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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

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BAPTISM . This term, which designates a NT rite, is confined to the vocabulary of the NT. It does not occur in the LXX [Note: Septuagint.] , neither is the verb with which it is connected ever used of an initiatory ceremony. This verb is a derivative from one which means ‘to dip’ ( John 13:26 , Revelation 19:13 ), but itself has a wider meaning, = ‘to wash’ whether the whole or part of the body, whether by immersion or by the pouring of water ( Mark 7:4 , Luke 11:38 ). The substantive is used ( a ) of Jewish ceremonial washings ( Mark 7:4 , Hebrews 9:10 ); ( b ) in a metaphorical sense ( Mark 10:38 , Luke 12:50; cf. ‘plunged in calamity’); and ( c ) most commonly in the technical sense of a religious ceremony of initiation.

1 . The earliest use of the word ‘baptism’ to describe a religious and not merely ceremonial observance is in connexion with the preaching of John the Baptist, and the title which is given to him is probably an indication of the novelty of his procedure ( Matthew 3:1 , Mark 8:28 , Luke 7:20; cf. Mark 6:14; Mark 6:24 ). He ‘preached the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins’ ( Mark 1:4 ), i.e. the result of his preaching was to induce men to seek baptism as an outward sign and pledge of inward repentance on their part, and of their forgiveness on the part of God. ‘Baptism is related to repentance as the outward act in which the inward change finds expression. It has been disputed whether the practice of baptizing proselytes on their reception into the Jewish community was already established in the 1st cent.; probably it was. But in any case the significance of their baptism was that of ceremonial cleansing; John employed it as a symbol and a seal of moral purification. But, according to the Gospel record, John recognized the incomplete and provisional character of the baptism administered by him: ‘I indeed have baptized you with water; but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost’ ( Mark 1:8 ).

2 . Jesus Himself accepted baptism at the hands of John ( Mark 1:9 ), overcoming the reluctance of the Baptist with a word of authority. That Jesus Himself baptized is nowhere suggested in the Synoptic Gospels, and is expressly denied in the Fourth Gospel ( John 4:2 ); but His disciples baptized, and it must have been with His authority, equivalent to baptism by Himself, and involving admission to the society of His disciples. On the other hand, His Instructions to the Twelve and to the Seventy contain no command to baptize. Christian baptism was to be baptism ‘with the Spirit,’ and ‘the Spirit was not yet given’ ( John 7:39 ). It is recorded in Acts ( Acts 1:5 ) that the Risen Lord foretold that this promised baptism would be received after His departure, ‘not many days hence.’

3 . Christian baptism, although it finds a formal analogy in the baptism of John, which in its turn represents a spiritualizing of ancient Jewish ideas of lustration, appears as in its essential character a new thing after the descent of the Holy Spirit. It is a phenomenon ‘entirely unique, and in its inmost nature without any analogy, because it rises as an original fact from the soil of the Christian religion of revelation’ (von Dobschütz). It has been customary to trace the institution of the practice to the words of Christ recorded in Matthew 28:19 . But the authenticity of this passage has been challenged on historical as well as on textual grounds. It must be acknowledged that the formula of the threefold name, which is here enjoined, does not appear to have been employed by the primitive Church, which, so far as our information goes, baptized ‘in’ or ‘into the name of Jesus’ (or ‘Jesus Christ’ or ‘the Lord Jesus’: Acts 2:38; Acts 8:16; Acts 10:48; Acts 19:5; cf, 1 Corinthians 1:13; 1 Corinthians 1:15 ), without reference to the Father or the Spirit. The difficulty hence arising may be met by assuming ( a ) that Baptism in the name of Jesus was equivalent to Baptism in the name of the Trinity, or ( b ) that the shorter phrase does not represent the formula used by the baptizer (which may have been the fuller one), but the profession made by the baptized, and the essential fact that he became a Christian one of Christ’s acknowledged followers. But it is better to infer the authority of Christ for the practice from the prompt and universal adoption of it by the Apostles and the infant Church, to which the opening chapters of Acts bear witness; and from the significance attached to the rite in the Epistles, and especially in those of St. Paul.

4 . That baptism was the normal, and probably the indispensable, condition of being recognized as a member of the Christian community appears from allusions in the Epistles ( 1 Corinthians 12:13 , Galatians 3:27 ), and abundantly from the evidence in Acts. The first preaching of the Spirit-filled Apostles on the day of Pentecost led to many being ‘pricked in their heart’; and in answer to their inquiry addressed to ‘Peter and the rest of the apostles,’ Peter said unto them: ‘Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ’ ( Acts 2:37-38 ). ‘They then that received his word were baptized’ to the number of ‘about three thousand souls.’ At Samaria, ‘when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women’ ( Acts 8:12 ), the earliest express statement that women were admitted to the rite. In this case the gift of the Spirit did not follow until Peter and John had come down from Jerusalem, and ‘prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Ghost.’ ‘Then they laid their hands upon them, and they received the Holy Ghost’ ( Acts 8:17 ). Saul was baptized by Ananias ( Acts 9:17 ) in accordance with instructions recorded by himself ( Acts 22:16 ), and that he might ‘be filled with the Holy Ghost.’ In these cases the gift followed upon baptism, with or without the laying-on of hands. In the case of Cornelius and his friends, the gift followed immediately upon the preaching of the word by Peter, and presumably its reception in the heart of those who heard; and it was after that that the Apostle ‘commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord’ ( Acts 10:48 ). It was on the ground of this previous communication of the Holy Spirit that Peter subsequently justified his action in admitting these persons to baptism ( Acts 11:15-18 ).

5 . The preaching of St. Paul, no less than that of St. Peter, led to the profession of faith through baptism, though the Apostle seems as a rule to have left the actual administration to others ( 1 Corinthians 1:14-17 ): ‘for Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel.’ At Philippi Lydia was baptized ‘and her household’; there also the jailor, ‘and all that were his’ ( Acts 16:15; Acts 16:33 ); at Corinth, Crispus and Gaius, and ‘the household of Stephanas’ ( 1 Corinthians 1:14; 1 Corinthians 1:16 ).

6 . The conditions antecedent to baptism are plainly set forth in Acts, viz. repentance and profession of faith in Jesus as Messiah or as ‘the Lord,’ following on the preaching of the word. The method of administration was baptizing with water in or into the name of Jesus. Immersion may have been employed when the presence of sufficient water made it convenient; but there is nothing to show that affusion or sprinkling was not regarded as equally valid. That baptism was ‘in the name of Jesus’ signifies that it took place for the purpose of sealing the new relationship of belonging to, being committed to, His Personality. The blessing attached to the rite is commonly exhibited as the gift of the Holy Spirit; the due fulfilment of the condition of baptism involved ipso facto the due fulfilment of the condition of receiving the Spirit. In the Epistles, this, the normal consequence of Christian baptism, is analyzed into its various elements. These are in the main three: ( a ) the ‘remission of sins’ ( Act 2:38 , 1 Corinthians 6:11; cf. Hebrews 10:22 , 1 Peter 3:21 ). ( b ) In baptism the believer was to realize most vividly the total breach with his old life involved in his new attitude to God through Christ, a breach comparable only with that effected by death ( Romans 6:2-7 , Colossians 2:12 ); he was to realize also that the consequences of this fellowship with Christ were not only death to sin, but a new life in righteousness as real as that which followed on resurrection ( Romans 6:4 ). ( c ) Baptism conferred incorporation in the one body of Christ ( 1 Corinthians 12:13 ), and was thus adapted to serve as a symbol of the true unity of Christians ( Ephesians 4:5 ). The body with which the believer is thus incorporated is conceived of sometimes as the corporate community of Christians, sometimes as the Personality of Christ; ‘for as many of you as were baptized into Christ, did put on Christ’ ( Galatians 3:27 ).

Conversely, as with the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, all the elements both of qualification and of experience are sometimes summed up in a pregnant phrase and without regard to the order in which they emerge. Ephesians 5:26 may find its best interpretation through comparison with John 15:3 (cf. John 17:17 ), i.e. as referring to the continuous cleansing of the Church by the word; but if the reference is to baptism, then the phrase ‘by the word’ probably alludes to the profession of faith by the baptized, whether it took the form of ‘Jesus is Lord’ ( Romans 4:10; cf. 1 Corinthians 12:3 ), or whether it expressed the content of the faith more fully. In Titus 3:5 , while baptism is the instrument by which salvation is realized,’ regeneration’ and ‘renewal’ are both displayed as the work of the Holy Spirit. And here the Apostolic interpretation of the rite touches the anticipation of it in our Lord’s words recorded in John 3:5 . Faith wrought by the Spirit and faith professed by the believer are alike necessary to entrance into the Kingdom of salvation (cf. Romans 10:9-10 ).

In 1 Corinthians 15:29 Paul refers to the practice of persons allowing themselves to be baptized on behalf of the dead . Such a practice appears to have had analogies in the Greek mysteries, from which it may have crept into the Christian Church. As such it may be regarded as ‘a purely magical, and wholly superstitious, vicarious reception of the sacrament.’ Of such a practice the Apostle expresses no approval, but ‘simply meets his opponents with their own weapons without putting their validity to the proof’ (Rentdorff).

7 . The NT contains no explicit reference to the baptism of infants or young children; but it does not follow that the Church of the 2nd cent. adopted an unauthorized innovation when it carried out the practice of infant baptism. There are good reasons for the silence of Scripture on the subject. The governing principle of St. Luke as the historian of the primitive Church is to narrate the advance of the Kingdom through the missionary preaching of the Apostles, and the conversion of adult men and women. The letters of the Apostles were similarly governed by the immediate occasion and purpose of their writing. We have neither a complete history, nor a complete account of the organization, of the primitive Church. But of one thing we may be sure: had the acceptance of Christianity involved anything so startling to the Jewish or the Gentile mind as a distinction between the religious standing of the father of a family and his children, the historian would have recorded it, or the Apostles would have found themselves called to explain and defend it. For such a distinction would have been in direct contradiction to the most deeply rooted convictions of Jew and of Gentile alike. From the time of Abraham onwards the Jew had felt it a solemn religious obligation to claim for his sons from their earliest infancy the same covenant relation with God as he himself stood in. There was sufficient parallelism between baptism and circumcision (cf. Colossians 2:11 ) for the Jewish-Christian father to expect the baptism of his children to follow his own as a matter of course. The Apostle assumes as a fact beyond dispute that the children of believers are ‘holy’ ( 1 Corinthians 7:14 ), i.e. under the covenant with God, on the ground of their father’s faith. And among Gentile converts a somewhat different but equally authoritative principle, that of patria potestas , would have the same result. In a home organized on this principle, which prevailed throughout the Roman Empire, it would be a thing inconceivable that the children could be severed from the father in their religious rights and duties, in the standing conferred by baptism. Thus it is because, to the mind of Jew and Gentile alike, the baptism of infants and children yet unable to supply the conditions for themselves was so natural, that St. Luke records so simply that when Lydia believed, she was baptized ‘with her household’; when the Philippian jailor believed, he was baptized, and all those belonging to him. If there were children in these households, these children were baptized on the ground of the faith of their parents; if there were no children, then the principle took a still wider extension, which includes children; for it was the servants or slaves of the household who were ‘added to the Church’ by baptism on the ground of their master’s faith.

8 . Baptism was a ceremony of initiation by which the baptized not only were admitted members of the visible society of the disciples of Christ, but also received the solemn attestation of the consequences of their faith. Hence there are three parties to it. The part of the baptized is mainly his profession of faith in Christ, his confession ‘with his heart’ that he is the Lord’s. The second is the Christian community or Church (rather than the person who administers baptism, and who studiously keeps in the background). Their part is to hear the profession and to grant the human attestation. The third is the Head of the Church Himself, by whose authority the rite is practised, and who gives the inward attestation, as the experience of being baptized opens in the believing soul new avenues for the arrival of the Holy Spirit.

C. A. Scott.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Baptism'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible.​dictionaries/​eng/​hdb/​b/baptism.html. 1909.