the weblog of Alan Knox

Baptism in the LXX

Posted by on Jan 8, 2008 in ordinances/sacraments | 9 comments

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 βαπτίζω (baptizō), and how those meanings may be used in the New Testament. In this post, I’ll begin by examining the use of βαπτίζω (baptizō) in the Septuagint (LXX) – the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible.

According to BDAG (the standandard Greek lexicon), the Greek verb βαπτίζω (baptizō) 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 βαπτίζω (baptizō) can have different meanings based on context.

For example, beginning with the LXX, we see three instances where the author clearly uses the verb βαπτίζω (baptizō) 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 βαπτίζω (baptizō) 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 βαπτίζω (baptizō) is paralleled with the noun λουτρόν (loutron) indicating a bath or wash.

However, there is one other instance of the verb βαπτίζω (baptizō) 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 βαπτίζω (baptizō) is transltaed “overwhelms”, and neither water nor washing is indicated in the context. Thus, it seems possible that βαπτίζω (baptizō) 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 βαπτίζω (baptizō). In the next post, I will examine the meanings of βαπτίζω (baptizō) in the writings of Philo of Alexandria.


Baptism Series
1. Baptism in the LXX
2. Baptism in Philo
3. Baptism in Josephus
4. Water Baptism in the New Testament
5. Other Baptism in the New Testament
6. Ambiguous Baptism in the New Testament


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 1-8-2008


    Would you mind doing a post on the Heb. word(s) that is translated into baptism? I started this project once but never finished it.

  2. 1-8-2008


    I appreciate your work here. There are some brethren in New Covenant Theology who although they are adamant about believer’s baptism they are not adamant that it has to be done by immersion. My own personal studies in the Greek NT led otherwise but I’m interested in your conclusions as I could be wrong.

  3. 1-8-2008


    Interesting post. I have often wondered if we put too much water immersion in the word Baptism. I look forward to reading your research on this word.

    I agree that the 3rd BDAG definition is different than the LXX allows in that verse.

    God’s Glory,

    The Pursuit Online Store

  4. 1-8-2008

    Alan, if you’ve read my blog much or comments elsewhere you know this is a subject about which I am very interested. I definitely struggle with how this has been turned into a divisive issue and think we have taken the Greek word and turned it into something it isn’t. We’ve become religious about baptism. I look forward to future installments.

  5. 1-8-2008


    If I remember correctly, there are two different Hebrew verbs translated “baptizo”. The first, in 2 Kings 5:14, is usually translated “dip”, as in dip hyssop, a rod, or a finger into some liquid. The second verb, in Isaiah 21:4, is usually translated something like “to be overcome with fear”.


    I also think that water baptism in the NT was by immersion. The purpose of my study is to look at places in the NT where water baptism may not be in view.


    Yeah, that’s what I think too. We usually read “baptize” and immediate think immersion in water. I think it can carry other meanings when the context warrants it.


    I agree. We’ve made too many things divisive. If someone doesn’t agree with me in every point, then I should stay away from them. This seems contrary to both the unity of the Spirit and Scripture. I’m not sure this study will touch those aspects of baptism though.


  6. 1-8-2008


    I’m looking forward to this series, too. Thanks for doing it.

    I’ve been struggling with how those who believe that believer’s baptism is the only acceptable method can be united with those who baptize infants. I’m referring specifically to being able to worship together as members of a local body.

    I hope your posts help me with this.


  7. 1-9-2008


    I am not planning to deal directly with either the proper timing or mode of water baptism. Instead, I plan to look at some passages of Scripture that may not be talking about water at all.


  8. 1-9-2008


    I am looking forward to this series. I have worship & served in various denominations and their translation and understanding of baptizo hinges on a lot of the ways that they handle their theological perspective.


    A short answer. We love God together through differences and practive loving God and loving others in all we do.

  9. 1-9-2008


    Yes, I think too many understandings of baptizo are based on theological presuppositions instead of context and linguistics. While I know that I have presuppositions, I’m trying my best to come at this linguistically instead of theologically.



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