Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
June 11, 1959

Foolish Preaching About The Action Of Baptism

James E. Cooper, Campbellsville, Ky.

By the term "action" we mean to discuss the question as to whether baptism is only immersion, or whether sprinkling or pouring water on the candidate will suffice. Baptism was commanded by Christ. (Mk. 16:16; Matt. 28:19-20.) It was preached by Peter on Pentecost. (Acts 2:38.) The question now is, what is the action of baptism? Is it immersion? or will sprinkling or pouring suffice?

First, let me suggest that the definition of the word, "baptize", indicates that the action is immersion. The English word, "baptize," is an anglicized Greek word, "baptizo." When the King James Version was translated, this word was not translated, but anglicized — that is, it was given English spelling, and passed from the Greek language into the English. To understand the Bible use of the term, then, we need to consult a Greek dictionary, or lexicon, to see how the Greeks used the term. The lexicons define the word "baptizo" as "to dip, immerse, submerge, etc." The lexicons give us no authority for thinking the word includes sprinkling or pouring water on the candidate and calling it baptism. In fact, the Bible uses three distinct terms to describe these three actions. The word baptize refers to immersion; the word rantizo refers to sprinkling; and the word cheo refers to pouring. The Greek language contains three different terms to refer to the three distinct actions, immersion, sprinkling or pouring.

Over in Lev. 14:15-16, in the Septuagint, or Greek translation of the Old Testament, we have the three distinct words in the same sentence. The passage has nothing to do about the subject of Christian baptism, but it does illustrate the fact that there were different words used to designate immersion, sprinkling, and pouring. "And the priest shall take of the log of oil, and pour it into the palm of his own left hand; and the priest shall dip his right finger in the oil that is in his left hand, and shall sprinkle of the oil with his finger seven times before Jehovah." The three Greek words in the Septuagint are the three words to which we have referred. Cheo is translated "pour"; rantizo is translated "sprinkle"; and "baptizo is translated "dip."

But, you would not have to know Greek to understand what Bible baptism is. By reading what the Bible says about the subject, you could learn that the Bible requires "much water." (Jno. 3:21.) Sprinkling or pouring do not require "much water," and I must conclude that John was immersing, even if I know nothing about the meaning of "baptize." As illustrated in the case of the eunuch, Bible baptism requires coming to the water (Acts 8:36), going into the water (Acts 8:38), being baptized and coming up out of the water. (Acts 8:39.) In sprinkling or pouring the water is brought to the candidate rather than the candidate's coming to the water. Instead of going down into the water and being baptized, the candidate is sprinkled, or has water poured on him. He does not come up out of the water. Hence, sprinkling and pouring do not meet the requirements of Bible baptism.

Rom. 6:3-4 tells us that we were "buried" in baptism. So, baptism is a burial; it is immersion, and is not sprinkling or pouring. To do anything other than what the Bible teaches is to go beyond the doctrine of Christ. (Cf. 2 Jno. 9.)

Sprinkling and pouring was not practiced by the apostolic church. It began in the apostasy. The earliest case recorded by history was in the year 251. Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History, page 114, says, "Novatus, being relieved thereof by the exorcists, fell into a grievous distemper; and it being supposed that he would die immediately, he received baptism, being sprinkled with water, on the bed whereon he lay, (if that can be termed baptism), neither when he had escaped that sickness, did he afterward receive the other things which the canon of the church enjoineth should be received: nor was he sealed by the Bishop's imposition of hands: which, if he never received, how did he receive the Holy Ghost?" The Historian tells us of the first case of sprinkling for baptism, and it was 150 years after the death of the last apostle. It is too late to be according to apostolic doctrine. Then, too, Eusebius even doubted whether it could really be called baptism. History tells us that sprinkling was not universally practiced, nor officially practiced, until the Pope of Rome ordained sprinkling at the Council of Ravenna in 1311. Protestant denominations borrowed sprinkling and pouring for baptism from the Roman apostate church, and borrowed items should be returned.

Someone objects that the three thousand baptized on Pentecost could not have been immersed. But, there were twelve apostles, Matthias having been numbered with the eleven to take the place of Judas. It doesn't take a minute to baptize an individual, but being liberal and allowing one minute per immersion, twelve men could have baptized the entire three thousand in only four hours and fifteen minutes. If Peter had preached until noon, they would have had plenty of time to immerse that vast throng. In fact, they could have immersed several hundred more before dark, had the occasion demanded it.

But, some further object, there was not sufficient water in the city of Jerusalem to baptize that many people. That is an objection of ignorance. The Pool of Siloam is mentioned in Jno. 9:7. This pool was located in the valley just south of the temple enclosure. It is fifty feet long, averages eighteen feet wide, and water stands at the depth most suitable for baptism. That could have easily been one of the places used.

The Pool of Bethesda is mentioned in Jno. 5:2. It was located near the sheep gate or market in Jerusalem. The exact site has not been determined but John 5:2 said that it had "five porches," indicating that it was of some size. That could have been a place for baptizing.

There is a pool called now Upper Gihon, located about half a mile due west of the Joppa gate. It is three hundred and sixteen feet long, two hundred and eighteen wide, and would have provided an adequate place for baptizing.

The most suitable of the ancient pools is now called Lower Gihon, or the Pool of the Sultans. It was formed by the construction of an immense dam across the valley lying under the western wall of Mount Zion, to retain the water flowing through the valley, and another wall, five hundred and ninety-two feet higher up the valley, to hold back the earth at that end. On the side next to the city there are ledges two to three feet thick, which would have provided an excellent and ideal spot for the twelve apostles to baptize the three thousand without interference. Hence, the objections fade away.

But, someone says, "Don't you know that Saul of Tarsus was told 'arise, and be baptized and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord'? Saul was baptized standing up." I do not have to admit that Saul was baptized "standing up." Ananias told him to "arise." From what? Saul was praying when Ananias came to him. He would have had to arise in order to go to the water for baptism. There is nothing strange about that. The River Abana flows thru the city of Damascus; Ananias could have taken Saul down to the river and baptized him. It would have been necessary for Saul to have arisen from his prayers to go to the water.

In Rom. 6:3-4, Paul tells us how he was baptized. He includes himself in the number who were "buried with him by baptism." Sprinkling and pouring are not burying. They could not have fulfilled the requirements for scriptural baptism.

Then, in Rom. 6:17-18, Paul said the Romans had "obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you." The doctrine was the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. (1 Cor. 15:1-4.) The only thing in the New Testament that would be a "form" of that would be baptism. Baptism is a form of burial. The person dies to the love and practice of sin; he is buried under the watery grave, and raised to walk in newness of life. Thus the beautiful symbolism in baptism demands that it be immersion. Sprinkling and pouring are not sufficient for scriptural baptism. If you have received either of these counterfeit baptisms, you need to do what the Bible teaches.