Vol.X No.VI Pg.6
August 1973

"Bapto" In God's Book

Robert F. Turner

In 1843 Alexander Campbell met Mr. N. L. Rice, a Presbyterian preacher, in public debate. The discussion took place in Lexington, Ky., beginning on November 15, and lasting 16 days. The battle was hard-fought, with Campbell dealing in comprehensive principles, while Rice picked at details. Of the six propositions four related to baptism, one to the Holy Spirit in the written Word, and one to human creeds and their influence. Rice was perhaps the most difficult opponent that Campbell met in his debating career, and the metal tested in this forge earned its proof-mark. This is the setting for this months quote material.

Our source is Alexander Campbell by Benjamin Lyon Smith; The Bethany Press, St. Louis, Mo., 1930. From pp. 226-228, we reprint an interesting comment on Alexander Campbells confidence in his research of the Greek lexicons, and the principles learned there. In a sense this is also a test of his confidence in the uniformity of truth set forth in Gods word.

A brilliant example of the soundness of Mr. Campbells scholarship and the deductions he drew there from occurred in this debate. Dr. Rice had him in some difficulty in an argument over the possible meanings of the Greek root bapto, showing that in both the Syriac Version and in the Latin Vulgate of Jerome, and also in Origen, there was evidence which seemed to show that the root could have the connotation of sprinkle. Mr. Campbell was convinced from all his study that in spite of this indication the root bapto and its derivatives could never justly be translated sprinkle and he therefore insisted that in the original manuscript from which the Syriac Version was made and from which Origen quoted there must be a different reading—that the word which was translated sprinkle in the Syriac was not a derivative of bapto but of some other root.

There was no manuscript known at the time which gave this reading, and Dr. Rice rather ridiculed Mr. Campbells idea, which indeed had already been advanced by others. But twenty years later, when the two protagonists in this debate were old men, the scholar Tischendorf actually discovered in the monastery of St. Catherine at Mount Sinai a complete copy of the New Testament on vellum, which proved to be one of the oldest and most authentic manuscripts in the world, and which confirmed all of Mr. Campbells arguments. The reading of the disputed passage sustained his argument that the Syriac Version had followed a manuscript which gave a derivative of raino, to sprinkle, instead of bapto, to dip.

We feel it is in order to warn the tyro about making such arguments as did Mr. Campbell. The lexicons are tools which often require a skillful user. How many foolish conclusions are drawn by one who sees (in one or two authorities) that which he has predetermined to see. And uniformity of truth does not mean my preconception of truth. The hard passage may be the head-knocker that can turn an honest man to Gods truth.