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Thoughts on Baptism

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    It is often claimed that words, when used in the Scriptures, have a different meaning from that which they have when used elsewhere, and this claim is especially made in regard to the word baptizein, the Greek infinitive to baptize. Our understanding of language is gained only through our knowledge of the meaning of its terms. If these are not clearly defined, then we can have no clear understanding of the language. If words in the Bible do not have the meaning which is established by usage and given in the lexicons of the languages in which they were written, then it follows evidently that we cannot understand the things which are professedly revealed unless we have a special lexicon to give these unusual meanings of the words. Such a claim really destroys the efficiency and sufficiency of the word of God as a revelation. By connection with a certain doctrine or ordinance, a term may come to have a technical or restricted application, but its meaning is not thereby changed.TOB 11.1

    This is illustrated in the common use of the word millennium. Webster says, “A thousand years; used to denote the thousand years of the twentieth chapter of Revelation.” No particular thousand years can be indicated by the meaning of the word; yet in all discussions of the Scriptures it is at once understood that it refers to that thousand years mentioned in the Scriptures. While the word has acquired such a restricted application as to direct the mind to that particular period, its signification is not at all changed by that use. True, by that use we have been accustomed to associate with the word the idea of peace, etc., but such ideas have no necessary connection with the term. They are but the result of a certain accepted description of the thing specified. A millennium may be either of joy or of sorrow. Neither is indicated by the word, and it is only by arbitrary association that we attach the idea of joy and peace to the millennium, for the term itself could never convey any such idea to the mind.TOB 11.2

    And such is the case with the word baptism. When spoken in Christian lands, and especially in discussions of the Scriptures, the mind at once turns to the ordinance of Christian baptism. But in the phrase, “Christian baptism,” we have added to the word baptism all that we have associated in our minds with the act or thing as a Christian ordinance. Of course, association attaches much that is foreign to the simple meaning of the term to it. When searching for the meaning of a term we ought to free it from all such associations or foreign elements. In this case the word had an established meaning before it was used to designate a Christian ordinance. And if the ordinance was not made to conform to the meaning of the word, then the word so used did not convey a correct idea to the mind of the hearer or reader; and such a use would be well calculated to create confusion.TOB 12.1

    We cannot suppose that the Institutor of the ordinance designed to be obscure in his directions for the discharge of a gospel duty. Then the question arises, Was there any word in use in our Saviour’s time which would specify any particular action in the administration of this ordinance? We answer, There was; and such a word was chosen by him; one having an established and unmistakably definite signification.TOB 13.1

    It should be borne in mind that it is not safe to trust to modern dictionaries for the meaning of words adopted from other languages. They aim to give the signification of words as they are now used. And here it is proper to remark that usage takes precedence of the lexicon as authority. When use has established the meaning of a term, the dictionary gives that meaning. A dictionary cannot make meanings. It is a standard only so far as it gives correctly the meaning established by the best usage. If we wish to ascertain the true meaning of words in other languages, we must resort to the usages and lexicons of those languages. We have an illustration of this in point. We have an old English dictionary published in Scotland in which the only definition given of baptize is “to christen.” That was the idea attached to the word at the time when, and the place where, the book was published. But insert that definition in a Scripture text, as Mark 16 or Acts 2, and it is found to be, not only erroneous but, ridiculous.TOB 13.2

    Again, we should never try to settle the meaning of the word by our ideas of the intention of the ordinance. The intention of ordinances is always more or less a subject of controversy; and the occasion of controversy is increased by confusion in regard to the meaning of the terms used. We do not learn the meaning of words by the intention of ordinances; but we learn, rather, what the ordinance is by the meaning of the words which define it.TOB 13.3

    There are eight words in the Greek of the New Testament referring to the several actions which are supposed to be admissible in the administration of the ordinance of baptism. These are,—TOB 14.1

    1. Baptizo. This word is never translated in the Authorized Version, that is, in our Bible, commonly known as King James’ Translation. It always appears under its anglicized form, baptize. We pass this for the present to briefly consider the others.TOB 14.2

    2. Rantizo. This word is used six times in the New Testament and is translated sprinkle every time. It has no other meaning. It is found in Hebrews 9:13, 19, 21; 10:22; 12:24; 1 Peter 1:2.TOB 14.3

    3. Proschusis. This occurs but once in the New Testament, Hebrews 11:28, rendered sprinkling. The lexicons give it the definitions of pouring upon, and sprinkling.TOB 14.4

    4. Ekcheo. This word is used eighteen times, and is translated pour out and shed forth. The lexicons give this definition. Ekchuno is considered a form of the same word, having the same signification, and is rendered in the same manner. It occurs ten times.TOB 14.5

    5. Epicheo is used but once, Luke 10:34, and is rendered pouring in.TOB 14.6

    6. Katacheo occurs twice, Matthew 26:7; Mark 14:3, and is rendered pour.TOB 15.1

    7. Kerannumi (kerao) occurs three times, Revelation 14:10, and 18:6 twice. In the first-named text it is rendered poured out, and in the latter is used thus: “In the cup which she hath filled, fill to her double.” The lexicons give it the definition, to mix, mingle, or pour out, as “from one vessel to another.”TOB 15.2

    8. Ballo. This word has the definition of throw or cast. It is used one hundred and twenty-five times; rendered cast, ninety times; pour out, twice, Matthew 26:12, and John 13:5.TOB 15.3

    Of the seven words last noticed, not one of them is ever used in referring to the ordinance of baptism. The word ekcheo is supposed to be an exception, but it is not; for the ordinance is a subject of commandment, but the baptism of the Spirit, to which the word is applied, is not a subject of precept. But this will be noticed more particularly hereafter.TOB 15.4

    We come now to consider the word baptizo. This is defined immerse in all the lexicons. We say, in all, for we have never seen or even heard of an exception. We might give authorities to any length in justification of this statement, but as it would only lengthen our remarks needlessly, we forbear, contenting ourselves with some quotations from Prof. Moses Stuart. We choose to offer Prof. Stuart as authority, for several reasons: 1. He occupied a prominent position in the Presbyterian denomination, and his admissions will therefore carry more weight than the claims of Baptist authors, though their testimony may be in perfect agreement. 2. His ability and learning were unquestioned; he long stood as a distinguished teacher in a theological school. 3. His writings being of recent date, he was in possession of all the advantages of the investigation on this subject, ancient and modern. Of the Greek he says:—TOB 15.5

    Bapto and baptizo mean to dip, plunge, or immerge into anything liquid. All lexicographers and critics of any note are agreed in this. My proof of this position, then, need not necessarily be protracted; but for the sake of ample confirmation, I must beg the reader’s patience while I lay before him, as briefly as may be, the results of an investigation which seems to leave no room for doubt.”TOB 16.1

    He then proceeds to quote Greek authors, beginning with Homer, and gives thirty-seven instances of the use of the original with this signification. Giving five instances from Hippocrates, he remarks:—TOB 16.2

    “And in the same way in all parts of his book, in instances almost without number.”TOB 16.3

    Closing his list of citations, he adds:—TOB 16.4

    “It were easy to enlarge this list of testimonies to this use; but the reader will not desire it.”TOB 16.5

    Leaving the classics, and coming to the records of the church, he says:—TOB 16.6

    “The passages which refer to immersion are so numerous in the fathers, that it would take a little volume merely to recite them.”TOB 16.7

    He gives no instance where it is used with any other meaning than immerse.TOB 16.8

    The investigations of others, especially of Dr. Carson and Prof. Conant, were no less exhaustive than that of Prof. Stuart, and all give the same results. And while we consider the vast number of instances given where it refers unmistakably to immersion, there is no instance found where the Greek word baptizo means anything but immerse. Now, where the lexicons are agreed, and the usage is uniform and unvarying, we think the question is settled beyond all chance of reasonable dispute; baptism is immersion, and that only.TOB 16.9

    Of the figurative use of the word baptizo, Prof. Stuart says:—TOB 17.1

    “Inasmuch, now, as the more usual idea of baptizo is that of overwhelming, immerging, it was very natural to employ it in designating severe calamities and sufferings.”TOB 17.2

    It is a great mistake, yet made by many, to suppose that, because words are used in figures of speech, therefore they have a figurative meaning. There is no such thing as the figurative meaning of words. They must have a definite and fixed meaning in order to an understanding of the figures which they represent to us. The use of a word in a figure of speech works no change in its signification.TOB 17.3

    Having given such decided testimony from Prof. Stuart in favor of immersion, we should not do him justice did we not notice the reasons he gave for deviating in his religious views and practice from the meaning of the word. The paragraphs following contain the gist of his reasonings on the subject:—TOB 17.4

    “For myself, then, I cheerfully admit that baptizo in the New Testament, when applied to the rite of baptism, does in all probability involve the idea that this rite was usually performed by immersion, but not always. I say usually, and not always; for to say more than this, the tenor of some of the narratives, particularly Acts 10:47, 48; 16:32, 33; and 2:41, seem to me to forbid. I cannot read these examples without the distinct conviction that immersion was not used on these occasions, but washing or affusion.TOB 17.5

    We must again commend the frankness of his admission, but are constrained to express our conviction that he viewed the texts specified rather in the light of his theology than of any necessary construction, to find in them an argument for affusion. On Acts 2, he states what appears to him probable, but which every one knows is not necessary, and adds:—TOB 18.1

    “I concede that there are some points here which are left undetermined, and which may serve to aid those who differ from me in replying to these remarks.”TOB 18.2

    On Acts 10, he thinks Peter’s words imply this:—TOB 18.3

    “Can any one forbid that water should be brought in, and these persons be baptized?”TOB 18.4

    And yet he is constrained to say:—TOB 18.5

    “I admit that another meaning is not necessarily excluded which would accord with the practice of immersion.”TOB 18.6

    On Acts 16:33, he speaks more at length, and is more unfortunate in his statement:— “Here it is said that the jailer, after the earthquake and other occurrences, and when brought under deep convictions of sin, took Paul and Silas at midnight and washed them from their stripes, i. e., washed off the blood which flowed from the wounds made by their stripes; and straightway (, forthwith) he was baptized, and all his. Where was this done? At the jail, or in the jail, where he met Paul and Silas; at any rate, within the precincts of the prison; for after the whole transaction was completed, he brought Paul and Silas to his house and gave them refreshments.”TOB 18.7

    Yet here, also, he admits that there might have been a bath in the jail wherein they were immersed; and so admits that his construction of the text is not necessary. The order of the events is not fully and correctly state by him. It is as follows:—TOB 19.1

    1. He brought them, out of the prison. Verse 30.TOB 19.2

    2. They spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house. Verse 32.TOB 19.3

    3. He washed their stripes, and he and all his were baptized. Verse 33.TOB 19.4

    4. He brought them into his house, and set meat before them. Verse 34.TOB 19.5

    Thus the record does not give countenance to the idea that all this took place in the jail; for he brought them out, and they preached to all that were in his house, before his baptism. And after his baptism he brought them into his house and gave them food. The baptism took place neither in the prison nor in his house.TOB 19.6

    But we appeal to every candid, God-fearing reader, against all such reasonings. While it is admitted that the meaning of the word is immerse, and it is admitted that the texts may be explained in harmony with that meaning, genuine reverence for the word of God should lead every inquirer to search for that exposition which is in harmony with the evident meaning of the word used, and not to inquire if an exposition may not also be found not in harmony with the meaning of the word used. The latter course is subversive of divine revelation, and is calculated to engender strife and cause division For, it must be confessed, the nearer we keep to the literal meaning of the text, the greater is the probability of uniformity in our faith and practice. And when we diverge from the true meaning of the words of the revelation, and admit supposed meanings, confusion is the unavoidable result, for each one is equally authorized to bring in his own supposition. But “God is not the author of confusion, but of peace.” We ought, then, to pursue that course which will shut out confusion, and bring peace and union to the household of faith.TOB 19.7

    The import or design of baptism is the main point, however, on which Prof. Stuart relied for his argument in favor of sprinkling; and as he expressed the view of a large class, which ought to be noticed, we give at some length his remarks on this point:—TOB 20.1

    “Is it essential, in order that baptism should symbolize purification or purity, that it should be performed by immersion? Plainly not; for in ancient times it was the water which was sprinkled upon the offending Jew, that was the grand emblem of purification. So Paul considers it, when he gives us, as it were, summary of the whole ritual of purification, by specifying the most significant of all its usages, viz., that of the ashes of a heifer mixed with water (Numbers 19:17), with which the unclean are sprinkled. Hebrews 9:13. So, too, he decides, when he speaks of drawing near to God, in the ‘full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience.’ Hebrews 10:22.”TOB 20.2

    “It is then a perfectly clear case that the sprinkling of water or of blood was altogether the most significant mode of purification or atonement, or of consecration to God, under the ancient dispensation.”TOB 21.1

    From this he infers that sprinkling is preferable to immersion in the rite of Christian baptism! But the whole argument is exceedingly defective and the inference inadmissible. How do we learn that the water of purification was to be sprinkled on the unclean? By the use of a word in the law which always means sprinkle—never immerse. And how do we learn how the ordinance of baptism is to be administered? By the use of a word in the law which always means immerse—never sprinkle. If the terms of the law are to be set aside, and speculations or suppositions substituted for them, then we may as well lay aside the Bible at once. In every text and instance which he cites, the word sprinkle is used, and the apostle shows that it is a symbol of the application of the blood of Christ, having no reference whatever to the ordinance of Christian baptism.TOB 21.2

    We insist, and none can deny, that if the priest had immersed the unclean person in the water of purification, he would not have obeyed the law of that ordinance, for the commandment was to sprinkle. And we likewise insist that to sprinkle a person with water for Christian baptism is not to fulfill the law of the ordinance, for the commandment says immerse. Prof. Stuart admitted that a word was used by our Saviour which signifies immerse. Did Prof. Stuart, and do all of like faith and practice, know the mind of our divine Lord better than he knew it himself? Do they understand the import and significance of his own ordinance better than he understood it? Or, if sprinkling is preferable, why did Jesus and his apostles never use a word signifying to sprinkle when they spoke of the ordinance? They understood such words, for they used them in reference to other things. Or, if they wished to leave it indefinite, and to let the rite cover every method of application of water to the person, as many now teach, why did they not use the various words which signify sprinkle, pour, and immerse? This would be absolutely necessary if it was designed to give the rite so wide a range, for no one of these words expressed all these modes. Hence, to use, invariably, one word, confines it definitely to one action.TOB 21.3

    These inquiries and statements may be better appreciated when it is considered that the word baptizo, in its various forms, is used one hundred and twenty times in the New Testament. It is used at least seventy-eight times in direct reference to the ordinance; and if we add to that fifteen times in which it is applied to John as the Baptizer, which title he received solely because he administered the rite, we have ninety-three times in which it refers to the ordinance. If sprinkling were the better method, it is amazingly strange that the speakers and writers of the New Testament never once used a word which signified to sprinkle, though referring to the ordinance so great a number of times. It would certainly detract much from our respect for the record as a divine revelation if it could be shown that, in referring to the ordinance nearly one hundred times, it always says immerse, and yet means sprinkle.TOB 22.1

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