This post is the first in a series on baptism. Primarily, my concern is to determine the various meanings of the Greek verb βαπτίζω (baptizo), and how those meanings may be used in the New Testament. In this post, I’ll begin by examining the use of βαπτίζω (baptizo) in the Septuagint (LXX) – the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible.
According to BDAG (the standand Greek lexicon), the Greek verb βαπτίζω (baptizo) 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 (baptizo) 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 (baptizo) 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 (baptizo) 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 (baptizo) is paralleled with the noun λουτρόν (loutron) indicating a bath or wash.
However, there is one other instance of the verb βαπτίζω (baptizo) 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 (baptizo) is transltaed “overwhelms,” and neither water nor washing is indicated in the context. Thus, it seems possible that βαπτίζω (baptizo) can carry other meanings besides being plunged or washed in water, when the context does not indicate water as the medium. Perhaps this is similar to BDAG’s definition #3 above, but it seems slightly different.
Context is apparently very important for translating the Greek verb βαπτίζω (baptizo). In the next post, I will examine the meanings of βαπτίζω (baptizo) in the writings of Philo of Alexandria.
Examining the Verb “Baptize” Series:
- The verb Baptize in the Old Testament (LXX)
- The verb Baptize in Philo’s writings
- The verb Baptize in Josephus’ writings
- The verb Baptize in a context with water in the New Testament
- The verb Baptize in a context WITHOUT water in the New Testament
- The verb Baptize in ambiguous contexts in the New Testament