Posted by: stpowen | August 27, 2009

What About Baptism? (2)

I want to cover two more aspects of the mode of baptism before leaving the subject.

Firstly and biefly,  the figurative use of  baptizo.  In Greek literature, people are frequently ‘baptized’ in debt, misery, sleep and alcohol.   We might use the words ‘plunged’ or ‘immersed.’  Now if one was plunged into debt or misery, this might last one’s whole life or for just a short period.  Only the context would say wheher the ‘baptism’ was permanent or temporary.  However, if one was immersed in sleep or ‘overwhelmed’ by wine, it is obvious that in due course one would wake up or sober up.  The ‘baptism’ would be a temporary one.  It is therefore wrong to say that baptizo in these figurative usages must mean a permanent change.  

This enables us to understand better Luke 12:50.  “But I have a baptism (Gk. Baptismos ) to be baptized with (Gk. Baptizo), and how distressed I am till it is accomplished.”  Our Lord cannot be referring to His water baptism, which had already taken place, so he must mean His baptism of sufferings which He was to undergo.  He declared, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death” (Matt 26:38).  The baptism analogy is particularly apt if we attribute to Him the words of Psalm 69:  ‘Save Me, O God, for the waters have come up to My neck.  I sink in deep mire where there is no standing; I have come into deep waters, where the floods overflow Me.’   But His overwhelming anguish was only a temporary one.   He emerged from His sufferings (Phil 2:9; Heb 12:2) to assume His place at the right hand of God.  This Baptismos, therefore, was also a temporary one.  we claim therefore, contra Mr Bass, that Baptizo can most certainly mean a temporary immersion as well as a permanent one.

Secondly, it may be helpful to see how some of the Church fathers write about baptism.  This is not out of respect for their theological understanding, which was variable to say the least.  Rather, we look to them to see what Greek-speakers in the early centuries A.D. understood baptizo to mean, and taught their congregations. 

1. Cyril of Jerusalem, Instruction III, on Baptism XII.  ‘For as Jesus assuming the sins of the world died, that having slain sin He might raise you up to righteousness; so also you, going down into the water, and in a manner buried in the waters as He in the rock, are raised again, walking in newness of life.’

2. John Chrysostom.  Comment on 1Cor. Discourse XL. I.  ‘For to be baptized, and to sink down, then to emerge, is a symbol of the descent into the underworld, and of the descent from there.  Therefore Paul calls baptism, the burial, saying, “we were buried therefore, with Him by the baptism into death.”‘

3. Athanasius. Discourse on the Holy Passover, 5.  ‘In these benefits you were baptized, O newly-enlightened; the initiation into the grace……has become to you an earnest of resurrection; you have the baptism as a surety of the abode in heaven.  You imitated, in the sinking down, the burial of the Master; but you rose again from there, before works, witnessing the works of the resurrection.’

4. Gregory of Nazianus.  Discourse XL, on the holy Baptism. ‘Let us therefore be buried with Christ by the baptism, that we mayalso rise with Him.  Let us go down with Him, that we may also be exalted with Him; let us come up with Him, that we may also be glorified with Him.’ 

In every single example that Ican find (and there are plenty of others), the Church Fathers understand Baptizo to mean immersion.  They wrote in Greek;  they ought to know what a Greek word means.

Finally, let us look at the earliest post-Biblical Christian work (c. A.D. 110) to mention baptism.  It might be mentioned in passing that the writers show absolutely no knowledge of infant baptist.  Clearly it had  not been introduced at this early stage.  

Didache VII.  Baptize thus:  having first recited all these things, baptize (Gk. Baptizo) “in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,” in running water.  If you have no running water, baptize in other water; if you cannot baptize in cold water, use warm.  If you have neither, pour water on the head thrice……..’

The point here is that baptizo is only used for imersion.  When permitting pouring as a last resort, baptizo is not used.  It couldn’t be.  Baptizo means ‘immerse.’



  1. Hi Steve,

    Good to see your new blog. I shall look forward to reading more of your offerings.

    Steve, rather than the old and rather tiring approaches to the issue of Baptism from Presby. circles, I recently came upon a rather novel approach, which I had not come across before. I aim to write a response to this in due course, God willing, but time constraints mean that this may be some way off. Would you be interested in collaborating on this? If so, then email so that we can progress this. Look forward to hearing from you.

  2. Thank you, Satch.
    An e-mail is on its way.


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