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Why does New Life practice baptism by immersion?

If someone wants to start a new, right relationship with God, the Bible teaches that is only possible because of one thing: Grace.  People are saved because Jesus makes forgiveness possible by dying on the cross to pay the price for our sins.

Then, by His grace, Jesus gave us steps to respond to grace—not because He needs it; but because we do.  Believe (Mark 16:16). Confess (Acts 2:21). Repent & be baptized (Acts 2:38).

Many churches practice various modes of baptism.  Why does NL practice immersion?  Well, there are many reasons. Here is just one: baptism means “immerse”.

The New Testament was written in Greek. When the word “baptize” was used during the writing of the Bible, everyone understood that there was only one meaning: immerse.

Below, you will find what I’ve just said in more scholarly words.  I share it to clarify, not to start an argument.  New Life does not condemn people who are not immersed (in fact, I’m confident that one day in heaven, we will discover not a few places where our understanding of Scripture was less than perfect.). We practice baptism in this mode because we believe it is the most faithful to Scripture.

The word baptism is a transliteration of the Greek word baptidzo. Transliteration simply means that the original Greek letters were converted into English letters to make a new word. Regarding the meaning of baptidzo, the majority of accepted scholars and lexicons agree that it always means immersion, or to submerge. Moses Lard has boldly stated,

“In not one instance where the word (baptidzo, BB) occurs, in all Greek literature, does it necessarily mean to sprinkle or pour… On the contrary, the word occurs in thousands of cases and combinations where it must of necessity be translated immerse…” (198). Lexicons, etymologists and the majority of accepted linguistic scholars back Lard’s forthright statement. Nowhere in the Greek language will you find the word baptidzo to mean anything but immerse. For example, the Arndt and Gingrich Greek Lexicon, which is the most scholarly and widely accepted Greek lexicon, defines baptidzo as to “dip, immerse, dip oneself…in Non-Christian lit… plunge, sink, drench, overwhelm” (Lard 131).

Henry Thayer, prominent Greek scholar and Professor of New Testament Criticism at Harvard University, also defines baptidzo as “to dip repeatedly, to immerge, or to submerge” (Thayer 94). The one thing that both of these lexical authorities emphasize is that baptidzo, in its original first century definition, meant to immerse, submerge, or completely cover. If we claim to be like the New Testament Christians, shouldn’t we understand the meaning of baptism the way they did?  Greek Scholar Marvin Vincent, D. D., notes,

“in Classical Greek the primary meaning is ‘to immerse.’ Thus, Polybius (i., 51, 6), describing a naval battle of the Romans and Carthaginians, says, ‘They SANK ebaptizon many of the ships'” (Vincent 238).

Vincent’s research gives us a perfect illustration of what the Greek word baptidzo originally meant. Envision in your mind a ship sinking. What do you see? Do you see a vessel going fully under the water, or do you see a rain shower sinking a ship? The latter picture would be ridiculous to our minds. Likewise, the possibility of baptism meaning a sprinkling or pouring is both foreign and impossible in the Greek language. Greek Scholar W. E. Vine’s says baptidzo “was used among the Greeks to signify the dying of a garment, or the drawing of water by dipping a vessel into another, etc. Plutarchus uses it of the drawing of wine by dipping the cup into the bowl” (pg. 50).

Expounding upon Vine’s definition, one can see that just as a cup is dipped into a bowl and is submerged in the liquid, so the human body must be submerged in water to be baptized properly.

Most eminent linguistic scholars and prominent lexicographers agree that baptidzo means to immerse. These scholars would be A. T. Robertson’s, Word Pictures in the New Testament (322), Gernhardt Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (529), Lidell & Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon (260), G. W. Lampe’s A Patristic Greek Lexicon (238), Colin Brown’s New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (143), and William D. Mounce’s Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament (112). All of this lexical and scholarly evidence shouts out to us that the original meaning of baptism in the first century was to immerse, dip, engulf, submerge, etc. Nowhere will a person find any evidence from the original language to show that baptidzo means to sprinkle. The Greeks had a word for sprinkle, which was rhantidzo. This word is used several times in the New Testament to convey the idea of sprinkling, but never is it associated with baptism (Heb. 9:13,19, 10:22). If the Greeks had a word for sprinkling, and the New Testament writers chose to use the distinct word for immersion, how can anyone say there is biblical authority for sprinkling? The fact is a person must go beyond the authority of the New Testament and make up doctrines and sacraments to say sprinkling is correct. In an article on the mode of baptism, Catholic scholars confess, “Fundamentalists are correct when they point out that the Greek word used in the New Testament for baptism is baptizo, and that this means immersion (dunking) only” (Catholic Answers Network URL, emp. mine). If even the proponents of sprinkling recognize that baptism means immersion only, that should be the only thing we practice. We need to be reminded of the words of Paul. “Do not go beyond the doctrine of Christ” (1 Cor. 4:6).

(from The Proper Mode of Baptism, Ben Bailey. http://www.thebible.net/ISBS/journal/archives/0804/X0005_propermode-bb.html)

Brett Andrews, Lead Guy

3 Responses to “Why does New Life practice baptism by immersion?”

  1. Thanks tons for taking the time to share this with us Brett. As a former sailor I particularly like the “SUNK” word picture. Makes it pretty clear doesn’t it! Still, the Bible’s own self-definition of baptism, being “buried” with Christ, is difficult to beat.

  2. I appreciate the humility and wisdom with this post.

    I did not come to faith by NLCC; NLCC reintroduced me to it.
    That means I had an understanding of a christian walk which had both consistent and differing practices prior to attending NLCC. Baptism happened to be one of them.

    Here’s some things that I have wrestled with re. baptism:

    What’s it’s purpose?
    I’m not good with ‘just because’ answers; I look for a reason.
    The problem is that there are so many differing view points: necessary for salvation, in order to be born again, initiation to get into the ‘club’
    I’ve come to land on it being a form of obedience, a next step and a symbol of being buried with Christ and born anew.
    I think this is in line with Brett and NLCC’s perspective.
    I see a risk of separation and division if we add additional checkmarks or qualifications.

    Why was Jesus baptized?
    Mark 1:1-13. This one just always had me curious. I don’t think Jesus was repenting from anything. I also don’t think He recited anything like, ‘I believe in Me’ and I don’t think John the Baptist followed up with ‘I now baptize you in the name of the Father, You and the Holy Spirit.’ Again, I think this came as form of an announcement, expression, symbol and example. Then it’s followed immediately with the Devil up in His grill, which really doesn’t get communicated that well in Church newsletters or baptism services (probably not a good selling point).
    I’ve got some questions re: baptism by water vs baptism of the Holy Spirit, but that’s a whole other discussion…

    Don’t do it for the wrong reason!
    I’ve heard a view of baptism be compared to wedding/engagement rings – a symbol of a commitment or covenant.
    I like that symbol. Although, I overheard some guy once stating he gave his girlfriend a ring so ‘she’ll shut up.’
    Ok, that’s just wrong, but I use that as an example because I think some people get baptized for the same reason, to shut up someone else.

    On a personal note, and as a baptized believer in Jesus Christ, the most meaningful verse which influenced me was:

    1 Peter 3:21-22
    “and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.”

  3. Mark (et. al.)

    I appreciate your response. I too do not like “just because” answers. I personally can speculate as Brett alluded that our baptism isn’t for God’s benefit, but for our own. We can always look back at that point in time and remember that we committed ourselves to God, identified ourselves with Christ’s death, burial and resurrection, and have been saved.

    My best analogy is the wedding ceremony. It’s interesting that culturally, we believe something changes when people stand up in front of a crowd and repeat their vows. I believe the same thing about baptism… something changes when we humble ourselves and allow ourselves to be baptized into Christ.

    One last thought… Jesus was baptized “to fulfill all righteousness”. As you said, not for the forgiveness of sins. So while the Bible doesn’t expand further on the why, it sounds as if Jesus “had” to do it for His own righteousness, which was perfect! What’s good enough for my Lord and Savior is good enough for me 😉

    Not a theological discourse, just my thoughts.

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