There is a widely held view that baptism can be performed, especially on babies, by sprinkling water on their foreheads (i.e. 'christening'). This is in stark contrast to the Biblical requirement for baptism.
The Greek word 'baptizo', which is translated 'baptize' in the English Bible, does not mean to sprinkle; it means to completely wash and immerse in a liquid (see the definitions in the concordances of Robert Young and James Strong). This word is used in classical Greek concerning ships sinking and being 'baptized' (i.e. submerged) in water. It is also used with reference to a piece of cloth being dyed from one colour to another by 'baptizing', or dipping it into a dye. To change the colour of the cloth, it is evident that it had to be fully immersed under the liquid, rather than have the dye sprinkled upon it. That immersion is indeed the correct form of baptism is borne out by the following verses:- "John also was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there: and they came, and were baptized" (John 3:23). This shows that "much water" was required for baptism; if it was done by sprinkling a few drops of water, then just one bucket of water would have sufficed for hundreds of people. The people came to this spot on the banks of the River Jordan for baptism, rather than John going round to them with a bottle of water.
- Jesus, too, was baptized by John in the River Jordan: "Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water" (Matt. 3:13-16). His baptism was clearly by immersion - he
"went up... out of the water" after baptism. One of the reasons for Jesus being baptized was in order to set an example, so that no one could seriously claim to follow Jesus without copying his example of baptism by immersion.
- In similar fashion, Philip and the Ethiopian official "went down both into the water...and he baptized him. And when they were come up out of the water..." (Acts 8:38,39). Remember that the official asked for baptism when he saw the oasis: "See, here is water: what doth hinder me to be baptized?" (Acts 8:36). It is almost certain that the man would not have undertaken a desert journey without at least some water with him, e.g. in a bottle. If baptism were by sprinkling, it could therefore have been done without the need of the oasis.
- Baptism is a burial (Col. 2:12), which implies a total covering.
- Baptism is called a 'washing away' of sins (Acts 22:16). The point of true conversion is likened to a 'washing' in Rev. 1:5; Titus 3:5; 2 Peter 2:22; Heb. 10:22 etc. This language of washing is far more relevant to baptism by dipping than to sprinkling.
There are several Old Testament indications that acceptable approach to God was through some form of washing.
The priests had to wash completely in a bath called the 'laver' before they came near to God in service (Lev. 8:6; Ex. 40:32). The Israelites had to wash in order to cleanse themselves from certain uncleannesses (e.g. Deut. 23:11), which were representative of sin.
A man called Naaman was a Gentile leper who sought to be healed by the God of Israel. As such he represents sin-stricken man, effectively going through a living death due to sin. His cure was by dipping in the River Jordan. Initially he found this simple act hard to accept, thinking that God would want him to do some dramatic act, or to dip himself in a large and well-known river, e.g. the Abana. Similarly, we may find it hard to believe that such a simple act can ultimately bring about our salvation. It is more attractive to think that our own works and public association with a large, well-known church (cp. the river Abana) can save us, rather than this simple act of association with the true hope of Israel. After dipping in Jordan Naaman's flesh "came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean" (2 Kings 5:9-14).
There should now be little room for doubt that 'baptism' refers to a complete dipping in water after first understanding the basic message of the Gospel. This Bible-based definition of baptism does not make any reference to the status of the person who actually does the baptism physically. Baptism being an immersion in water after belief of the Gospel, it is theoretically possible to baptize oneself. However, because baptism is only baptism by reason of the correct doctrines which one holds at the time of the immersion, it is definitely advisable to be baptized by another believer of the true doctrines, who can first of all assess the degree of knowledge a person has before actually immersing him.
There is therefore a tradition among Christadelphians of holding an in-depth discussion with any candidate for baptism before the actual immersion. A list of questions such as those found at the end of each Study in this book could form the basis for such a discussion. Christadelphians have travelled thousands of miles to assist just one person to be baptized; such is the wonder of just one person coming to the true hope of eternal life, that we are not primarily concerned with numbers of converts. Quality rather than quantity is the keynote of our approach.
Was this article helpful?