Apologetics for the Masses - Issue #137

Bible Christian Society

General Comments

Hey folks,a couple of things:

1) I want to let you know about a wonderful resource that’s available to you from Fr. Peter Stravinskas. It’s called The Catholic Response. This little magazine is a huge help in learning more about the Catholic Faith. The articles cover all sorts of topics: a Catholic take on fashion; religion and politics; Marian doctrine and devotion; the priesthood; the relationship between faith and culture; liturgical development; biblical interpretation; virtue; prayer; church etiquette; and on and on.

In addition to the articles, about a third of each issue is devoted to answering questions. These Q&A’s by themselves are, in my humble opinion, worth the entire price of the publication – $30 for a one-year subscription. The questions range from Scripture, morality, Church history, and doctrine to pastoral problems, Catholic practices, and, of course, liturgical practice.

If you’re interested, you can find out how to order a subscription by going to this link: http://jhcnewman.org/Cathresp.html

2) I had a great time at the “Ignited by Truth” Conference in Raleigh this past weekend – if you’re in that area, you need to make plans to go next year, the organizers do a fantastic job of it. My next trip will be to the Seattle area on April 23, to speak at St. Mark’s in Shoreline. More information on that in a future issue.


This week, I was helping someone out with an argument from a Baptist minister about baptism by immersion being the only legitimate way to baptize. So, I thought I would share it with all of you. The Baptist minister had a much longer argument on other aspects of baptism, but I am just putting down the comments of his that I responded to which focused on the Greek word for baptism, which is: “baptizo.”


 Baptist Minister:

The practice of baptism in the New Testament was carried out in one way: the person being baptized was immersed or put completely under the water and then brought back up again. Baptism by immersion is therefore the mode of baptism or the way in which baptism was carried out in the New Testament.

My Response:
You say you go by the Bible alone, yet nowhere does the Bible specifically state that baptism is carried out in one and only one way.  Nowhere in the New Testament does it explicitly give instructions on how baptisms were carried out or how they should be carried out. You make your claim based solely on one of, but not the only, meaning of the word "baptizo.”  

Surely, with a doctorate in Scriptural Studies, you must know that the word "baptizo," in addition to meaning “immersion,” can also mean “to wash” or “to cleanse.”  You can verify that by looking it up in any Greek lexicon. 

Baptist Minister:
Every verse in the New Testament where the word for baptism is used is a verse that proves that baptism is to be by immersion.  The very meaning of the word proves that.  The Greek word baptizo means “to plunge, dip, immerse” something in water. This is the commonly recognized and standard meaning of the term in ancient Greek literature both inside and outside of the Bible.

My Response:

Which means, according to your interpretation, that everywhere the word “baptizo” is used in the New Testament, it means to be “immersed.”  Well, let’s see if that is indeed the case.  First, let’s look at the Gospel of Luke.  Luke 11:38 states: “The Pharisee was astonished to see that He [Jesus] did not first wash [baptizo] before dinner.”  So, going by what you’ve declared to be the “commonly recognized and standard meaning of the term [baptizo] in ancient Greek literature both inside and outside of the Bible,” that must mean the Pharisee was astonished to see that Jesus was not fully immersed in water before dinner, right?  Is that what you wish to contend Luke 11:38 means?  I’m afraid that’s the corner you’ve painted yourself into given the fact that, according to you, “baptizo,” can only mean total immersion.  

But, let’s see if that’s what the Scripture means here.  Let’s interpret Scripture with Scripture.  In Mark 7:3-4, we find something that gives a different meaning to that passage in Luke than the one that your definition of "baptizo" results in.  Mark 7:3-4, “For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they wash [nipto] their hands, observing the tradition of the elders; and when they come from the market place, they do not eat unless they wash [baptizo] themselves.”  

So, in Luke 11:38, the word “baptizo” does not mean “immersion” as you have absolutely declared it to mean.  It simply means to wash, as in one’s hands.  So, we find that “baptizo” is not restricted by the Scriptures to the meaning you have restricted it to.  It is quite obvious, from the Word of God, that the word “baptizo” can simply mean cleansing or washing, as well as immersion.  In other words, I have just demonstrated, from the Bible, that your premise: “baptizo = immersion always and everywhere," is false. 

Let’s also consider the Book of Acts.  In Acts 1:4-5, Jesus tells the Apostles to stay in Jerusalem  and wait for the baptism [baptizo] of the Holy Spirit.  Do you contend that this means they will be “immersed” in the Holy Spirit?  Well, again, given the definition that you have stated as an absolute, you have to conclude that this means the Apostles will be “immersed” in the Holy Spirit. 

But, what do we find when we look in Scripture?  In Acts 2, we have the Holy Spirit coming down upon the Apostles on the Day of Pentecost.  And it is very interesting how the Bible describes this “baptizo” of the Holy Spirit that Jesus spoke of.  In verses 17, 18 and 33, Scripture speaks of the baptism of the Holy Spirit as being a “pour[ing]” out of the Holy Spirit.  Why is baptism in the Spirit spoken of as a pouring out of the Holy Spirit if it really is, as you must contend, an immersion in the Holy Spirit?  The “baptizo” of the Holy Spirit, according to Scripture, has to do with “pouring,” not immersion.  Your argument has placed you directly at odds with Scripture.

This is further reinforced in Acts 11:15-16, where Peter makes a direct connection between baptism of the Holy Spirit and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit that he had received on Pentecost.  So, for Peter, baptism and pouring are synonymous.  Do you still wish to contend that baptism always and everywhere means immersion, when in the Acts of the Apostles the baptism of the Holy Spirit means the Holy Spirit being "poured" out onto people?   

Finally, let’s look at the testimony of the early Christians.  The Didache was written around the late 1st century and is possibly the earliest non-scriptural Christian writing we have available to us. Even though it is not inspired Scripture, it is a testimony as to the practices of the early Christians.  The Christians who wrote the Didache could have been taught directly by an Apostle, but more than likely they were taught by disciples of the Apostles.  Either way, they were witnesses to very early Christian practice.  

When speaking of baptism, the Didache states the following: "Concerning baptism, baptize in this manner: Having said all these things beforehand, baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit in living water – that is, in running water, as in a river. If there is no living water, baptize in other water, and, if you are not able to use cold water, use warm. If you have neither, pour water three times upon the head in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."  The witness of the early Christians tells us that baptism by pouring was an acceptable practice among the early Christians.  Why then do you regard it as unacceptable?

To sum up, your entire argument rests on your insistence that the word baptizo means one and only one thing – immersion.  This is a flawed argument on your part, though, because a Greek lexicon shows that there are other meanings for the word – to wash, or to cleanse; plus, I have shown you that in Scripture itself “baptizo” is used to mean things other than “immersion.”  It is used to mean, “to wash,” as in the washing of one’s hands; and it is used to mean “to pour,” as in the pouring out of the Spirit in the baptism of the Spirit.  Would you care to re-consider your argument?

In Conclusion

I hope you have a great week. I probably will not get an issue out this next week – Holy Week – but will definitely shoot for the week after.

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Apologetics for the Masses