Christians plainly disagree over the proper mode of baptism. Some believe the sacrament is only valid if the recipient is immersed completely under water. Others are convinced that pouring, sprinkling, or dipping are appropriate modes of baptism.
But is there enough evidence to dismiss any one of these as invalid? While we may have our own convictions regarding the matter, is there enough evidence in Scripture to lead us to break fellowship with others who differ with us over the mode of baptism?
The English word baptism comes from the Greek bapto or baptizo. To clarify the meaning of these terms we will consider their use in the Septuagint, the ancient Greek version of the Old Testament often employed by the apostles when composing the New Testament.
In the Septuagint, these terms primarily refer to cleansing and not to the mode used to effect it. The verb baptizo is rendered dipped in today’s passage. Daniel 4:33, on the other hand, uses the terms in question for wetting in general and not for immersion. Eventually, baptizo could refer to Jewish ritual washings in general (used in Mark 7:4), which reveals a main emphasis on making something clean.
Many say the references to John the Baptist doing his work in the Jordan river prove immersion was favored in the first century. But given the evidence from the Septuagint, it is just as likely that the person stood in the river and had water poured on his head without being fully immersed. In fact, early Christian art depicts John doing this, possibly revealing that pouring was his actual practice.
Finally, the earliest Christians apparently sought to provide as few obstacles as possible to baptism. When a candidate was presented for baptism in the years immediately following the apostolic age, an elder would ask, “Is there anything to hinder this one from being baptized?” The emphasis was on the ease of receiving the sacrament, and so it seems the quantity of water would not delay a new convert’s baptism. If a person in the desert wanted to be baptized, the church would not have waited until there was enough water for immersion. Pouring or sprinkling with the available water would have sufficed.
All of the above evidence indicates that in baptism, it is the cleansing aspect that is the emphasis and not the way in which water is applied. Whether dipped, immersed, sprinkled, or poured upon, we are to see a picture of the cleansing the Holy Spirit provides to all of those who trust in Christ. Ask yourself today if you believe in the Messiah. If so, and if you have been baptized at any point in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit, you need not be baptized again.