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Bible Dictionaries

Charles Buck Theological Dictionary


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The ceremony of washing, or the application of water to a person, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, by which he is initiated into the visible church. Baptism exhibits to us the blessings of pardon, salvation through Jesus Christ, union to and communion with him, the out-pouring of the Spirit, regeneration, and sanctification. From baptism results the obligation of repentance, love to Christ, and perpetual devotedness to his praise. Baptism does not constitute a visible subject, but only recognizes one. Ministers only have a right to administer it; and have a negative voice in opposition to all claims. It is an ordinance binding on all who have been given up to God in it; and to be perpetuated to the end of the world. It is not, however, essential to salvation; for mere participation of sacraments cannot qualify men for heaven: many have real grace, consequently in a salvable state, before they were baptized: besides, to suppose it essential, is to put it in the place of that which it signifies.

Baptism has been supposed by many learned persons to have had its origin from the Jewish church; in which, they maintain, it was the practice, long before Christ's time, to baptize proselytes or converts to their faith, as part of the ceremony of their admission. "It is strange to me, " says Dr. Doddridge, "that any should doubt of this, when it is plain, from express passages in the Jewish law, that no Jew who had lived like a Gentile for one day could be restored to the communion of this church without it. Compare Numbers 19:19-20 . and many other precepts relating to ceremonial pollutions, in which may be seen, that the Jews were rendered incapable of appearing before God in the tabernacle or temple, till they were washed either by bathing or sprinkling." Others, however, insist, that the Jewish proselyte baptism is not by far so ancient; and that John the Baptist was the first administrator of baptism among the Jews.

The baptism of John, and that of our Saviour and his apostles, have been supposed to be the same; because they agree, it is said in their subjects, form, and end. But it must be observed, that though there be an agreement in some particulars, yet there is not in all. The immediate institutor of John's baptism was God the Father, John 1:33; but the immediate institutor of the Christian baptism was Christ, Matthew 28:19 . John's baptism was a preparatory rite, referring the subjects to Christ, who was about to confer on them spiritual blessings, Matthew 3:11 . John's baptism was confined to the Jews; but the Christian was common to Jews and Gentiles, Matthew 3:5; Matthew 3:7 . Matthew 28:19 . It does not appear that John had any formula of administration; but the Christian baptism has, viz. "in the name, " &c.

The baptism of John was the concluding scene of the legal dispensation, and, in fact, part of it; and to be considered as one of those "divers washings" among the Jews; for he did not attempt to make any alteration in the Jewish religion, nor did the persons he baptized cease to be members of the Jewish church on the account of their baptism; but Christian baptism is the regular entrance into, and is a part of, the evangelical dispensation, Galatians 3:27 . It does not appear from the inspired narrative (however probable from inferential reasoning) that any but John himself was engaged as operator in his baptism; whereas Christ himself baptized none; but his disciples, by his authority, and in his name, John 4:2 . Baptism has been the subject of long and sharp controversy, both as it respects the subject and the mode. To state all that has been said on both sides, would be impossible in a work of this kind. An abstract, however, of the chief arguments, I think it my duty to present to the reader, in order that he may judge for himself, as to the subject.

The ANTIPAEDOBAPTISTS hold that believing adults only are proper subjects, because Christ's commission to baptize appears to them to restrict this ordinance to such only as are taught, or made disciples; and that consequently, infants, who cannot be thus taught, are to be excluded. It does not appear, say they, that the apostles, in executing Christ's commission ever baptized any but those who were first instructed in the Christian faith, and professed their belief of it. They content that infants can receive no benefit from it, and are not capable of faith and repentance, which are to be considered as pre- requisites. As to the mode.

They observe that the meaning of the word in Greek signifies immersion, or dipping only; that John baptized in Jordan; that he chose a place where there was much water; that Jesus came up out of the water; that Phillip and the eunuch went down both into the water. That the terms washing, purifying, burying in baptism, so often mentioned in Scripture, alludes to this mode; that immersion only was the practice of the apostles and the first Christians; and that is was only laid aside from the love of novelty, and the coldness of our climate. These positions, they think, are so clear from Scripture, and the history of the church, that they stand in need of but little argument to support them. Farther, they also insist that all positive institutions depend entirely upon the will and declaration of the institutor, and that, therefore, reasoning by analogy from previous abrogated rites, is to be rejected, and the express command of Christ respecting baptism ought to be our rule.


The Paedobaptists, however, are of a different opinion. As to the subject, they believe that qualified adults who have not been baptized before, are certainly proper subjects; but, then, they think also that infants are not to be excluded. They believe that, as the Abrahamic and the Christian covenants are the same, Genesis 17:7 . Heb. viii 12; that as children were admitted under the former; and that as baptism is now a seal, sign, or confirmation of this covenant, infants have as great a right to it as the children had a right to the seal of circumcision under the law. Acts 2:39 . Romans 4:11 . That if children are not to be baptized because there is no positive command for it, for the same reason women should not come to the Lord's supper; we should not keep the first day of the week, nor attend public worship, for none of these are expressly commanded; that if infant baptism had been a human invention, how would it have been so universal in the first 3000 years, and yet no record left when it was introduced, nor any dispute or controversy about it?

Some bring it to these two ideas:

1. That God did constitute in his church the membership of infants, and admitted them to it by a religious ordinance, Genesis 17:1-27 : Galatians 3:14; Galatians 3:17 .

2. That this right of infants to church membership was never taken away. This being the case, infants must be received, because God has instituted it; and since infants must be received, it must be either without baptism or with it; but none must be received without baptism, therefore infants must of necessity be baptized. Hence, it is clear, that, under the Gospel, infants are still continued exactly in the same relation to God and his church, in which they were originally placed under the former dispensation. That infants are to be received into the church, and as such baptized, is also inferred from the following passages of Scripture: Genesis 17:1-27 : Is. 44:3. Matthew 19:13 . Luke 9:47-48 . Mark 9:14 . Acts 2:1-47; Romans 11:17; Romans 11:21 . 1 Corinthians 7:14 .

Though there are no express examples in the New Testament of Christ and his apostles baptizing infants, yet this is no proof that they were excluded. Jesus Christ actually blessed little children; and it would be hard to believe that such received his blessing, and yet were not to be members of the Gospel church. If Christ received them, and would have us receive them in his name, how can it be reconciled to keep them out of the visible church? Besides, if children were not to be baptized, it would have been expressly forbidden. None of the Jews had any apprehension of the rejection of infants, which they must have had, if infants had been rejected. As whole households were baptized, it is probable there were children among them. From the year 400 to 1150, no society of men in all that period of 750 years, ever pretended to say it was unlawful to baptize infants; and still nearer the time of our Saviour there appears to have been scarcely any one that so much as advised the delay of infant baptism.

Irenxus, who lived in the second century, and was well acquainted with Polycarp, who was John's disciple, declares expressly that the church learned from the apostles to baptize children. Origen, in the third century, affirmed that the custom of baptizing infants was received from Christ and his apostles. Cyprian, and a council of ministers (held about the year 254) no less than sixty-six in number, unanimously agreed that children might be baptized as soon as they were born. Ambrose, who wrote about 274 years from the apostles, declares that the baptism of infants had been the practice of the apostles themselves, and of the church, till that time. The Catholic church every where declared, says Chrysostom, in the fifth century, that infants should be baptized; and Augustin affirmed that he never heard nor read of any Christian, Catholic, or sectarian, but who always held that infants were to be baptized. They farther believe, that there needed no mention in the New Testament of receiving infants into the church, as it had been once appointed, and never repealed. The dictates of nature, also, in parental feelings; the verdict of reason in favour of privileges; the evidence in favour of children being sharers of the seals of grace, in common with their parents, for the space of 4000 years; and especially the language of prophecy, in reference to the children of the Gospel church, make it very probable that they were not to be rejected.

So far from confining it to adults, it must be remembered that there is not a single instance recorded in the New Testament in which the descendants of Christian parents were baptized in adult years

That infants are not proper subjects for baptism, because they cannot profess faith and repentance, they deny. This objection falls with as much weight upon the institution of circumcision as infant baptism; since they are as capable, or are as fit subjects for the one as the other. It is generally acknowledged, that, if infants die (and a great part of the human race do die in infancy, ) they are saved: if this be the case, then, why refuse them the sign in infancy, if they are capable of enjoying the thing signified? "Why, " says Dr. Owen, "is it the will of God that unbelievers should not be baptized? It is because, not granting them the grace, he will not grant them the sign. If God, therefore, denies the sign to the infant seed of believers, it must be because he denies them the grace of it; and then all the children of believing parents (upon these principles)dying in their infancy, must, without hope, be eternally damned. I do not say that all must be so whom God would not have baptized."

Something is said of baptism, it is observed, that cannot agree to infants: faith goes before baptism; and as adults are capable of believing, so no others are capable of baptism; but it is replied, if infants must not be baptized because something is said of baptism that does not agree to infants, Mark 16:16 . then infants must not be saved, because something is said of salvation that does not agree to infants, Mark 16:16 . As none but adults are capable of believing, so, by the argument of the Baptists, none but adults are capable of salvation: for he that believeth not shall be damned. But Christ, it is said, set an example of adult baptism. True; but he was baptized in honour to John's ministry, and to conform himself to what he appointed to his followers; for which last reason he drank of the sacramental cup: but this is rather an argument for the Paedobaptists than against them; since it, plainly shows, as Doddridge observes, that baptism may be administered to those who are not capable of all the purposes for which it was designed; could not be capable of that faith and repentance which are said to be necessary to this ordinance.

As to the mode.

They believe that the word in Greek signifies to dip or to plunge; but that the Greek term, which is only derivative of another Greek term, and consequently must be somewhat less in its signification, should be invariably used in the New Testament to express plunging, is not so clear. It is therefore doubted whether dipping be the only meaning, and whether Christ absolutely enjoined immersion, and that it is his positive will that no other should be used. As the word in Greek is used for the various ablutions among the Jews, such as sprinkling, pouring, &c. Hebrews 9:10; for the custom of washing before meals, and the washing of household furniture, pots, &c; it is evident from hence that it does not express the manner of doing, only the thing done; that is, washing, or the application of water in one form or other. Dr. Owen observes, that it no where signifies to dip, but as denoting a mode or, and in order to washing or cleansing: and, according to others, the mode of use is only the ceremonial part of a positive institute; just as in the supper of the Lord, the time of the day, the number and posture of communicants, the quality and quantity of bread and wine, are circumstances not accounted essential by any party of Christians. As to the Hebrew word Tabal, it is considered as a generic term; that its radical, primary, and proper meaning is, to tinge, to dye, or wet, or the like: which primary design is effected by different modes of application.

If in baptism also there is an expressive emblem of the descending influence of the Spirit, pouring must be the mode of administration; for that is the Scriptural term most commonly and properly used for the communication of divine influences. There is no object whatever in all the New Testament so frequently and so explicitly signified by baptism as these divine influences, Matthew 3:11 . Mark 1:8; Mark 1:10 . Luke 3:16-22 . John 1:33 , Acts 1:5 . Acts 2:38-39 . Acts 8:12; Acts 8:17 . Acts 11:1-30

The term sprinkling, also, is made use of in reference to the act of purifying, Is 52: 15; Hebrews 9:1-28 . Ezekiel 36:25 , and therefore cannot be inapplicable to baptismal purification. But it is observed that John baptized in Jordan: to this it is replied, to infer always a plunging of the whole body in water from this word, would, in many instances, be false and absurd: the same Greek preposition is used when it is said they should be baptized with fire; while few will assert that they should be plunged into it. The apostle, speaking of Christ, says, he came not by water only, but by water and blood. There the same wore is translated by, and with justice and propriety, for we know no good sense in which we could say he came in water. It has been remarked, that this Greek word is more than a hundred times in the New Testament, rendered "at" and in a hundred and fifty others, it is translated with. If it be rendered so here, "John baptized at Jordan, or with the water of Jordan, there is no proof from thence that he plunged his disciples in it. It is urged that John's choosing a place where there was much water is a certain proof of immersion. To which it is answered, that as there went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judea, and all the region round about Jordan, that by choosing a place where there were many streams or rivulets, it would be much more expeditiously performed by pouring; and that it seems in the nature of things highly improbable that John would have baptized this vast multitude by immersion, to say nothing of the indecency of both sexes being baptized together. Jesus, it is said, came up out of the water; but this is said to be no proof of his being immersed, as the Greek term often signifies from; for instance, "Who hath warned you to flee from, not out of, the wrath to come." with many others which might be mentioned.

Again: it is said that Phillip and the eunuch went down both into the water. To this it is answered, that here is no proof of immersion; for if the expression of their going down into the water necessarily includes dipping, then Phillip was dipped as well as the eunuch. The Greek preposition translated into, often signifies no more than to or unto.

See Matthew 15:24 . Romans 10:10 . Acts 28:14 . Matthew 17:27 . Matthew 3:11 . So that, from all these circumstances, it cannot be conclude that there was a single person of all the baptized who went into the water ankle deep. As to the apostle's expression, "buried with him in baptism, " they think it has no force; and that it does not allude to any custom of dipping, any more than our baptismal crucifixion and death has any such reference. It is not the sign but the thing signified that is here alluded to. As Christ was buried and rose again to a heavenly life, so we by baptism signifying that we are cut off from the life of sin, that we may rise again to a new life of faith and love. To conclude this article, it is observed against the mode of immersion, that, as it carries with it too much of the appearance of a burdensome rite for the Gospel dispensation; that as it is too indecent for so solemn an ordinance; as it has a tendency to agitate the spirits, often rendering the subject unfit for the exercise of proper thought and affections, and indeed utterly incapable of them; as in many cases the immersion of the body would in all probability be instant death; as in other situations it would be impracticable for want of a sufficient quantity of water, it cannot be considered as necessary to the ordinance of baptism.

See Gale, Robinson, Stennett, Gill, and Booth, on Antipaedobaptism; and Wall, Henry, Bradbury, Bostwick, Towgood, Addington, Williams, Edwards, Miller, Evans, &c. on the other side.

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Bibliography Information
Buck, Charles. Entry for 'Baptism'. Charles Buck Theological Dictionary. 1802.

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