the weblog of Alan Knox

Water baptism in the New Testament

Posted by on Jan 13, 2008 in ordinances/sacraments | Comments Off

This is my fourth post in a series on baptism. 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. So far, by examining the usage of the verb in the LXX, in Philo, and in Josephus, we’ve seen that βαπτίζω (baptizō) is very similar to the English verbs “immerse” and “plunge”. They can be used to mean “to submerge under water”, but they can also have other meanings. Thus, context becomes very important in understanding the meaning of the verb βαπτίζω (baptizō). In this post, I want to examine several passages in the New Testament that definitely indicate a medium of water in the context.

First, all four Gospels indicate that John “the Baptist” baptized in water. Either the Jordan River or water are specifically mentioned in several passages related to John’s baptism. For example:

Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. (Matthew 3:5-6 ESV)

Similarly, in John’s contrast between his baptism and Jesus’ baptism, John states that his baptism occurred in water (by the way, this statement occurs in all four Gospels, and twice in Acts) (see the post “Baptized with the Holy Spirit and with fire” for further examination of this passage):

I [John] have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit. (Mark 1:8 ESV)

John baptized Jesus in water:

And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him… (Matthew 3:16 ESV)

The Gospel of John tells us that Jesus’ disciples baptized people in water:

After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing. John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized. (John 3:22-23 ESV)

Also, Philip baptized the Ethiopian eunuch in water:

And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” (Acts 8:36 ESV)

There are also a few uses of the Greek verb βαπτίζω (baptizō) which are associated with water, but are not associated with “baptism”, but with washing:

[W]hen they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash (baptize). And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing (baptism) of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches. (Mark 7:4 ESV)

While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him, so he went in and reclined at table. The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash (baptize) before dinner. And the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness.” (Luke 11:37-39 ESV)

As far as I can tell, these and any parallel are all of the scriptural references to the verb βαπτίζω (baptizō) that specifically indicate water in the context. This does not mean that these are the only instances where immersing or washing in water is meant. However, as we have seen from our previous study of the use of βαπτίζω (baptizō) in the LXX, in Philo, and in Josephus, we must consider the context very carefully before we decide if water is part of the meaning in each particular passage.

In the next post of the series, I will examine some passages of Scripture where the meaning of the Greek verb βαπτίζω (baptizō) does not include water.


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