Baptism by Immersion

In Greek the words Baptism and Immersion are identical, βαπτισμα (Baptisma). They are basically two ways of translating the same Greek word. Over the centuries the Greek word Baptisma slightly modified has entered the vocabulary of virtually every languange on the earth.

Unfortunately the Greek word can then loose its true meaning. Today a person can be baptized by pouring or by sprinkling. Yet it does not make sense to immerse a person by pouring or by sprinkling. Since however the word 'Baptism' has of itself a separate meaning than immersion, this misunderstanding happened.

Jesus commanded his disciples to immerse, and not to pour or sprinkle water.

Go therefore, disciple all the nations, immersing them in the name of the Father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you. Matt 28,19-20a

The Jewish people had been immersing for thousands of years. Immersion was repeatedly spoken of in the Books of Moses. According to the Jewish writings, whether the Mishnah (oral law of the priests), the Talmud or so many other books, when the Holy Scriptures mention 'bathing the flesh in water', this is referring to the flesh being immersed in water. This could be done in running water, such as in a stream or a creek (Lev 15,13), or in a lake, an ocean or an immersion tank, called a mikweh. Even today there are over a hundred mikwehs found in excavations in and about the temple mount where the temple used to be. Immersion was a practice necessary to be accomplished before entering the temple courts or partaking of anything holy.

As the Church slowly moved away from its Jewish roots, it had to redefine many of the most basic concepts, and baptism was one of them. In the first century there is no factual evidence or writings which testify to pouring water or sprinkling for Christian initiation. In the second century there is but one, the 'Didache', which mentions pouring.

And concerning baptism, baptize this way: Having first said all these things, baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living water. But if you have no living water, baptize into other water; and if you cannot do so in cold water, do so in warm. But if you have neither, pour out water three times upon the head into the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit. But before the baptism let the baptizer fast, and the baptized, and whoever else can; but you shall order the baptized to fast one or two days before. Didache on Baptism

In the Greek manuscript, seeing there are not two words, 'Baptize' and 'Immerse', but only immerse, this passage from the Didache would be understood so:

And concerning immersion, immerse this way: Having first said all these things, immerse into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living water. But if you have no living water, immerse into other water; and if you cannot do so in cold water, do so in warm. But if you have neither, pour out water three times upon the head into the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit.

Jesus and the Apostles commanded that those becoming disciples should be immersed in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. But what should be done when there is not enough water to do as he commanded? The Didache says that in such a case, instead of immersing, pouring out water three times can be done. The Didache does not say that pouring is a permissable way to immerse, i.e. baptize. It says, if you cannot immerse, then pour water over the head.

Will the LORD recognize a pouring as an immersion? Did the Jewish Priests ever talk about pouring water over the head or any other alternate method? Anything different than immersion would be direct disobedience to the commandment of the LORD. Should when not just as faithfully obey the commandment of Jesus?

Here is what the Jewish priests commanded concerning immersion in the Babylonian Talmud.

[For was it not taught:] Since it is written in Scripture: Then he shall bathe all his flesh [it follows] that there must be no interposition between his flesh and the water; In water implies, in water that is gathered together; all his flesh implies, water in which all his body can be immersed; and how much is this? [A volume of the size of] a cubit by a cubit by a height of three cubits; and the Sages accordingly estimated that the waters of a ritual bat must measure forty se'ah? Talmud - Mas. Eiruvin 4b

If there was any doubt by the priest as to whether the immersion was done proplerly, it would be counted invalid and needed to be repeated.

If an unclean man went down to immerse himself and it is doubtful whether he did immerse himself or not, or even if he did immerse himself, it is doubtful whether the mikweh contained forty se'ahs or not, or if there were two mikwehs, one containing forty se'ahs but not the other, and he immersed himself in one of them but he does not know in which of them he immersed himself, in such a doubt he is accounted unclean. Mishnah Mikvaoth 2,2

How careful were the Jewish priests in assuring that the ritual bath was applied with full immersion! Was not John the Baptist also of the priestly family? John was immersing in the Jordan River according to the Jewish understanding of immersion. Those he baptized were placed fully underneath the water, just as the Jews had been practicing for over 1350 years. Because the Jews never practiced pouring in all their history, we can be assured that John didn't just pour water over the head of Jesus.

And it came to pass in those days [that] Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was immersed by John in the Jordan. And as soon as he came up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him. And a voice came from [the] heavens, You are my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased. Mk 1,9-11

 

Magdalene immersed

Madalina being immersed upon her baptismal oath to follow Jesus as Lord

In the third century there arose another situation where immersion was not followed by Christian Initiation. This was in the case of sick people who could possibly die if they were immersed.

The bishop Cyprian of Cathrage in North Africa received a letter from Magnus in ca. 255 AD concerning whether he would recommend sprinkling sickly people with water instead of immersing them for Christian initiation. His answer, as he stated himself, was not from the Lord but only his poor understanding, and he readily accepts others doing what they think is right. But even in his support of those who think it is right in this situation to sprinke, he clearly states that if the person should recover, they should be immersed.

If they escape the discomfort of the sickness and recover, they should be immersed. Cyprian To Magnus 12 (255 AD)

It is so sad that the deception of Satan was able to change the most important Sacrament of the Roman Catholic Church. For more than eleven hundred years she had remained faithful to immersing. It was during the darkest time in her history, in the time when the Popes sent the faithful to slaughter Jews, Muslims and Orthodox Christians, that pouring water became the rule and immersions were ever more scarce. During this dark period, the last baptistry for immersion was built in 1226 in Pistoia, Italy.

 

Pistoia Baptistry

Baptistry of San Giovanni in Corde. Baptistry built in 1266 by Lanfranco da Como

In the Latin Church, immersion seems to have prevailed until the twelfth century. After that time it is found in some places even as late as the sixteenth century. Infusion (pouring) and aspersion (sprinkling), however, were growing common in the thirteenth century and gradually prevailed in the Western Church.  Catholic Encyclopedia New Advent 'Baptism'

 Fortunately only the Roman Catholic Church stopped immersing, all of the Orthodox Christians worldwide have continued even to today to immerse. Rome was very angry that they rejected their baptism and required those who were not immersed to be baptized as practiced in the Orthodox Church.

The Greeks even had the temerity to rebaptize those baptized by the Latins; and some, as we are told, still do not fear to do this. Wishing therefore to remove such a great scandal from God's church, we strictly order, on the advice of this sacred council, that henceforth they do not presume to do such things but rather conform themselves like obedient sons to the holy Roman church, their mother, so that there may be one flock and one shepherd. If anyone however does dare to do such a thing, let him be struck with the sword of excommunication and be deprived of every ecclesiastical office and benefice. Fourth Lateran Council (1215 AD)

Because immersion was required by the Orthodox Churches, there were a number of Councils and Synods where this issue was mentioned. This and other dogmas of the Roman Church brought them to threaten to cut off any adhering to these errors. The very first point mentioned is those not having been baptized in Orthodox style (immersion).

1) That whoever does not confess with heart and mouth that he is a child of the Eastern Church baptized in Orthodox style, and that the Holy Spirit proceeds out of only the Father, essentially and hypostatically, as Christ says in the Gospel, shall be outside of our Church and shall be anathematized. Fifth Council of Constantinople. (1583 AD)

Rome was not open to changing their practice of baptizing by pouring back to immersing. Instead, it even grew stronger in their view that pouring was permissable and murdered those who would immerse and not accept pouring as valid for Christian Initiation, not only Orthodox, but also those in their own ranks, Roman Catholics who with conviction chose to be immersed.

 

Today every year many people leave the Roman Catholic Church and go to either free churches or christian sects where they are then immersed. Others remain Roman Catholics but choose unofficially to be immersed in their earnestness to follow Jesus as his disciples. Many Roman Catholics go to the Jordan River and are immersed in the same river where Jesus himself was immersed.

 

According to all of the churches dating back to the ancient times, baptism is required for salvation. Will the Lord make many exceptions to what he spoke as recorded in the gospels, or will he keep to his words, saving only those who first believed the gospel and then were immersed? Why should we risk our eternal salvation with such disobedience? Is there any reason that today should not be that day of salvation, where we are saved by immersion?

And for this reason the Roman Catholic Church teaches that if there is any doubt concerning the validity of baptism, a conditional baptism  is always permitted. Augustinus expounded on this as he said that being rebaptized does not hinder anyone from eternal glory, but an invalid baptism or not being baptized certainly does.

But which is the worse, not to be baptized at all, or to be twice baptized, it is difficult to decide. I see, indeed, which is more repugnant and abhorrent to men's feelings; but when I have recourse to that divine balance, in which the weight of things is determined, not by man's feelings, but by the authority of God, I find a statement by our Lord on either side. For He said to Peter, "He who is washed has no need of washing a second time;" and to Nicodemus, "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." What is the purport of the more secret determination of God, it is perhaps difficult for men like us to learn; but as far as the mere words are concerned, any one may see what a difference there is between "has no need of washing," and "cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven." The Church, lastly, herself holds as her tradition, that without baptism she cannot admit a man to her altar at all; but since it is allowed that one who has been rebaptized may be admitted after penance, surely this plainly proves that his baptism is considered valid. Augustine Donatist On Baptism 2, 14

According to the many different scriptures in the New Testament, immersion is required for salvation and thereby for eternal life. If you have not been immersed in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and yet are confident you would be faithful to the baptismal oath required for immersion, why should you continue hoping that the Lord will make an exception with your pouring or sprinkling? There is nothing which should hold you back from doing what Jesus and the apostles command.

 

Is baptism required for salvation?