Is Sprinkling Baptism?

Written by Frank Jamerson.

Several years ago a visitor who believed in sprinkling asked me: "Why don't you ever quote any of the passages that favor sprinkling?" I had to confess that I did not know any such passages!

The English words sprinkle, pour and immerse have different meanings, just as the Greek words from which they are translated. Let us look at each of these words and see if sprinkle or pour mean "baptize."

"Sprinkle" is generally translated from the word rhantizo. It is found in several passages in the New Testament, but it is never translated "baptize" because it means "to sprinkle." "For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling them that have been defiled, sanctify unto the cleanness of the flesh. . . " (Heb. 9:13). Moses took "the blood of the calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people. . . . Moreover the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry he sprinkled in like manner with the blood" (Heb. 9:19,21). There is another word, proschusis which is translated "sprinkling" in Hebrews 11:28. If the writer had meant "baptize" in these passages, he would have used a different Greek word.

There are five different Greek words that are translated "pour." In John 13:5, we read that Jesus "poureth water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples' feet." In John 2:15, Jesus "poured out the changers' money." Other passages use the word "pour" but none of them mean "baptize." The conclusion must follow that to pour does not mean to baptize.

The word baptizo is transliterated (the Greek letters transferred into English letters) by the word "baptize." W.E. Vine defines it as "immersion, submersion and emergence. " Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon says: "to dip repeatedly, to immerse, to submerge." It is found many times in the New Testament, but is never translated by the words "sprinkle" or "pour." If the writers had intended to say "sprinkle" or "pour" they would not have used the word "baptizo," because it means to immerse.

The context of the word baptizo also shows the meaning of it. When John the baptist was sent to baptize, we find him "baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, because they was much water there" (Jn. 3:23). When John baptized Jesus, Mark says: "And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in the Jordan. And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens rent asunder, and the Spirit as a dove descending upon him" (Mk. 1:10,11). John's baptism was obviously immersion. When Philip baptized the Ethiopian, the context clearly indicates the action of baptism. They "came unto a certain water," then "went down into the water" and he was baptized and "came up out of the water" (Acts 8:36-39). Twice the New Testament plainly calls baptism a "burial" (Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:12).

Why then, do people practice sprinkling? It originated as d4clinic baptism." Those thought to be too sick to be immersed were sprinkled instead. Gradually it grew in popularity, for it was much easier, and after all, if it would be acceptable for a sick man, why not for a well man?

The woman mentioned at the beginning of this article had in mind the passages that speak of baptizing "with water" (see Matt. 3:11; Mk. 1:8; Jn. 1:26; Acts 1:5; 11:16). She was assuming that "with water" means something other than immersion. The fact is that the Greek word en (translated "with" or "in") usually refers to "location" (called "locative" in the Greek). Even if it were used in the sense of "instrumental" (the object used), it would still not prove sprinkling. We are immersed "in" water.

The meaning of the word, the context of the word and religious leaders who believed in sprinkling all testify that the word "baptize" means immerse. It is only immersion that is a "likeness" of Christ's burial and resurrection (Rom. 6:3,4). Sprinkling is a convenient substitute that originated in the mind of men, not from a careful study of God's  word.

Guardian of Truth XXX: 12, pp. 361, 376 June 19, 1986

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