What is baptism? Part 2

As we have already seen, John Broadus, in his tract entitled Immersion Essential to Christian Baptism, demonstrates that “the plain teaching of the English New Testament, to a plain man, who comes to it for information on this subject will be that baptism is not a sprinkling or pouring, but an immersion.” And since conservative Christians insist that the plain teachings of Scripture are clear to the average English reader on such issues as the divinity of Christ and his sacrificial death as our substitute, it ought to be enough to prove that baptist is immersion and nothing else. However, there are many who will suggest that a deeper understanding is necessary for which we must turn to the “experts.”

It is almost comical to think that the English translators have led us astray on the matter by obscuring the true meaning of the word in the original languages, as the vast majority of English translations have not been made by Baptists, nor have any of the most influential ones. Consider, for example, the most influential of all English Bible translations, the King James Version, which was made by Anglicans and Puritans, all of whom practiced the sprinkling of infants. You could even argue that those early English translators actually obscured the subject by not translating the word baptizo from Greek into English, but by coining the English word “baptize.” But even this isn’t really the issue, because we Baptists simply ask that you read your own Bible with your own eyes and search out the matter in prayerful dependence on the Lord.

However, if someone should insist that you cannot trust your own judgment concerning the meaning of your own Bible, what insights, if any, do the “experts” give when we consult them? Simply considering the leading Greek lexicons of his day, Broadus notes that they all define the word baptizo as “to immerse; submerge; put in or under water.” And these lexicons were written by Anglican, Lutheran, and Congregational scholars! So Broadus concludes, “We are not at liberty to assign to a word a new meaning, quite different from its primary and established meaning, until we find some passage which absolutely requires it.” It is not enough for us to find a passage in which the word baptize could mean “sprinkle” or “pour,” since that would involve overturning the established meaning of the term on the basis of a possibility. If language is to mean anything, and if communication is going to be possible, then words must be used according to their common and recognized meaning unless their context makes the common meaning impossible or nonsensical.

Are there any Biblical examples that justify the meaning “pour”? Some scholars claim there are, and we will deal with them later, but there is one other “expert” to whom Prof. Broadus puts the question of the meaning of the Greek word baptizo, the Greek Church. The Greek Orthodox Church, with whom Baptists would disagree on many things, has practiced immersion for their entire history. Broadus says of the Greeks, “They laugh to scorn the idea that their Greek word baptizo can mean sprinkling or pouring.” He says that one of the greatest complaints of the Greek Church against the Roman Catholic Church is that they have changed the ceremony of baptism.

At this point, Broadus sums up the arguments made so far:

Such, then, is the evidence which may be given our unlearned friend from scholars, the lexicons, and the living Greeks, concerning their own word. Much more might be added in the way of confirmation; but he would probably say, “Well, it is plain that I can trust my English Bible. What these great scholars say – none of them Baptists – and what the living Greeks say and do, accord exactly with the impression I got from my own Bible; and so the evidence is enough; I care for no more.”

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