COC #50: COC False Premise #2 Regarding Baptism

False Premise #2: The secular and Christian use of the Greek word from which the English word “baptism” is derived always refers to immersion (complete submersion) in a fluid.        

The Protestant Church of Christ’s second false premise is closely related to the first; each relies circularly on the other as support. Your erroneous assumption is that the Greek word from which the English word “baptism” is derived always refers to complete submersion in a fluid. 

In addition, your group’s premise is fundamentally, though not intentionally, dishonest, because none of your members really believe that a valid Baptism is actually performed by only immersion, because what your group exercises is an act that includes dunking the candidate in water, and then immediately removing her from the water (dipping). Your group calls that model “immersion” just as the Catholic Church of Christ, but it is not “immersion” as a matter of linguistic and physical fact. In other words, even within the mode your group has retained as valid, your exercise of the rite does not reflect its oversimplified linguistic and visual imperative; otherwise, your Baptisms would leave your candidates at the bottom of your Jacuzzis. Where are your legalists who should insist your Baptisms reflect the true secular meaning of the word?

It is a fact that a Greek secular use of baptizo (there are many) means something other than what either the Catholic or Protestant Church of Christ employs within its rites, because both Faiths allow its candidates to emerge from the water. But the Protestant group pretends to adhere to the secular meaning of the word, and does so most effectively by denying its students any thorough examination of the word—your group is an echo-chamber that (knowingly or unknowingly) repeats the falsehood that baptizo always means immersion as defined by your particular parameters: dunking and emerging.

If your group were truly interested in adhering to the secular meaning of a word for its religious rite, there is a Greek word that means “dip”, which is bapto (a cognate of baptizo), so would it not make more sense for your group to name its rite after bapto instead of baptizo—instead of co-opting the historical (= Catholic) name for the rite? Is not your group’s attack on the Catholic Church hypocritical when it cannot adhere to the base appearance of a rite’s name, which is the facade the Protestant Church of Christ continuously advertises?

All of these words: baptizobapto, immersion, dipping, can be confusing when brought into a theological context; but we are not orphaned, left to figure out some sort of code, or discover a supposed pattern all on our own! In fact, the Bible itself describes an event when a teacher of the Catholic Church of Christ was needed to explain Scripture and Baptism (cf. Acts 8:26-39). If patternism is truly your group’s model, then the pattern suggests that the Catholic Church of Christ, with her bishops (successors of the Apostles), properly understands the Sacrament of Baptism, that she is the proper expounder of the subject; and therefore, it makes more sense to entertain the historical (= pre-Protestant) understanding of the word, and not rely on definitions developed by self-appointed ministers of your group eighteen to twenty centuries after the Catholic Church of Christ was built, and who have never provided any reason why anyone should regard their opinions as authoritative or even remotely accurate.  

The etymology of the language that speaks to Baptism and the theological context that surrounds the event together, not separately, provide a proper understanding of the rite as a spiritual cleansing, and not a Fundamentalist expectation for the base appearance of a rite’s name to force a specific mechanical procedure. In other words, when grafted into the Christian experience, “Baptism” means “ceremonial washing”, not “immersion”. Your academy teaches that baptizo always means full-immersion (and therefore, an immersion-only Sacrament of Baptism), but that assertion is rarely examined—it is received as a fact, and then circulated over and over by your members. And all a skeptic would need to accomplish in order to discredit your group’s premise, and thus its conclusion, is provide a single example of how baptizo is used in a way that does not mean full-immersion in the manner you insist.

such an example would only be heard, most likely, if it were from what the Catholic Church of Christ included within the Bible; but for context, please consider the secular and contemporaneous (= real) usages of baptizo that provide the linguistic background for the inspired text, which individually disprove your premise. The following examples are of several, and are available in Presbyterian James W. Dale’s important book Classic Baptism, which illustrates how the classical Greek use of baptizo does not support the modern immersionists’ theory, but rather, refers to an agent’s process that is capable of thoroughly changing the character, state, or condition of an object.3

Mersed (baptizo) by wine and sleep . . . (Livy). 4

But he, mersed (baptizo) by anger, is subdued . . . (Achilles Taitus).5

On account of the abundant revenue from these sources, they do not merse (baptizo) the people with taxes (Diodorsus Siculus).6

But when he does not so continue, being mersed (baptizo) by diseases and by arts of wizards . . . (Plotinus).7

When midnight had mersed (baptizo) the city by sleep (Heliodorus).8

Knowing him to be licentious and extravagant, and mersed (baptizo) by debts . . . (Plutarch).9

There are plenty of examples from antiquity where the word baptizo is used in reference to water as well, but in such cases, more often than not, they do not mean “dip” as your group practices, but “submerge”—permanent submersion or drowning. Baptist Dr. T.J. Conant studied hundreds of examples of baptizo from antiquity in relation to a fluid, and presented his findings in his book The Meaning and Use of Baptizein. He could find only ten examples of the word used in a context that resembles the Protestant Church of Christ’s model.10 Often, the word was used in a context similar to Polybius’ account of a naval war:

The weight of the ships and the unskillfulness of the crews, they made continued assaults and submerged (baptizo) many of the ships.11

Occasionally, people were immersed (baptizo) to a depth that did not completely submerge them, as found in an ancient account of the Roman army’s movements:

They passed through with difficulty, the foot-soldiers immersed (baptizo) as far as to the breasts.12

The above examples show that baptizo, contrary to your group’s theory, does not always mean full-object immersion in water. Only a personal preference could force that premise, because it is clear that although baptizo could mean full-object submersion (and then a possible immediate removal from the water), the secular historical record proves that it had a wider range of meaning: an overwhelming effect, drowning, and even partial (not full) immersion.  

Scripture provides insight into the word’s spectrum as well. Consider the following:  

According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, but deal only with food and drink and various ablutions, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation (Hebrews 9:9-10, emphasis added). 

The word “ablutions” is translated from the Greek word baptismois, a cognate of baptizo. The passage is referring to ceremonial washings in the Old Testament. One such ceremonial washing is found in Leviticus 15:5, where a man is instructed to “bathe”, and bathing can be achieved by many forms (modes), such as when Bathsheba bathed (Septuagint Greek cognate; bapto) on a “rooftop”, who most likely bathed as most Israelite women had—by pouring and dipping, and not by immersion (cf. 2 Samuel 11:2).   

The above passage from Hebrews continues, and refers to a specific purification rite (ablution) that included sprinkling: For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh . . . (Hebrews 9:13). In other words, contrary to the Protestant Church of Christ’s preference, “baptism” became a word that refers to purification rites in general, and in no way a word that mandates a specific mode for a purification rite.

Consider Mark 7:4, which reads, And when they [Jewish elders] come from the market place, they do not eat unless they purify themselves. The Greek word used for “purify” is baptizo, but people were not expected to submerge themselves in water before a meal. We know that the context of the passage refers to the washing of hands before eating (cf. v. 2), and the text reads that it is not the “hands” that were baptized, but that the washing’s effect indicated baptized “people” (they purify themselves). In other words, when only a person’s hands were baptized, the entire person was baptized (partial immersion). St. Luke’s account shows that the Pharisee was astonished to see that he [(Jesus)] did not wash [(baptizo)] before dinner (Luke 11:38). Again, the Pharisee was not astonished that Jesus did not dunk Himself in a Jacuzzi; he was astonished because Jesus did not wash His hands. And if Jesus had baptized (baptizo) only His hands, He would have been a baptized (baptizo) dinner guest.

I cannot present the entirety of baptizo’s usage from antiquity within this chapter, so I have provided a few examples drawn from two collections in addition to the Bible—collections that I have provided bibliographies for future study from non-Catholic sources. When surveyed as a whole, the normative (general) use of the word is synonymous with “overwhelm”, and a minority use of the word alludes to full-submersion in a fluid and then the immediate removal from the fluid. These are important facts, because when members of your group are asked to explain nonconforming examples, such as how one might be “. . . mersed (baptizo) with worldly affairs . . . .” (Plutarch),13 they often disregard them as generalizations of speech or anomalies. But it is evasive to force a majority use as the anomaly and the minority use as the proper form or pattern.

Several pages back, I showed how a single non-immersion example from either a secular usage or a scriptural usage of the word baptizo would prove your premise false, and I provided such an example several times over. The repeated assumption that baptizo always refers to full-immersion and the abrupt removal from a substance has no foundation in reality; yet it continues to serve as one of the strict immersionists’ founding posits. But if you allow the reality of the above examples to penetrate your fortress, it should become clear to you that the Protestant Church of Christ’s third false premise, which is that every Christian Baptism in the Bible is by immersion, is easily seen as hopeful speculation.

      3 Dale, John W., Classic Baptism (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishers, 1989), 354.

      4 ibid., 228.

      5 ibid., 287.

      6 ibid., 291.

      7 ibid., 304.

      8 ibid., 294.

      9 ibid., 306.

      10 Conant, Thomas Jefferson, The Meaning of Baptizein (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications), 1977.

      11 Polybius, History, book 1. Ch. 51, 6. As quoted in Conant, 16.

      12 ibid., 19.

      13 Dale, 306.