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Most of the articles on these WebPages have been written by godly men with a central belief in the Lord Jesus Christ. However as with most of us, they may have different beliefs concerning some particular doctrines. These articles have been made available for the purpose of “gleaning the good” where good can be found. I do not necessarily endorse all that is written by others, anymore than I expect others to endorse all that I write.

Baptism: Immersion the Mode

By Elder J.H. Oliphant


Subheads added:  Volumes have been written on this subject, and I have no thought that I shall be able to present anything new in the way of argument.  I only propose to give the reasons and arguments that satisfy me, and upon which I act.  The design of this work forbids that I should attempt to write at length.  I would first say that we should be sincere and candid in our investigation; we should not act in this matter to please men, nor upon the opinions of men, but, if possible, find what the Savior and apostles practiced, and do likewise. 


                                       Baptize: to DIP


The meaning of the word used to express the action of baptism has very much, if not everything, to do with the subject at hand.  Not what it now means, but what it meant at the time the Savior and apostles used it. 


1st.  Webster in his definition says the word “baptize” is from a Greek word which signified “to dip.”  Of course he gives its present meaning in harmony with the practice of the various churches.  Yet the question with us is “not what does it now mean” and how is it now understood, but “what did it mean in our Savior’s day?”  Webster says the original word “signified to dip.”  So our practice is in harmony with his definition.


                               Bapto, Baptizo, Baptizma


2nd.   The Greek words Bapto, Baptizo, Baptizma, and Baptizmos, are never rendered sprinkle or pour, that is, the Savior never used a word that expressed the action of pour or sprinkle to express baptism.  Now, if the Savior and apostles never used a word to express baptism, that they in other places used to express sprinkling or pouring, we think it clear that they did not intend to teach that baptism should be performed by sprinkling or pouring.  In Luke 16:24, we read, “Send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue,” etc. 




The word dip in this text is from the word Bapto.  Here the meaning is clearly expressed by the scripture itself.  The water was not sprinkled on his finger, nor poured on his finger, but the finger was dipped in the water.  I regard this as a clear argument in favor of immersion.  Also John 13:26, “Jesus answered, he it is to whom I shall give a sop when I have dipped it.”  Here the word dipped is from Bapto.  The Savior fixes the meaning of the word, and illustrates it by dipping. 


Also, Revelation 19:13, “And he was clothed in a vesture dipped in blood.”  His word dipped is also from the word Bapto.  The blood was not sprinkled nor poured on the garment, but it had been baptized (or dipped) in the blood, so that his garments were dyed, or he was “red in his apparel.”  The use of the word in these places fixes its meaning as that of immerse or dip.




The Greek word Baptizo is never rendered pour or sprinkle.  It is twice rendered wash, Mark 7:4; and Luke 11:38.  The word Baptismos is rendered twice wash, Mark 7:4,8; and once washings, Hebrews 9:10.  In these places it would be very unreasonable and unnatural, I think, to conclude that the washing was performed by sprinkling or pouring; possibly it could have been done by pouring, but the plainest sense of the connection is in favor of immersion. 


The first mentioned is Mark 7:4, “Except they wash they eat not.”  The washing of hands is here referred to, as shown by the previous verse.  The usual method of washing hands is by dipping them in the water; also, the “washing of cups, and pots, and brazen vessels, and tables,” etc.  The usual method of washing cups is by immersing them in the water.  The word pots is from Sextarios, about a pint and one-half.”  So there is no difficulty in understanding the washing of pots to be in strict harmony with the views I am presenting. 


The word tables in the same connection may present some difficulty to the mind of some.  The original for table is Klinel.  It occurs ten times in the New testament, and is rendered bed in every place except the one above named, Matthew 9:2,6; Mark 4:21; and Mark 7:4,30; Luke 5:18; and Luke 8:16; and Luke 17:34; Acts 5:15; and Revelation 2:22.  Also, I may add that the meaning of the word Klinel is given by Greek lexicographers as follows, “That on which one lies, a bed, a couch, a bier.”  So the question is not how or what be the most natural way of washing a table but a bed, a couch, and every washer-woman in the land would say the best and easiest way is by immersion or dipping.


                                  Baptize: a Greek word transliterated


We have noticed every passage in the New testament where the word has been translated from Greek to English.  Of course the words baptize, baptism, etc., are not translations, but the Greek word itself with a English termination.  We have found it three times rendered sprinkle or pour.   We have found it twice rendered wash, and three times washing, but we have found the plain meaning of the texts in which wash and washing occur, to be very much in favor of immersion.


3rd.  The first and principal meaning of the word, as given by Liddel and Scott gives it Bapto, to dip repeatedly, dip under, to bathe; Baptismos, a dipping in water; Baptistus,  one who dips, a dyer; ho Baptistus, the Baptist; Baptos, dipped, dyed; Bapto, Greek, and Immergere, Latin, to dip, to sink.  For a lengthy and general reference to Greek lexicons showing that the meaning of the word is dip or immerse, see “Theodosia Earnest,” 1st Vol.; “Campbell on Baptism:” “Grace Trueman;” “Conversations on Baptism.”  The subject has, by these authors, been exhausted.


                                                All admit the word means to dip


4th.  The most learned men of the world have admitted the meaning of the word to be dip or immerse.  John Wesley, in his notes on Romans 6:4, “We are buried with him by baptism,” etc., says, “Alluding to the ancient manner of baptizing by immersion.”  Here the eminent founder of Methodism admits the position we take, and although we would not regard him and such men as infallible; yet we regard it as evidence that we are right for those who practice sprinkling and pouring to confess that “the ancient mode” of baptism was by burying. 


McKnight, an eminent Presbyterian, says, “In baptism the baptized person is buried under water.”  On Epistles, vol. 1,4, “Therefore, we are buried with him by baptism,” says, “It is altogether probable that the apostle in this place had allusion to the custom of baptizing by immersion.  This can not be proved so as to be liable to no objection, but I presume that this is the idea that would strike the great mass of unprejudiced readers.”   Certainly Barnes is correct in saying that the great mass would get the idea of immersion from this text.  Luther, “Baptism is a sign of death and resurrection.  Being moved by this reason, I would have those that are baptized to be wholly dipped into the water as the word imports and the mystery doth signify.”  “On this account I could wish that such as are to be baptized should be completely immersed into the water according to the meaning of the word,” etc.


John Calvin’s Institutes, vol. 2, p. 491, “The very word baptize, however, signifies to immerse, and it is certain that immersion was the practice of the ancient church.”  Again on John 3:23, and Acts 8:38, “From these words it may be inferred that baptism was administered by John and Christ by plunging the whole body under water.  Here we perceive how baptism was administered among the ancients, for they immersed the whole body under water.” 


These quotations show that the great founders of the Methodist, Presbyterian and Lutheran churches have borne testimony that the meaning of the word is dip or immerse.  We might add a host of other names of prominent men who themselves practiced sprinkling and pouring, who, nevertheless, admitted that the word signified dip or immerse, and that the ancient practice was by “immersing the whole body in the water.”  Mosheim, Neander, Beza, Dr. Chalmers, George Campbell, and many others. 


                                     How dare anyone change the rite


Now, reader, I ask you if our practice of immersion is not sustained by the meaning of the word, and if so, how dare we change the rite?  Who has a right to repeal or amend the laws of Christ?  His law was given in words that signify immersion?  How dare we substitute sprinkling?  How others have managed to keep a good conscience, declaring the meaning of the word in the Savior’s example to be immersion and yet practicing sprinkling and pouring, is to me a mystery.


2nd.  We argue that immersion was the apostolic mode of baptism, from the places selected to administer the ordinance. Matthew 3:5-6, “Then went out to him Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region round about Jordan, and were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.”  They were not baptized near Jordan, nor was Jordan baptized upon them, but they were baptized in Jordan  This circumstance plainly shows that John’s baptism was by immersion. 


The Greek word en is here rendered in, and is the same word the Savior uses in speaking of Jonah being three days and nights in the whale’s belly Verse 13 (Matthew 3:13), “Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan to be baptized of him,” and Matthew 3:16, “And Jesus when he was baptized went up straightway out of the water.”  Here our Savior was in the water and “went up straightway out of it.”  These narratives do not agree with the practice of sprinkling, nor pouring, for in neither case is there a good reason why they should be in the water. 


                                    Jordan: a good place for baptizing


It is sometimes argued that immersion in Jordan was impossible from the swiftness of the stream.  The Bible dictionary published by the Presbyterians, by A.W. Mitchell, gives the length at 180 miles.  “The waters are cool and wholesome; the breadth and depth vary at different places.”  He speaks of “frequent rapids,” twenty-seven threatening ones, besides many of  less importance.  He mentions one place where the water is eighty feet wide and four feet deep, which would be an excellent place for immersion. 


Where there are so many “fords” and rapids along a river, there are certainly some places where the water is still, else it is one continuous rapid, which disagrees with our Presbyterian’s account of it.  The case of Phillip and the eunuch, who went down into the water, also, John baptized in Enon, near to Salem, “because there was much water there.” 


It is argued he baptized in these places, because much water was needed to quench the thirst of the camels, asses, etc, that the people rode to the place.  We regard all such arguments as a mere dodge to evade the plain force of truth, and we think that a plain, honest man will gather the doctrine of immersion from these places. 


                          They went down into the water


It is argued that the words “down into the water” mean down to the water, and up out of the water, means up from the water.  If we are to suffer the plain teaching of the Bible to be thus explained away we would soon have to give the whole thing up.  We are satisfied that a plain man who will take his Bible and read the account of every baptism in the New Testament will be led to the opinion that immersion was the mode practiced. 


The Roman brethren were “buried with him by baptism,” and were “planted together in the likeness of his death.”  Planting is performed by a burial.  “Buried with him by baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him,” etc, Colossians 2:12.  These references show at least that baptism effects a burial.  Luke 3:16, “I indeed baptize you with water.”  The word with is here supposed to teach that the water is applied to the candidate and not the person to the water.  In reply to this, I say the word with in this text is the same word that is rendered in in Matthew 3:6, “Baptized of him in Jordan,” Matthew 3:11, “I indeed baptize you with water,” Matthew 3:15, “unto all that are in the house.”  “In the whale’s belly.”  “In the heart of the earth.”  The italicized words in these passages are all from the same Greek word.  A careful examination of the New Testament will show that the word here rendered with is, in four out of every five places it occurs in the New Testament rendered in. 


Immersion is regarded as valid and scriptural baptism, I believe, by all denominations.  The leading men of past ages have declared it to have been the original practice.  Every case of baptism in the New Testament justifies the conclusion that it was performed by immersion, and many cases force that conclusion.  The places selected to administer the ordinance, with every reference in the New Testament, tend to fix in our minds that immersion was the ancient mode.  That it is too cold, or indecent for ladies, or unsafe for weakly persons, we regard as an argument being unworthy of candid consideration.


We have demonstrated many times over that “ice and snow can do no harm,” that the most delicate females can, with safety, go into the ordinance, even when the ice must  be cut, that persons sick can with safety be taken from their beds and baptized.  Hundreds of young ladies of taste and refinement, have like the dear Redeemer, gone down into the water and been “buried in baptism,” and if it looked indecent to some, they felt happy in the ordinance.  In baptism we are not so much concerned about what the people would call decent, but what God would approbate. 


No sight is more blessed than to see a man or woman of our poor, dying race go down into the water and submit to the holy rite.  There is something in it that reminds us of Jesus in Jordan, and the same blessed Spirit that crowned our blessed Lord owns us poor mortals in the service.  Oh! how often have we seen the brethren gather at the water’s edge and join in a song of praise to God, followed by an humble prayer to God for his blessing upon the poor, unworthy servants, after which the humble followers of Jesus go down into the water. 


                                    How solemn a sight


Oh! how solemn.  What solemn thoughts crowd the mind of that beautiful young lady as she takes the minister’s hand.  Her prayer is that God will own her service.  She mentally exclaims, Lord be with and own me now.  She mentally, and sometimes vocally, says, “Farewell, vain world,” “I leave this world of sin behind my back.”  Oh! reader, will God own this service?    Do you not believe this is from heaven?  The ordinance is administered; the candidate comes from the water happy.  The congregation rejoices in the Lord together.  Saints of all denominations, as they witness the same, are forcibly reminded of Christ’s baptism, and the eunuch’s, and John’s baptism in JorDan 


Pure minded persons see nothing indecent in it.  Sickly and feeble, old and decrepit persons experience no injury from it.  It is an humble service that the proud and high minded will shun.  It offers no encouragements to the proud, nor to hypocrites.  There is enough sacrifice about it to be a test of sincerity.  Our gay clothing for once is laid aside—ribbons, laces, silks, and costly clothing are forgot or left off.  We feel for once free from pride, while we enter this solemn ordinance. 


Reader, what think ye of this matter?  Are you not convinced that Jesus, our Savior, was immersed in the river of Jordan?  Have you followed him in this service?  Baptists feel it their duty to maintain this service in the world.  God owns it among us to our great comfort.  We regard nothing else as baptism, and we believe the scripture and all reason sustain us.  And above all, we believe that God, by his Holy Spirit, owns our service and us in it.


                            The Savior gave the example


Note.—If it be argued that we should in charity allow the person baptized to choose the mode by which he will be baptized, we reply, that if the Savior gave us the example by immersion, and enjoined it upon us in terms that clearly indicate immersion, then neither the person to be baptized nor the administrator has a right to change the ordinance. 


We deny there being any charity in such a course.  If it be said the person ought to have a right to choose for himself respecting the mode, we would say, he has an equal right to choose the element, whether he will be sprinkled with sand or water, or whether we shall use wine or water in the sacrament.  But the Savior used wine and not water in the sacrament, and he used bread and not fruit.  He selected the element himself and we have no right to change it. 


If one would say, it is more charitable to allow the people to select their own manner of commemorating his death, that there is nothing in the bread, the real importance is in the thing signified.  It can as well be signified with fruit as bread, that it is too rigid and uncharitable to contend that nothing but bread will do.  To all this, we would reply, that the Savior selected bread.  He made the selection for us, and therefore we are not at liberty to select fruit instead of bread nor water instead of wine.  The Savior used wine—gave us the example in that way, and as we wish to follow him and imitate his example, we do not feel at liberty to say to the people that we want to be charitable above our neighbors, therefore we will let them choose between water and wine in the communion, and that if they prefer, they can have sand sprinkled on them for baptism. 


This would be charitable, indeed, and some people, no doubt, would admire us for such liberality; but Christ gave us no such example.  We only wish to know the way in which he performed these ordinances.  As he used wine and bread we use these elements in showing his death till he come. 


We have no right to allow our communicants to select some other way.  And for the same reason we practice immersion; we find that Christ was immersed, and in this way he gave us the example.  We have no right to say that some other way will do as well.  The Savior never said the person should select his own mode.  “Follow me,” is his command, which we think can only be done by imitating his examples. 


                               There are others who will sprinkle you


If the Redeemer was immersed, shall we substitute a service that escapes the cross in its room?  We have no right to change the ordinance, and we deny that any other denomination under heaven has such a right.  If our members are fewer by it, we will nevertheless seek to imitate the great exampler, and those who are unwilling to aid us in preserving his examples pure in the world may go elsewhere. 


We do not wish to fetter men’s consciences, and if after a careful and prayerful reading of the New Testament, you are convinced that Jesus and the apostles were sprinkled, that Philip sprinkled the eunuch, that John’s reason for selecting a place where there was much water to baptize, was because he wanted to have plenty of water for the camels and asses that the people rode there; I say, if you come to these conclusions, we will not ask you to go into our church, we will not fetter your conscience.


And if you should decide that all these cases and circumstances point to immersion, and yet you feel like you prefer to imitate some one beside the great Savior, that although he was immersed, you prefer to be sprinkled, we will not bind your conscience; we will very willingly allow you to go to those who are more charitable.  If it is uncharitable to maintain the ordinances as they were delivered to us, we glory in being uncharitable; and if charity and liberality consist in asking the people to choose between the commandments of man and the ordinances as  God gave them to us, we have no desire to be liberal or charitable.