In each case in the New Testament where the Greek word baptidzō (to baptize) is used, language, contextual considerations, and logic itself dictate that immersion is intended.

It has often been argued against immersion that there was insufficient water in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost to baptize 3000 in one day. Likewise, no mention is made of available water for the Philippian jailer’s baptism. We shall see in later posts that the former argument is refuted by archaeological discoveries, and the latter is an argument from silence.

When Baptists point to John 3:23 and the reference to “much water,” we are told by paedobaptists that an abundance of water does not indicate immersion.

To such paedobaptist unreasonableness, J. M. Pendleton responded sardonically:

“We cannot please them at all. . . . If there is no mention of a ‘river’ in a baptismal narrative, the cry is ‘No immersion’ and ‘scarcity of water.’ If the river Jordan is named, the same cry of ‘No immersion’ is heard; so that, according to Pedobaptist logic, scarcity of water and abundance of water prove the same thing.”[1]

In the New Testament, the obvious meaning of baptizō is immersion. While the KJV translators may have been under constraint from King James I to follow his rules of translation and thus transliterate rather than translate the Greek word baptizō, modern translators and interpreters are under no such restriction. The word means what it means.

It is tragic to see paedobaptists searching in vain for some linguistic bypath far from the interstate of standard usage that will provide a scintilla of evidence to support their notion of the mode of baptism as pouring or sprinkling. When the Greek dictionary of the first century was loaded with words for sprinkling and pouring, it would have been all too easy for the New Testament authors to have made use of these words, had that been their intended meaning.[2]

As the Dean of the School of Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, I have a master key that fits all the locks in Scarborough and Fleming Halls. By analogy, word definitions are like master keys. When a word is properly defined, the definition becomes the key that unlocks the meaning. If the definition is incorrect, it may fit some contexts, but in many others its substitution leads to ambiguity, error, or nonsense.[3]

Philip Schaff, famed church historian who was professor of Church History at Union Theological Seminary said:

“The baptism of Christ in the river of Jordan, and the illustrations of baptism used in the New Testament, are all in favor of immersion rather than sprinkling, as is freely admitted by the best exegetes, Catholic and Protestant, English and German. Nothing can be gained by unnatural exegesis. The aggressiveness of the Baptists has driven Pedobaptists to the opposite extreme.[4]

[1]J. M. Pendleton, Distinctive Principles, 132.

[2]Typical of the present day misrepresentation of the meaning of baptize in the Greek New Testament is Leonard J. Vander Zee, Christ, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper: Recovering the Sacraments for Evangelical Worship (Downers Grove, Il: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 99: “While some insist that word baptize means ‘to immerse,’ scholars point out that it is clearly used to describe other modes in Greek.” He offers no supporting evidence. He does, however, note that baptism’s “sacramental nature is best highlighted by using as much water as possible. . . .There is an exciting return to immersion among non-Baptist churches, even for the baptism of infants and young children” (100).

[3]I am indebted to John Broadus, famed homiletician and president of Southern Seminary, for this analogy. Broadus tried the key of immersion in many of the baptismal locks in the New Testament, and found that in every case, the door was opened! “Only Immersion is Baptism,” Baptist Principles Reset, ed. Jeremiah Jeter, new edition (Richmond: The Religious Herald, 1902), 72.

[4] Teaching of the Apostles, 55-56.