The Proper Method of Baptism
By Lance Mosher
It doesn’t take long before one encounters water baptism while reading through the New Testament (Matt. 3). Most believers of the Bible understand that water baptism is important. Unfortunately, not all believers of the Bible agree about the method and reason for baptism. Baptism has been a subject of controversy for quite a while. Why? People leave the truth and introduce what they want to be true, as predicted in the Bible would happen. “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires” (2 Tim. 4:3). The Bible is our only authority in matters concerning how to please God (2 Tim. 3:16-17). When people want to introduce their own teachings that are not found in the Bible, they have to pull from outside sources that twist and distort passages from the Bible.
Throughout the years, I have seen three different methods of “water baptism.” They are pouring water on someone’s head, sprinkling water on someone’s head, and immersing a person completely in water. Which one, if any, is correct?
The New Testament was originally written using the common Greek language of the time. The English word “baptism” comes from a transliteration of the Greek word, βάπτισμα (baptisma), which means to dip, plunge, submerge, or immerse. In the Greek language of Jesus’ time, they had words for pour (χέω [cheo]) and sprinkle (ῥαίνω [rhaino]), but never is χέω or ῥαίνω used in association with baptism in the New Testament, but instead, the word, βάπτισμα, is always used. If the Holy Spirit led the hands of the New Testament writers to only use βάπτισμα in association with baptism, we can conclude that complete immersion in water is at least an acceptable way to baptize people. Is that one of many acceptable ways, or is immersion the only acceptable way?
We read in John 3:23, “John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there; and people were coming and were being baptized.” Whether he was baptizing five or 5,000 people, if John was “baptizing” by sprinkling or pouring, he wouldn’t need to go out of his way to find “much water.” Only if you are immersing people do you need “much water.” Concerning Jesus' baptism, we read, “After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him” (Matt. 3:16). Coming out of the water doesn’t harmonize with sprinkling or pouring. The record of the Ethiopian eunuch's baptism reads, “And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; and the eunuch no longer saw him, but went on his way rejoicing” (Acts 8:38-39). Here, for the eunuch to be baptized, they “went down” and “came up out of the water.” Only with immersion does either action make sense.
The pinnacle of Jesus’ time on earth was when He fulfilled the Scriptures through His death, burial, and resurrection (1 Cor. 15:3-4). When one obeys they commandment to be baptized, he or she is made in the likeness of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” (Rom. 6:3-4). When we repent of our sins, we are “crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with” (Rom. 6:6). We must then be “buried with Him through baptism” (Rom. 6:4). So we can be raised to “walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). Baptism is a burial. At a funeral, is pouring a little bit of dirt on someone’s head considered a burial? What about sprinkling some dirt on the corpse’s head? No, but the person’s body must be completely covered, submerged, immersed in the ground. Jesus was completely covered in His tomb (Matt. 27:60; Mark 15:46). We must be made in the likeness of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection if we want hope. If the waters of baptism resemble a tomb in which to be buried, it makes no sense and is completely unbiblical to do anything other than immersion. "[H]aving been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead" (Col. 2:12). If one wants to be raised with Christ, he or she must first be buried with Christ. Biblical baptism is a burial, an immersion.
Have you been biblically baptized? Have you been baptized the right way or for the right reason? Were you immersed in water knowing that in order to have your sins forgiven, you must take this step to be made in the likeness of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection (Mark. 16:16; Acts 2:38, 22:16; 1 Pet. 3:21)? If not, you have not obeyed the one baptism authorized by Jesus Christ (Eph. 4:5). Christ commands that all be baptized for the right reason by the proper method! In Acts 19, Paul is talking to a group of people who had been “baptized,” but not with the baptism authorized by Christ. When Paul taught them about the one baptism, “they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 19:3-5). God shows no partiality to people (Acts 10:34-35; Rom. 2:11). What He requires of one person to be saved, He requires of all. What He required then, He requires now. There is nothing special or miraculous about the water; therefore, it can be water in a pool, lake, river, bathtub, or baptistery (as long as it is deep enough for immersion). No one is earning salvation through baptism (Eph. 2:8-10). The blessings of baptism are God’s fulfillment of His promises (Mark 16:16; Gal. 3:27; 1 Pet. 3:21). If you have not obeyed the commandments of the one baptism to receive forgiveness, you must answer God one question. “Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name” (Acts 22:16)!
Except where noted, Scripture quotations are taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation