This post is the first in a series on baptism. I will probably publish a post in this series every two or three days.
Primarily, my concern is to determine the various meanings of the Greek verb Î²Î±Ï€Ï„á½·Î¶Ï‰ (baptizÅ), and how those meanings may be used in the New Testament. In this post, I’ll begin by examining the use of Î²Î±Ï€Ï„á½·Î¶Ï‰ (baptizÅ) in the Septuagint (LXX) – the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible.
According to BDAG (the standandard Greek lexicon), the Greek verb Î²Î±Ï€Ï„á½·Î¶Ï‰ (baptizÅ) carries three primary meanings: 1) wash ceremonially for the purpose of purification (wash, purify), 2) to use water in a rite for the purpose of renewing or establishing a relationship with God (plunge, dip, was, baptize), and 3) to cause someone to have an extraordinary experience akin to an initiatory water-rite (plunge, baptize).
However, as we’ll see, outside of the New Testament, the verb Î²Î±Ï€Ï„á½·Î¶Ï‰ (baptizÅ) can have different meanings based on context.
For example, beginning with the LXX, we see three instances where the author clearly uses the verb Î²Î±Ï€Ï„á½·Î¶Ï‰ (baptizÅ) to mean to immerse or wash in water:
So he [Naaman] went down and dipped (baptized) himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean. (2 Kings 5:14 ESV)
Then Holofernes commanded his guard that they should not stay her: thus she abode in the camp three days, and went out in the night into the valley of Bethulia, and washed (baptized) herself in a fountain of water by the camp. (Judith 12:7 KJV Apochrypha)
He that washeth (baptized) himself after the touching of a dead body, if he touch it again, what availeth his washing? (Sirach 34:25 KJV Apochrypha)
In these three examples, the author clearly indicates that the verb Î²Î±Ï€Ï„á½·Î¶Ï‰ (baptizÅ) indicates washing in water. In the first two examples (2 Kings 5:14 and Judith 12:7), the source of the water is indicated in the context (the Jordan river and a fountain of water, respectively). In the last example (Sirach 34:25), the verb Î²Î±Ï€Ï„á½·Î¶Ï‰ (baptizÅ) is paralleled with the noun Î»Î¿Ï…Ï„Ïá½¹Î½ (loutron) indicating a bath or wash.
However, there is one other instance of the verb Î²Î±Ï€Ï„á½·Î¶Ï‰ (baptizÅ) in the LXX that does not lend itself to the definition of washing or plunging in water:
My heart wanders, and transgression overwhelms (baptizes) me; my soul is occupied with fear. (Isaiah 21:4 LXE – English translation of the LXX)
In this case, the verb Î²Î±Ï€Ï„á½·Î¶Ï‰ (baptizÅ) is transltaed “overwhelms”, and neither water nor washing is indicated in the context. Thus, it seems possible that Î²Î±Ï€Ï„á½·Î¶Ï‰ (baptizÅ) can carry other meanings besides being plunged or washed in water, when the context does not indicate water as the medium. Perhaps this is similarly to BDAG’s definition #3 above, but it seems slightly different.
Context is apparently very important for translating the Greek verb Î²Î±Ï€Ï„á½·Î¶Ï‰ (baptizÅ). In the next post, I will examine the meanings of Î²Î±Ï€Ï„á½·Î¶Ï‰ (baptizÅ) in the writings of Philo of Alexandria.