Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
March 21, 1963
NUMBER 45, PAGE 5,12c-13a

Lenski And The "Mode" Of Baptism

Robert H. Farish

A word of caution on the use of Lenski's commentaries is in order. These are not the sort of commentaries that an inexperienced person should use; even experienced students have to be extremely careful in using them. Lenski dogmatically asserts sectarian views with no apparent concern to substantiate with evidence beyond his mere assertion. Among the things mentioned by publishers in commendation of his commentaries is the fact that he "provides an original, literal translation of the text." With immature students such claims as this carry great weight. A case in point which illustrates the high handed methods of the man is his treatment of 1 Cor. 12:13. In this place he "provides an original, literal translation of the text" and makes some comments that are utterly false. His comments reject the meaning assigned by unbiased lexicographers to the word baptize. His reckless assertions are exposed as false not only by lexicographers but by the definitions required by contextual evidence as well.

Note this excerpt from The Interpretation of 1 and 2 Corinthians: "For also in union with one Spirit were we all baptized unto one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free; and we all were made to drink one Spirit." This is Lenski's "original, literal translation of the text" of 1 Cor. 12:13. One of his false comments is: "Paul does not speak of a flood, wave, flooding or immersion even with regard to the water of baptism. The New Testament does not indicate the mode that was used in administering baptism, but it does indicate in a surprising number of instances and with great clearness that one mode was not used, namely immersion." (Emp. mine. R. H. F.)

This is the sort of impudent authoritarianism that should be cried against. Why did the man just assert this? Why did he not cite at least one instance where "with great clearness" it is indicated that immersion is not the "mode" of baptism? That "surprising number of instances" where it is indicated with great clearness that immersion is not the "mode" are found only in Lenski's Lutheran molded imagination.

Let no one be mistaken as to what Lenski's intentions are. He is denying that baptism is immersion. He is not just showing that the word is used in a figurative way; if he were, he would have had to show that the idea of immersion, being overwhelmed, would be retained. Further on in the paragraph he said, "He is a person, not a fluid substance." If he had been attempting to show that the word baptize is in some cases used in a figurative sense, and not just going out of his way to strike a blow at the truth that baptism is immersion, he could have shown that the Holy Spirit could not be poured nor sprinkled. The Holy Spirit could no more be literally poured or sprinkled than could one be literally immersed in Him. His comments here are partisan. He is laboring to prove a sectarian practice and wrests the Scriptures in the attempt.

I. B. Grubbs wrote:

"There is a sort of idolatrous worship offered at the shrine of scholarship that greatly interferes with mental independence in interpretation and the ready acceptance of conclusions that may be fully justified by the principles applicable in the case apart from the mere approbation of learned expositors.... The unreasonable reverence for great names and the idolatry offered to learning which is so exceedingly prevalent must be abandoned....Scholars can be partisans as well as others and the religious world is full of errors that are more or less blindly accepted as harmonious with the Holy Scriptures because human learning in giving them its sanction is regarded as demonstrative of their correctness." (Preface, Exegetical Analysis.)

Lexicographers define baptism as "immersion, submersion, to dip, dip in." Thayer and others give this definition.

Fortunately "babes" do not have to depend, for their knowledge of the will of God, upon the definitions of scholars. They can arrive at the New Testament meaning of the words used therein by contextual study, for the New Testament does "indicate in a surprising number of instances and with great clearness" that baptism is immersion. Here are some of the instances:

I. The baptism of Jesus "And straightway coming up out of the water...." (Mark 1:10) How can the action "coming up out of the water" be intelligently reconciled with any "mode" but immersion?

II. The Roman saints. "We were buried therefore with him through baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life."

(Rom. 8:4) Neither sprinkling nor pouring will fill this bill. There is no way to reconcile "buried with him through baptism" with pouring or sprinkling a small quantity of water upon a person.

III. The Colossians. "Having been buried with him in baptism wherein ye were raised with him...." (Col. 2:12) What "mode" involves being "buried and raised"?

IV. The Ethiopian eunuch. "And they went down into the water" — What for? Answer "and he baptized him." "And when they came up out of the water...." (Acts 8:37,38) If sprinkling or pouring were the "mode" why did both go down into the water and both come up out of the water or for that matter why should either go down into the water? The phrases "went down into the water" and "came up out of the water" are utterly without significance if the "one mode was not used, namely immersion." Immersion is the only "mode" which answers to the actions expressed.

The truth of the matter is that there is not a single instance of baptism in the New Testament which indicates "with great clearness," or even remotely suggests, that immersion was not the "mode." Every example of baptism in which details are given positively and clearly teaches immersion.

The word "mode" is improperly used when used as Lenski uses it. "Mode" is defined by Webster as "Manner of doing or being, method, form, fashion." Immersion is not a manner of doing, method, form, or fashion of baptism; it is baptism. It would be no more ridiculous to talk about immersion being a mode of immersion than to talk about immersion being a mode of baptism.

McGarvey's clear exegesis of 1 Cor. 12:13 demonstrates real scholarship and genuine respect for the word of God. He wrote:

"It is well known that Paul, in a few instances, uses the expression, 'in the Spirit,' for the state of one in whom the Spirit 'dwells; but it is also used to indicate the controlling guidance of the Holy Spirit; and the latter usage is more frequent than the former. What is more to the point, the latter usage is the one which prevails throughout the context of the passage under discussion. The introductory remark of the context is this: 'wherefore, I give you to understand that no man speaking in the Spirit of God sayeth Jesus is anathema; and no man can say Jesus is Lord, but in the Holy Spirit.' V. 2 Now, a man can say Jesus is Lord without being in the Holy Spirit in the sense of having the Holy Spirit dwelling in him; but he cannot say it without the Holy Spirit as his guide to a knowledge of Jesus. The Spirit's guidance in the matter is exercised. through the word of truth. Farther on the apostle adds: 'For to one is given through the Spirit the word of wisdom; and to another the word of knowledge, according to the same Spirit; and to another the gift of healing, in the same Spirit' (vs. 8, 9) ; where the expression is 'through the Spirit; 'according to the same Spirit' and 'in the same spirit,' are equivalents, and all specify the action of the Holy Spirit in the several instances, and not the state of being in the Holy Spirit. If there could be any doubt of this, it would be removed by verse 11, which is a summary of the preceding specifications of the Spirit's work: But all these worketh the one and same Spirit, dividing to each one severally even as he will.' In such connection, when the apostle adds, 'in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body' it appears incontrovertible that he Is adding another specification of what the Holy Spirit does — that by its guidance, which was known to be exercised through the preached word, the disciples had been baptized into his death; that is, the baptism in water." (Biblical Criticism)

While all three of the books quoted in this article may be obtained from the Gospel Guardian, this writer does not recommend Lenski for the young student. Exegetical Analysis and Biblical Criticism are superior works and are worthy of a place in every library.

— 417 E. Groesbeck, Lufkin, Texas