The New Testament does not describe a single example of a proper mode for Baptism. Read that sentence again. It is important, because you assume that it does.
The New Testament, however, does in fact refer to instructions about baptisms (Hebrews 6:2), but no instructions of any kind are found in the New Testament—such instructions are part of the Sacred Tradition of the Church, and you should ask yourself, “Where are the instructions if they are not in the Bible, and who guards them?” But the Protestant sects have divorced themselves from the Sacred Tradition; have chosen to engage in private interpretation of the historical Church’s Scriptures. But even if the modern rules of heresy were reasonable, a “Bible-only” Christian should notice that the Bible only supports the Catholic Church of Christ’s teachings, because the very word baptizo spans a spectrum of meaning that includes the Catholic Church’s spectrum of modal acceptance, as I illustrated by exposing false premise #2.
Although the Bible does not endorse (by instruction) a proper mode, there are a small number of verses that imply probable physical modes, or indicate theologically (and philologically) valid modes. There are seventy-two verses in the English New Testament that use the words, “baptism”, “baptisms”, “baptize”, “baptized”, or “baptizing”. Out of seventy-two, only three could, by a long stretch, imply a mode consistent with the Protestant Church of Christ’s beliefs. Two of the seventy-two verses could imply a mode consistent with sprinkling, and three out of seventy-two could imply a mode consistent with pouring. In other words, the vast majority of the words’ occurrences, at least sixty-four verses depending on how liberally (Protestant-ly) they are interpreted, offer no contextual indications for determining a proper mode (e.g. They were baptized, Mark 1:5; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire, Matthew 3:11), and the eight verses that do offer clues support the historical (Catholic) understanding of the Sacrament. I will review each of the eight passages that might offer clues, and for future study will list all seventy-two verses in the next post.
First verse: Acts 8:38. Your community uses the story of the Ethiopian eunuch from the eighth chapter of Acts as a proof that the proper mode for Baptism is full-immersion. The verse, in context, reads:
And as they went along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What is to prevent my being baptized?” And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught up Philip; and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing (Acts 8:36-39).
Your community believes that a modal example from the New Testament provides the sole modal mandate for all Baptisms. But even if that theory were logical (or “biblical”), this passage fails to provide such an example. Your group focuses on the words, went down into the water, and came up out of the water, but ignores who, exactly, went down and came up. The passage shows that they both, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water and came up out of the water. Does your group believe that both the baptizer and the baptizee should be completely submerged, as your interpretation should imply? Of course not, or you would follow that pattern.
The passage’s illustration is clear: both persons went down into (entered) the water of unknown depth, St. Philip then baptized the eunuch, and then they both came up out of (exited) the water. The mode is not indicated. Only a predetermined modal preference could force the conclusion that the eunuch was submerged (and that St. Philip was not submerged). St. Philip might have submerged the eunuch once they went down into the water, but he might have poured water on the eunuch’s head before they came up out of the water just the same—we do not know which mode was used, nor is it important, because either mode is valid. In other words, as a favored scriptural proof for a full-immersion Baptism, Acts 8:38 fails to support the Protestant Church of Christ’s position, and reinforces, as it only can, the Catholic Church of Christ’s position.
Second verse: John 3:23. Another verse your community uses to prove that Baptism is always by immersion is: John also was baptizing at Ae’non near Salim [on the Jordan] because there was much water there; and people came and were baptized (John 3:23). Your communities focus on the words, there was much water. Nowhere is a mode indicated. It takes much water to baptize many people by immersion, and it takes much water to baptize many people by pouring. There is little else to elaborate on regarding this passage because it communicates nothing regarding mode. But if a predetermined, yet erroneous, definition of “baptism” is read into the passage, then any sect can walk away with any, at least within its own mind, “true” meaning.
Third verse: Mark 1:9. The third and final precedent your group uses to prove that Baptism (as a rite) is always by immersion is from St. Mark’s account of Jesus’ own Baptism. Although a single example does not imply all Baptisms should imitate the mode, your group presents Jesus’ example as a defining mode, and therefore, the only defining mode:
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opened and the Spirit descending upon him like a dove (Mark 1:9,10).
The problem for the Protestant Church of Christ, of course, is that St. Mark did not record the mode. Strict immersionists apply the same logical fallacy (begging the question) used with the first verse (Acts 8:38) to this passage as well. You read your preferred theology with self-created definitions of the word “baptism” into the text. The natural sense of the text illustrates, as with St. Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, that Jesus went into the river, was baptized, and exited the river. True, Jesus might have been fully submerged, but he might have been baptized by pouring just the same. We simply do not know what mode was used, and it does not matter, because both modes are valid.
It also needs to be pointed out that your group, contrary to its claim, does not consider St. Mark’s account to be a clear example for all Christians to imitate, because it ignores a clear fact: Jesus was baptized in the Jordan. On what ground can a “Bible-only” Christian decide which part of a passage is an example, and which part is not? The Bible does not reveal which parts should be imitated, so a human must decide. Who within your group has the authority to determine that Baptisms in water other than the Jordan are valid, and from whom did he attain such authority? Of course, the Bible reveals that the Ethiopian eunuch of Acts 8 was baptized in water other than the Jordan, but who within your group has determined that people other than eunuchs may be baptized in water other than the Jordan? In other words, a completely sincere “Bible-only” Christian could determine that all Christians other than eunuchs must be baptized in the Jordan—and she could use Scripture, with just as much credibility and authority as your group, to support her use of patternism, and then declare that your Baptisms are invalid—that, according to the Bible, you are not “true” Christians. This is not a silly point; it strikes at the heart of the problem of the “Bible only” model, it illustrates how so many hundreds of competing Protestant groups add chaos to the Christian message, and shows that no Christian is truly a “Bible-only” Christian.
The purpose of Jesus’ Baptism has been contemplated for centuries, and as with every loving relationship, the Church’s understanding of the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3), has not changed, but matured. Her theologians’ impact, which act as a kind of living memory, has suggested that Jesus’ purpose for His own Baptism is precisely what your group has since adopted: an ideal example for all Christians; a theology not expounded in the “Bible only” in any way, but delivered to the saints, which were, and are, Catholic. This particular theology you have retained was first developed by St. Justin Martyr (A.D. 100-165).14 But there is another purpose for Jesus’ Baptism, and it is theologically connected to the next passage I will review, which also offers clues as to what might be a valid baptismal mode, which is not immersion, and therefore, rarely, if ever, introduced by your group.
Fourth verse: 1 Corinthians 10:2. St. Ignatius of Antioch, who first coined the term “Catholic Church” for the Catholic Church of Christ in A.D. 110, taught that Jesus’ Baptism purified the waters of Baptism. St. Maximus of Turin (A.D. 423) elaborated, and offered a homily that adds flesh to the theological connections between Jesus’ Baptism and St. Paul’s words baptized into Moses, as found in the tenth chapter of First Corinthians. St. Maximus preached:
Therefore the Lord Jesus came to baptism, and willed to have his body washed with water. Perhaps one will say: “He who is holy, why did he wish to be baptized?” Pay attention therefore! Christ is baptized, not that he may be sanctified in the waters, but that he himself may sanctify the waters, and by his own purification may purify those streams which he touches. For the consecration of Christ is greater consecration of another element. For when the Savior is washed, then already for our baptism all water is cleansed and the fount purified, that the grace of the laver may be administered to peoples that come after. Christ therefore takes the lead in baptism, so that Christian peoples may follow after him with confidence.15
Jesus was baptized as an example, yes, but the mode in which he was baptized is not an example for us today, because the Catholic writers of the New Testament chose not to disclose that detail. But the writers did accept various modes within their theological symbolism. St. Paul wrote:
I want you to know, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same supernatural food and all drank the same supernatural drink (1 Corinthians 10:1-4).
St. Maximus understood the symbolism. Jesus was baptized to purify the water—to prepare a path for His Church. The very word “baptism” and the insertion of reason into religion (theology) bridges the nation of Israel with the people of Jesus—with the New Testament. St. Maximus continued:
I understand the mystery: for the column of fire went first though the Red Sea, that the children of Israel might tread the hazardous journey without fear; and it, itself, went first through the waters, so that for those coming after it, it might prepare a way to pass. Which event, as the apostle says, was a symbol of baptism. . . . But the one who performed all these things was still the same Lord Christ, who as he then went before the children of Israel in a pillar of fire, now by baptism goes before Christian peoples in the pillar of his body.16
The element of water, we know from Psalm 77:17, is the matter that was applied to the baptism of Moses: The clouds poured out water, or as St. Maximus wrote, “Clearly baptism in some sort of way has been carried out when the cloud overshadowed the men.”17 Rain poured, and the nation of Israel was baptized. People were immersed, yes, but those who were immersed were the Egyptians, but the Egyptians were not baptized. And with this very real background, is it not at least as reasonable to think Jesus was baptized by a mode that might resemble the typology that preceded his physical example at the River Jordan, as it is to think he was immersed like the Egyptians?
Fifth verse: 1 Peter 3:21. St. Peter used symbolism from the great flood as a background for his general letter.
When God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him (1 Peter 3:20-22).
The passage, of course, is prefaced by chapter one, in which St. Peter prepares his readers for Baptism by tying it with the words, sanctified by the Spirit for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood (1 Peter 1:2). And we, both the Catholic and Protestant Church of Christ, know this sprinkling refers to the act of Baptism, for we both recognize that verse three’s use of the words born anew (anagennao / regeneration) is in reference to the grace of Baptism—the vehicle that now saves you.
Your group often refers to a portion of just one sentence to rightly show that baptism . . . now saves you, but it rarely considers the full passage—to what Baptism corresponds to. True, Baptism does save, but the context likens Baptism to imagery that is not immersion, but pouring: which corresponds to this (this = rain; not physical burial in water). St. Peter referred to how Noah was saved through rain, saved through water; and like the Egyptians St. Paul and St. Maximus alluded to in the previous example, the evil people of Noah’s day were immersed, and not saved.
Sixth and seventh verses: Acts 9:17,18, Acts 22:16. There are two accounts of Saul’s conversion in the book of Acts. They are:
So Anani’as departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came, has sent me that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized (Acts 9:17,18).
And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name (Acts 22:16).
The passages show that Saul entered the house, but it does not suggest that he exited the house. Your group’s belief that Saul was immersed is not gleaned from Scripture, so unless the house included an indoor pool of some sort, St. Paul was most likely baptized utilizing a mode other than full-immersion.
The passages also show that Saul was commanded to rise (to stand up) and be baptized, and that he rose and was baptized. Perhaps Saul rose and then was somehow submerged in the house, or perhaps he was baptized in the same manner that most ancient pieces of art depict Christian Baptisms: a person standing (rise . . .), and with water being poured over her head (. . . and be baptized) from either a shell or pitcher.
Eighth verse: Acts 10:47. In this next verse, St. Peter is speaking about Baptism and the Holy Spirit, and how the gospel is accessible even to the Gentiles: Can any one forbid water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have? (Acts 10:47).
The natural reading of the text does not suggest that St. Peter was asking for a portable Jacuzzi for the Gentiles’ Baptisms, but rather, for water to be brought in a reasonable way—a way that could be carried, yet still achieve and produce the effect of Baptism. In other words, the most likely mode that was used is one of pouring.
Scriptural nearness is an intentional writing strategy, and St. Luke presents the passage in a context that also adds weight to a probable pouring mode. The two verses that immediately precede the passage are:
And the believers from among the circumcised who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God (Acts 10:45-46).
The nearness of the imagery is not accidental. The Holy Spirit had been poured, and it is the same Holy Spirit that resides in all Christians. In other words, the Holy Spirit’s effect / mode is achieved / described by the word “pouring” (ekcheo), and it appears that St. Luke chose, in a literary way, to illustrate the nearness of Baptism with its effect, by the nearness of his subject of Baptism with the word “pouring” and its effect—a word rich with symbolism within the remainder of the New Testament as well; used to communicate Jesus’ sacrifice, sacramental grace, and the gift of the Holy Spirit (cf. Matthew 26:28, Mark 14:24, Luke 22:20, Acts 2:33; and Titus 3:6 which, again, is preceded by the word “regeneration / rebirth” from the fifth verse, and communicating nearness of effect). Put differently, the context of the passage suggests Baptism and “pouring” are literarily, scripturally, theologically, and physically (modally) linked.
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14 Dapaah, Daniel S. The Relationship Between John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth (Washington D.C.: University Press of America, 2005), 86-88.
15 St. Maximus of Turin, Sermon 100, Epiphany, The Divine Office Vol. 1