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The verb Baptize in a context with water in the New Testament

Posted by on Jul 26, 2012 in ordinances/sacraments, scripture | 6 comments

The verb Baptize in a context with water in the New Testament

This is my fourth post 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. So far, by examining the usage of the verb in the LXX, in Philo, and in Josephus, we’ve seen that βαπτίζω (baptizo) 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 (baptizo). 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 (baptizo) 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 passages) are all of the scriptural references to the verb βαπτίζω (baptizo) 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 (baptizo) 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 the New Testament in which the Greek verb βαπτίζω (baptizo) in not used in a context with water.

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Examining the Verb “Baptize” Series:

  1. The verb Baptize in the Old Testament (LXX)
  2. The verb Baptize in Philo’s writings
  3. The verb Baptize in Josephus’ writings
  4. The verb Baptize in a context with water in the New Testament
  5. The verb Baptize in a context WITHOUT water in the New Testament
  6. The verb Baptize in ambiguous contexts in the New Testament

6 Comments

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

  1. 7-26-2012

    I think I may be nit picking big time, but I noticed that you were saying that people were baptized “in water”. I did a really quick and haphazard word search at blueletterbible, so this is probably wrong, but I never found the words “in water” associated with baptism. In the KJV its always “with water”. Probably its different in the Greek, I don’t know. My only reason for bringing that up is because in some circles the believer is applied to the water, in others the water is applied to the believer. Its a subtle difference, but its an important difference in some circles.

  2. 7-26-2012

    Ben,

    The Greek preposition en + a dative object or just a dative noun can be translated with either “in” or “with” along with a few other English prepositions. You can see in the passages above that the ESV translators sometimes used “with” and sometimes used “in.”

    We have to use context to determine which preposition to use. One of the reasons that I stepped through the various uses of baptizo in the LXX, Philo, and Josephus is that they were not used in conjunction with what is called “baptism” by Christians. However, the uses with water in the context (such as sinking a ship or drowning people) can help us understand how baptizo is used in these passages in the NT in which water is in the context.

    -Alan

  3. 7-26-2012

    Fair enough. I stand corrected. Thank you for that!

  4. 7-26-2012

    Ben,

    I didn’t take it as correction. I was simply added a little more information. I think you asked a very good question.

    -Alan

  5. 7-27-2012

    Hovering in the background of your post is the (to me) sad fact of Christian history that some groups have made the precise mode and details part of THE ESSENTIALS…believing if you do it ‘wrong’ it doesn’t count…for salvation?…for becoming a member of the group?…for whatever they decided it counted.

  6. 7-27-2012

    Tom,

    Yes, unfortunately, that is in the background. I’ve attempted to stay out of that argument as much as possible. In fact, I think when we read what the NT authors wrote about baptism, their focus was not on water baptism at all (although they did practice it).

    -Alan