Nearly every church “baptizes” its converts, either by pouring, immersing, or sprinkling. The Greek behind our English word “baptize” is baptizo. According to Thayer’s lexicon, one use of this word outside the Bible was with reference to sunken ships. G. R. Beasley-Murray, in his article on baptism in The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology(Colin Brown, editor), stated that in Classical Greek it meant “to cause to perish (as by drowning a man).” BAGD defines baptizo as “dip, immerse” and points out that even in non-Christian literature it meant “plunge, sink, drench, overwhelm.” J. D. G. Dunn wrote in the New Bible Dictionary (J. D. Douglas, editor) that New Testament baptism was “probably by immersion.” Even Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, in giving the Greek root for “baptize,” defines baptizein as “to dip.” Those proficient in Koine Greek are fairly well agreed that baptizo generally means immerse: “Despite assertions to the contrary, its seems that baptizo, both in Jewish and Christian contexts, normally meant ‘immerse,’ and that even when it became a technical term for baptism, the thought of immersion remains. The use of term for cleansing vessels (as in Le 6:28) does not prove the contrary, since vessels were normally cleansed by immersing them in water” (Brown, NIDNTT, I, p. 144).
Liddel and Scott point out in their Greek-English Lexicon that baptizomeans “to dip repeatedly, to dip under.” J.L Dagg noted, “The Greek language continued to be spoken for many years after the times of the apostles. During all this period they, to whom the word baptizo was vernacular, understood it to signify immerse; and immersion has always been the practice of the Greek church to the present day. The Greeks must have understood the meaning of their own word. The Latin fathers also understood the word in the same way; and immersion prevailed in the western as well as in the eastern churches, until near the time of the reformation. Effusion was allowed instead of immersion, in case of sickness; but it was accounted an imperfect baptism” (J.L. Dagg, Manual of Church Order, p 36).
Notice in Mk 1:9-10 that Jesus and John were not just “by” the Jordan, but were down “in” (eis) it. Then, after being submerged, Jesus came up “out of” (ek) the water. All this would have been unnecessary if full immersion were not the mode used here. Similarly, according to Jn 3:23, why was John baptizing at Aenon near Salim? Because it was such a lovely place? Because it was conveniently close to the synagogue? Neither of these. The text says it was “because there was plenty of water.” It doesn’t take much water to sprinkle; the entire populace of a large city could be sprinkled with a washtub full of water. John’s method of baptism was by immersion, and that takes “plenty” of water.
According to Ac 8:36-39, Philip and the Eunuch “went down” (katebesan) “into” (eis) the water and after the baptism “came up” (anebesan) “out of” (ek) the water. J. L. Dagg commented that “the style in which [Philip] traveled forbids the supposition that he had no drinking vessel, in which a sufficient quantity of water might have been brought into the chariot to wet the hand of the administrator. But, if they chose not to perform the rite in the chariot, there was certainly no need for both of them to go into the water, if the mere wetting of Philip’s hand was sufficient (Manual of Church Order, 36). It appears that when it came to baptism, the eunuch was all wet!
Since God promised to “pour out” (ekcheo, Ac 2:33; 10:45) His Spirit, wouldn’t pouring water be a more fitting mode of baptism? Well perhaps, it if could be shown that baptizo ever meant “pour,” but there is no lexical evidence that it ever meant anything other than “immerse.” Those who believe in pouring argue that Ac 1:5 (viewed in light of ekcheo in 2:33) is just such a case where baptizo means “pour out.” But this is faulty reasoning. One might just as forcefully argue that ekcheo in Ac 2:33 really means “immerse” since it is paralleled with baptizo in Ac 10:44-48! A more likely explanation for ekcheo in Ac 2:33 is that, just as in the days of Noah when God opened the floodgates of heaven and poured forth the waters resulting in the immersion of every living creature (except those with Noah), so at Pentecost God poured out the Holy Spirit resulting in the immersion of His people into the Spirit.
King David was quite sincere in wishing to please God when he had the ark carried toward Jerusalem on an ox cart (2Sa 6:1-5); but because he neglected to follow God’s previous instructions to carry it on poles (Ex 25:12-14, 1Ch 15:13-15), tragedy resulted (2Sa 6:6-7). David was sincerely wrong. Though one must not be divisive over the correct mode of baptism, it nevertheless is critical that we genuinely understand God’s instructions. Sincerity is indeed important, but it is also important to be sincerely correct!
Why is it that those who translated the Bible from Greek into English have, since the sixteenth century, chosen to transliterate baptizo rather than to translate it? It is a fact that “baptize” remains an untranslated word in our English Bibles even to this day. Since the word means “immerse,” why not translate it as such? It has been said that the translators of the seventeenth century were not free to render baptizo as “immerse” because the state church that “authorized” their efforts (i.e., the Anglican church) practiced sprinkling. Not wanting to upset the governing authorities, and yet not wanting to translate Scripture incorrectly, they simply did neither and instead transliterated baptizo. Why, 400 years later, do modern translators persist in doing the same thing? Could it be that they do it so as not to upset potential readers or threaten popularity? For instance, what church which believes in sprinkling or pouring would subscribe to an English translation that reads, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, immersing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 28:18)?
The fundamental meaning of baptizo is to immerse, and that was evidently the primary mode of baptism in the NT. The Greek word used to refer to washing one’s whole body is louo (Jn 13:10, Ac 9:37, 16:33, Heb 10:22-23, 2Pe 2:22). The word used to refer to washing only a part of one’s body (such as the hands) is nipto (Mt 6:17, Jn 13:8). If one was washing one’s clothes, then pluno (4150) was used (Re 7:14). There are specific Greek words for “sprinkle” (rantizo, 4472) and also for “pour” (ekecho), but significantly those were not the words used in the NT with reference to baptism. The question is: If Jesus designed to command pouring or sprinkling, why did he not use the proper word for denoting it?
Some argue that immersion is inconvenient, embarrassing or impractical, and that it is the thought that really counts anyway. But suppose you were asked to see a picture of my wife, and I, in turn, showed you a picture of a sailboat. You might well exclaim, “What? That’s not your wife!” To which I could reply, “No, but it’s the thought that counts!” Of course the thought really does count, but then so does the correct picture! There are specific Greek terms for “sprinkle” (rantizo) and “pour” (ekcheo), but those were not the words Jesus chose to use in Mt 28:18. He used the word baptizo. Since the Lord Jesus told us specifically to “immerse” people, why would we want to do it any other way? Indeed, what authority have we to change it?