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What is the proper mode of Baptism?
When it comes to Baptism what does the Bible say?
THE COMMAND: God Himself commanded baptism. It is not something devised or invented by men. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit . . .” Matthew 28:19
Here we see the clear command of our Lord to Baptize as well as instructions on what to say in the Baptism itself. We are to Baptize in the name of our Triune God, the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit.
In Holy Baptism God works through men. Dr. Luther writes in his Large Catechism: “To be baptized in God’s name is to be baptized not by men but by God himself. Although it is performed by men’s hands, it is nevertheless truly God’s own act.” 1.
THE MODE OF BAPTISM: Baptism itself refers to the application of water. The Greek word ‘Baptizo' refers to applying water. It can refer to immersion, sprinkling or pouring. 2.
Circumstances usually determine the method of application. Any method is OK. For instance we know that the disciples often baptized in the river by immersion. However, they also baptized whole households at home (Acts 16:31) a circumstance in which immersion would be unlikely. 3. (Think of the baptisms at Pentecost [Acts 2:41] of 3,000 people. Jerusalem has a semi-arid climate. Where would they have found so much water — please note you usually don’t have a bath in your drinking water!)
The Didache 4. contains teachings and practices of the early Christian Church. It tells us that while they preferred clear running water for baptism 5. pouring could be substituted. 6. In other words the important thing was the application of water with the Word of God, not the manner in which the water was applied. 7.
1. The Lutheran Confessions, Large Catechism, Fourth Part: Baptism, page 437 (Tappert)
2. The words commonly used in the New Testament to denote the rite are the verb [baptizo], and the nouns [baptisma] and [baptismos]; but none are employed in this sense alone. The verb is used to denote the ceremonial purification of the Jews before eating, by pouring water on the hands (Luke 11:38; Mark 7:4); to signify the sufferings of Christ (Mark 10:38, 39; Luke 12:50); and to indicate the sacrament of baptism. . . . The passages Luke 11:38 and Mark 7:4 show conclusively that the word does not invariably signify to immerse the whole body. Orr, J., M.A., D.D. (1999). The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia : 1915 edition (J. Orr, Ed.). Albany, OR: Ages Software.
3. The mode of baptism can in no way be determined from the Greek word rendered “baptize.” Baptists say that it means “to dip,” and nothing else. That is an incorrect view of the meaning of the word. It means both (1) to dip a thing into an element or liquid, and (2) to put an element or liquid over or on it. Nothing therefore as to the mode of baptism can be concluded from the mere word used. The word has a wide latitude of meaning, not only in the New Testament, but also in the LXX (Septuagint) Version of the Old Testament, where it is used of the ablutions and baptisms required by the Mosaic law. These were effected by immersion, and by affusion and sprinkling; and the same word, “washings” (Heb. 9:10, 13, 19, 21) or “baptisms,” designates them all. In the New Testament there cannot be found a single well-authenticated instance of the occurrence of the word where it necessarily means immersion. Moreover, none of the instances of baptism recorded in the Acts of the Apostles (2:38–41; 8:26–39; 9:17, 18; 22:12–16; 10:44–48; 16:32–34) favours the idea that it was by dipping the person baptized, or by immersion, while in some of them such a mode was highly improbable. Easton, M. (1996). Easton's Bible dictionary. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
4. The Didache or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, an anonymous book of 16 short chapters, is probably the earliest known written instructions, outside of the Bible, for administering baptism. The first version of it was written c. 60–80 AD. The second, with insertions and additions, was written c.100–150 AD. This work, rediscovered in the 19th century, provides a unique look at Christianity in the Apostolic Age and is the first explicit reference to baptism by pouring, although the New Testament does not exclude the possibility of this practice.
5. While in some places and in certain circumstances total immersion very likely was practiced, all the evidence (and there is a great deal) points to baptism in most cases by partial immersion, or affusion (dunking of the head or pouring water over the head, typically when the baptized was standing in the baptismal pool). Here the words of St. John Chrysostom might be noted: "It is as in a tomb that we immerse our heads in the water… then when we lift our heads back the new man comes forth" (On John 25.2, PG 59:151). In a word, while early Christians were very attentive to symbolism relating to baptism (cf. the funerary shape of the baptistry building; the steps, typically three, for descending and rising from the font; the iconography relating to regeneration, etc.), they show few signs of preoccupation with total immersion. (Father John Erickson in St Vladimir's Theological Quarterly, 41, 77 (1997), quoted in The Byzantine Forum) Also we might point out that: In his "Churches Separated from Rome" (1907), Louis Duchesne responded to accusations by Eastern Orthodox that the Roman Catholic was corrupted because of "the Filioque, baptism by affusion, unleavened bread, &c." (p. 49), by pointing to the absence of any ancient representation of baptism that showed the neophyte actually being immersed totally. He writes: We constantly see representations of the celebration of baptism on monuments the Gospel scene of the baptism of our Lord, or even ordinary baptisms. But do we ever see total immersion, the neophyte plunged into the water so as to disappear completely? Such a thing is never seen. This immersion, which is the Greek form, is never to be met with, either in the mosaics of ancient churches, or in the paintings of the Catacombs, nor in ordinary pictures or domestic objects, glasses, spoons, &, nor sculptured, nor engraved on marble. In all such ancient monuments the neophyte appears standing, his feet in the water, but the greater part of his body out of the water, while water is poured on his head with the hand or with a vase." – pp. 62-63
6. Didache 7:1 But concerning baptism, thus shall ye baptize. Having first recited all these things, baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit in living (running) water. Didache 7:2 But if thou hast not living water, then baptize in other water; and if thou art not able in cold, then in warm. Didache 7:3 But if thou hast neither, then pour water on the head thrice in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
7. In 1903 Clement F. Rogers published "and Christian Archaeology". This was a study of the archaeological evidence, both the positive evidence that paintings and carvings on sarcophagi etc. provide about how baptism actually was conferred, and the negative evidence given by the structure of baptismal fonts on how it could not have been conferred. He used literary sources plentifully but merely for illustration. For the first three centuries (i.e. before the time of Constantine) direct archaeological evidence is limited to pictures of baptism in the catacombs of Rome. Rogers concluded that "the direct evidence from archaeology alone may not be conclusive to show that in pre-Constantinian times baptism by affusion only was practiced generally or indeed in any one single case; but it does show that there was nothing repugnant in it to the general mind, that no stress was laid on total immersion, that the most important moments were held to be those when water was poured over the catchumen, and when the minister laid his hand on his head. This, taken in connexion with the known customs of later ages, make it more than probable that the usual method of administration was by affusion only." (pp. 257–258)