Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
November 12, 1953
NUMBER 27, PAGE 1,5b

Baptism -- The Meaning Of The Word

Roy E. Cogdill

What does the word "baptize" mean? It comes from a Greek word, the root of which is bapt. That Greek root meant always to dip. The scholarship of the world is united on this. It matters not what authorities you examine, Catholic, Protestant, Church of England, or atheistic, the scholarship of the world says that the word "bapt" in its root meaning signified dip. This root appears in various forms in the New Testament: baptidzo, baptisma, baptista, with various endings added, but the root word is present regardless of the particular form. And there was no variation or change in the meaning of the root.

By the providence of God the New Testament was written in a language that died shortly afterward. By that I mean the language fell out of current usage. Like Latin it became a dead language. Thus the New Testament was preserved for all the centuries in a language form that is static and permanent, one that is not subject to the changes which are inevitable in any living language. The Greek language died; its meanings were fixed and permanent, for 1900 years it has been immobile. What the word root "bapt" meant when Jesus and the apostles used it is precisely what our word "baptize" means in our English versions. This is apparent because the word is not even translated. It is transliterated, or simply carried over, with the Greek ending dropped and an English ending added. It is still the ancient Greek word so far as its origin and meaning are concerned.

Since this word "bapt" is the word that Jesus used in the Greek, and since the word has not been translated but only transliterated, you and I must go back to the ancient Greek to determine the exact meaning the word conveys. Does someone say Webster defines the word? Yes, he does define the current English usage. That is the proper function of a dictionary. Since English is a living language, usages, and meanings in any word are subject to constant change. A dictionary defines the current and contemporary use of a living language; it does not define the meaning and action of a dead language. That is the function of a lexicographer. And the lexicographers, the scholars of all shades and degrees of religious faith or no faith, are perfectly united in the meaning of the Greek root "bapt." No scholar has ever lived who would define the root by the word "sprinkle" or "pour." The word means to dip. It does not mean anything else.

Bible Description of the Act We have looked at the circumstances under which baptism was performed, and at the actual meaning of the word itself; but what sort of description do we have from the Bible as to the act of baptism? Well, Paul describes it as a "washing." He calls it the "washing of regeneration" (Titus 3:5); and says we have our "bodies washed with pure water." (Heb. 10:22) Now, we all know what "washing" is don't we? If you gathered up soiled shirts and took them to the laundry and they sprinkled a few drops of water on them, it could hardly be called a "washing"!

Not only is Bible baptism a "washing," it is also a burial. It is Paul who also gives this description, "Or are ye ignorant that all we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 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 should walk in newness of life." (Rom. 6:3-4) This describes the dipping of the body beneath the water, and the raising up out of it, just as Christ was buried in the grave and then came forth out of it. That is the Bible picture of the action of baptism; and you destroy both the picture and the meaning of it when you accept a substitute.

Does somebody say that the whole world has accepted sprinkling? and that, therefore, we should agree to that which has come to have such universal sanction and approval? Well, actually that is quite beside the point. For if the world were unanimous in accepting it, God's word would still teach immersion. As a matter of fact, however, the world is far from unanimous in accepting the false idea of sprinkling in lieu of immersion. Indeed, not even the Catholics themselves were willing to accept it for many centuries. The first generally recognized Pope of the Roman Catholic hierarchy was crowned about 606 A.D. More than seven hundred years went by before the apostate church would finally yield on this point and agree to sprinkling in place of immersion. It was at the Council of Ravenna, 1311 A.D., that sprinkling was finally accepted.

The Protestant churches, coming out of Catholicism, have simply retained this relic of their past heritage. They borrowed sprinkling from the Catholics. That is where it came from; and that is all the authority that can be given for it. It is a substitute for that which God commanded. When a man does something that God has NOT commanded, and then contends that that is just as good as doing what God HAS commanded, he shows what little regard and respect he has for the word of God. There is no other conclusion that can be reached.