Biblical Mode of Baptism (Part 1)
The Biblical Mode of Baptism
This study is an answer to a challenge by a Pedobaptist preacher (Pastor Jon Smith) who affirms
that the Bible does not teach immersion as the proper form of Christian baptism but rather
sprinkling or pouring. Other Pedobaptist arguments will also be considered and answered.
Consider some evidence from definitions and usage.
Baptize: (etym.) “to immerse, bathe, wash, drench,’ in Christian use appropriated to the
religious rite, ....to dip, plunge, bathe.” (O.E.D.)
There are four Greek words underlying the various forms of the word 'baptize' in Scripture:
baptizo (Strong's # 907)
baptismah (Strong's # 908)
baptismos (Strong's # 909)
baptistes (Strong's # 910)
Baptizo: “To make whelmed (that is, fully wet)...” (Strong)
“To dip repeatedly, to immerse, to submerge (of vessels sunk)” (Thayer)
Baptizo is derived from bapto (Strong's # 911) which Strong defines as “a primary
verb; to whelm, that is, cover wholly with a fluid.”
“To dip, dip in, immerse.” (Thayer)
Whelm: “To cover completely with water or other fluid so as to ruin or
destroy; to submerge, drown; occas. to sink (a boat).” (O.E.D.)
Bapto is always translated as dip(ped).
LUK 16:24; JOH 13:26; REV 19:13.
Luther referred to “John the Baptist” as “John the Dipper.”
“St. Paul alludes to the manner in which Baptism was ordinarily conferred in the primitive
church, by immersion. The descent into the water is suggestive of the descent of the body
into the grave, and the ascent is suggestive of the resurrection to a new life.” (Saint Joseph
Edition of the Holy Bible, Confraternity Version, re: ROM 6:3)
“...it is evident that the term baptise means to immerse, and that this was the form used by
the primitive Church.” (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, p. 524)
Greek Orthodox churches immerse or submerge when baptizing.
Pastor Smith attempts to build an argument against immersion from MAR 7:1-4.
Pastor Smith makes much of arguments from the Greek here (and other places).
The Greek baptizo and baptismos underly wash and washing, respectively in MAR 7:4.
The argument (paraphrased) is: “It is ridiculous to conclude that the Jews in their
ceremonial ablutions must have been immersing tables in MAR 7:4.”
Pastor Smith regularly uses the New American Standard Bible but since the phrase “and of
tables” is not in the NASB, he says, “I must point out that the words 'and tables' is missing
from the text in the New American Standard, where it would be found in the King James
Having hopped to a lily pad that suits his purpose, he then says, “You could imagine a
housewife lugging a picnic table down to the water to submerge it to clean it; it's
impossible of course; it doesn't make sense.”
As support for his position that the washing of the tables, etc., must have been by pouring
or sprinkling, Pastor Smith goes to a Talmudic Tractate which supposedly represents the
tradition of the Jews described in this text as pouring.
Another Talmudic Tract specifically says, "in a laver, which holds forty seahs of water,
The Biblical Mode of Baptism
which are not drawn, every defiled man dips himself, except a profluvious man; and in it
" ,מטבילין את כל הכלים הטמאיןthey dip all unclean vessels";''
(Ib. Hilch. Mikvaot, c. 9. sect. 5.)
Seah: “A Hebrew dry measure, equal (according to Rabbinical statements) to six
times the cab...”
Cab: “A Hebrew dry measure, according to the Rabbins the sixth part of a seah;
about 2 5 / 6 imperial pints.”
40 seah therefore equals 85 imp. gal. or 102 American gallons.
One could even immerse a picnic table in something of this size!
Consider that the Jews may have been observing a mutation of the law of Moses
concerning defiled vessels. LEV 11:32.
Consider that these Jewish ceremonial ablutions required sizable vessels into which objects
could be plunged (JOH 2:6).
A firkin is slightly less than nine imperial gallons or 10.8 American gallons.
Thus, these stone waterpots would have held between 21.6 and 32.4 American
A table need not be very big. LUK 1:63.
The word tables here is the Greek kline (Strong's # 2825), which means “a couch for sleep,
sickness, sitting or eating.” The same Greek word is used in MAT 9:6.
Davis Dictionary of the Bible (p.85) says that “a bed might be no more than a rug or mat,
easily bundled up and carried away.”
Pastor Smith takes issue with the idea that baptism pictures the death, burial and resurrection of
He says this would mean that we have two pictures of Christ's death (communion and
baptism) and this would be wrong. Why?
He then affirms that God has actually given us another emblem of the resurrection of
Christ, to wit, the Sunday Sabbath: “Surely God has left His people with at least a symbol
of the resurrection of Christ....On what day of the week was the Sabbath observed when
Christ walked on the earth? --- Saturday! ...And what day is kept as the Christian Sabbath?
We observe Sunday....The change of the day commemorates the resurrection of Christ.”
Book, chapter, verse???
Sabbath-keeping has been set aside by the cross and a New Testament.
COL 2:14-17 c/w HEB 10:1; 9:11.
Our sabbath is faith in Christ Who finished the work of redemption.
MAT 11:28-30 c/w HEB 3:1, 18; 4:1-2, 10-11 c/w HEB 1:3; JOH 17:4; 19:30.
Baptism does represent the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, emphasizing the burial
and resurrection. ROM 6:1-4; COL 2:12; 1PE 3:20-21.
If one thinks he needs something other than baptism as a token of the death, burial and
resurrection of Christ, he might consider walking in newness of life, abandoning former
sins and fallacious arguments against the truth.
Pastor Smith then looks at ROM 6:1-8 which obviously associates baptism with burial.
Pastor Smith then tries to discredit the connection between burial and immersion by
stating, “Was the body at burial put down into the earth and then at the resurrection come
up out of the earth? Did the burial of Jesus resemble the way we bury our dead? And the
answer is, No, not really.”
The Biblical Mode of Baptism
This bit of sophistry echoes the words of a Pedobaptist apologist, Duane E. Spencer, in the
March, 1980 issue of Key: “In Romans 6 the words which are important to the
Immersionist argument are 'buried' and planted.' If all we had to go by was the English text
it would be difficult to refute their position, but, thanks be to God who has given us His
Word for 'light,' the Greek text spells out the truth clearly.
“The Greek term rendered 'buried together' ( sunetaphemen) means to 'place in a tomb
together.' In the Near East, during Bible times, burial was by entombment in caves, either
natural or carved out of rock hillsides by the hand of man. If a man was wealthy, and
wished a monument to record his prior presence among the living, that sepulchre or tomb
was built in a prominent spot as a memorial.
“Ignorance of the meaning of key words of Scripture, or of customs of a people, breed
much heresy. For example: the Western mind sees the word 'burial' and automatically
thinks of placing a body beneath the surface of the earth. This accommodates the false
hypothesis that 'to baptize always means to immerse.' Yet, once we learn that Bible burials
normally were by entombment, by placing a body in a stone cave 'up' on a ledge, we can no
longer imagine that 'burial' in Romans 6:4 is a description of baptism by immersion. Jesus
was placed in a 'sepulchre' (Lk.23:53), very much like the 'Garden Tomb' near the
skull-like caves in Jerusalem today.
“The Greek word translated 'planted' (sumphutoi) has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING AT ALL
TO DO WITH PLACING SOMETHING BENEATH THE SURFACE (caps mine, TEB)
(Rom.6:5). The term means 'to join together, to be in union with, to become one.' It is
interesting to note that this is in full harmony with the correct usage - definition: ' baptizo
means union, identification, fellowship, oneness.' The Greek word translated 'planted' in
Romans 6:5 is used in Gk. literature to describe plants and trees with separate root systems
which touch and fuse together above the the surface to become 'one plant.' The phenomena
known as 'Siamese twins,' two persons joined together as one, is a good illustration of the
principle expressed by sumphutoi ('planted') in Romans 6:5.
“Since Christ was lifted up to rest on a stone ledge in a sepulchre, rather than being
lowered into the ground; and since planted in Romans 6:5 refers to our being 'joined
together in the likeness of His death,' it is an incontrovertible fact that Romans 6 will not
support the false hypothesis of our Immersionist brethren that 'to baptize is always to dip,
The entombment argument is refuted by ROM 10:7; MAT 12:40.
Placing a body in a stone cave does not escape the notion of burial in earth.
Rock is hard earth.
So what if a sepulchre or stone cave was up on a ledge? Plenty of
graveyards are built on hilltops. Plenty of churches have elevated
The Greek word for planted is sumphutos (Strong's # 4854), from sun (a primary
preposition denoting union; with or together) and a derivative of phuo (a primary
verb; probably originally to puff or blow), i.e. to swell up; but only used in the
implied sense, to germinate or grow (sprout, produce), literally or figuratively: -
spring ; grown along with (connate), i.e. fig. closely united to: planted
The Biblical Mode of Baptism
Planting implies the burial of the seed. JOH 12:24; MAR 4:26-27.
Mr. Spencer also states: “They do err who argue that 'bapto always means to dip, to
immerse.' By the use of 'always' they exaggerate and say too much. By treating 'dip' and
'immerse' as terms with precisely the same meaning they speak inaccurately. Technically
speaking 'to dip is to place something or someone partially into a liquid,' while 'to immerse
is to place something or someone completely within, and beneath the surface of a liquid.”
Dip: “To put down or let down temporarily or partially in or into a liquid, or the
like, or the vessel containing it (usually with the notion of wetting, or of taking up a
portion of the liquid, etc.); to immerse; to plunge (but with less implication of force
and splashing, the sound of the word expressing a light though decided act).”
Immerse: “ To dip or plunge into a liquid; to put overhead in water, etc.; spec. to
baptize by immersion.” (O.E.D.)
Pastor Smith then takes a shot at 1CO 10:1-2, affirming that this cannot reasonably represent
baptism by immersion.
These verses plainly associate baptism with being IN a medium (the cloud and the sea), not
having the medium applied to them.
“And the children of Israel went INTO THE MIDST OF THE SEA upon the dry ground...”
They were enveloped by water as they stood on the floor of their baptistry.
Their lives were in certain peril of water except for the hand of God and the temporary
nature of their baptism. A sprinkling hardly implies such a peril.
That the Israelites did not get wet is irrelevant to the argument. If their being dry argues
against immersion, it also argues against sprinkling or pouring.
Interestingly, the Israelites exercised faith BEFORE their baptism ( HEB 11:29) and could
not have experienced this baptism without it.
Pastor Smith equates baptism with sprinkling in HEB 9:10-13, 19-21.
The Greek word underlying washings in v. 10 is baptismos.
A Non Sequitur assumption is made that the sprinklings of vs. 13, 19, 21 must be the
correspondent of the washings in v. 10 since that is the next mention of liquid in the
context. But by the same reasoning, it could be concluded that the sprinklings were the
correspondent of the drinks in v. 10.
A classic Pedobaptist work represents the argument thus: “...It is crucial to note that the
law never required immersions, but frequently required sprinklings....The law simply knew
nothing of immersions, not to speak of different kinds of them.”
(Dr. Jay Adams, The Meaning and Mode of Baptism, pp. 9-11)
The Hebrew words for the ceremonial washings of the law are:
Rachats (Strong's # 7364): “To lave (the whole or a part of a thing): bathe (self),
EXO 30:18-19. Aaron and his sons washed hands and feet.
LEV 1:9. Burnt offerings were to be washed IN water.
2KI 5:10, 14. Naaman's washing was an obvious immersion.
SON 4:2. Here is the proverbial 'sheep-DIP.'
PSA 60:8. A watering can is not a washpot; this is obviously immersion.
The Biblical Mode of Baptism
LEV 16:4. The high priest had to wash his flesh IN water before making
NOTE: Mr. Duane Spencer in the March 1980 issue of Key maintains that
this word is “NEVER USED OF IMMERSING OR DIPPING.”
Kabac (Strong's # 3526): “To trample; hence to wash (prop. by stamping with the
feet), whether lit. (including the fulling process) or fig.: fuller, wash(ing).”
Fuller: “One who cleanses undressed cloth from oil and grease, and renders
it thick or compact by the application of pressure, or else one who
thoroughly cleanses soiled garments. The clothing was steeped in soap and
water and trodden, as the Hebrew name denotes.”
(Davis Dictionary of the Bible, p.252)
This is clearly an immersion!
LEV 11:40; 13:58; 14:47. Here is the washing of defiled clothes.
LEV 6:27. Mark how this verse distinguishes between washing and
Duwach (Strong's # 1740): “To thrust away; fig. to cleanse: cast out, purge, wash.”
2CH 4:6; EZE 40:38. This is the washing of the burnt offerings.
Remember, the washing of the burnt offerings has already been shown to be
immersion. LEV 1:9.
The ceremonial washings are clearly seen to have been immersions.
The ceremonial sprinklings come under the heading of “carnal ordinances”
in HEB 9:10.
See NUM 19:2, 20-21.
VIII. Pastor Smith considers the circumstantial evidence of ACT 2:38-41 and concludes that it would
have been a great stretch of the imagination to think that all those baptisms could have been done
by immersion in the time allotted.
“After all, the day was already well underway, Peter was known to be long-winded, and the
physical demands would have been overwhelming for immersion. Dipping a hyssop
branch in water and sprinkling the candidates is obviously how it would have been done.”
Mr. Duane Spencer apparently subscribes to the same line of thinking as Pastor Smith:
“It is hard for the Western mind to comprehend the fact that water was a scarce, precious
commodity during Bible times. We are so used to turning a faucet to gain all we want to
drink, shower or bathe, without any attempt at frugality. Yet, if we are to understand the
doctrine of baptism, it is an imperative that we realize that there were no public pools in
which persons could swim or bathe. The great pools of Jerusalem, for example, were the
civic reservoirs of drinking water for the huge population of the city, particularly at the
times of the Jewish festivals when several million packed every available space inside and
outside its great walls. Water was also drawn from some of these pools, such as Siloam,
for the sacred services. It is therefore not surprising that the entire Jewish populace
guarded them from abuse. No one wanted to drink 'bath water!'
“Although there were pools large enough for baptism by immersion, there were none
available for immersion. As J.W. Dale has wisely commented: 'If the enemies of the Lord
Jesus Christ who seven weeks before had planted His cross on Calvary, and in less time
took these men and imprisoned and scourged them, were ready to put the city water pools
The Biblical Mode of Baptism
at their disposal for the administration of the distinctive rite of this hated sect, still, it
remains to be shown that Peter and the people were in a position to avail themselves of this
extraordinary courtesy!' Not only were the great pools 'unavailable' for a sacred rite of
followers of The Way, but any attempt to use them would have been considered an
abomination, and bloodshed would have ensued. Water in great quantity for immersion
was an impossibility.
“Furthermore, eleven men (Peter and the ten left after the disaffection of Judas) could
never have baptized three thousand persons 'the same day.' The time and energy consumed
by lowering and raising that many bodies is a formidable task, and impossible apart from a
miracle (which, of course, is not recorded). Baptism by sprinkling or pouring, however,
would pose no problem as to time or energy. Eleven men could easily so baptize within
the limits of five to eight hours. Furthermore the baptisms could have been accomplished
secretly within the privacy of the homes of the converts, so that the enemy would know
nothing of that which was taking place. Immersion is ruled out as far as the baptism of
3000 'the same day' is concerned.” (Duane Spencer, Key, March 1980)
Though a tangent issue, it is interesting that Mr. Spencer avoids mention of the fact
that this was obviously a baptism of believers at Pentecost, which, of course, would
speak favorably of the Immersionist position. ACT 2:41.
The argument about water availability is refuted by JOH 5:1-7. The word pool is
the Greek kolumbethra (Strong's # 2861), which means “a diving-place, i.e. pond
for bathing (or swimming): - pool.”
The persecution argument is refuted by ACT 2:47; 4:21; 5:26.
There were not 11 apostles; there were 12, since Matthias was added. ACT 1:26.
3000/12 = 250 converts per minister.
250 converts @ 1 minute per immersion = 4 hours, 10 minutes.
250 converts @ 2 minutes per immersion = 8 hours, 20 minutes.
“With God all things are possible” (MAT 19:26).
Pastor Smith then looks at ACT 8:26-40.
He notes that v. 26 shows that this event took place in a desert and says, “The Baptists wish
that had been left out....(paraphrased),” implying that there could not have reasonably been
sufficient water available in the area for an immersion.
Pastor Smith considers this to be a core text for the Immersionist's position and therefore to
deal with it is to deal a great blow to the Immersionist.
This is NOT a core proof-text for Baptists relative to the MODE of baptism. It is a
reference-text at best.
But this is a valid proof-text for Baptists relative to the SUBJECTS of baptism: the
lack of belief is obviously a hindrance to baptism.
Pastor Smith notes that the phrase, “into the water” ( v. 38) should be rendered “toward the
water” (since the preposition “into” is from the Greek “eis” which could alternately be
translated as on, toward, against, among, etc. [there are over fifty alternate renderings in a
He also states that the phrase, “out of the water” should be rendered “away from the
water” (since the prepositional phrase “out of” is from the Greek “ek” which could
alternately be translated as on, among, over, against, etc).
His selection of “toward” and “away from” seems rather selective. This is called
The Biblical Mode of Baptism
“cherry-picking” your facts.
What about the word “down” (v. 38) which is from the Greek katabaino which
means to descend?
What about the word “up” (v. 39) which is from the Greek anabaino which means
to arise, ascend?
ACT 8:38-39 is AT LEAST setting forth a descent and ascent associated with the
water of baptism which implies a collection of water into which Philip and the
eunuch entered. If only a sprinkling or pouring was needed for baptism, why would
either of them get into the water?
Pastor Smith says, “There is no possibility of immersion.” HUH??
Baptists serve a God Who creates oases in deserts, makes water spring forth from
rocks (EXO 17; NUM 20), makes dry valleys fill with water without rain ( 2KI 3)
and Who for His people's needs “...will make the wilderness a pool of water, and
the dry land springs of water” (ISA 41:17-18).
Pastor Smith then shows that the eunuch was reading from ISA 53 and Philip would have
shown him ISA 52:15 which must have therefore been the impetus for the rite of baptism
being administered to the eunuch.
This argument is pure speculation.
If we are going to build a case from speculation, it might be observed:
Philip BEGAN at ISA 53 according to ACT 8:35, and this would imply
moving forward in the scroll.
Maybe Philip showed the eunuch ISA 54:7-9 where God's redeeming mercy
is likened to the flood of Noah where a world of sin was buried under water
and the survivors exited their ark-coffin to walk in newness of life!
God did sprinkle many nations in connection with the sufferings of Christ---NOT
with baptismal water but with blood! 1PE 1:1-2 c/w EPH 2:12-13.