The Method of Applying Water in baptism



Most if not all in this essay may be old hat to some. But it is not so long and established to some who call themselves Lutheran. Even so-called Lutherans today deny aspects of baptism that we have held from Scripture as true for long ages.

The method of applying water in baptism is an issue we meet with over and over again in India and other foreign fields. A sizeable majority of men trained and in training to be pastors in the BELC were not Lutheran in background and brought up with the truth on baptism. Even among the CLCI’s men in training the questions arise perennially. Such is the influence of the Reformed and of the Pentecostal/Charismatic false teaching.

There is the temptation to go to the catacombs and point at the engravings of seashells and say, “There is the evidence that water was poured.” Equally tempting is recourse to the Didache, which says that all three methods are acceptable. In the end of course it is Scripture which must rule, no matter how splendid the courtiers standing beside the throne. They are still beside the throne with the Word ruling.

The Word Not Used

βάπτω is not the word used for baptism in the New Testament.

If this were the word, then we would be justified in saying that one must be dipped or immersed for baptism. But this is not the word. This word does mean ‘dip.’

· Lk. 16:24 “…send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water…”

· Jn.13:26 “…I shall give this morsel when I have dipped it. So when He had dipped the morsel…”

Rev. 19:13 “He is clad in a robe dipped in blood…”

In the next passages there is a word with a slight variation to it, but meaning the same, ἐμβάπτω.

· Mt.26:23 “…’He who has dipped his hand in the dish with Me…”

· Mk. 14:20 “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread in the same dish with Me.'”

· Jn. 13:26 “…I shall give this morsel when I have dipped…”

The Greek Word in Context

We look at the word for baptism in Scripture as it is used in Scripture. This is the rule. Words change meaning and are used differently in different writings. Let’s look at a word that changed its meaning. In James 2:9 we read “…and are convicted by the law as transgressors.” παραβάτης is the word used for transgressor.

In our literature based on Scripture it means only “transgressor.” But previously in secular literature is meant mostly a warrior beside a charioteer, or a certain kind of foot soldier. Or consider the word grace, which earlier meant ‘that which brought joy and pleasure.’ Its sense in the Bible though is overwhelmingly ‘grace’ or ‘favor.’ So it is with words in Scripture that we consider them in their context, that is, how they are used in the Bible. βαπτίζω is the word used in the Bible for ‘baptize.’ We find in India that there has been even some purposeful mistranslation of this word and its derivatives. ‘Immerse’ appears. This is a case of reading into Scripture instead of letting Scripture interpret Scripture. A far more honest translation to have used is the English cognate ‘baptize.’ While some ask the question, ‘What’s in Word?”, this can lead astray. For the etymology of a word may not account for a changed usage. We ask in this study, “How is the word in its setting in Scripture?” Scripture is a rule unto itself: inspired, infallible, self-explaining.

Pertinent Words (in the KJV from Young’s Concordance)

βάπτισμα is found in Lk.20:4 and 21 other places as ‘baptism.

βαπτισμός is found in Mk.7:8, 4 , Heb.9:10 as ‘washing’ , while it is translated as ‘baptism’ in Heb. 9:10

Βαπτιστής is used of John the ‘baptizer’ or’ baptist’ in Mt. 3:1 and 13 other times.

βαπτίζω is the word for ‘baptize’ used in Mt. 3:11 and 73 other times. Once it is used of John the ‘Baptist’. It is used twice as ‘be baptized’ (mid.pass.). Twice it is translated as ‘wash’ . Lk.11:38 is one of those times.

βάπτω is used for ‘dip’ in Jn.13:26 and two other times.

ἐμβάπτω is used in Mk.14:20 for ‘dip’ and in two other places.

νίπτω is the word translated ‘wash’ in Jn. 9:7 and 16 other times.

ἀπολούω is the word used for ‘wash’ in I Cor. 6:11 and one other time. While the word without its prefix is used for ‘wash’ six times.

λουτρόν is translated ‘washing’ in Eph. 5:26 and Titus 3:5.

ῥαντίζω is used in Heb. 9:19 and three other times in Hebrews as ‘sprinkle.’


The idea of ‘pouring’ is far more consonant with baptizo than any others, especially than ‘immerse.’

· Jn.l:33 “…’He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.'” Here the idea of descending, alighting upon, coming down from above is used in the same sentence with the baptism of the Holy Spirit. It seems far more sensible to look at that which came upon Jesus as that which comes upon us.

· The example though that seems so conclusive is Acts 1:5(and its attendant explaining passages) “John baptized with water, but before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit ἐκχέω is used in Acts 2:17 as ‘poured out.’ Peter explains the Pentecost happening quoting Joel, “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh…” John the baptizer also previously stated in Mt. 3:11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier…He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” The Spirit was’ poured out upon ‘ and fire was upon the heads. It was not a case of being immersed in the Spirit or of fire. And now go backwards from that ‘pouring’ understanding and with common sense note that usage for John’s baptism in Acts 1:5 and Mt. 3:11. We take the word in its understandable, contextual usage. The idea of the Spirit being ‘poured out’ is also elsewhere as in Is. 32:15 “until the Spirit is poured out upon us from on high…”

· Lk. 12:49-50 “I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how I am constrained until it is accomplished.” Does it sound right to quote John, ‘I have an immersion to be immersed in’? That seems farfetched. As fire comes down upon, so persecution would fall upon, be poured out upon Jesus. Our Lord asked James and John, “Are you able to drink the cup I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” The persecution and judgment fell upon. He was not immersed init. Is. 53:5 “…upon Him was the chastizement that made us whole…”

· Acts 10:45 “And the believers from among the circumcized who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles.” Here we have again that word ‘poured.’ When describing this later, Peter said, “As I began to speak the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.'” Acts 11:15-16 So we have ‘baptized’ explained with the words ‘poured out’ and ‘fell upon.’


In Scripture baptize is used in the sense of ‘washing.’

· Lk. 11:38 “The Pharisee was astonished to see that He did not first wash before dinner.” The word ‘wash’ is ‘baptize.’

· The passages that have so much to say on this subject are Mk.7:2-4 “they saw that some of His disciples ate with hands defiled, that is unwashed (nipto). (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they wash (nipto) their hands, observing the tradition of the elders; and when they come from the market place, they do not eat unless they purify (baptizo) themselves; and there are many other traditions which they observe, the washing (baptizo) of cups and pots and vessels of bronze…'”Going back to Lk. 11 as well as here nipto and baptizo are interchangeable for washing hands or utensils. In Mk.7, even if one does not accept the manuscript evidence for “beds” or “tables”, it is still stretching it to say that the “vessels of bronze” had to be immersed. Some have maintained that baptizo means washing the whole body immersed and that it corresponds with louo. But here baptizo is used with nipto and “hands…”

· ἀπολούω is used in Acts 22:16 for ‘wash away’ in “…Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins…” Here ‘wash’ sounds fine and reflects on the baptizo method. But forcing a word, as some do, would mean saying it really means ‘drowning’ or ‘immersing.’ That is not the picture conveyed. In the two passages where λουτρόν is used in the NT the reference is to baptism. Eph. 5:26 “that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word.” Titus 3:5 “He saved us…by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit.”

· There are those that say that louo means to wash the whole body, whereas nipto means to wash a part. In a variety of passages this seems true. A real clear one on louo is Heb.10:22 “…our bodies washed with pure water.” But in Acts 16:33 the jailer “washed (louo) their wounds…” This was a part of the body that was washed. In Lk. 11:38 in the washing before eating it (baptizo) can’t mean the whole body. The argument from the immersion people is to lock baptizo in with louo, as a washing of the whole body, thus immersion. That will not work with baptizo’s use in the Word.


In the freedom Scripture gives us in the method of applying water, sprinkling is a viable method.

· Ez.36:25 “I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanesses…” In the OT there was a sprinkling of blood, Lev. 4:6,16:15, which cleansed. It is not hard to use that method to convey the cleansing of baptism. And have you ever wondered about the question of the Pharisees? Jn.1:25 “They asked him, ‘Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?'” Where in the OT could the Pharisees get the idea of baptismal cleansing — Ez. 36:25 perhaps?

· Heb. 9:19 “…he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people.” This is among several passages that refer to ‘sprinkling’ in Hebrews. Here the word in Greek for ‘sprinkle’ is the equivalent for the same word in the Hebrew in Ez. 36. In Heb. 9:10 we have reference to “various ablutions (baptismos)” and in 6:2 to “ablutions (baptismon).” These could refer to the one of Eph. 4:5, John’s, the Jewish ceremonial according to the Law and tradition including the Jewish conversion practice that included baptism, and back to what was referenced in Heb.9:19.


· This which is held to in such an ironclad manner by some finds little backing in Scripture. Rom. 6:3-4 “…baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death…buried therefore with Him by baptism into death…” is not pointing out a method for applying water. It tells us that baptism ties us to his sacrificial death. In v.4 συνθάπτω is “we were buried” that means in the earth with Him. He was our substitute.

· In Col.2:11-15 we have the expression again in v.12 “buried with Him in baptism.” Look at the context. Circumcizion in the OT time initiated one into the covenant relationship. Now baptism does that and it lashes us to Him. The method of applying water is not presented.

· I Cor. 10:1-2 has reference to “baptized into Moses.” If there is immersion in water in this historical reference, it has to do with the Egyptians being drowned and not our old flesh. There was a relationship with Moses in connection with water, yes. And there is a relationship with Christ through water and the Word. It is as Peter says by means of water, I Pet. 3:21, and so baptism is used.

· Some will even go back to Naaman’s example. In II Kings 5:10 the command in the Greek translation of the OT uses louo in v.10, while carrying out by Naaman in v.4 uses baptizo. This is translated ‘dip’ with the argument then carried forward to the NT use of baptizo. That really is going well beyond common sense and the use of language. Why not, with this disconnected reference then also enjoin a sevenfold application of water and of Jordan water?

· How much water was used in the NT baptisms? Always enough water on hand for immersion is beyond the normal readings at times. Acts 16:33 has the jailer and his family baptized at once at night. Acts 10:27 has many people gathered at Cornelius’ house. In v.47 Peter declared, “‘Can anyone forbid water for baptizing these people…?'” Just think with common sense what this says. Does it ask ‘forbid going to water’ or ‘forbid water being brought’? Our problem is not that one can be baptized by immersion. The opponents’ problem is that ‘they’ command that baptism must be by immersion.


· Ps. 23:5 mentions “thou anointest by head with oil.” The applying of oil by pouring can also remind from the OT practice of God’s anointing resting upon us.

And this has to be our prayer that God’s Holy Spirit rests upon us that He imparts to us the proper understanding of Scripture. We have surely received the Spirit from God. I Cor. 2:12 There is much twisting of Scripture to get from a word or passage simply what it does not say. The clear Word tells us that water must be used, but not how to used that water in one of the three common methods to the exclusion of the other two.