THE SACRAMENT OF BAPTISM
We continue our search for truth regarding baptism from the ancient times till now. Catholics accept baptism by immersion, pouring or sprinkling depending on the circumstances while some others think baptism should be done only by immersion. It however became clear in our previous lesson that the Greek word “baptizo” (βαπτίζω) from which comes the English word “baptism”, had other meanings aside the general meaning that necessarily suggests immersion.
Should Baptism be by Immersion or Pouring/Sprinkling? Part II
The Fundamentalist contention that “baptizo” always means immersion is an oversimplification. This is especially true because in Christian usage the word had a highly particular meaning distinct from the term’s ordinary, everyday usage.
The same principle can be seen with other special Christian terms, such as “Trinity” and “agape” (divine love), that were originally ordinary Greek words with no special religious significance. The earliest evidence of anyone referring to God as a “Trinity” is a letter by Theophilus of Antioch (Ad Autolycum [A.D. 181]). Before the Christian usage, a “trinity” (triad in Greek) was simply any group of three things.
However, as Christians made theological use of the term, it quickly gained a new, technical sense, referring specifically to the three persons of the Godhead. When Christians professed that God is a “Triad,” they did not mean a group of three gods, but one God in three persons. Here, an everyday word was being used in a special, theological sense.
The same is true of agape, originally a general term for any sort of “love” very much like the English word. But it quickly became used in Christian circles as the name of a common fellowship (love) meal among Christians (cf. Jude 12).
In the same way, “baptizo” acquired a specialized Christian usage distinct from its original meaning. In fact, it already had a complex history of specifically religious usages even before Christians adopted it. Long before Jesus’ day, Gentile converts to Judaism were “baptized” as well as circumcised. Then John the Baptist performed a “baptism of repentance” for Jews as a dramatic prophetic gesture indicating that they were as much in need of conversion as pagans. Through these usages “baptizo” acquired associations of initiation, conversion, and repentance.
Given this history, it was natural for Jesus and his followers to use the same word for Christian baptism, though it was not identical either to the Jewish baptism or to that of John. But it is completely misguided to try to determine the meaning of the word in its Christian sense merely on the basis of ordinary secular usage. It would be like thinking that the doctrine of the Trinity is polytheism or that the New Testament exhortation to “love one another” means only to be fond of each other. To understand what Christian baptism entailed, we must examine not what the word meant in other contexts, but what it meant and how it was practiced in a Christian context.
Are there any hints or proofs that the apostles and earliest Christians baptized through pouring or sprinkling?
Lets meet next week Monday 28/11/16.
God bless you.
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