Understanding The Bible
"Baptism in the New Testament"

J. Deering, AncientPath.net
Baptism in the New Testament


Early writers on the general theme of baptism distinguished between REAL baptism, which is wrought by the Holy Spirit, and RITUAL baptism, which is administered with water. These terms well serve to distinguish between the two forms of baptism which are so clearly identified in the New Testament. Great significance should be attached to the fact that the same term, BAPTIDSO, is used in defining each of these baptisms, and it follows that any definition of this great New Testament word, if it is to be true, must be as applicable to the one form of baptism as the other. The root word, BAPTO, which is used but three times by the New Testament, (Luke 16:24; John 13:26; Revelation 19:13), occurs in the first two passages with its primary meaning, which is TO DIP, while the use of the word in the third passage, (Revelation 19:13), illustrates its secondary meaning, which is TO DYE or STAIN (cp. Isaiah 63:1-6). This evolution of the word from its primary meaning to a secondary meaning is reasonable. That which is dyed or stained by dipping -- BAPTO – persists as BAPTO when dyed or stained by any other method. In like manner, the word BAPTIDSO in its primary import means to immerse or submerge; but in its secondary meaning, which is a development from the primary import, it refers to an influence which one thing may exercise over another, or as Dr. J.W. Dale defines it "to bring into complete subjection to an influence or to imbue with virtues." As an immersion serves to bring the thing immersed under the influence of the element into which it is submerged, so in the evolution of the present word a thing becomes baptized by another when even without physical intusposition or envelopment one thing exercises a positive influence over another. Apart from the recognition of this distinction, little understanding of many uses for this word will be gained. A complete baptism is recognized in the New Testament, for example, when without an intusposition or physical envelopment an individual is baptized into the remission of sin, into repentance, into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, baptized by drinking the cup of suffering, or as Israel was baptized into Moses by the cloud and the sea, or when one is brought under the power of the HOLY Spirit, or when by the Spirit all believers are baptized into Christ's Body. The term secondary as related to the latter sense or use of BAPTIDSO does not imply inferiority; it is secondary only so far as one meaning is derived from the other. The secondary import of this word is employed in all passages which refer to real (the Spirit's) baptism and the relative importance of this baptism over every other is immeasurable. No less an authority than Dr. J.W. Dale, who with great scholarship and sincerity spent much of his lifetime in preparing four large volumes on the subject of baptism, has asserted that in his opinion BAPTIDSO is used only in its secondary meaning in the New Testament (THE REAL BAPTISM, NOT THE RITUAL).


Baleful neglect of the doctrine of the Spirit's baptism is reflected in lexicons and theological works on baptism. Definitions are given and statements made which seem not to recognize the special use of BAPTIDSO in relation to the Holy Spirit or the Body of Christ. Men may differ, as they have, over the meaning of this word in ritual baptism, but there is no room for a difference of opinion over the use of the word or its meaning and implications when employed to indicate that baptism which the HOLY Spirit accomplishes. Some writers, indeed, have assumed to discuss this word without reference to its use in relation to real baptism.

According to the definition assigned the secondary meaning of this word, the gift of the Spirit by Christ is a baptism (cp. Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33; Acts 1:4-5), and since the Holy Spirit is received by every believer at the moment he is saved, he is thus baptized by the Spirit, having been brought under the influence of the Spirit. However, as true as this interpretation is, it should be distinguished from the erroneous teaching which contends that the Spirit is received as a second work of grace, which teaching confounds the Spirit's filing -- that which is unto an empowered life -- with the Spirit's baptism into Christ's Body, that which is unto position and standing before God.

What is termed the baptism by the Spirit -- not, in or unto the Spirit -- is His mighty undertaking by which He joins the individual believer to Christ's Body and thus to Christ |Himself as the Head of the Body. Because of this great achievement on the part of the Spirit, the believer is from that moment in Christ and is thus brought under the influence of His Headship. No influence could be more transforming, more purifying relative to position, or more vital in its outworking than that engendered by a removal from the fallen headship of Adam into the exalted Headship of Christ. No other transformation is comparable to this. Though there is no physical intusposition when one is brought under the influence which the gift of the Spirit provides and though there is no physical intusposition when one is brought by the Spirit into the Headship of the resurrected Christ, the New Testament designates these influences as baptisms and sets them forth as vital and real above all other baptisms. Especially is union to Christ seen to be distinctive in point of far-reaching transformations. It is thus properly designated the real baptism.


In approaching the theme of ritual baptism it is recognized that over this subject the most bitter divisions have been allowed to arise in the church -- divisions and exclusions for which it is difficult to account in the light of two facts: (1) the great majority of those who are given to separations confess that there is no saving value in the ordinance and (2) all who look into it with freedom form prejudice recognize that fruitful, spiritual Christians are to be found on each side of the controversy. In such a matter as the mode of ritual baptism and what it represents, agreement with all good men is impossible when some of them are on each side of the controversy. Securing converts to an idea certainly is not intended in the discussion to follow. That which is sincerely believed on each side of the controversy is to be stated as nearly as can be done apart from personal prejudice. The value to the student of such a declaration may not be questioned, for, regardless of his own convictions and however they were formed, he should know precisely what others believe who hold different views, else how can he be assured that he is justified in the position he defends? A man is on weak ground when he speaks vehemently and dogmatically respecting his own belief and yet does not know or understand what, in exact terms, his opponent believes.

The immersionist is one who demands an intusposition of the whole body in water. The affusionist is one who sprinkles or pours the baptismal water. With regard to proportion in membership, the former class of Christians may claim perhaps one third and the latter two-thirds of the Protestant Church. However, the issue is not one of the mode of expressing an idea or teaching; it concerns the actual idea to be expressed. In the case of the immersionist, the object believed to lie back of the ordinance is to enact the believer's co-death, co-burial, and co-resurrection with Christ, and with that in view the mode he employs is to him appropriate. In the case of the affusionist, the object lying behind the ordinance is to represent the coming of the Holy Spirit into the believer's life with all the varied values of that Presence. With this in view, the mode he employs is to him appropriate. The immersionist rejects all forms of affusion simply because it does not express his understanding of the meaning of the ordinance. In like manner, the affusionist rejects the mode the immersionist employs simply because it does not express his understanding of the meaning in the ordinance. The disagreement, when centered on the mode without reference to the meaning, has been carried on in aimless and hopeless fashion. Less assertive human determination of mode and more humble and gracious consideration of the meaning in ritual baptism is greatly to be desired. The instructed affusionist recognized much significance in the facts that the greatest operations of the HOLY Spirit are in the New Testament termed baptisms -- the same word being used as is employed when referring to ritual baptism -- and that the Apostle writes of "one baptism" (Ephesians 4:5), not, one mode of baptism. By the affusionist this reference to "one baptism" is explained on the grounds that ritual baptism is but the outward sign or symbol of an inward reality, which reality is wrought by the Holy Spirit, and that the real and the ritual baptisms thus combine to form ONE BAPTISM as substance and corresponding shadow (cp. 1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:27). The affusionist also believes that, as there is one unquestioned ordinance -- the Lord's supper -- which represents the death of Christ, it reasonable to expect that there would be, not a second ordinance representing that death, but an ordinance representing the work of the Spirit.

When ritual baptism is deemed to be a cleansing from defilement (cp. Acts 22:16), the immersionist contends that, in so far as baptism is a cleansing, water symbolizes the cleansing blood of Christ and that the water when applied ;must cover the entire body. On the other hand, the affusionist, believing that it is the blood of Christ which cleanseth from all sin and that His blood must be applied by the Holy Spirit, understands ritual baptism to be related thus to the work of the Holy Spirit. The affusionist observes that all ceremonial cleansings prescribed in the Old Testament were accomplished by sprinkling, pouring, or laving, but not by intusposition.

The immersionist relates ritual baptism to Christ's death, burial, and resurrection and on the ground of the fact that the believer is said to have been baptized into Christ's death, burial, and resurrection according to Romans 6:1-10 and Colossians 2:11-13. It is believed by the immersionist that, on the strength of these passages, the candidate for ritual baptism should enact the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ as a recognition of the relation which these hold to salvation, forgiveness, and justification, whereas the affusionist believes that these Scriptures cited above are related only to the ground of sanctification, concerning which no ordinance has been prescribed. the affusionist if instructed in the truth at all, believes that the co-death, co-burial, co-resurrection referred to in these two passages have only to do with the judgment of the sin nature, that no instruction is given to enact what Christ has done but rather the believer is enjoined to "RECKON that to be achieved which Christ has wrought and to be encouraged to believe that deliverance from the power of sin is thus made possible, the Holy Spirit being free so to act for children of God. The claim of the affusionist is that, though immersion may have been practiced from early times, it was not until the last three or four hundred years that ritual baptism was given any meaning other than related to the HOLY Spirit's work in the believer. On the basis of this, it is believed that through a misinterpretation of both Romans 6:1-10 and Colossians 2:11-13 ritual baptism came to be considered by those practicing immersion to be an independent, unrelated, and sufficient baptism in itself, thus proposing so to speak two distinct baptisms. Affusionists, it ;may be said, are often misunderstood because they do not stress the mode of ritual baptism. They believe that ritual baptism does not consist in the WAY it is done, but on the THING that is done.


dip 3 not used in relation to real or ritual

baptize 74 almost always the real, almost never the ritual

baptism 1 always the real, never the ritual
washing 3 unrelated to this discussion (dishes and other washings)

baptism 22 always the real, never the ritual

Has 36 possible translations. Is translated AT, ON or WITH 350 times. See Matthew 3:6

Has 20 English meanings. Is translated FROM 374 times. See Matthew 3:16

Has 26 English meanings. Is translated UNTO 538 times.

Has 24 English meanings. Is translated FROM 168 times. CONCLUSION
In concluding this discussion of ritual baptism it may be stated that all who claim the right of private judgment in the matter of the mode of their baptism should accord the same right to others. There should be latitude enough in any assembly of believers for these variations. The sin -- if such there be -- of administering this ordinance in an unscriptural way could never compare with the greater sin of exclusion, separation, and the breaking of the outward manifestations of the unity of the Spirit. That believers remain in the unbroken bonds of fellowship and affection is, according to the New Testament, far more important that is the mode of ritual baptism. The world is to be impressed with the love of Christians one for another (cp. John 13:34-35; 17:21-23). It is needless to point out that separations and contentions over a mode of ritual baptism have little value in the eyes of the unsaved.


Portions Edited From:
Lewis Sperry Chafer
Late President and Professor of Systematic Theology
"Systematic Theology - Baptism"
Dallas Theological Seminary
Dallas Seminary Press
Dallas, Texas