Investigating Baptism (3)

Posted on December 12, 2011 by

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In previous articles, an investigation of the nature, or mode, of biblical “baptism” was begun. The case has been slowly established demonstrating that the term in the majority of English translations of the Bible is not translated so that its native meaning can be clearly understood.

Instead, the term has been only given English letters which correspond to the sounds of the Greek letters found in baptizo (and its word group). Transliteration of baptizo is done to obscure its native meaning of immersion, submersion, dipping, plunging.

In most cases, this has been done to accommodate those who practice sprinkling and pouring (etc.) as another mode of “baptism”. It allows them to “interpret” this biblical word according to their own “theology” instead of its true native meaning. And they have done so to their own peril.

Some attempt to reduce the force of the lexical evidence which demon-strates that baptizo, and its word family, means immersion. One argument typically used casts blame upon God for not intervening to prevent the meaning of the word from being made obscure.

The converse of which is also argued; namely, that one’s salvation is based upon scholarly knowledge of the biblical languages and grammar. If salvation is supposed to be offered to all, why then did God allow such an important meaning to be left shrouded in mystery only to be “privileged information” for the scholar.

We would like to give attention to this criticism which appears from time to time; particularly, by those who resist the lexical evidence on the grounds that one must be a scholar in order to know the native meaning of biblical “baptism”.

The “Anti-Academic” Argument

While studying New Testament Greek at the undergraduate level, my professor Dowell Flatt retold a dialogue he had with a student who recoiled at the need to study one year of Greek.

The heart of it went something like the following. “Brother Flatt, I don’t understand why I need to study Greek?”, the student said. “I don’t need Greek to go to heaven.” Dowell Flatt responded, probably in the same understated tone he retold this story, “You’re right, I suppose, you don’t need to know Greek to go to heaven. But you better know someone who does, because that is the only way you can read the New Testament and go to heaven”.

Compelled by the reasonableness of the argument, the student did his required studies in Greek.

The story resonates, though anecdotal, with a concern for “academic study” of the Bible. There are some sincere people of faith who are misguided in their low appreciation, or even distrust, of those who go beyond the Sunday school level of Bible study. This is unfortunate.

It goes beyond their notice, however, that the “academics” (for lack of a bi-partisan term) worked diligently to provide God’s Word into the English language by means of translation. The scholars have not given us the Bible; however, it is through scholarly work that countless souls have been provided access to the languages in which the Sacred texts of the Bible have been written.

Such individuals have prepared themselves to specialize in the intense study of the biblical text, the biblical languages, and contextual studies which allow for a better appreciation of the setting and bearing of the ancient background in which sacred history took place.

We are not suggesting that the “academy” should be given free reign of our trust; instead, we ought to be diligent to apply Paul’s exhortation: “test everything; hold fast what is good” (1 Thess. 5.21). Consequently, we must guard ourselves from treating academic conclusions as if they are authoritative as Scripture.

Nevertheless, we should not disparage the hard work of those who uncover the biblical cities from the earth, or those who follow the rules of grammar to assist us in better understanding the text, nor those who defend the faith providing useful logical and philosophical argumentations.

Moreover, many “scholars” focus their attention to put the technical and “out of reach” studies into the hands of the “every person”, in readable non-technical books and essays. In fact, there are volumes upon volumes designed to give some knowledge of the biblical languages to all.

With the availability of accessible material to understand basic and complex issues of the Bible, the “privileged information” argument is consequently fallacious. One only needs to be willing to go to the library and apply one’s mind and time in valuable study. One may even subscribe to a biblically grounded periodical with refreshing articles of depth.

Any Bible, Any Version

I am of the persuasion that a person can learn from any genuine Bible translation what to do to be saved. The language and imagery of the Bible can be clearly understood and obeyed in any language.

The case is no different for the nature, or mode, of “baptism” as it ought to be translated: immersion. Men of high academic caliber have always acknowledged this (A.T. Robertson, N.B. Hardeman, etc.).

To demonstrate the clarity of the Scriptures as to the nature, or mode, of “baptism” without appealing to the biblical languages consider the following flow of thought.

N.B. Hardeman approached the subject “Baptism” in his celebrated Tabernacle sermon series in the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee (1922).[1] His approach was simple; find every instance of “baptism” in the English Bible:

[…] then at the close I would try to decide, with God alone as my teacher, just what was the act commanded by him and to which I must submit.[2]

We offer a similar approach below, which demonstrates immersion to be biblical “baptism”:

(1)   It takes place in a body of water.

“[…] and they were baptized by him [John the Baptist] in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.” (Matt. 3.5-6)

(2)   After baptism, one comes up out of the water.

“And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water […].” (Matt. 3.11).

(3)   Baptism requires much water.

John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there […]” (John 3.23).

(4)   One is passive, and another active in the baptism.

“An he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he [Philip] baptized him [the eunuch]” (Acts 8.38).

(5)   Baptism is essential to reenacting Christ’s death and resurrection.

“[…] having been buried with him in baptism in which you were also raised with him through faith” (Col. 2.12; Rom. 6.4).

We have labored upon developing clear lines of evidence in order to demonstrate that the biblical mode of “baptism” is immersion. On this last point, the challenge of A.T. Robertson, a Baptist scholar, seems reasonable to include here to those still unmoved:

We suggest that one use successively pour, sprinkle, immerse in every instance in the New Testament where the word baptize, or baptism, occurs. The result will completely remove pour and sprinkle from serious consideration. Dip or immerse will suit every time. The circumstances surrounding the ordinance of baptism naturally suggest immersion.[3]

We appreciate the clarity of this challenge. Understanding and returning to the biblical mode of baptism (= immersion) is one crucial issue the community of “Christendom” sorely needs clarity on.

Conclusion

Finally, we ought to be thankful to all who have attended a school committed to the verbally inspired Word of God, and the disciplines needed to understand and apply its rich treasures. God has a long history of using men and women who have prepared themselves to be used in God’s service (e.g. Joseph, Moses, Samuel, Solomon, Ezra, Paul, Apollos, etc.).

Although some may try to deny the clear biblical language and the biblical passages above with “exegetical gymnastics”, “baptism” is an immersion in water. So if you have not been immersed, you need to be in order to comply with the teaching of Jesus and his inspired apostles.

To be continued…

Sources

  1. Nicholas B. Hardeman, 1922, Hardeman’s Tabernacle Sermons, volume 1 (Repr. Henderson, Tenn.: Freed-Hardeman University Press, 1990), p. 204-18.
  2. Nicholas B. Hardeman, 1922, p. 205.
  3. Archibald T. Robertson, 1900, “Baptism, Baptist Argus (Louisville, Kentucky), 1900″, pages 201-208 in The Best of A. T. Robertson, complied by David S. Dockery, edited by Timothy George and Denise George (Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman and Holman, 1996), p. 207.
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