Does the Bible say that baptism is by full submersion in water? What about sprinkling or when there is no water available?
The Importance of Baptism
Every believer in Christ should be baptized after they’ve repented and believed. Peter says “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38) so the condition for receiving the Holy Spirit is to repent of your sins and then get baptized and in the name of Jesus Christ and His atoning death, you will receive the forgiveness of your sins. No one would repent unless they first believed. Everyone that does so receives the free gift of eternal life (Eph 2:8-9) and the Spirit then indwells them. One key point in this verse is that the new believer is baptized or identified in the name of Jesus Christ. This is what Paul meant when he wrote that all of Israel was “baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” because they were identified with him (1 Cor 10:2) and no one would say that they were “sprinkled” into Moses because that would make absolutely no sense. The point here is that even though we are saved only by grace through faith and not any works, including baptism (Eph 2:8-9), everyone who is saved is commanded to be baptized as Peter wrote (Acts 2:38).
What Baptism Is
The Greek word for baptism is “baptizō” and the word means “to immerse, to submerge” and was used by the Greeks when referring to vessels that had sunken. The word doesn’t mean to get wet or to get sprinkled but to be submerged, meaning all of an object or person is placed under the water which is what immersion is. Submersion is defined as the “the act of being completely held under water (or liquid) for a long time. This is what scuba divers do since submersion involves long, deep dives and not just getting wet or having water splashed or sprinkled on them. If you still think we are told to repent and get sprinkled, then you don’t see the literal meaning of the Greek word. To tell a scuba diver to be submerged into the water, he wouldn’t ever expect to simply get wet but understand that he or she must jump into the water and descend below the surface level. There is not one single Bible verse or baptism experience in the Bible where someone was not submerged or immersed into and under the water.
Baptism is Identification With
We have already seen Scriptures where to be baptized into someone is to be identified with them like the Christian is with Jesus (Acts 2:38) and Israel was with Moses (1 Cor 10:2). Why would we think that if we were baptized into the water at baptism, we would be identified with water? Of course we wouldn’t. The identity of someone who is born again is in Christ, not in the water that they were baptized into. Isn’t the believer’s identity with Christ instead of water? What was the primary or main use of the word “baptizō” when the Greeks would use it? When the Greeks dyed fabrics, they were baptizing it in or identifying it with the color of the dye that they submerged it into and the word “baptize” was especially prominent in the dye trade at the time the New Testament was written (in Greek).
The Greek’s use of Baptize (or “baptizō”)
When the Greeks dyed fabrics in, for example, a purple dye, it was baptized (“baptizō”) or identified with the color purple which the fabric was submerged into. If they didn’t submerge all of the fabric into the dye, not all of the fabric could be identified with that color and that’s why full submersion was critical. The actual root word baptize is “baptō” and means “to dip” or “dip into dye” so the Greek cultural use of the word and the Greek language always meant that to be baptized into something or someone (in the case of Christ) meant that they were really identified with that someone or something and we know that the New Testament was written in Greek so that’s the way the intent of the word “baptized” was always intended to be used and expected to be understood; and it was obviously known to each one who read these books of the New Testament and it was obviously known by every author who wrote these books of the New Testament.
I once had the great privilege of leading someone to saving faith in Christ in the last few days of his life. He was so weak he couldn’t be lifted out of his bed to be fully submerged for a baptism but the good news is that “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” because it is “with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (Rom 10:9-10) not “If you get baptized and believe or are sprinkled and believe you will be saved.” The word baptism in the Greek found in the New Testament means to be fully submerged into but the most important point is that it means to be identified with Christ and not the water and that is my prayer for you that you might read this and be saved. Today would be a good day for that (2 Cor 6:2) because for that elderly man, three days later he passed from this life to the next but I know that I’ll see him again someday.
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Blind Chance or Intelligent Design available on Amazon.