The Greek word that must be dealt with in the New Testament and in the LXX is baptizw (baptize). Many have said in the past that this word, by its very nature, means to immerse. This is simply not so. The root to this word, bapto, means to dip. The context must determine whether this is dipped under or into (immerse or pour). So, we must see how Scripture uses this very important word.
The most telling Biblical argument for pouring is that the only actual description of a baptism found in the New Testament describes it as a pouring. This baptism is prophesied by John the Baptizer in Matthew 3.11,
- I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and [with] fire:
We also read of this coming baptism in Acts 1.4-5,
- And, being assembled together with [them], commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, [saith he], ye have heard of me. For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.
When dealing with the new Gentile converts, Peter refers to this baptism in Acts 11.16,
- Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost.
This prophecy of Christ baptizing His Church with the Holy Spirit is fulfilled in Acts 2 and 10. In each case we are told that the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the people.
- And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans? . . . And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy: . . . Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth [poured out – ed.] this, which ye now see and hear.
Acts 2.7,17-18, & 33
- While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost.
It is possible that Paul is alluding to this baptism in Titus 3.5-6 where he says,
- Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us [poured out upon us – ed.] abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour.
Another argument for Biblical baptism as pouring or sprinkling rather than immersion is the use of the Greek words formed from the root baptw in the LXX to refer to the ceremonial pouring and sprinklings of the Old Testament. Even in the New Testament the English translators render the words formed from the root baptw as wash rather than immerse, and the Old Testament ceremonial washings done by sprinkling or pouring are referred to as baptisms.
In Mark 7.4 baptiswntai is translated wash,
- And [when they come] from the market, except they wash, they eat not. And many other things there be, which they have received to hold, [as] the washing of cups, and pots, brasen vessels, and of tables.
These tables certainly were not immersed, but were just as certainly baptized – that is, washed.
One of the most telling uses of baptize (baptismois) rendered as washing is Hebrews 9.10 where the baptisms mentioned refer to the ceremonial washings found in Exodus and Leviticus, which were sprinklings or pourings. These washings in Exodus and Leviticus are translated from the Hebrew into the Greek LXX as baptisms.
- [Which stood] only in meats and drinks, and divers washings [baptisms], and carnal ordinances, imposed [on them] until the time of reformation. . . . For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?
Hebrews 9.10, 13-14
- And Aaron and his sons thou shalt bring unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and shalt wash [baptize – ed.] them with water. . . . Then shalt thou kill the ram, and take of his blood, and put [it] upon the tip of the right ear of Aaron, and upon the tip of the right ear of his sons, and upon the thumb of their right hand, and upon the great toe of their right foot, and sprinkle the blood upon the altar round about. And thou shalt take of the blood that [is] upon the altar, and of the anointing oil, and sprinkle [it] upon Aaron, and upon his garments, and upon his sons, and upon the garments of his sons with him: and he shall be hallowed, and his garments, and his sons, and his sons’ garments with him.
Exodus 29.4, 20-21
- And he shall sprinkle upon him that is to be cleansed from the leprosy seven times, and shall pronounce him clean, and shall let the living bird loose into the open field. . . . And he shall take the cedar wood, and the hyssop, and the scarlet, and the living bird, and dip them in the blood of the slain bird, and in the running water, and sprinkle the house seven times:
Leviticus 7, 51
For a more detailed and certainly more scholarly article on this subject,
see RL Dabney’s writings taken from his Systematic Theology.