When discussing baptism, we must be careful to distinguish between the two types of baptism referenced in the Bible. In Lewis Sperry Chafer's Systematic Theology, he refers to the first type of baptism as real baptism, which is the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The second type of baptism is called ritual baptism, and this is the ceremonial baptism which is administered with water. In order to avoid confusion about the various references to baptism in the Scriptures, it is critical to understand more about the actual Greek word for baptism.

The same Greek word ("baptizo") is used to defining each of the two types of baptisms. So, any definition of this word must be equally applicable to each of these two forms of baptism. The root word ("bapto") is used only three times in the New Testament (Luke 16:24, John 13:26, Revelation 19:13). The primary meaning of this word is "to dip," and this is the meaning in the first two occurrences. However, in Revelation 19:13, it is used as its secondary meaning which is "to dye" or "to stain" (Isaiah 63:1-6). (Here, secondary implies only that one meaning is derived from the other, not that one is inferior to the other.) This slight variance of the word can be illustrated as follows: If something is dyed or stained by dipping, it is still just as stained as if it had been dyed by any other method. Similarly, the primary meaning of the word "baptizo" is to immerse or submerge. However, its secondary meaning is to bring something into complete subjection to something else that is influencing it. Immersion brings the thing immersed under the influence of the element into which it is submerged. Therefore, an object becomes baptized when something else exercises a positive influence over it.

Real Baptism

The New Testament recognizes a baptism as being a complete baptism even when the object being baptized is not physically enveloped into the thing that is influencing it. This includes an individual being baptized into the remission of sin, into repentance, into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; an individual being baptized by drinking the cup of suffering; the nation of Israel being baptized into Moses by the cloud and the sea; an individual being baptized by the power of the Holy Spirit; and, when believers are baptized by the Spirit into Christ's Body.

The secondary meaning of this word is used in all passages which refer to real (the Spirit's) baptism, and this baptism is much more important than any other. Dr. J. W. Dale even believed that this is the meaning intended for every use of the word "baptizo" in the New Testament. Although biblical scholars have differences of opinion over the meaning of this word when applied to ritual baptism, there is no such room for debate when this word is applied to the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Christ's gift of the Spirit to believers is also a baptism (Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, John 1:33, Acts 1: 4-5). Since the Holy Spirit is received by every believer at the moment of salvation when he believes the gospel message, this constitutes influence by, and baptism by, the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is not received as a second work of grace as some are bent on teaching. This false doctrine confuses baptism of the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ with the filling of the Holy Spirit. The baptism attests to one's position in Christ while the filling empowers the believer in his daily life. By the baptism by the Spirit, the Holy Spirit joins the believer to Christ's Body, thus to Christ Himself who is the Head of the Body. This brings the believer to a position in Christ, under the influence of His Headship. This influence is transforming and purifying in nature, removing the believer from being under the fallen headship of Adam, and placing him under the headship of Christ. The believer is from that moment in Christ and is thus brought under the influence of His Headship. It is clear that there is no physical envelopment (such as water baptism) when the believer receives the gift from the Spirit of being brought under the influence and headship of Christ. Yet, the Bible refers to this influence as a baptism, and one that is crucial and above all other baptisms. Union to Christ constitutes great transformations in the believer. So, it is that this baptism by the Spirit is properly referred to as real baptism.

Ritual Baptism

Over the centuries, biblical scholars and local churches have been divided on the doctrine of ritual baptism. This is despite the fact that most agree that there is no saving value in ritual baptism, and that believers can be spiritual and fruitful regardless of their stand on this issue. It seems that most controversy over ritual baptism is centered upon the mode of administering it. Some (immersionists) believe that ritual baptism must be administered by completely immersing the believer into the whole body of water, as this best symbolizes the believer's partaking in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Others (affusionists) believe in sprinkling or pouring the baptismal water over the believer, as this best symbolizes the coming of the Holy Spirit into the believer's life. However, the real issue at hand is the actual idea being expressed, not the mode of expressing it. So, when one in either camp rejects the other's position, he does so simply because it does not express his understanding of the meaning of the ordinance. Chafer aptly said of either man, "the mode he employs is to him appropriate." The disagreement centers on the mode of water baptism without reference to the meaning. Chafer also said, "Less assertive human determination of mode and more humble and gracious consideration of the meaning in ritual baptism is greatly to be desired."

The affusionist properly places great significance upon the fact that the New Testament uses the term "baptism" in reference to the operation of the Holy Spirit in real baptism; that this same word is used of ritual baptism as well; and, that the Apostle Paul writes of "one baptism" (Ephesians 4:5), not one mode of baptism. The affusionist explains this reference to "one baptism" on the grounds that ritual baptism is but the outward sign or symbol of an inward reality that is brought by the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, the real and the ritual baptisms actually combine to form one baptism in the form of the substance itself as well as its corresponding shadow (1 Corinthians 12:13, Galatians 3:27). The affusionist also argues that the ordinance of water baptism is to be compared to the ordinance of the Lord's Supper; i.e., the Lord's Supper is an unquestioned ordinance which represents the death of Christ, so it is reasonable to assume that there would not be a second ordinance to represent His death. Instead, it would seem that the second ordinance would represent the work of the Holy Spirit.

The immersionist looks upon ritual baptism as portraying a cleansing from defilement (Acts 22:16). He contends that water symbolizes the cleansing blood of Christ and that the applied water must cover the entire body. Conversely, the affusionist cites that it is the blood of Christ which cleanses believers from all sin, and that His blood is applied by the Holy Spirit. So, he believes that sprinkling or pouring best symbolizes this work of the Holy Spirit. He also notes that all ceremonial cleansings prescribed in the Old Testament were accomplished by sprinkling, pouring, or laving, but not by immersion.

As mentioned above, the immersionist argues that ritual baptism should be related to Christ's death, burial, and resurrection. He does so based upon Romans 6:1-10 and Colossians 2:11-13 which indicate that the believer is said to have been baptized into Christ's death, burial, and resurrection. So, it would seem fitting for the believer to re-enact the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ in order to recognize the relationship which these hold to salvation, forgiveness, and justification. However, the affusionist believes that these Scriptures are related only to sanctification, and no ordinance has been prescribed for sanctification. He believes that the death, burial, and resurrection referred to in these two passages have only to do with the judgment of the sin nature, so no instruction is given to re-enact what Christ has done. Instead, the believer should simply recognize what Christ has done, and understand that this delivers believers from the power of sin by the overcoming power of the Holy Spirit.

The affusionist argues that early church leaders taught that ritual baptism symbolized the Holy Spirit's work in the believer, and that it has only been since Reformation times that any other symbolism was applied to it (although they also recognize that immersion may have been practiced from early times). It is on this basis, and a misinterpretation of Romans 6:1-10 and Colossians 2:11-13, that ritual baptism came to be considered by those practicing immersion to be an independent, unrelated, and sufficient baptism in itself, thus proposing two distinct baptisms.

Affusionists are often misunderstood because they do not stress the mode of ritual baptism. They believe that the important thing about ritual baptism is the thing that is done, not the way that it's done.

There are also immersionists who practice what is called "trine immersion," where the believer is dipped face-down into the water (because Christ bowed His head in death) three times: once in the name of the Father, once in the name of the Son, and once in the name of the Holy Ghost. However, most immersionists reject trine immersion as being unwarranted in the New Testament, and because they view it to be enacting three times what Christ did but one time.

Church members are inclined to assume that the mode of ritual baptism to which they have become accustomed since childhood (which is practiced by their denomination) is the right and only mode. However, regardless of how true it may be that the meaning of ritual baptism is expressed to some degree by the mode of its administration, we must still search the Scriptures for any guidelines concerning the mode.

In order to clarify what the Bible says about ritual baptism, it is important to look at the original Greek text, including the meaning of the word "baptism," the Scriptures involved, and the baptism incidents recorded. First of all, in every instance where the Bible uses "baptizo" or "bapto" when it's not talking about physical envelopment, it the secondary meaning of the word(s) that is used. (See above; i.e., "to dye" or "to stain".) For example, in Matthew 20:22-23, Christ referred to His anticipated sufferings as a baptism. This obviously refers neither to the ritual baptism by John nor to a baptism with the Spirit in which He as Son could have no part. It follows then that suffering itself a true baptism. Therefore, the affusionist believes that even ritual baptism, representing the work of the Holy Spirit, calls for no physical envelopment.

The two meanings for these two Greek words can be compared to the English words "dip" and "immerse." Dipping involves two actions--putting in and taking out, while immersing involves on the action of putting in. In the case of the baptism into Christ, we are put into Christ, but we are never taken out. Other Greek literature confirms that the Greek word "baptizo" does not always mean only to dip. This indicates the inaccuracy of using the word immersion to represent a ritual baptism by dipping. We can learn more about this word by studding the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Old Testament dating back to two hundred years before Christ. There are five Hebrew words/meanings that are translated as the Greek word "baptizo" in the Septuagint: to affright (once); to come (once); to pierce (once); to dye (three times); and, to cleanse (sixteen times). Some of these actions clearly do not include the idea of envelopment or immersion. The affusionist claims that the mode of ritual baptism is not indicated in the meaning of the word.

There are three passages which teach us the significance of Christ's death, burial, and resurrection as His achievement as a substitution for others. 1 Corinthians 15: 3-4 clearly declares Christ's death, burial, and resurrection as a substitute for sinners and the basis for their salvation by providing their forgiveness and justification. However, in Romans 6:1-10 and Colossians 2:11-13, Christ's death, burial, and resurrection are referred to as a judgment of the old nature. (In Colossians, His death is termed a circumcision.) However, these two passages do not indicate the mode of ritual baptism. The monumental event here is Christ's death for the believer's sin, and this achievement by Christ calls for no re-enacting by an ordinance.

The affusionist contends that Scriptures like 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 teach that what Christ did is a thing to believe, not a thing to be done. Crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection were accomplished for the believer, and this becomes a baptism, a dominating influence over the believer. Much has been made of the statement in John 3:23 which says, “And John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were coming and being baptized." The term "plenty of water" here is simply referring to the many springs of water there which served the physical needs of the crowds of people and their animals. It has nothing to do with the mode of ritual baptism. In fact, Aenon was probably a sloping hillside with springs of water, but without any body of water of significant size. So, the affusionist contends that it cannot be proved from the Scriptures that ritual baptism is to be administered by immersion.

The use of prepositions in the English text has a lot of influence upon what the reader might infer about the mode of ritual baptism. Four prepositions are used in these passages, and the particular English translation of these prepositions is not the only meaning which the same English text assigns to these words in other passages. In the Greek text, there is great latitude of meaning for prepositions depending upon the context. The four prepositions to be discussed are as follows:

- "en" has 36 possible meanings. In various English translations, in Matthew 3:6 ("in the Jordan river") this word is translated as: "in," "at," "on," or, "or;" e.g., "at Jordan."

- '"apo" has 20 English meanings, and is translated in Matthew 3:16 as "up out: "As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water." It could also mean, "...from the water."

- "eis" has 26 meanings in English and it is translated in Acts 8:38 as "into:" "... Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him." The preposition "into" could also be translated as "unto." This is important because going either unto or into the water did not constitute the baptism, because Philip also went in with the eunuch.

- "ek" 'EK has 24 English meanings and is translated in Acts 8:39 as "up out:" "When they came up out of the water,..." So, it just means that Philip and the eunuch went down unto the water and came up from the water.

So, the case of Philip baptizing the eunuch is much varied by the interpretation given the prepositions that are used.

While the immersionist believes that the proper mode of ritual baptism depends on the way these prepositions are translated, the affusionist contends that the mode of baptism cannot be determined by the prepositions used.

Now we need to look at the reported incidents of baptism in the Bible, beginning with the baptism of Christ. The immersionist claims that the believer is to "follow Christ in baptism," making the assumption that Christ was baptized by immersion. However, regardless of the mode of baptism here, a believer can only follow Christ in moral issues, not in His official acts. Christ's baptism was completely unique and unrelated to the ritual baptism of believers. Christ's baptism was an official event with special circumstances, and it is never presented in the New Testament as an example.

We must understand that although John baptized Christ, this baptism is completely separate from the "baptism of John," by which he baptized many others into repentance and the remission of sins. Furthermore, the baptism of John is completely separate from Christian baptism. It is worthy to note that John's baptism was not accepted by the Apostle Paul, as Paul re-baptized twelve men who had been baptized by John (Acts 19: 1-7). The affusionist claims that it would have been physically impossible for the three thousand converts of Pentecost to have been baptized by immersion, citing the preparation that would have been required on the part of those being baptized and those administering the baptisms, as well as of the lack of adequate facilities for such a large task. However, this case of the three thousand being baptized could easily be a reference to the Spirit's baptism.

The affusionist also notes the simple and straightforward language in Acts 9:18 where we are told that the Apostle Paul "got up and was baptized." In other words, the argument here is that it is very possible to infer from this description of the event that he could have "gotten up" and immediately have received the baptism of the Spirit (or perhaps even sprinkling), but he couldn't have simply "gotten up" and immediately have been immersed. In fact, the "getting up" would seem to be the inverse of "going down" into the water.

The affusionist admits that no mode of ritual baptism is directly taught in the New Testament. However, he does infer that since sprinkling, pouring, and laving were prescribed in the Old Testament for consecration and cleansing, and as the Jews of Christ's day were accustomed only to such modes, it is likely that these modes were brought forward into the new order. They argue that if there had been a change from the Old Testament requirement to a new mode for the church, it would have been clearly described in the Scriptures. It may be concluded, then, that the mode of ritual baptism is not determined by the meaning of the word "baptizo," or by the Scriptures involved, or by the prepositions used, or the incidents recorded. If these facts had been properly observed from the beginning, perhaps the controversy over ritual baptism could have been avoided altogether.

In order to be complete on the discussion of ritual baptism, we must also consider infant baptism (pedobaptism). Even concerning infant baptism, there is difference of opinion and practice, but with different lines of demarcation than the differences over the mode of baptism. The controversy over infant is not so much one of mode, but whether or not to baptize infants at all. Those who reject infant baptism do so with emphasis upon the idea that ritual baptism must be restricted to believers, so it could not apply to children. Furthermore, they find no warrant for it in the New Testament. On the other hand, most of Christendom does practice infant baptism, and for various reasons, as follows.

- A small percentage of those who practice infant baptism believe that there is some saving merit in ritual baptism.

- Many of those who practice infant baptism believe that there is some connection between the Old Testament rite of circumcision for young Jewish boys and the baptism of children according to the New Testament. Covenant Theology stresses this idea of one covenant that transitions across the dispensation of the Jews and the dispensation of grace. However, the Jewish people did not partake of their covenants on the ground of circumcision. Instead, they were born into a covenant relationship to God as offspring of Abraham. So, it would be an error to conclude that children become children of the covenant by baptism. If this were the case, then those who baptize infants should follow the covenant relationship by baptizing only male children and only on the eighth day.

- Some believe that since one's "household" was included in some of the baptisms mentioned in the book of Acts, then this means that infants were included. Those opposing infant baptism claim that we cannot be sure that there were any infants or small children in these particular households. However, those who favor infant baptism argue that it is highly probable that some children were included, and that the term "household" is intended to represent normal families with children--not just childless homes.

- Some who believe in infant baptism base their claim on 1 Corinthians 7:12-14 where Paul gives guidelines for believers who have a spouse who isn't a believer. Verse 14 says, "... the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy." In other words, they believe that the promises for blessing, though not for salvation, extend to the families of believers. They claim that it is the right of Christian parents to baptize their children in order to assert their faith with the expectation of the future salvation of those children. I've seen this idea practiced with infants in Baptist churches in the form of what they call "baby dedication," yet they would never practice baptism of an infant. Those rejecting infant baptism are sometimes so adamantly that perhaps they may even subconsciously believe that ritual baptism provides salvation. This would be the most severe error of all.

In the end, the mode of ritual baptism should be left to private judgment, and then respected by others with different beliefs. Even if a certain mode could be deemed a sin, it would be much worse for this matter to cause any disunity of the Spirit. This unity of believers is a witness to the world of the love that Christians have for each other (John 13: 34-35; 17: 21-23). We should take a lesson from the Apostle Paul. In 1 Corinthians 1:14-17, he said, "Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power." It is quite obvious that ritual baptism (much less the mode of it) is not of utmost importance. Paul baptized very few believers, and it was not important enough to him such that he could even remember who (or where) he had baptized.

Owen Weber 2012