FRANCIS A. SCHAEFFER: BAPTISM (IMMERSION)

Catacombs of San Callisto: baptism in a 3rd-century painting - Wikipedia


First, in regard to immersion, let me say that, personally, I will immerse if the individual desires this mode of baptism. Second, it is well to remember that the Greek Catholic Church and certain groups of Brethren have immersed babies as well as adults, and hence there is no necessary link between the mode of baptism used and the question of the baptism of infants. I have never immersed an infant, but I would not refuse to do so.

As a matter of fact, from evidence from the Catacombs before 200, it would seem probable that effusion, pouring, could have been the most common mode of baptism in the early church. That is, they stood in water and then had water poured on their head. Our position as to the mode of baptism is that immersion is not the only mode.

The words baptizo and bapto in the classical Greek are used with great latitude. Neither of these words can be said always to mean immerse. In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the word "baptize" is used in such a way that it could not possibly always mean immersion. For example. in Daniel 4:23 in the Septuagint, it says that Nebuchadnezzar was baptized with dew. Certainly no one would say that he was immersed in dew. In the New Testament use of the word, it is equally true that the word 'baptize" cannot always mean immersion. For example, in Hebrews 9:10, we read:

"Which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation." The King James Version uses "washings" instead of "baptizings", but the Greek says "baptizings." This passage refers to the Old Testament ceremonial cleansings, such as the red heifer, and the Day of Atonement. These Old Testament cleansings were never by immersion, but always by sprinkling. Notice how Hebrews 9 itself, verses 19 and 21, emphasize the fact that the Old Testament ceremonial cleansings were by sprinkling.

I Corinthians 10.1, 2 is another such passage:

"Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea." In this case the Jews certainly were not immersed.

Mark 7:4 is also clear: "And when they come from the market, except they wash, they eat not. And many other things there be which they have received to hold, as the washing of cups, and pots, brazen vessels, and of tables." Again in the King James Version, the word "washings" is used, but the Greek again is "baptizing". If baptize always means immerse, it means that the Jews, each time they came from the market place, had to fill a tub with water and go under, head and all. This is impossible, for most of them had no such accommodation in their homes. Further, this passage would also say that they constantly immersed their tables. This is again obviously impossible. Many of the ancient versions add "and couches" to this passage. To say that they regularly immersed their beds, even if they did use bed rolls, is foolish.

At least three of the baptisms mentioned in the New Testament are difficult to imagine as immersion. The eunuch was baptized by a desert road. The jailer was baptized in the middle of the night. Three thousand were baptized on the Day of Pentecost. It is easy to see how these took place if sprinkling or pouring were used, it is difficult if immersion is taken as the only mode.

Baptistic Arguments
The Baptistic argument that "Jesus went down into the water and came up out of the water" means nothing. One year we took our vacation at the seashore. one of my little daughters went down into the water and came out of the water every' day, but she would not put her head under for all our coaxing. The simple fact is that the meaning of this passage is altogether fulfilled if Jesus went down until His feet were in the Jordan.

As to Romans 6:3,4b: "Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death". This passage cannot be used to prove immersion. In the first place, if it is taken to mean water baptism, many of us believe that it proves too much, and that we would then logically have to believe in Baptismal Regeneration. Surely, it is not the water baptism which baptizes us into Christ's death, but the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Secondly, however, even if it is taken to mean water baptism, this passage means more than the totally inadequate picture of burial that going under the water can give. What these verses teach is the great and marvelous reality that, when we accept Christ as our Saviour, we actually have died with Him.

These things are enough to show that the Word of God does not teach that baptism must be by immersion only.

Lastly, concerning this matter of immersion only, we would remind you that if immersion is the only mode, then the catholicity of the sacraments is destroyed. The Lord's Supper obviously can be given anywhere. Sprinkling can be performed anywhere, but if baptism is by immersion only, there are many parts of the world in which Christians must be denied this sacrament. Those in the desert, those in the land of unending cold, and those on beds of sickness cannot be baptized by immersion, even if they want to.

The fact is that the position that baptism is by immersion only is not tenable.

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