THE SACRAMENT OF BAPTISM
I welcome you back to our roots to continue our catechesis on the doctrines of the Catholic Church after a week’s break to do a survey of those who follow these teachings. I am encouraged by your prayers and motivation. Keep praying for me.
We have successfully completed our discussion on infant baptism. From now on, we shall begin to tackle a very controversial issue as far as baptism is concerned.
Should Baptism be by Immersion or Pouring/Sprinkling? Part I
Catholics are usually baptized by pouring. We however accept that immersion and sprinkling are also valid ways to baptize. Fundamentalists on the other hand regard only baptism by immersion as true baptism, concluding that most Catholics are not validly baptized at all.
Although the New Testament contains no explicit instructions on how physically to administer the water of baptism, Fundamentalists argue that the Greek word “baptizo” (βαπτίζω) found in the New Testament means “to immerse.” They also maintain that only immersion reflects the symbolic significance of being “buried” and “raised” with Christ (see Romans 6:3-4).
It is true that “baptizo” often means immersion. For example, the Greek version of the Old Testament tells us that Naaman, at Elisha’s direction, “went down and dipped himself[the Greek word here is baptizo] seven times in the Jordan” (2 Kgs. 5:14, Septuagint).
But it must be clear that immersion is not the only meaning of “baptizo”. Sometimes it just means washing up. Thus, Luke 11:38 reports that, when Jesus ate at a Pharisee’s house, “[t]he Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first _wash_ [baptizo] before dinner.” Can you imagine the Jews having to immerse themselves in a river each time they wanted to eat? That is totally ridiculous! They did not practice immersion before dinner, but, according to Mark, the Pharisees “do not eat unless they wash [nipto-niðptw] their hands, observing the tradition of the elders; and when they come from the market place, they do not eat unless they wash themselves [baptizo]” (Mark 7:3–4a). So “baptizo” can mean cleansing or ritual washing as well as immersion.
A similar range of meanings can be seen when “baptizo” is used metaphorically. Sometimes a figurative “baptism” is a sort of “immersion”; but not always. For example, speaking of his future suffering and death, Jesus said, “I have a baptism [baptisma] to be baptized [baptizo] with; and how I am constrained until it is accomplished!” (Luke 12:50) This might suggest that Christ would be “immersed” in suffering. On the other hand, consider the case of being “baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
In Acts 1:4–5 Jesus charged his disciples “not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, ‘you heard from me, for John baptized with water, but before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.'” Did this mean they would be “immersed” in the Spirit? No! Three times Acts 2 states that the Holy Spirit was poured out on them when Pentecost came (2:17, 18, 33). Later Peter referred to the Spirit falling upon them, and also on others after Pentecost, explicitly identifying these events with the promise of being “baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 11:15–17). These passages demonstrate that the meaning of “baptizo” is broad enough to include “pouring.”
We shall continue on Wednesday to make up for last week.
God bless you.
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