“He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:16). Those words of our Lord have sparked many religious debate, caused many to turn away in anger and unbelief, and many to simply do what that passage says. Yet, sadly many who have attempted to turn to the Lord in baptism have still not met His requirements. The reason they have failed in this attempt is a misunderstanding of what Jesus means when He commands to be baptized. This misunderstanding is a result of following man-made religions. Various religions have polluted not only the meaning of baptism but also the method acceptable to God. This study will not focus on the many false ideas surrounding the essential nature of baptism, but rather it will focus on what method of baptism is scriptural. Just what did Jesus mean when He commanded to be baptized? Did He teach that a person may be saved by being sprinkled? Will having water poured onto one’s head washes away sin? Or was Jesus speaking of immersion in water to receive forgiveness of sins?
Various denominations practice various methods to baptize a candidate. One denominational website states, “Our church has always offered to people being baptized and to the parents of infants the choice of sprinkling, pouring, or immersion. Sprinkling is a common practice, but the person being baptized (or their sponsors) can choose the method most meaningful to them.”1 This claim, made by the United Methodist Church, clearly identifies a major problem: the baptismal candidate can choose based on what is most “meaningful to them.” In this particular article by UMC, symbolism for the acts of sprinkling and pouring, as well as immersion are identified as they teach them. Whatever symbolism the candidate wants to experience is what they are free to choose. The attitude of man that we can choose based on what we desire is dangerous attitude when it comes to serving God. One doesn’t have to look very far in Scripture to find examples that our desires are not what pleases God! Consider just a few: Cain (Gen. 4:3-7), Nadab and Abihu (Lev. 10:1-2), and Saul (1 Sam. 15:13-15). If one is attempting to obey God by being baptized, why does what they desire outweigh that which God commands? Why do they feel that the symbolism that is most meaningful to them is acceptable to God? How arrogant to tell God how you will obey Him! This is where religion driven by emotion has taken many worshippers: to think that they are accepted by God because it feels right to them.
A careful study of baptism in the New Testament will identify that immersion is what was practiced as well as commanded. Considering the terms themselves, baptism or baptisma is defined by Vine as “consisting of the process of immersion, submersion and emergence.”2 The term baptize or baptizo means “to dip, was used among the Greeks to signify the dyeing of a garment, or drawing of water by dipping a vessel into another.” In consideration of the usage by those who spoke the language in the first century it becomes clear that total immersion would be the common understanding of the terms.
Consider also the baptism of John. The gospel records speak of John and his commission of God to prepare for the coming Messiah (cf. Matt 3; Mark 1; Luke 3 and John 1). The record of Luke teaches that John was “preaching baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (Luke 3:3). Other gospel records speak of a reason that John was located in such an area was the abundance of water (John 3:23). If the forerunner of Christ was baptizing by means of sprinkling and pouring, it seems that it would not be necessary to locate oneself near “much water.” However, if total immersion of the subject is needed it makes perfect sense! When Jesus was baptized by John there is further evidence that it was by immersion. Matthew as well as Mark make reference to Jesus coming up out of the water (Matt 3:16; Mark 1:10). Again, if the acceptable method of baptism were sprinkling or pouring, why would Jesus need to come up out of the water? It seems that He went into the water to be immersed by John.
Baptism commanded by Jesus and practiced by the apostles was clearly immersion of one submitting to the gospel. The apostle Paul illustrates this by his words in the sixth chapter of Romans. While building an argument that Christians should totally put away sin he states, “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:3-4). In this passage, Paul teaches that one buries the old man of sin that has been put to death; becoming a new creature by emerging from the watery grave of baptism. We understand that one is completely covered if they have been buried. Other passages written by Paul also mention that baptism is burial (cf. Col. 2:14). The conversion of the Ethiopian nobleman is another prime example of baptism in the Bible. The historian records that both Phillip and the eunuch went into the water and came up out of it in order for him to be baptized (Acts 8:38-39). If sprinkling or pouring water onto one’s head were sufficient methods or the practiced methods in these examples there would be no need for enter and exiting the water.
If one seeks to submit to the command of baptism, why would they desire to do anything other than what those of the New Testament did? Why would they feel that some other symbolic form of such a sacred ritual would be acceptable to God? Dear friend, when God’s Word speaks of baptism it clearly speaks of immersion. There is no other way for the sinner to wash away sin so they might be saved.
Dale is a 2009 graduate of the Tri-Cities School of Preaching in Elizabethton, TN. He preaches for the Wheeler Hill Church of Christ in Pikeville, TN. Dale and his wife Lydia have two daughters, Kenzie and Kasidy, and one daughter due to be born in February, 2017.
2 W.E., Vine. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words. Nashville: Thomas Nelson 1997 pg88-89