christ commissioned him to evangelize rather than to baptize, although he did, of course, baptize some initial converts such as Crispus (see Acts 18:8) and Stephanas (see I Cor 16:15).

I Corinthians 12:13: "For we were all baptized by one Spirit [en heni pneumati] into one body." I fully concur with Jones here that "there is no reason why the preposition [en] should not be translated ‘with’ rather than ‘by.’ Christ is the one who ‘baptizes’ with the Holy Spirit; he is the agent and the Holy Spirit is the ‘element.’" (However, I prefer to highlight in the preposition eis–"into one body"–the relational character of this baptismal work rather than the goal or purpose of this work, as Jones suggests.) I concur too with Jones when he writes:

That Christ rather than the Holy Spirit is the agent of this baptism is confirmed by the succeeding clause: "...and we were all given one Spirit to drink." This passage is thus not a direct reference to water baptism; it refers rather to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost as a definitive historico-redemptive event of which subsequent generations of believers partake as they are incorporated into the body of Christ. Water baptism, of course, is the outward sign of the [cleansing] work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the individual believer, but that does not seem to be the mainpoint of this text.

Jones’s point is borne out by both the passive voice and the punctiliar tense of the verb, [epotisthemen], "we were given to drink."

I Corinthians 15:29: "Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead [hyper ton nekron]? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them?" As Jones remarks, the two references in this verse to baptism for the dead are puzzling, to say the least. Many are the suggestions made by commentators as to Paul’s meaning here, but no solution presently on the scene is carrying the field. [32]

32. Of the more than two hundred [!] ] interpretations that have been placed on this verse, John D. Reaume in ‘Another Look at I Corinthians 15:29, ‘Baptized for the Dead,’ Bibliotheca Sacra 152 (October-December 1995): 457-75, considers the nine most likely views and opts for the view that takes the hyper, in the sense of "because of": "because of the influence of deceased Christians." See also BAGD, "[baptizo]," 2bg, 132, for other literature.

Therefore, since it is impossible to know for certain what Paul meant by it, there is no warrant in the text or in the context for Jones’s conclusion that "Paul seems to view the practice in a positive light." One can only conclude that, whatever was the practice he alludes to, at the very least he is surely employing it as an ad hominem argument for the physical resurrection against those in the Corinthian church who denied it.

Romans 6:3-4: "Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death." Here Paul teaches that when the believer is united to Christ through Christ’s baptism by his Spirit into his body, a decisive change occurs in him, of which the ordinance of baptism is the outward sign and seal, namely, he die’s to sin’s reign and lives for righteousness. If then the import of water baptism is symbolically that of union with Christ, it follows that baptism confirms, that is, serves as the seal of, our union with him in his crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection. Murray writes: [33]

33. "the fact of having died to sin is the fundamental premise of the apostle’s thought. . . .What [he] has in view is the once-for-all definitive breach with sin which constitutes the identity of the believer [concerning which breach baptism is the sign and seal]. John Murray, Romans, (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1968), 1:213.

"In demonstration of his premise," Jones notes, "Paul appeals to the import of baptism. Baptism ‘into Christ’ signifies union with Christ and participation in all the privileges and blessings that reside in him–union with him in all aspects of his work as Mediator, including his death, of which his burial was the unambiguous confirmation."

Ephesians 4:5: "one Lord, one faith, one baptism." Here Paul’s "one baptism" seems to refer to the ordinance of water baptism "inasmuch as the preceding verse has already spoken of ‘one body and one Spirit’" (Jones). The significance which the apostle attaches to the ordinance is seen in his willingness to place it within the venue of the church’s one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, and one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. And his point appears to be that "all who participate in Christian baptism rightly administered are subjects of one and the same ordinance with the same spiritual import. Baptism thus stands [along with the other six ‘one’ things mentioned] as a witness against disunity in the church" (Jones).

Colossians 2:11-12: In these verses Paul expressly relates the two ordinances of Old Testament circumcision and New Testament baptism: "In him you were also circumcised [perietmethete], in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in [the Spirit’s] baptism and raised with him through faith."

The relation between Old Testament circumcision and New Testament baptism may be seen by simply reading the italicized words: "in him you were also circumcised . . . ,having been buried with him in baptism." Clearly, for Paul the spiritual import of the New Testament sacrament of baptism–the outward sign and seal of the Spirit’s inner baptismal work–is tantamount to that of Old Testament circumcision. [34]

34. Paul King Jewett a Reformed Baptist theologian, acknowledges as much when he writes: "the only conclusion we can reach is that the two signs [circumcision and baptism], as outward rites, symbolize the same inner reality in Paul’s thinking. Thus circumcision may fairly he said to he the Old Testament counterpart of Christian baptism. So far the Reformed argument, in our judgement, is biblical. In this sense baptism, to quote the Heidelberg Catechism, ‘occupies the place of circumcision in the New Testament’ " (Infant Baptism and the Covenant of Grace [Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1978], 89).

By the authority of Christ and his apostles, the church in this age administers baptism in lieu of circumcision. But it does so with the understanding that the spiritual significance of baptism as a sign is essentially the same as the former Old Testament ceremony, namely a covenantal sign of the Spirit’s act of cleansing from sin’s defilement.

Mode

With the exception of those in the baptistic tradition who regard immersion followed by emersion as the only proper mode of baptism, the catholic (universal) position and practice of the Western church regarding the question of the proper mode of baptism is that "dipping of the person into the water is not necessary; but Baptism is rightly administered by pouring, or sprinkling water upon the person (Westminster Confession of Faith, XXVIII/iii). [35]

35. See Warfield’s article, "The Archaeology of the Mode of Baptism," in Studies in Theology (1932; reprint, Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1988), 345-86.

Baptist apologists support their claim by contending that (1) baptizo, has the root meaning "to dip" or "to immerse", [36]

36. Alexander Carson in his classic treatment, Baptism in Its Mode and Subjects (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, I845), argues that the root meaning of baptizo, is to "dip, and nothing but dip," with no intimation in the word itself that the object "immersed" is to be withdrawn from the substance into which it has been immersed. Emersion in the case of the ordinance of baptism necessarily follows simply as a matter of course since the living subject cannot be left in an immersed state in the baptismal water.

(2) John 3:23 implies that immersion was the mode of baptism John the Baptist employed from the fact that he was baptizing in Aenon near Salem "because there was plenty of water [hydata polla, literally "many waters"] there," (3) New Testament descriptions of actual acts of baptism (Matt. 3:16; Mark 1:9, 10; Acts 8:36-39) support immersion as the proper mode of baptism, and (4) Romans 6:3-6 and Colossians 2:11-12 explicitly make the burial and resurrection of Christ the pattern for the mode of baptism, that is to say, just as Christ was buried so also to represent his death to sin the baptized party is to be immersed in water, and just as Christ rose from the dead so also to depict his resurrection to newness of life the baptized party is to emerge from water.

None of these contentions can be sustained. With reference to the meaning of baptizo, [37]

37. James W. Dale argues in his monumental four-volume work on baptism (Classic Baptism Judaic Baptism, Johannic Baptism, and Christic and Patristic Baptism) that baptizo, does not mean "to dip" (that is, "to put into [and to remove from]") but rather "to put together so as to remain together," with its import "in nowise governed by, or dependant upon, any form of act" (Classic Baptism [1867; reprint, Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1989], 126). He shows that the word in classical Greek means a variety of things, including to plunge, to drown, to steep, to bewilder, to dip, to tinge, to pour, to sprinkle, and to dye! He concludes by saying:

Baptism is a myriad-sided word, adjusting itself to the most diverse cases. Agamemnon was baptized; Bacchus was baptized; Cupid was baptized; Cleinias was baptized; Alexander was baptized; Panthia was baptized; Otho was baptized; Charicles was baptized; and a host of others were baptized, each differing from the other in the nature or the mode of their baptism, or both.
A blind man could more readily select any demanded color from the spectrum, or a child could more readily thread the Cretan labyrinth, than could "the seven wise men of Greece" declare the nature, or mode, of any given baptism by the naked help of baptizo. (353–54)

Therefore, Jay Adams in his foreword to Dale’s Classic Baptism rightly declares that "water baptism is an appropriate ‘uniting ordinance’ that permanently introduces Christians to the visible Church, just as Spirit baptism permanently unites Christians with the invisible Church."

while it may sometimes mean to dip," there are several New Testament contexts where it must mean simply "to wash," with no specific mode of washing indicated. For example, ebaptisthe, hardly means "was immersed" in Luke 11:38, where we are informed that a certain Pharisee, "noticing that Jesus did not first wash [literally "was not baptized"] before the meal, was surprised." Surely this Pharisee did not expect Jesus (note that Jesus the person is the subject of the verbal action and not simply Jesus’ hands) to be immersed in water before every meal! Surely his surprise was provoked by Jesus not ritually washing his hands before eating, in keeping with the ceremony referred to in Matthew 15:2 and Mark 7:3-4, most probably by having water poured over them (see the practice alluded to in 2 Kgs. 3:11 and Luke 7:44).

Speaking of Mark 7:3-4, in verse 4 we read: ‘And [when they come] from the marketplace, except they ceremonially wash [baptisontai, literally ‘baptize themselves’] they do not eat." Surely again, baptisontai, cannot mean that "the Pharisees and all the Jews" immersed themselves every time they returned home from the market. [38]

38. A variant reading in A and B actually reads rhantisontai, literally, "sprinkle," the thought being: "except they sprinkle [themselves, or what is] from the market place, they do not eat it.

Verse 4 also refers to "ceremonial washing [baptismous] of cups and utensils and copper bowls," with the Received Text even adding "and beds [klinon]." While klinon, is textually suspect, at least it must be acknowledged that this textual tradition saw nothing incongruous about the idea of "baptizing" beds (see Lev. 15), an act which could be carried out quite simply if the beds in question were sprinkled but which would be quite difficult if the beds, sometimes quite elaborate in construction, were immersed.

To say that John 3:23 implies something about the mode of baptism from its notice that there were many [springs of] waters" at Aenon (which proper name means "springs") where John was baptizing is a stretch of exegesis. The "many springs" would have been necessary to any great gathering of people such as came to the Baptist to hear him and to receive baptism from his hand, but hardly for baptismal purposes. They would have been necessary for the very sustaining of life! And the streams of Israel which are formed from springs are usually rather shallow.

Then it is often argued that the expressions, "went down into the water" and came up out of the water," used in connection with Jesus’ baptism (Matt. 3:16; Mark 1:9, 10) and that of the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:36–39) indicate that immersion followed by emersion was the mode of baptism practiced in these instances. But a careful reading of the text in each instance will show that the act of baptism, whatever mode was being employed, was a separate act that followed upon the going down into and preceded the coming up out of the water. It should be noted too, in the case of the eunuch’s baptism, that Luke records that both Philip and the eunuch went down into and came up out of the water. Clearly these acts in no way constituted any part of the baptismal act itself. Therefore, nothing can be definitely determined from these expressions regarding the mode of the baptismal act itself which occurred between the acts of going down and coming up. [39]

39. However, because the Spirit’s coming at Pentecost is described in terms of a "pouring out (Acts 2:17-18, 33), because both John the Baptist (Matt. 3:11) and Jesus (Acts 1:5) call the Spirit’s coming at Pentecost a "baptizing" work by Jesus, and because both John and Jesus compare the formers baptismal activity with the latter’s baptismal activity, the intimation is that the mode of John’s earlier baptismal activity, like the latter’s, was by affusion or sprinkling.

Moreover, never does the New Testament describe the act itself of baptism as going down into or coming up out of water. It is a distinct possibility that what made the Ethiopian eunuch even think of and request baptism in the first place, reading Isaiah 53:7-8 as he had been doing, was his having read just moments before the words of Isaiah 52:15: "So will [my Servant] sprinkle [yazzeh, that is, cleanse] many nations.’ [40]

40. By his study of yazzeh, the Hiphil imperfect of nazah, in Isaiah 52:15, in his Studies in Isaiah (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1954), 199-206, Edward J. Young demonstrates that the root, which occurs twenty-four times in the Old Testament, is a technical ritual word found mainly in the Levitical legislation (see Lev. 4:6; 6:27; 8:11; 14:7a; 16:14; Num. 19:18) denoting ceremonial sprinkling with oil, oil and blood, or water, and means "will sprinkle" and not "will startle" or "astonish" as the Septaugintal thaumasontai, suggests. In light of all the evidence, I concur with Henri Blocher’s judgment (The Songs of the Servant [London: Inter Varsity, 1975], 61: "the burden of proof ... rests with those who would reject ‘sprinkle.’"

It should be noted that some Pharisees asked John the Baptist, after he had denied that he was the Messiah, Elijah, or the Prophet, "Why then do you baptize?" (John 1:25). Where did they get the notion that the Messiah would baptize? Without a translation such as "sprinkle" in Isaiah 52:15, there is no other prophecy in the Old Testament that expressly states this. But then this suggests that john’s mode of baptizing was by sprinkling, because it was his activity that provoked the Pharisees question in the first place. They saw him sprinkling, and knowing of the prophecy in Isaiah 52:15, they asked him whether he was the Messiah.

(He also may have been familiar with Ezekiel 3625: "I will sprinkle [wzaraqti] [41]

41. The Hebrew Old Testament employs two verb roots, nazah, and zaraq, both meaning "to sprinkle," when it speaks of ceremonial washings. For the usage of the former, see footnote 40. The latter root seems to denote a heavier sprinkling than the former, executed with the whole hand rather than with the finger (Exod. 9:8; 29:20-21). It occurs thirty-five times, and, like the former root, is found mainly in the Levitical legislation (e.g. Exod. 24:6; Lev. 1:5, 11; 3:2, 8, 13; 2 Kings 16:13, 15; Ezek. 36:25; 43:18). Combined, the approximately sixty references to various sprinklings in the Old Testament, according to the author of Hebrews, may all be described as "baptisms" (H eb. 9:10) !

clean water on you, and you will be clean.") Thus the preponderance of evidence suggests that the eunuch’s baptism was accomplished by sprinkling. Finally, it may also be noted that the act of going down into the water, say to the knees or thighs, would have been an appropriate procedure for a baptism by sprinkling or by pouring, making it much easier for the baptizer to raise the water from the water’s surface to the top of the subject’s head.

In the case of Saul’s baptism, the baptism of the household of Cornelius, and that of the household of the Philippian jailer, since each of these acts of baptism was carried out within a home (Acts 9:11; 10:25; 16:32), and in the last case sometime after midnight (Acts 16:33) but before dawn (v. 35), it is virtually certain that these baptisms would not have been by immersion, since few homes in those times would have had facilities for such an act (and again in the last case Paul would have hardly taken the jailer’s household to a river after midnight) but most probable that they would have been performed by sprinkling.

Furthermore, the author of Hebrews characterizes all of the ceremonial sprinklings of the Old Testament–the sprinkling (rhantizousa) of those who were ceremonially unclean with the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer (9:13), Moses’ sprinkling (erantisen) of the scroll and all the people with the blood of calves mixed with water and scarlet wool (9:19), and his sprinkling (erantisen) of the tabernacle and everything used in its ceremonies with blood (9:21)–as "baptisms [baptismois]," that is, as "ceremonial washings" (9:10). Moreover, the same writer immediately thereafter and Peter as well speak of Christians as being "sprinkled" with Christ’s blood:

Hebrews 10:22: "Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled [rherantismenoi] to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water." (See Ezek. 36:25)
Hebrews 12:24: "[You have come] to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood [haimati rhantismou] that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel."
I Peter 1:2: "who have been chosen ... for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling [rhantismon] by his blood." (See Isa. 52:15)

Surely the universe of discourse of the Book of Hebrews would warrant the conclusion that the author would have regarded the Christian’s "sprinkling" with Christ’s blood–the New Testament fulfillment of the Old Testament typical sacrifice–as a spiritual "baptism" as well. And just as surely "it would be strange if the baptism with water which represents the sprinkling of the blood of Christ could not properly and most significantly be performed by sprinkling." [42]

42. Murray, Christian Baptism, 24.

Finally, Christ’s baptismal work (see Matt. 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33; Acts 1:5; 2:33; 1 Cor. 12:13), by which he baptizes the elect by or with his Spirit, is invariably described in terms of the Spirit "coming upon" (Acts 1:8, 19:6), being "poured out upon" (Acts 2:17, 33), or "falling upon" (Acts 10:44; 11:15). Note also Romans 5:5; "God hass poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit." Now what work does the outward ordinance of baptism signify and seal if not the Savior’s spiritual baptismal work? After all, no other saving work is termed "baptism" in the New Testament epistles. Therefore, if the ordinance of baptism is to signify Christ’s baptismal work, which is uniformly described in terms of affusion, then it follows that the ordinance should reflect the affusionary pattern of Christ’s baptismal work.

With reference to the alleged pattern of baptism in Romans 6:2-6 and Colossians 2:11-12 as being that of burial and resurrection, a careful analysis of these passages will show that Paul’s basic thesis is the believer’s union with Christ in his crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection as the antidote to antinomianism. Baptism by immersion does not modally reflect our crucifixion with Christ, which is one of the four aspects of our union with Christ which Paul mentions in the Romans passage. Murray is right when he affirms:

It is arbitrary to select one aspect [of our union with Christ, namely burial] and find in the language used to set it forth the essence of the mode of baptism. Such procedure is indefensible unless it can be carried through consistently. It cannot be carried through consistently here [since baptism by immersion does not and cannot visually reflect our being hung on the cross with Christ, which is as much an aspect of our union with Christ in the passage as our burial with him] and therefore it is arbitrary and inva1id. [43]

43. Ibid., 31. It should be noted too that Christ was not "buried" at all in the sense that the Baptist mode of baptism requires. That is to say, his body was not placed under the ground. Rather, his body was temporarily deposited in a new tomb preparatory to what his disciples thought would be a permanent entombment after the Passover festivities.

We should no more single out our union with Christ in his burial and resurrection and make these two aspects of our union with him the pattern for the mode of baptism than we should appeal to Galatians 3:27 ("For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ," see also Col. 3:9-14) and argue on the basis of its statement that baptism should be carried out by requiring the new Christian to don a white robe, that is, by a "baptism by donning."

The fact is that there is not a single recorded instance of a baptism in the entire New Testament where immersion followed by emersion is the mode of baptism. The Baptist practice of baptism by immersion is simply based upon faulty exegesis of Scripture. The ordinance should not be represented as signifying Christ’s burial and resurrection (aspects of the accomplished phase of his saving work, which the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper memorializes) but rather his baptismal work (the applicational phase of his saving work). I would conclude therefore that "dipping of the person into the water is not necessary; but baptism is rightly administered by pouring, or sprinkling water upon the person."

 


Robert L. Reymond. A New Systematic Theology Of The Christian Faith. Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, 1998. Pages 923-935.


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