THE MODE OF BAPTISM
I was driving through Quinlan Texas one day and saw a sign on one church that proclaimed:
“There is one baptism. Immersion.”
Now this is an allusion to Ephesians 4:5 which we will tackle later. Fundamentalists recognize one mode of baptism and that is immersion. Other modes practiced in traditional churches are pouring or sprinkling. Is immersion the Biblical mode? Fundamentalists are so sure of this that most are quite smug about this concept and look at other churches that practice other modes as either lazy or dishonest. First, let’s look at their proof.
I have seen these assertions in tracts from several denominations.
Going into the water
Coming out of the water
Form of birth
Form of burial
Form of resurrection
Form of planting
Washing of the body
To the first assertion, I am in full agreement; Christian baptism does require water, so I will go on to the next one. Does baptism require much water? Let’s look at their proof.
“And John also was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there:” John 3:23*
Sounds convincing, huh? Well let’s be very careful because if we use strong language like “requires” we might just shoot ourselves in the foot. I will apply B.S.H. #2(Scripture is inspired, translations are not) to this verse and see if it stands. The word translated “much” in this verse is “polus.” It most commonly means “many”. The verse could have been more accurately translated: “because there were many waters there.” This would testify to the many springs in this area. Why would John choose such a place to baptize? It is not hard if you know the culture of the time. Remember there was no running water at that time, no indoor plumbing, pipes, faucets, or sewer lines. People got their water from wells, streams, and rivers, but the most desirable source of water was a spring. Why? Well remember that there were no water treatment plants. People couldn’t just turn on a faucet and presto, clean water. The last place a person would go for water in a natural setting was standing water. Standing water meant dirty water. I suppose a few of you may have swimming pools. Then you will know the chore involved in keeping them clean. Running water usually meant clean water and is often called living water because it brought life. (Song of Solomon 4:15) (Jeremiah 2:13 &17:13) (Zechariah 14:8) (John 4:10,7:38) (Revelation 7:17) If you take the time to look up any of these verses, you will be able tell that from some of these that living water is also a term for the Holy Spirit. This is a point I will return to later on in this chapter. I also find it odd that if much water is required for baptism, there was a source of fresh water that would definitely have been a source of “much water” as our friends interpret it yet there is no case of anyone ever being baptized there in Scripture. Not even a hint. It was close to a multitude of populations and a place that much preaching and Scriptural activity went on. That is the Sea of Galilee. Could it have been that because the sea does not have flowing water that it was not used as a place of baptism, even though it was much more convenient and practical than the other sources of water where baptisms did take place? Think about it. Let’s go on to the next point.
Baptism requires going into the water. This comes from Acts 8:38.
“And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.”
The word translated “into” is the tricky little word “eis.” It can mean “into,” but it has other common meanings as well, such as “to,” “unto,” “for,” “against,” “is become,” “upon,” “toward,” “therefore,” “throughout,” “among,” “on,” and the list goes on. It is a hard word to translate if one is looking for a literal meaning. If I were telling a friend of mine about a fishing trip in Greek, I may have said. “I picked up my pole and went to (eis) the water and cast my line.” My friend would have understood what I said. Going into the water cannot be proved unless I put a qualifying word before the word “eis”. Let’s look at John 20:4-6.
“So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to (eis) the sepulchre. And stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in.”
Notice that “eis” cannot mean “into” because John clearly did not enter the tomb. We need a qualifying word to prove “into” in John 20:5. Let’s continue with verse 6.
“Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went (eiserchomai) into (eis) the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie,”
“Eiserchomai” literally means, “enter.” If our friends had this word for their proof verse they would have much more solid ground to stand on with their assertion, but you cannot build a solid foundation on the word “eis” for it is like building a house on sand.
Let’s go on to the next point. “Baptism requires coming out of the water.” Let’s look at their proof.
“And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water:” Matthew 3:16
“And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him:” Mark 1:10
“And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip...” Acts 8:36
Again we have a translation quirk. The word translated “out of” in Matthew 3:16 is the word “apo”. This word is most commonly translated “from” in the King James, so it cannot be used as a proof word by our friends for I can go down to (eis) the water and then come up from (apo) the water and never even get my big toe wet. Consider this example:
When he was come down from (apo) the mountain, great multitudes followed him. Matt 8:1
Jesus and his disciples were not inside the mountain to come out of it.
And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table. Matt 15:27
The crumbs were not inside the table.
And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from (apo) me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: Matt 25:40 41
The condemned people were not inside the King.
And saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross. Matt 27:40
Jesus was not inside the cross.
The word translated “out of” in the later two proof verses is the word “ek”. It to can be translated “out of” but again, it is not a proof word.
“And they came down from (ek) the mountain, Jesus....” Matthew 17:9
Again, they were not inside the mountain. Here’s some more.
“And he saith unto them, Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with: but to sit on (ek) my left, is not mine to give,....” Matthew 20:23
In this case “ek” cannot mean “out of” for James and John would have neither been inside Jesus’ hand or on his hand but they would have been in the area of his hand. So I can come up from (ek) the water and never ever get any part of me wet. In all these cases it can be easily possible that the people involved went down to the water and then came up from the water without having to go into the water much less being fully immersed in the water. If you still hold on to Acts 8:38 proving immersion, then you will have to admit that both Philip and the eunuch would have had to have been fully immersed, and if you think that is true, then there is no help for you in this book.
The next assertion is “a form of birth” this alludes to John 3:5
“Jesus answered, Verily, verily I say unto thee except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” John 3:5
This verse is widely debated amongst the fundamentalists on whether or not it is about baptism. I for one think our Savior is talking about baptism here so I will not wimp out in this one. If being born of water proves immersion, as our friends would have us believe, context would dictate that being born of the Spirit is done by the same manner. Let’s look and see if this holds up. If one is familiar with Scripture, he will know that water is a popular metaphor for the Spirit. The two are mentioned hand in hand several times.
John 7:38-39 “He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake he of the spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given: because that Jesus was not yet glorified”
Baptism by water and baptism by the spirit are also mentioned together many times.
Matthew 3:11 “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.”
Mark 1:8 “I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.”
Luke 3:16 “John answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire:”
John 1:33 “And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.”
Acts 1:5 “For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.”
Acts 11:16 “Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost.”
With this many examples, one cannot deny the association that water and the Spirit have with each other. If one were searching the Scriptures for a Biblical mode, it would seem to me to either lazy or dishonest to overlook this many passages. If the word baptism in itself depicts a mode (as many of our friends will claim) then the action of baptism by water should be identical to the action by baptism of the Spirit.
“And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy:” Acts 2:17-18
Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost:(For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Acts 8:15*
While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. Acts 10:44*
And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. Acts 10:45*
And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning. Acts 11:15*
As you can see, no one went down into the Spirit, no one came up of out of the Spirit, and no one emerged from the Spirit. We do see though that the action of the Spirit is to fall or be poured or even descend.
And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him. Matthew 3:16*
And Straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him: Mark 1:10*
And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him,... Luke 3:22*
And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him. And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. John 1:32*
Every verse quoted involves or is in the context of water baptism. Every verse quoted testifies to the action and work of the Spirit. To deny an association would be shortsighted. The truth is that the work of the Spirit and water baptism shares a strong connection because the two are mentioned hand in hand too many times to ignore. Yet, when looking for modes of baptism in Scripture, our friends always seem to ignore all the verses I just quoted. But I am getting off the subject here. What we are looking for is proof of a form of birth by the Spirit. This Spiritual birth must be the same as birth by water, if our friend’s assertion is to be correct. To try to prove immersion as our friends practice it by any of these verses is ludicrous and cannot hold water. If a mode were attested to here it would have to be affusion or pouring. Let’s go back to our friend’s list of requirements.
The next three requirements I will tackle at the same time because they come from a single source of Scripture, that is a form of burial, a form of resurrection, and a form of planting.
Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. Romans 6:1-6
First I will have to note that there is nothing here that says “watery grave” as is interjected by many who use this passage to prove immersion as the form of baptism. We will note that burial, resurrection, and planting are all mentioned here, but we will also note they are not the only metaphors mentioned here. If burial, resurrection, and planting must be imitated by baptism then context dictates that it must also imitate death, crucifixion, and destruction of the body, and all these conditions must be in the likeness of Christ’s crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection. What would this entail? Well first we would have to construct a water cross were the candidate will be crucified and die then we must construct a water cave for the tomb and a water stone to roll into the entrance to bury and plant the candidate then the water stone must be rolled away so the candidate can be resurrected and emerge from the side of the water tomb. Does this sound like anything like how our friends practice baptism? Well, they will point out that Colossians 2:12 also testifies to baptism being a burial. I will say let’s look at it in context.
In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead. And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; Colossians 2:11-13
If baptism is to imitate a burial then context dictates that it also imitate a circumcision. This is something I would rather not witness. What was Paul speaking of in Romans 6 and Colossians 2? He is not speaking of what baptism imitates but of what it accomplishes because no mode of baptism, whether immersion, pouring, or sprinkling, can imitate all the conditions put forth in these verses. Think about it. Would you rather have a baptism of imitation or a baptism of accomplishment? When I was baptized, I was crucified, died, my body of sin was destroyed, I was planted and buried, circumcised, I was forgiven, quickened, and resurrected to walk in newness of life so that I may not serve sin. Hallelujah. Would Paul be speaking of an imitation or boasting of an accomplishment?
For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. Galatians 3:27
Baptism is not taken lightly in Scripture so we should not take it lightly. Let’s get back to our subject.
They may try to whip out the big gun for their argument, which is this. The Greek word “baptizo” translated “baptize” literally means to immerse. Sure enough, check your Strong’s Greek dictionary or your Thayer's lexicon they will back it up. I will ask this question though. Is a dictionary or a lexicon inspired? Or is Scripture? If I am looking for a truly reliable definition, which should I turn to? I will also ask this. If you look up a word in a dictionary, how often does it have only one definition? Don’t most words have two or even multiple definitions? Here is where I will don a glove to slap the face of any immersionist and challenge them to a dual. My assertion is this. If I ask what the scriptural definition for baptism is and I am answered with “immersion,” that is like asking someone for change for a dollar and only getting back seventy-five cents. Huh? You ask. Yes, I will stand behind this assertion. I assert that the definition “immersion” falls short of the meaning of “baptism” and I will assert that the scriptural definition of “baptism” is this: an action or event that effects a transformation. Because if I am immersed and not transformed, what good does immersion do me? Let’s consider Mark 1:4
John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. Mark 1:4
Our friends would have us translate this verse; John did immerse in the wilderness, and preach the immersion of repentance. “Immersion of repentance!” Can I immerse myself in repentance? Well let’s consider this. Let’s say that brother (fill in the blank) holds a revival. Let’s also say he is a powerful convincing preacher and upon hearing him I cry, tremble, and repent of my sinful ways. Then I drive home rejoicing in my newfound life. Can you say I immersed myself in repentance? I think you can. Let’s continue. Let’s say the next morning I get up, light up a cigarette, argue with my wife, and then cuss at my fellow commuters from the safety of my car. Get to work and carry on my affair with my secretary then go have a three-martini lunch. I think I can say I immersed my self in repentance but I was not transformed by repentance.
But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended. He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful. Matthew 13:19
Consider this passage
But Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto him, We are able. And he saith unto them, Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with: but to...Matthew 20:22-23
Is Jesus speaking of immersion here? His descent and ascent from Hell? His death and burial and resurrection? This is possible but what Jesus is ultimately speaking of here is the change of condition he was to experience, which we shall also experience. For if he is immersed and his condition is not changed, his immersion has no purpose.
But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire. II Peter 2:22
Peter is speaking of those who were in the Church and then returned to their former way of life. Notice he speaks of the washing of the sow but does not call her baptized. Why? I think it is obvious to me is that the condition of the sow did not change. The sow was not transformed into a lamb but remained a sow. The ritual was performed but a transformation did not take effect. Thus the sow was not baptized for her condition did not change. Think about it? Can any one call himself a baptized Christian if he remains in his worldly ways? For there is no change of condition because a true Christian is apart from the world when it comes to behavior.
I think we can see now that baptism of the Spirit is not mimicked by immersion but we can see that it does bring about a change in our lives. If the Spirit transforms us we can truly call ourselves baptized.
You will have to forgive me because I got off the subject. I need to finish the list of requirements asserted by our friends for baptism. The last item on the list is “body washed,” and they will refer to Hebrews 10:22 as proof.
Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and or bodies washed with pure water. Hebrews 10:22
I find it ironic that if we hold true to context; if I’m immersed (as our friends assert this verse proves) then context dictates that at the same time I am also sprinkled. I will assert that like Paul, the unknown author of Hebrews is speaking of accomplishment and not so much a mimicking. But if our friends want to stick to their guns I will oblige them. In order to make ones body clean (our friends assert) it must be fully immersed in water. This can seem logical in our times but we must remember that Scripture was written apart from our time and our standards are not quite the same as theirs. Let’s consider this verse.
And as he spake, a certain Pharisee besought him to dine with him: and he went in, and sat down to meat. And when the Pharisee saw it, he marveled that he had not first washed before dinner. Luke 11:37-38
Now the word translated “washed” is our good friend “baptizo” normally translated baptized. If our friend’s assertion were to hold true, then Jesus would have had to have fully immersed himself before dinner. But this cannot stand the scrutiny of Scripture or history.
And when they saw some of his disciples eat bread with defiled, that is to say, with unwashen, hands, they found fault. And when they come from the market, except they wash, they eat not. And many other things there be, which they have received to hold, as the washing of cups, and pots, brasen vessels and of tables. Then the Pharisees and scribes asked him, why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashen hands. Mark 7:2-5*
Please bear with me because we must be careful with these verses. The word translated “wash” in verse 4 is also our good friend “baptizo,” but did the Jews fully immerse themselves after they came from the marketplace? The context of the verses points that they did not but only washed their hands. Mark 6:53 states that they (Jesus & the Apostles) had just landed in the land of Gennesaret. Upon entering the town, the sick were laid in the streets to be healed. (Mark 6:56) The word translated “streets” in the KJV is from the Greek word “agora” most commonly translated market or marketplace. So you can see that when Jesus’s disciples went to go eat they would have come from the market. Mark 7:4 says that the Pharisees when they come from the market would wash or baptize themselves before they eat, and they were wondering why Jesus’s disciples didn’t do as they did. Verse 5 shows that the baptism being spoken of here is not of full body immersion but of a hand washing and if one washed his hands, he was considered to be baptized (i.e. transformed) because his condition was changed from unclean to clean. There have been a few attempts by some immersionists to translate the New Testament so they could replace “baptism” with “immersion”. None of these ever had much success in gaining widespread popularity. One of which I have seen is by Alexander Campbell whose translation I will present here.
While he was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him. And he went, and placed himself at table. But the Pharisee was surprised to observe, that he used no washing before dinner.
Notice that he translated “baptizo”with “washing” not immerse.
the Pharisees, and some scribes who came from Jerusalem, resorted to Jesus. And observing some of his disciples eating with impure, that is, unwashed hands; (for the Pharisees, and indeed all the Jews who observed the tradition of the elders, eat not till they have washed their hands by pouring a little water upon them: and if they be come from the market, by dipping them; and many other usages there are, which they have adopted, as immersions of cups and pots, and brazen vessels and beds:) then the Pharisees and scribes asked him, Whence comes it that your disciples observe not the tradition of the elders, but eat with unwashed hands?
I think it interesting that he, being one of the loudest boasters on this subject, when faced with the truth, was forced to paraphrase and add some words in order use the words “dip” and “immerse.” He also kept the context to that of washing hands instead of the whole body. If he had kept to his convictions, he would have translated it immersion. The ceremony being spoken of here has been preserved in the writings of the Mishna from which this quotation is based upon.
“Large stone vessels of water were specially kept for the purpose because ordinary water might be unclean; the amount of water used must be at least a quarter of a log, that is, enough to fill one and a half egg-shells. First the water must be poured over the hands beginning at the tips of the fingers and running right up to the wrist. Then the palm of each hand must be cleansed by rubbing their fist of the other into it. Finally, water must again be poured over the hand, this time beginning at the wrist and running down to the fingertips.”**
Notice that this ritual was by pouring and that it was considered to be a baptism in scriptural times. Next we must note that the word “washing” in Mark 7:4 is translated from the word “baptismos”most commonly translated “baptism” and that several items are described that can be baptized, such as cups, and pots, and brasen vessels. It is possible that all these items could be immersed, but note the last item is tables. It is translated from the word “Kline;” this word is also translated “couch”and “bed.” It is hard for me to imagine any table, couch or bed being immersed in a regular ritual.
The next weapon in their arsenal is that when the King James translators were doing their job, they purposely transliterated the words “baptizo”, “baptisma”, and “Baptistes” to “baptize”, “baptism”, and “Baptist”. “Transliterate,” means that when translating one language to another, words that are in one language cannot be directly translated to another because there is no direct parallel. In cases like this, translators will often transliterate a foreign word to the language being translated to, thus inventing a new word. The accusation our friends have made is that the King James translators invented the word “baptism” so they would not have to use the word “immersion.” It is said that they had considered using the word “immersion” but were told not to use it because of the powers that be in the Church of England. The Church of England practiced pouring and sprinkling, thus the word “baptism” or any of its variations did not exist before 1611. Well, This is about as low as one can go when trying to prove a point. For this is just a lie, a myth of the fundamentalist because they want to believe it. They must feel that those whom they preach this to are gullible and lazy or that they themselves must be gullible and lazy to believe this. First, let’s take a trip to the dictionary on the word baptism. Baptism evolved from the Middle English word “Bapteme”, which came from the Old French “bapteme & baptesme,” which came from the Late Latin “baptisma,” which came from the Greek “Baptizein”. So the word baptism was already in the English language by 1611. Indeed Wyclif (1328-84) used it in his translation. Also, I have a book called The Coming of the King James Gospels, which has published the rough drafts with all the word alternatives that were being considered for different passages. The word “immersion” was never considered instead of the word baptism in any passage I looked at. Maybe they figured out that “immerse” was not quite an equivalent to baptize. I’m a dumb hick here in Cedar Creek Texas and I figured it out; couldn’t educated scholars figure it out too? But what if this is true? What if this is some kind of evil conspiracy? I would have to ask what other evil plots the King James translators had in mind when they were doing their job? What other words did the evil King James translators transliterate? Many fundamentalists fancy to call themselves “evangelist”. But did you know that word “evangelist” is translated in the King James from the Greek word “euaggelistes”? I shutter to think of the untold evil that will be discovered from this transliteration. The truth of the matter is that many Modern English words have Greek roots and it is only natural to translate Greek words to their closest English equivalent. Other words would be “angel” from the Greek “aggelos,” and “apostle,” which come from the Greek “apostolos”. Both of which could be translated “messenger” but, like “baptism” they are better translated the way they are.
I hate to even bring up this point of our friends because it resides in the dungeons of minutiae. But since I have seen it in tracts from two different denominations I will address it. The charge is that it was ordained at the council of Ravenna in 1311 that immersion and sprinkling are indifferent. Unfortunately I cannot find any historical information on this council from the resources available to me. But I know enough about the general workings of councils to say that a council was only held to clarify doctrine and not to invent or ordain any doctrine. A council was usually held to address a heresy that was occurring at that time. But when is the first account of pouring or sprinkling being recognized as baptism? A first century document called the “Didache” gives instruction on baptism.
Now about baptism: this is how to baptize, give public instruction on all these points, and then “baptize” in running water, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” If you do not have running water, baptize in some other. If you cannot in cold, then in warm. If you have neither, then pour water on the head three times in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Didache 7:1-4
Now this predates the council of Ravenna by over a thousand years so it makes what ever was “ordained” (as our friends claim) at that council somewhat superfluous.
Now to get to the first assertion of our friends I stated in the chapter. “There is one baptism, immersion.” This is an interpretation of Ephesians 4:5 which we will look at in context.
There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. Ephesians 4:4-6
We must remember the time and place that the epistle to the Ephesians was written. Ephesus was a center of pagan culture. Most of the people that this epistle was addressed to would have converted from paganism. Let’s look at the verse through the eyes of a former pagan. Pagans had many cults, which followed different gods. Pagans were not a united body. Pagans had many gods and not the One God. Pagans and Jews had many ritual types of washing. Jews ritually washed themselves everyday for they were constantly becoming unclean. Were as Christians are washed one time, and we are clean forever. Paul was not indicating that there was just one mode or that there was a minor dispensation coming to a close and that there was no longer baptism of the Spirit or repentance or any other thing described as a baptism in Scripture.
So what is the scriptural mode for baptism? I think a full study of Scripture and history will give us clues. Immersion cannot fulfill the imagery of Spiritual baptism which water baptism is so closely connected, and pouring or sprinkling does not seem to fulfill the imagery of a death, burial, and resurrection. There never is a description of a baptismal site that describes the area having water deep enough for baptism. The Didache places a great importance on the kind of water but not on the depth of water. I think in scriptural times there were preferences on baptismal sites, it should be noted that people were also baptized immediately after their conversion, so I will assert that an immediate baptism took precedent over a favorable baptismal site. I think that if possible people were baptized in natural flowing water but if that was unavailable or inconvenient, whatever water was available was used to affect an immediate baptism. Take a look at Acts 10:47
Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? Acts 10:47
St. Peter saw an urgency in baptizing those he had just preached to. He uses the interesting phrase “can any man forbid water”. So the water that Peter had in mind for baptism was water that could have been forbidden by a man. Does this sound like a natural source of water deep enough for baptism? Remember there was no Army Corps of Engineers at that time. And if one was to do a baptism they could do it a lot quicker than one could build a dam to stop it. I believe that he is talking about water that could be carried by a man that could have been forbidden entry into a house. This water would be sufficient for pouring but probably not water sufficient for an immersion. I believe that when available, running water from a natural source was used, but depth was of secondary importance or of no importance at all. I believe that baptism as our friends practice it was not practiced in the early Church. But that people would stand or kneel in water if available with the administrator always pouring water over the person, either by hand or with some kind of water holder. Pouring can be an image of burial because if we bury something we always have to pour dirt over it. Haven’t all of us seen or been to a funeral were a handful of dirt was poured over the casket and the person who did the act could rightly say that had buried the recently deceased. So if baptism is to fit an imagery would not the lowering of one’s self down to kneel and/ or bowing the head be a death, the pouring of water be a burial and the saving action of the Spirit and standing back up be a resurrection? I am not claiming an image is mandatory but if desired, this is adequate.
Another claim our friends make is that many of the baptisteries in the ancient churches were deep enough to accommodate immersion. This may be true in many cases but don’t let this fool you. It is possible to immerse someone in about a foot of water but it is not practical. Many of the ancient baptistries were only one or two feet deep and all of them had little resemblance to the baptistries that are utilized by our friends. But they could easily accommodate a baptism like the one I just described.
In closing I would like to state again the importance that we view baptism as a transformation. The work of God changes our lives completely and totally. It is not temporary. To immerse falls short of to transform. When we consider Johns baptism:
That word, I say, ye know, which was published throughout all Judaea, and began from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached; Acts 10:37
Was John preaching about the proper mode of which to baptize? No. John’s baptism was one of repentance.
When John had first preached before his coming the baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. Acts 13:24
If we truly repent, then we are transformed. Our old ways are dead and no longer with us. When reading Scripture, keep the concept of transformation in the back of your head each time you come across one of the forms of “baptism”. I think this will give you a truer and deeper meaning of what is being discussed.
**P. The Gospel Of Luke, William Barclay, C. 1975 The Westminster Press P 155