I’m going to initiate the series of posts regarding the Church’s baptismal beliefs and application with a word study. As many of you already know, we engage in a word study to discover the meaning ( or range of meanings ) of a specific word in its native language, and then to compare it to our understanding of its equivalent in our modern tongue. Our objective in study is to gain a deeper understanding of the Scriptures in order to assess our application of the Word to life. In the case of baptism, we are blessed by the fact that the meaning of the word is not in dispute and the English cognate verb carries the same meaning as the Greek verb.
Βαπτιζω [ transliteration = baptízō ]
Baptízō is a derivation of the word Báptō [βαπτω], both of which start from the stem bap-, meaning ‘dip’. The New Testament use of báptō is in the literal form only, that of dipping an object into another substance:
Luke 16:24 … ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue…’
John 13:26 Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.”
In the same sense, the word is also used to describe the action involved in dying a piece of fabric. This usage is found in Revelation:
Rev 19:13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God.
Baptízō is used in its familiar sense in the NT. When the word is encountered it is clear in its meaning as the act of ceremonially washing for the purpose of spiritual purification. The book of Acts provides a summary example:
Acts 2:38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.”
The word carries a further connotation as the cause of a religious experience:
Matthew 3:11 “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”
Mark 10:38 “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”
No sources dispute the meaning of the term, so why do a word study? The doctrine of baptism raises three main questions, the meaning of the act, the proper method of baptizing and who should be baptized. We will discuss sprinkling versus immersion in later posts, but much of the discussion will surround the root meanings of the word that describes the practice. Examining these topics cause us to dig into the definitions, semantic domain and usage of the words in order to arrive at a God honoring conclusion.
Grace and peace to you.