What is Baptism? (Part Three)

Previously, we began studying proofs that baptism means “immersion.” Greek authorities agree that “bapto” means “to dip or immerse” and we have established that it was used that way contextually in Greek literature. Our remaining proof is its usage in the New Testament.
As determined by our previous study, Greek writers used the word “bapto” in terms of submerging spears, ships and soldiers. Moreover, the imagery of drowning was used on more than one occasion. This imagery is indispensable when we turn to New Testament usage.
New Testament writers used the imagery of burial to help readers grasp the concept of baptism. In Romans 6:3-4 we read, “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” Paul repeats the image in Colossians 2:12, “…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.”
The word “buried” is key. Thayer says that in baptism we are “plunged under the water.” /1 We are to be “buried” with Christ in baptism. When we bury someone we immerse them completely under the ground (or in a sepulcher, mausoleum, etc). Lightfoot said, “Baptism is the grave of the old man, and the birth of the new. As he sinks beneath the baptismal waters, the believer buries there all his corrupt affections and past sins; as he emerges thence, he rises regenerate, quickened to new hopes and new life” / 2
In Romans 6:3-4, we see the scenario perfectly established. Immersion signifies death, submersion signifies burial and emergence relates to the resurrection. We must die to sin so that we can be born again (John 3:3-5). Paul also wrote, “For if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him” (2 Timothy 2:11).
Luther said, “I would have those who are to be baptized to be altogether dipped into the water, as the word doth express.” /3 Tyndale said, “The plunging into the water signifieth that we die and are buried with Christ.” /4
Many in the religious world believe we are saved before baptism and are then baptized to signify the salvation we have already attained. If that were true then we have a problem with the imagery of a burial. We would be born again and made alive in Christ at the point of faith, they say. Then we would be baptized. This passage clearly shows that we die and are buried with Christ. The inescapable conclusion is, if we are saved prior to baptism, then when we are baptized we are buried alive. Not the image we want potential converts to have in their heads.
We have shown that baptism means immersion in these three articles. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia says, “The Greek language has had a continuous history, and baptizo is used today in Greece for baptism. As is well known, not only in Greece, but all over Russia, wherever the Greek church prevails, immersion is the unbroken and universal practice.” /5
1/ Joseph Thayer, Thayer?s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman, 1977), 605.
2/ Geoffrey W. Bromiley, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), 1:416.
3/ T.W. Brents, The Gospel Plan of Salvation (Nashville: Gospel Advocate Company, 1977), 268.
4/ Ibid., p. 269.
5/ Bromiley, 1:415.


Does the Context of the New Testament Teach Immersion?

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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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