THE MODE AND MEANING OF BAPTISM



By Dr. Mark Jones - Posted at The Calvinist International:

Christians have not agreed on the proper mode of baptism. Many believe that the only proper way to baptize someone is by the full submersion of the body under water. They typically argue that baptizo means immerse and they also appeal to Romans 6 as a watertight (pardon the pun) argument proving the need for full immersion.

In response, we may wish to ask whether we do our theology by etymology or by looking at the rich tapestry of symbolism in the Scriptures to come up with a theology of baptism that may cause us to realize the case is not nearly as obvious as some may think. One could do a study on Hebrews 9:11–22 and look up all of the Old Testament references that the author calls baptisms.

The New Testament does not give us the precise manner in which baptism must be administered. As B.B. Warfield has noted, “We may search the New Testament in vain if we are seeking minute instructions how we are to perform baptism” (Selected Shorter Writings. 2 vols. ((Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1970)), 1:329). The philological facts simply do not allow us to argue that “to baptize” equals “to immerse.”

Baptism is a washing with water (1 Cor. 6:11; Eph. 5:26; Heb. 10:22). This washing represents our cleansing by the blood of Christ. The way in which we wash (i.e., baptize) allows for some degree of latitude on the amount of water used. The Scriptures speak of complete cleansing in terms of just the feet being washed (Jn. 13:10), or the hands only (Mk. 7:2), or being “sprinkled” (Ezek. 36:25). Thus, according to Warfield:
It is not the amount of water which we employ but the purpose for which we employ it that is of [significance]. In Jesus Christ we are washed clean of all our sins. He has given us a sign that our sins are washed away and a pledge that we shall be clean in him. Any application of water which will symbolize this cleansing will serve as such a sign and seal. (ibid)
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