Disclaimer: About This Blog

THIS BLOG IS: my personal journey of how I am rethinking some of my spiritual beliefs.
THIS BLOG IS NOT: intended to point fingers at people who I think are wrong.
I do not believe the final judgement will be based on how many correct answers we get on a theology exam. I believe many people throughout history have had genuine relationships with our Lord and Saviour Jesus, despite holding questionable beliefs and practices. I make no claim to having it all figured out or being your judge. If we end up disagreeing over these topics I pray we can find a way to demonstrate grace.

Monday, June 11, 2012

What Did Baptism Mean?

This is post #2 in a series on Baptism:
  1. Baptism Questions - some questions I'd like to sort out
  2. What Did Baptism Mean? - a look at how the Greek terms get used and translated in other literature
  3. Baptism without Water - a look at baptism references that are not talking about water
  4. Baptism and Culture -  It seems Christianity adopted a common custom of the time.
  5. The Heart of Baptism - What is at the heart of this ritual 
  6. Who Can Baptize? - Do we think Matt 28:18 - 20 is addressed only for the clergy? 
  7. When Should Believers Be Baptized - At what age? At what level of maturity? 
  8. Baptism With The Holy Spirit - comparing immersion with water and with the Holy Spirit

What did the word baptism mean?  As I work through some questions on baptism, this seems like a good place to start.

It turns out for some reason the Bible translators have chosen not to translate this word for us.  Instead it is an example of a transliteration, where the translators chose to give us a word that sounds like the original Greek word instead of translating it into common language.

The reason for this may be traced back to when a King by the name of James hired translators to translate the Bible into English.  The state church of the time believed in sprinkling and would not have been pleased with a translation that challenged this practice.  By avoiding a simple translation these men may have saved their lives.

In Greek the term is βάπτισμα or baptisma,  so we get an English word that sounds like the Greek word.  But that doesn't help us with understanding what it means.

However from looking at other literature from that time, we can see it can be translated in different ways.

I found this link with a collection of non-Biblical writings that use the same word.  This can help us understand what the word meant in that day.

It sometimes meant to submerge or immersed in water.

It sometimes meant to dip or plunge, for example a sword being dipped in blood.

A related word báptō meant to dip or dye cloth material.

A related word baptízō referred to seaweed that was submerged (or not).

It seems the term was even used to refer to someone getting drunk, and another getting too deep into a discussion.

I won't go through the whole document. But I hope we recognize the term did have a meaning outside of Christianity.

Also in the New Testament related terms bapsō, bapsē and bapsas also gets translated as dipped in Luke 16:24 and John 13:26.

The word baptism may simply mean something like dip, submerge, immerse, or dye.  It may not always occur with water.

So does this change anything?

I still have more questions to sort out.  I'd be happy to hear your thoughts on this.


Steve Martin said...

I think that the word refers to a ritualized washing with water...to make clean.

Since God (Jesus) commanded that we Baptize (Matthew 28), in the name of the Triune God, I don't believe the mode is as imporatnt as the Word attached to the water.

It is God's promises, attached to the water (no matter how much water...that would be a legaistic demand) that is what makes Baptism effective in the life of the BELIEVER. None believers can be baptized and God's promises are good and valid in that Baptism.

But when the gospel is heard (really heard) and faith comes...then Baptism is complete.


Jonathan said...

Thanks Steve for the comment. Did you take a look at the link in my post. It seems the term had a simpler meaning, and it didn't always have a connection with water.

With this in mind, the reference in Matthew 28 may have a fresh meaning. I will look at that soon.

Steve Martin said...

Yes I did (thanks).

The Bible tells us that we are saved by "water and the Spirit", and Jesus submitted himself to a water baptism...so we understand it to mean water, and because of what Jesus told us, the Word.

If someone had no water available (stuck in the desert) could a valid baptism happen using sand, etc.?

We say sure, because God's Word would still be attached to it, and for us that is the main part of the equation.

Jonathan said...

Thanks Steve. I don't think we are that far off. I am just trying to look at what these words actually meant. Yet I understand water has been used throughout Christian history to symbolize this Spiritual cleansing and new birth. Bear with me as I write a few more posts. I don't think my conclusions will be that far off from yours.

Dan said...

Much props for the reference to the sword baptized in blood. That imagery is awesome!