Words Not Found in Scripture – Baptize

I will continue my series on Words Not Found in Scripture with the word “baptize”. Technically you will find “baptize” (and it’s derivatives) throughout your English translations. In fact, technically you will find “baptize” in the original Greek. The actual word though is “baptizo” (βαπτιζω). And that is exactly the problem.

You see, the word “baptize” is not actually a real English word. It is a transliterated word and like “church” was used by King James as a form of deception. When you use a word that has no meaning, you can assign any meaning you want to it. Then you require a professionally trained individual to tell you what it means. Of course, the word “baptize” for 1500 years has been twisted and distorted and even today, there are people who misuse or mistranslate it.

According to Merriam Webster, baptize means:

1 : to administer baptism to
2 a : to purify or cleanse spiritually especially by a purging experience or ordeal b : initiate
3 : to give a name to (as at baptism) : christen

And, baptism means:

1 a : a Christian sacrament marked by ritual use of water and admitting the recipient to the Christian community b : a non-Christian rite using water for ritual purification c Christian Science : purification by or submergence in Spirit
2 : an act, experience, or ordeal by which one is purified, sanctified, initiated, or named

βαπτιζω in the Greek means literally the “act of immersion or dipping”. It does not mean, “to immerse in water”. It only means “to immerse,” however, in the context of water, it would mean that you immerse in water. Similar, in the context of fire, it would mean that you immerse in fire. It can be used to describe a ship sinking, washing your hands, or even washing your dishes.

The Facts

  1. The word “baptize” (and it’s derivatives, including baptism, baptist, etc.) occurs 106 times in the NASB.
  2. βαπτιστης (the noun form for Baptist or “Baptizer”) occurs 14 times in the Greek and is always in reference to John the “Baptist”.
  3. βαπτιζω (the verb form for “Baptize”) occurs 77 times in the Greek New Testament. In Mark 7:4 it is referring to ceremonial washing; Luke 3:16 “he will baptize you with the holy spirit and with fire”; Luke 11:38 refers to ceremonial washing of hands before dinner; and more.
  4. βαπτισμα (the noun form for “Baptism”) occurs 22 times in the New Testament and is always transliterated as “baptism”.
  5. βαπτισμος (another noun form for “Baptism”) occurs 4 times in the New Testament, is transliterated as “baptism” once in Col 2:12; and refers to ceremonial washing or other washing in Mark 7:4, Hebrews 6:2, 9:10.

Conclusion

I have a pretty big problem with transliterations. Mainly because they do not mean anything to the reader. Actually, they mean a great deal to the reader. For instance, to a Catholic the transliteration of “baptize” means, “an infant who had water poured on its head to wash away its original sin so that if it dies it will spend less time in purgatory.” But baptize, literally means “immerse”. Now, this post is not about which modes of baptism are acceptable in God’s eyes, frankly, just because the word means “immersion” does not mean (to me) that people who are “sprinkled” are not real Christians. Why? Well because there is a ceremonial definition to the word Baptism. It is a symbolic act done as a proclamation of your acceptance of Jesus’ gift and acknowledgment that he has purified your soul.

I believe “immersion”, “dipping”, or “washing” are suitable translations in replacement of our current transliterations. As BDAG puts it, “the transliteration ‘baptize’ signifies the ceremonial character that NT narratives accord such cleansing, but the need of qualifying statements or contextual coloring in the documents indicates that the term ‘baptize’ was not nearly so technical as the transliteration suggests.”

As it turns out, I was talking to Alan Knox about this post and he reminded me of some research he posted on his blog about the word βαπτιζω. Here are some links to his series on Baptism:

As Alan’s research shows “we must recognize the importance of context in understanding the meaning of the verb. The verb does not always mean ‘to submerge under water’.”

Comments

  1. The thing that bugs me most about the use of these kinds of “sanctified” words is that they do the interprating for you. They don’t just tell you what the word means but also the significance of the word (or at least what the translator believes it to be).

    • Dan,

      Yes, it’s really quite annoying. I don’t know if they do it because they’re trying to protect the reader… or if they’re trying to protect their own presuppositions. Either is just as wrong, in my eyes.

      God Speed,
      Lew