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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary

Baptism

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from the Greek word βαπτιζω , is a rite or ceremony by which persons are initiated into the profession of the Christian religion; or, it is the appointed mode by which a person assumes the profession of Christianity, or is admitted to a participation of the privileges belonging to the disciples of Christ. It was by this mode that those who believed the Gospel were to be separated from unbelievers, and joined to the visible Christian church; and the rite accompanying it, or washing with water, was probably intended to represent the washing away, or renouncing, the impurities of some former state, viz. the sins that had been committed, and the vicious habits that had been contracted; and to this purpose it may be observed, that the profession of repentance always accompanied, or was understood to accompany, the profession of faith in Christ. That our Lord instituted such an ordinance as baptism, is plain from the commission given to the Apostles after his resurrection, and recorded in Matthew 28:19-20 . To this rite there is also an allusion in Mark 16:16 ; John 3:5 ; Acts 2:41 ; Acts 8:12 ; Acts 8:36-38 ; Acts 22:16 . The design of this institution, which was to express faith in Christ on the part of those who were baptized, and to declare their resolution of openly professing his religion, and cultivating real and universal holiness, appears from Romans 6:3-4 ; 1 Peter 3:21 ; Ephesians 5:26 ; and Titus 3:5 . We find no account of baptism as a distinct religious rite, before the mission of John, the forerunner of Christ, who was called the "Baptist," on account of his being commanded by God to baptize with water all who should hearken to his invitation to repent. Washing, however, accompanied many of the Jewish rites, and, indeed, was required after contracting any kind of uncleanness. Also, soon after the time of our Saviour, we find it to have been the custom of the Jews solemnly to baptize, as well as to circumcise, all their proselytes. As their writers treat largely of the reasons for this rite, and give no hint of its being a novel institution, it is probable that this had always been the custom antecedent to the time of Moses, whose account of the rite of circumcision, and of the manner of performing it, is by no means circumstantial. Or, baptism, after circumcision, might have come into use gradually from the natural propriety of the thing, and its easy conformity to other Jewish customs. For if no Jew could approach the tabernacle, or temple, after the most trifling uncleanness, without washing, much less would it be thought proper to admit a proselyte from a state so impure and unclean as Heathenism was conceived to be, without the same mode of purification. The antiquity of this practice of proselyte baptism among the Jews, has been a subject of considerable debate among divines. It is strenuously maintained by Lightfoot. Dr. John Owen considers the opinion, that Christian baptism came from the Jews, as destitute of all probability. On the other hand, Mr. Wall has made it highly probable, to say the least, from many testimonies of the Jewish writers, who without one dissenting voice allow the fact, that the practice of Jewish baptism obtained before and, at, as well as after, our Saviour's time. There is also a strong intimation, even in the Gospel itself, of such a known practice among the Jews in the time of John the Baptist, John 1:25 . The testimonies of the Jewish writers are of the greater weight, because the practice, reported by them to have been of so ancient a date, did still remain among them; for if it had not been of that antiquity to which it pretends, viz. before the time of Christ, it is not likely that it would ever have become a custom among the Jews afterward. Would they begin to proselyte persons to their religion by baptism in imitation of the disciples of Jesus of Nazareth, whom they held accursed? And yet if this proselyte baptism were adopted by the Jews since the time of Christ, it must have been a mere innovation in imitation of Christians, which is not very likely. This ceremony is performed by immersion in the oriental churches. The practice of the western churches is, to sprinkle the water on the head or face of the person to be baptized, except in the church of Milan, in whose ritual it is ordered, that the head of the infant be plunged three times into the water; the minister at the same time pronouncing the words, "I baptize thee in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost;" importing that by this ceremony the person baptized is received among the professors of that religion which God, the Father of all, revealed to mankind by the ministry of his Son, and confirmed by the miracles of his Spirit.

2. It is observable that the baptismal form, above cited from St. Matthew, never occurs in the same words, either in the book of the Acts, or in any of the Epistles. But though the form in St. Matthew never appears elsewhere, the thing intended thereby is always implied. There are many ceremonies delivered by ecclesiastical writers, as used in baptism, which were introduced after the age of Justin Martyr, but which are now disused; as the giving milk and honey to the baptized, in the east; wine and milk, in the west, &c. They also added unction and the imposition of hands. Tertullian is the first who mentions the signing with the sign of the cross, but only as used in private, and not in public worship; and he particularly describes the custom of baptizing without it. Indeed, it does not appear to have been used in baptism till the latter end of the fourth or fifth century; at which time great virtue was ascribed to it. Lactantius, who lived in the beginning of the fourth century, says the devil cannot approach those who have the heavenly mark of the cross upon them as an impregnable fortress to defend them; but he does not say it was used in baptism. After the council of Nice, Christians added to baptism the ceremonies of exorcism and adjuration, to make evil spirits depart from the persons to be baptized. They made several signings with the cross, they used lighted candles, they gave salt to the baptized person to taste, and the priest touched his mouth and ears with spittle, and also blew and spat upon his face. At that time also baptized persons wore white garments till the Sunday following. They had also various other ceremonies; some of which are now abolished, though others of them remain in the church of Rome to this day.

3. The Quakers assert, that water baptism was never intended to continue in the church of Christ any longer than while Jewish prejudices made such an external ceremony necessary. They argue from Ephesians 4:5 , in which one baptism is spoken of as necessary to Christians, that this must be a baptism of the Spirit. But from comparing the texts that relate to this institution, it will plainly appear that water baptism was instituted by Christ in more general terms than will agree with this explication. That it was administered to all the Gentile converts, and not confined to the Jews appears from Matthew 28:19-20 , compared with Acts 10:47 ; and that the baptism of the Spirit did not supersede water baptism appears to have been the judgment of Peter and of those that were with him; so that the one baptism spoken of seems to have been that of water; the communication of the Holy Spirit being only called baptism in a figurative sense. As for any objection which, may be drawn from 1 Corinthians 1:17 , it is sufficiently answered by the preceding verses, and all the numerous texts, in which, in epistles written long after this, the Apostle speaks of

all Christians as baptized and argues from the obligation of baptism, in such a manner as we can never imagine he would have done, if he had apprehended it to have been the will of God that it should be discontinued in the church. Compare Romans 6:3 , &c; Colossians 2:12 ; Galatians 3:27 .

4. Baptism, in early times, was only administered at Easter and Whitsuntide, except in cases of necessity. Adult persons were prepared for baptism by abstinence, prayer, and other pious exercises. It was to answer for them, says Mosheim, that sponsors, or godfathers, were first instituted in the second century, though they were afterward admitted also in the baptism of infants. This, according to M. Daille, was not done till the fourth century. Wall refers the origin of sponsors, or godfathers, on the authority of Tertullian, to the commencement of the second century; who were used in the baptism of infants that could not answer for themselves.

The catechumens were not forward in coming to baptism. St. Ambrose was not baptized before he was elected bishop of Milan; and some of the fathers not till the time of their death. Some deferred it out of a tender conscience; and others out of too much attachment to the world; it being the prevailing opinion of the primitive times, that baptism, whenever conferred, washed away all antecedent stains and sins. Accordingly they deferred this sanctifying rite as long as possible, even till they apprehended they were at the point of death. Cases of this kind occur at the beginning of the third century. Constantine the Great was not baptized till he was at the last gasp, and in this he was followed by his son Constantius; and two of his other sons, Constantine and Constans, were killed before they were baptized. As to the necessity of baptism, we may observe, however, that, though some seem to have laid too great stress upon it, as if it were indispensably necessary in order to salvation; it must be allowed, that for any person to omit baptism, when he acknowledges it to be an institution of Christ, and that it is the will of Christ that he should submit to it, is an act of disobedience to his authority, which is inconsistent with true faith.

5. The word baptism is frequently taken for sufferings, Mark 10:38 ; Luke 12:50 ; Matthew 20:22-23 . Of expressions like these we find some traces in the Old Testament also, where waters often denote tribulations, Psalms 69:1 ; Psalms 69:15 ; Psalms 124:4-5 ; and where to be swallowed up by the waters, and to pass through the great waters, signify to be overwhelmed with miseries and calamities.

6. St. Paul, endeavouring to prove the resurrection of the dead, among several other reasons in support of the doctrine, says, "If the dead rise not at all, what shall they do who are baptized for the dead?" 1 Corinthians 15:29 . Of this phrase various interpretations have been given; three of which only shall be here mentioned. "It means," say some, "baptized in the room of the dead just fallen in the cause of Christ, and who are thus supported by a succession of new converts, immediately offering themselves to fill up their places, as ranks of soldiers who advance to combat in the room of their companions, who have just been slain in their sight." Others think it signifies, "In hope of blessings to be received after they are numbered with the dead." Dr. Macknight supplies the words, της

αναστασεως , and reads the clause, "Who are baptized for the resurrection of the dead;" or in consequence of their believing in the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead; on account of which faith, and their profession of it, they are exposed to great sufferings, for which they can have no recompense, if there be no resurrection of the dead, nor any future life at all.

7. As to the subjects of baptism, the anti-paedobaptists hold that believing adults only are proper subjects, because the commission of Christ 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, ought to be excluded. "It does not appear," say they, "that the Apostles, in executing the commission of Christ, ever baptized any but those who were first instructed in the Christian faith, and professed their belief of it." They contend that infants can receive no benefit from baptism, and are not capable of faith and repentance, which are to be considered as prerequisites.

8. As to the mode, they observe that the meaning of the word βαπτιζω signifies to immerse or dip, and that 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 Philip and the eunuch went down both into the water; that the terms, washing, purifying, burying in baptism, so often mentioned in the Scriptures, allude to this mode; that immersion only was the practice of the Apostles and the first Christians; and that it was only laid aside from the love of novelty, and the coldness of 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 for their support. 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 previously abrogated rites is to be rejected, and the express command of Christ respecting baptism ought to be our rule.

9. The Paedobaptists, however, are of a different opinion. As to the subjects of baptism, they believe that qualified adults, who have not been baptized before, are certainly proper subjects; but then they think, also, that infants ought not to be excluded. They believe that, as the Abrahamic and Christian covenants are the same, Genesis 17:7 ; Hebrews 8:12 ; that as children were admitted under the former; and that as baptism is now a sign, seal, or confirmation of this covenant, infants have as great a right to it as the children of the Israelites had to the seal of circumcision under the law, Acts 2:39 ; Romans 4:11 . Farther, if children are not to be baptized because there is no positive command for it, for the same reason they say that women should not come to the Lord's Supper; nor ought we to keep holy the first day of the week; neither of these being expressly commanded. If baptizing infants had been a human invention, they also ask, how such a practice could have been so universal in the first three hundred years of the church, and yet no record have remained when it was introduced, nor any dispute or controversy about it have taken place? Some reduce the matter to a narrower compass; urging, (1.) That God constituted in his church the membership of infants, and admitted them to that privilege by a religious ordinance, Genesis 17; Galatians 3:14 ; Galatians 3:17 .

(2.) That this right of infants to church membership was never taken away: and this being the case, they argue, that infants must be received, because God has appointed it; and, since they must be received, it must be either with baptism or without 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 former dispensations. That infants are to be received into the church, and as such baptized, is also inferred from the following passages of Scripture: Genesis 17; Isaiah 44:3 ; Matthew 19:13 ; Luke 9:47-48 ; Acts 2:38-39 ; Romans 11:17 ; Romans 11:21 ; 1 Corinthians 7:14 .

10. Though there are no express examples in the New Testament of Christ and his Apostles baptizing infants, yet there is no proof that they were excluded. Jesus Christ actually blessed little children; and it is difficult 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, how can we keep them out of the visible church? Beside, if children were not to be baptized, it is reasonable to expect that they would have been expressly forbidden. As whole households were baptized, it is also probable there were children among them. From the year 400 to 1150, no society of men, in all that period of seven hundred and fifty 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 who advised the delay of infant baptism. Irenaeus, 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, affirms, 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 practised by the Apostles themselves, and by the church down to that time. "The catholic church every where declares," says Chrysostom, in the fifth century, "that infants should be baptized;" and Augustine affirmed, that he never heard or 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. So far from confining baptism 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. The objection that infants are not proper subjects for baptism, because they cannot profess faith and repentance, 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. Finally, it is generally acknowledged, that if infants die, (and a great part of the human race die in their infancy,) they are saved: if this be the case then why refuse them the sign of union with Christ, if they be capable of enjoying the thing signified?

11. As to the mode, the Paedobaptists deny that the term βαπτιζω , which is a derivative of βαπτω , and, consequently, must be something less in its signification, is invariably used in the New Testament to express plunging. It is denied, therefore, that dipping is its only meaning; that Christ absolutely enjoined immersion; and that it is his positive will that no other mode should be used. As the word βαπτιζω is used to express 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 a thing, whether by immersion or effusion, but only the thing done; that is, washing; or the application of water in some form or other. It nowhere signifies to dip, but in denoting a mode of, and in order to, washing or cleansing; and the mode or use is only the ceremonial part of a positive institute; just as in the Lord's Supper, the time of day, the number and posture of the communicants, the quantity and quality of bread and wine, are circumstances not accounted essential by any part of Christians. If in baptism there be 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, Matthew 3:11 ; Mark 1:8 ; Mark 1:10 ; Luke 3:16-22 ; John 1:33 ; Acts 1:5 ; Acts 2:38-39 ; Acts 8:19 ; Acts 8:17 ; Acts 11:15-16 . The term sprinkling, also, is made use of in reference to the act of purification, Isaiah 52:15 ; Ezekiel 36:25 ; Hebrews 9:13-14 ; 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 particle, would, in many instances, be false and absurd. The same Greek preposition, εν , is used when it is said they should be "baptized with fire;" but few will assert that they should be plunged into it. The Apostle, speaking of Christ, says, he came not, εν , "by water only;" but, εν , "by water and blood." There the same word, εν , 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 εν 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 that he plunged his disciples in it.

Jesus, it is said, came up out of the water; but this is no proof that he was immersed, as the Greek term, απο , often signifies from: for instance, "Who hath warned you to flee from," not out of, "the wrath to come?" with many others that might be mentioned. Again: it is urged that Philip and the eunuch went down both into the water. To this it is answered, that here also is no proof of immersion: for, if the expression of their going down into the water necessarily includes dipping, then Philip was dipped, as well as the eunuch. The preposition εις , translated into, often signifies no more than to, or unto: see Matthew 15:24 ; Romans 10:10 ; Acts 28:14 ; Matthew 3:11 ; Matthew 17:27 : so that from none of these circumstances can it be proved that there was one person of all the baptized, who went into the water ankle deep. As to the Apostle's expression, "buried with him in baptism," that has no force in the argument for immersion, since it does not allude to a 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 signify that we are separated from sin, that we may live a new life of faith and love.

To conclude: it is urged, against the mode of immersion, that, as it carries with it too much of the appearance of a burdensome rite for the Gospel dispensation; 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 thoughts 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 water; it cannot be considered as necessary to the ordinance of baptism, and there is the strongest improbability that it was ever practised in the times of the New Testament, or in the earliest periods of the Christian church.


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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Baptism'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/wtd/b/baptism.html. 1831-2.

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