What Is Baptism? (Part Two)

Previously, we began studying proofs that baptism means “immersion.” Greek authorities agree that “bapto” means “to dip or immerse.” Consequently, the word must be used the same way in other, non-Biblical, literature if this definition is correct. If so, coupled with the verification of Greek authorities, this further validates the fact that baptism means immersion.
Polybius, born in 205 B.C., wrote about catching a fish with a large spear, “And even if the spear fall into the sea, it is not lost, for it is compacted of both oak and pine, so that when the oaken part is immersed by the weight, the rest is buoyed up, and is easily recovered.” / 1
Polybius also wrote about the Roman army marching through the river Tebia: “They passed through with difficulty, the foot soldiers immersed as far as to the breast.”/ 2
Josephus, born AD 37, wrote about a boy who was drowned by his companions, “Continually pressing down and immersing him while swimming, as if in sport, they did not desist till they had entirely suffocated him.”/ 3
Josephus, writing in another place, “And there, according to command, being immersed by the Gauls in a swimming-bath, he dies.” / 4
Strabo, born in 60 B.C., wrote of Alexander’s army, “…they marched the whole day in water, immersed as far as to the waist.” / 5
Achilles Tatius, 450 A.D., “But suddenly the wind shifts to another quarter of the ship, and the vessel is almost immerged.” / 6
Dion Cassius, 155 A.D., “And others, submerged in the vessels themselves by their own weight.” /7
Diodorus, wrote in about 60 – 30 B.C., “The river, rushing down with the current, increased in violence, submerged many, and destroyed them attempting to swim through with their armor.” /8
It is crucial that when we read the New Testament we know what the words mean. We learned that the Jews had the Mikveh, which was done by immersion. Likewise, the Greeks understood “bapto” as immersion and we therefore have no right to alter that definition today.
We must not transfer the definitions of our day back to Scripture. The Greek language had different words for sprinkling, pouring and immersion. If the writers of the New Testament had meant one or the other they would have used the proper words (Hebrews 11:1).
God’s Word does not have a controversy as to the meaning of “bapto.” We need to follow suit today. Simply stated, if the word baptism meant immersion when the New Testament was written, then it is mandatory that we teach and practice the same meaning today. Otherwise, we are following men rather than God.
I can stand on the courthouse steps and claim to be the Governor until the police arrest me and I will never be the Governor. Likewise, if baptism is immersion and I insist it is sprinkling, I can profess it the remainder of my life and it will never be so. God has already spoken (Psalm 119:89; 2 Timothy 3:16-17).
Once again, Acts 22:16 says, “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” Realizing that my sins are “washed away” when I am baptized and baptism is immersion, I must practice baptism by immersion or I have not had my sins washed away.
Notes
[The citations below come from T.W. Brents, The Gospel Plan of Salvation (Nashville, Gospel Advocate, 1977), 226-248.]
1/ History, Book xxxiv, Chapter 3,7.
2/ History, Book iii, chapter 72,4.
3/ Jewish Antiquities, book xv, ch. 3,3.
4/ Jewish Wars, book iii, ch. 8,5.
5/ Geography, book xiv, ch. 3, 9.
6/ Story of Clitophon and Leucippe, book iii, ch. 1.
7/ Roman History, book xxxvii, ch. 58.
8/ Historical Library, book xvi, ch. 80.


What Do Early Christian Writers Say About Baptism?

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Richard lives in Florence, Alabama and is married to Deirdre. They have three daughters. He is an avid reader, devoted writer and lover of history and research. He is the author of "The Most Important Question" and is working on more books.

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