The Word "Baptism"

Remember when "ain't" was "avoided in standard speech"? Check an up-to- date Webster's dictionary. It is now "used orally in most parts of the U.S. by many educated speakers." And this brings us to an important aspect of word study - RESOURCES. Generally we tend to think of a dictionary or lexicon as "being the final authority" in regard to word meaning or usage. And it is AT THAT GIVEN TIME. But a dictionary does not govern language. Language develops, and a dictionary records that development. As a language changes, so does a dictionary. Thus, to understand what an ancient writer meant, we must consult a dictionary or lexicon that records how HIS language was used IN HIS TIME. To know what Biblical writers meant we must consult a lexicon of biblical words -- NOT a modern dictionary of the English language!

Most scholars, whether religious or secular, agree that "baptism" originates from the Greek "baptizo," which originates from "bapto." They also agree that "bapto" means "dip." "Baptizo" was a familiar word to the Greeks, being found in the classical writings, history, and geography. In Aesop's fables a man dipped (baptizo) tow in oil, bound it to the tail of a fox, and set fire to it. Diodorus, a historian who wrote about 60-30 B.C., writes, "Most of the wild land animals are surrounded by the stream and perish, being submerged (baptized)." Josephus, the noted Biblical historian born A.D. 37, writes, "The ship being just about to be submerged (baptized)." From these writings we may determine that at the time of Christ "baptizo" meant "dip." We may also determine that any religious significance of "baptizo" must be determined from the context in which it is used rather than from the word itself.

Before discussing the significance of Christian baptism, let us look at the words of Martin Luther, a scholar who lived at a time when sprinkling was the accepted mode of "baptism." "The term 'baptism' is a Greek word; it may be rendered into Latin by 'mersia' -- when we immerse any thing in water, that it may be entirely covered with water. And though this custom be quite abolished among the generality (for neither do they entirely dip children, but only sprinkle them with a little water), nevertheless they ought to be wholly immersed, and immediately to be drawn out again, for the etymology of the word seems to require it." Having examined the origin and use of "baptizo" in general, let us now consider Christian baptism. What is its significance and how should it be performed?

Baptism is a burial in water to symbolize Christ's burial. As Christ arose, so we arise to a new life. Our old man of sin has died as we repented of and turned from sin, and then we were buried with Christ (Romans 6:3-8). Therefore, it is not baptism at all when water is sprinkled or poured on a person. This was a practice that started in the Roman Catholic church hundreds of years after Christ died, assumed to be a substitute for baptism for those who were sick or dying and was called "clinical baptism", which is not found in the New Testament. No "baptism" is approved of God unless it is "for the remission of sins" (Acts 2:38), a burial (Romans 6:4, Colossians 2:12), and by the authority of Jesus rather than simply by the authority of some man or church (Matthew 28:18-20).

"Buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead" (Colossians 2:12 NKJV).

Sandra F. Cobble

Published in The Old Paths Archive