THE SACRAMENT OF BAPTISM
As a result of the many follow-up questions, especially from strong proponents of immersion as the only way of baptism, I have decided to explain further on the use of some other biblical words in relation to baptism to make understanding easier for us all.
Should Baptism be by Immersion or Pouring/Sprinkling? Part III
Anyone who has studied some basic Greek would know that there is a difference between classical Greek (which was used by scholars) and Koine Greek (a form of the language used by the common people). There are in fact many words used in the New Testament that are not used with their classical meaning at all, and the meaning of certain words change with time and usage. “Baptizo” is one such word as we saw last week.
Another example of such words is “logos” (λόγος). The word “logos” in classical Greek meant “word or speech.” That meant anybody’s word or speech. However, when we come to the New Testament, we find that John took this word and put a capital at the beginning and used it to mean Christ our Lord. “In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God.” Now if you should go to a Greek Lexicon to look up the word Logos, you would find the definition “word” or “speech,” but if you should turn to the gospel by St. John you would find that it meant Christ Jesus our Lord. There is quite a difference in these two meanings, but this is the way it is often used in the New Testament.
Furthermore, the word “Pneuma” (πνεῦμα) in the classical Greek meant “wind” or “breath”. That meant any kind of wind or any kind of breath. However, when we come to the New Testament we find that this word is adopted and made to mean spirit, and when it is capitalized and the word “Holy” is put before it, it means the third person of the Trinity. So we see that this word is not used in its classical sense by the writers of the New Testament. It has a different and peculiar meaning when it is used in the New Testament. If you should turn to a Greek lexicon for a definition of this word you would find one thing, but when you turn to the New Testament you find something entirely different.
This is exactly the challenge we face in dealing with the word “baptizo” (βαπτίζω), which classically means to “immerse” but wasn’t always used in that sense in the New Testament, and I gave some examples in our study last week.
Some Physical Challenges with Immersion
After Peter’s first sermon, three thousand people were baptized in Jerusalem (Acts 2:41). Archaeologists have demonstrated there was no sufficient water supply for so many to have been immersed. Even if there had been, the natives of Jerusalem would scarcely have let their city’s water supply be polluted by three thousand unwashed bodies plunging into it. These people must have been baptized by pouring or sprinkling.
Even today practical difficulties can render immersion nearly or entirely impossible for some individuals: for example, people with certain medical conditions—the bedridden; quadriplegics; individuals with tracheotomies (an opening into the airway in the throat) or in negative pressure ventilators (iron lungs). Again, those who have recently undergone certain procedures (such as open-heart surgery) cannot be immersed, and may not wish to defer baptism until their recovery (for example, if they are to undergo further procedures).
Other difficulties arise in certain environments. For example, immersion may be nearly or entirely impossible for desert nomads or Eskimos. Or consider those in prison – especially in a more hostile setting, such as a Muslim regime, where baptisms must be done in secret, without adequate water for immersion.
What are we to do in these and similar cases?
Shall we deny people the sacrament because immersion is impractical or impossible for them?
The Catholic Church maintains that God wouldn’t require a form of baptism that, for some people, is impossible and so believes in immersion, pouring and sprinkling so long as it is done in the proper manner (right gestures and words)
Baptism in the Early Church
That the early Church permitted pouring instead of immersion is demonstrated by the Didache, a Syrian liturgical manual that was widely circulated among the churches in the first few centuries of Christianity, perhaps the earliest Christian writing outside the New Testament.
The Didache was written around A.D. 70 and, though not inspired, is a strong witness to the sacramental practice of Christians in the apostolic age. In its seventh chapter, the Didache reads,
_”Concerning baptism, baptize in this manner: Having said all these things beforehand, baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit in living water [that is, in running water, as in a river]. If there is no living water, baptize in other water; and, if you are not able to use cold water, use warm. If you have neither, pour water three times upon the head in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”_
These instructions were composed either while some of the apostles and disciples were still alive or during the next generation of Christians, and they represent an already established custom.
The testimony of the Didache is seconded by other early Christian writings. Hippolytus of Rome said, “If water is scarce, whether as a constant condition or on occasion, then use whatever water is available” (The Apostolic Tradition, 21 [A.D. 215]).
Pope Cornelius I wrote that as Novatian was about to die, _”he received baptism in the bed where he lay, by pouring”_ (Letter to Fabius of Antioch [A.D. 251]; cited in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 6:4311).
There is also the artistic evidence. Much of the earliest Christian artwork depicts baptism—but not baptism by immersion! If the recipient of the sacrament is in a river, he is shown standing in the river while water is poured over his head from a cup or shell. Besides, can we possibly conclude that all the baptisms recorded in the New Testament were done by immersion, especially noting that some were probably done in homes and in the middle of the night? (Eg. Acts 16:16-33)
Indeed, the entire record of the early Church—as shown in the New Testament, in other writings, and in monumental evidence – indicates that the mode of baptism was not restricted to immersion.
Other archaeological evidence confirms the same thing.
Lets meet next week Monday 05/12/16 to continue our search for Truth.
God bless you.
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