Of baptisms and buttercups

“We might as well just call everything ‘buttercups!’” wailed my friend, as she threw her hands up in despair.

She went on, conjuring up an imagined line of conversation. “What kind of iris is that?” “Well, it’s yellow, so I call it a buttercup iris.”

“How about that lily?” “Buttercup lily.”

“What about that tall grass?” “Buttercup grass.”

“What is that lovely tree in your yard?” “My prized buttercup tree.”

This rant, which had me holding my sides laughing, was precipitated by a discussion of the purple Torenia in my garden. It’s also called “monkey flower,” but that moniker has also been used to describe a totally different species as well.

We commiserated about the tendency to use ambiguous terminology. The worst offender was the nickname “buttercup.” Then came the tirade that might have sounded like we were on the set of “The Princess Bride” as we exclaimed “Buttercup!”

“And this is why we like using Latin names for plants,” she ended, as I dried my tears and composed myself.

Three distinctly different plant species are known as “buttercups;” ranunculus, narcissus, and oenothera. Maybe more.

I share a passion for using botanical names to identify the plants we love.

How else will we know to plant the “spider lily” Lycoris two inches deep, and expect only the foliage in the spring and only blooms in the fall? If we mistook it for “spider lily” Cleome, we might plant it too shallowly at 1/8 inch, and expect to replant it after the winter.

The same goes for Biblical terminology.

At the tender age of 11 months, my husband had somebody pour water on his head, and then gave his parents a “Certificate of Baptism.”

This questionable certification just passed into his hands recently, as his mother had carefully saved it all these years. Does it give him the rights and privileges of salvation, as 1 Peter 3:21 describes?

To answer that, we must first ask which type of “baptism” is correct; sprinkling, pouring, or immersion?

This is where we need to translate the word baptize instead of transliterating it, as they did for King James.

Most of us are aware of three distinctly different modes of baptism. Sprinkling, pouring, and immersion have all been called “baptism.”

Unlike “buttercup,” which is more descriptive of a culinary dish than a plant, the words baptizo and baptisma do have a definition. Baptizo is defined in any Greek lexicon as to dip, plunge, or immerse. Baptisma is the noun form of that word.

In one of my classes at Bear Valley Bible Institute, one of the instructors posed what we considered a trick question on a test. “How do we know that the Ethiopian treasurer in Acts 8 was immersed in water?”

Many of the answers given were taken directly from Scripture. “Because he went down into the water.” Or, “Because if sprinkling were allowed, there surely would have been water in the chariot; but they got out.”

While these answers have merit, they were marked wrong. The teacher explained.” The obvious answer — and the only one necessary — is that the word that the Holy Spirit used meant ‘immersion’ and nothing else.”

This made an impression on the class. When God speaks, he means what he says.

We know what baptism meant in Bible days. It means the same now. We cannot assign a new meaning to it just because of our traditions or preferences, any more than we can plant a buttercup tree.

“He that has believed and has been baptized shall be saved…” (Mark 16:16a, NASB).

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