Posted by Worldview Warriors On Monday, February 27, 2012 6 comments

When I write these Word of the Week blog entries, one of the first places I start is my Dictionary of Theological Terms. It gives concise definition of more than 5500 terms, so it’s a great place to start. So for this blog, I looked up “baptism” - and I found 19 different terms with “baptism” in them! Among them are the different types of baptism, different beliefs about it, and even specific baptisms (like Jesus’). Obviously, this term has many different connotations and meanings to it!

The basic definition for baptism is “to dip in water,” and it’s from the Greek root verb baptidzo. This is one of those words that the early church kept from the Greek language, rather than translating it to an English equivalent, because there was no English equivalent for it. The definition in my Dictionary goes on to say that baptism is “initiation into the Christian faith through a worship ceremony in which water is applied by sprinkling, pouring, or immersion while the Trinitarian formula is spoken.” Some of you reading this are nodding your heads in agreement, while others are probably saying Huh?!?

Baptism is discussed a number of times in the New Testament, and it is an outward sign of adopting the Christian faith. Over the centuries, many different forms of baptism have developed. The three different styles are sprinkling drops of water on the person’s forehead, pouring water on their head, or immersing them in a pool of water. The early church only practiced immersion; the other methods developed later on. The reason for the sprinkling and pouring methods were because of the people being baptized. Initially, it was adults or older children being baptized once they professed the faith. However, there was a growing belief that young infants should be baptized as well, rather than waiting until they were old enough to understand. That way, it is believed, should they die in their infancy, they would assuredly be saved. It’s near impossible to tell an infant to hold his or her breath as you dunk them under water, hence they began to sprinkle or pour water on the infant’s head. There are many church traditions today that practice each of these methods.

The next element of the definition is that the Trinitarian formula is spoken. This comes from what Jesus said as part of His Great Commission to the disciples in Matthew 28:19: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Jesus gave us clear instructions about in whose name we should baptize, and to my knowledge all faith traditions follow this.

Baptism is an important step in the life of any Christian. It signifies that a person is ready to show the world that they are a true follower of Jesus Christ and desire the salvation that only He can give.


Dean said...

I like your blog, Kati. I have a question for you. You mentioned that the early church immersed as the (original?) form of Baptism, Do you think Jesus was "immersed" in the Jordon River.


Katie said...


Thanks for reading the blogs! I hope you are encouraged by them.

Read Matthew 3:13-17 for the account of Jesus' baptism by John. In verse 16 it says, "As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water." The Greek word there means to go up or rise up, so it logically follows that Jesus was in the water or he would not have been able to "rise up" out of it. So yes, I believe Jesus was immersed in the Jordan River for His baptism.

Thanks for asking the question!


Dean Stoner said...


I would welcome the discussion if you are so moved to do so ...

Respectfully, I would challenge your understanding of "baptidzo", and would offer another perspective if you like.

But first, I would ask this question? Would you be willing to consider that our presuppositions often get in the way of looking at Scripture?


Katie said...


I definitely agree that everyone has presuppositions that do color our understanding of Scripture. It is a difficult task to look at Scripture without some form of presupposition.

I am curious to hear your perspective on baptidzo, please do share.

Anonymous said...


Since we both agree that presuppositions influence our understanding of Scripture, then I would say that it is precisely such presuppositions that "color" our understanding of Jesus' baptism in the Markan text.

What does the text in Mark really say?

Does the text insist that Jesus was baptized by immersion, or are we reading into the text more than it says?

"As Jesus was coming up out of the water..." (Mark 1:10). Some conclude that since Jesus was "coming up out of the water" that he must have been fully immersed. However, this passage says nothing about how far Jesus was actually IN the water or how much of his body was covered. "Coming up out of the water" can be said of the person who was in the water only ankle deep, walking back up on shore.

Of course, then there are those who try to use the Greek word "baptidzo" (immersion, to dip) to argue their case without taking "context" into the equation.

Have you seen the Jordan River? In most places it is nothing but a stream, not even a foot in depth. Could the Jordan at the place where John the Baptizer did his baptizing have been simular 2000 years ago, i.e. a little stream? Many today (in an effort to make their argument) refuse to consider such a possiblity.

And what do we understand about Jewish purification rights of ancient Judaism, and about Gentiles who converted to Judiasm in Jesus' day? Often the same root word for "baptize" did NOT mean to immerse, but rather to wash. And such understanding MUST be at least considered when looking at the Greek.

Taking Greek words (verbs) out of context is very bad exegesis and problematic hermeneutics.

The reason I stress this so much is because of the reaction many in the Church catholic today insist upon, that something that Scripture remains at best ambiguous about now has been determined to be the ONLY one possible understanding.


Katie said...

Interesting thoughts, and I appreciate you sharing them here. I do not know exactly where in the Jordan River that Jesus was baptized, since Scripture is not clear. Along with that, I do not know how much He was immersed in the water during that baptism.

But, my belief is that it's what happens in a person's heart and how God works during baptism that is significantly more important than the act itself, including the quantity of water involved. Personally, my baptism was having water sprinkled on my head when I was about a month old; that is the tradition of the church I was brought up in. I still consider myself to be baptized, even though I do not remember the experience, and even though it may be different than the way Jesus was baptized.

Please take a look at the new blog post on baptism by Logan Ames that was posted today. I agree with Logan's thoughts that while the physical act is important, the spiritual workings of the Holy Spirit in baptism are much more important.

To me, the method with which Jesus was physically baptized is not an issue that affects my salvation or relationship to Him so I see it as less important (adiaphora). It would be great to know those details, but if we do not have that clearly spelled out in Scripture then we cannot know for sure. It is left to interpretation, which as we both agree is colored by that individual's hermeneutic.