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Bible Encyclopedias

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

Trine (Triune) Immersion

trı̄n trı̄´ūn i - mûr´shun :


1. Immersion

2. Triple Action



1. The Jews

2. John the Baptist

3. The Didache

4. Justin Martyr

5. Tertullian

6. Eunomius

7. Greek Church


I. Linguistic Basis.

1. Immersion:

The meaning of the word βαπτίζω , baptı́zō , is "to dip repeatedly," "to sub-merge" (Thayer, Greek Lexicon of the New Testament ). It is probably the frequentative of βάπτω , báptō , "to dip," meaning "to dip repeatedly." The word baptizō (and βάπτισμα , báptisma ) in the New Testament is "used absolutely, 'to administer the rite of ablution,' 'to baptize' " (same place) . It is "an immersion in water, performed as a sign of the removal of sin," etc. (same place); " Baptizō , to dip in or under water" (Liddell and Scott, Greek Lexicon ).

2. Triple Action:

The threefold immersion is based upon the Trinity into which the believer is to be baptized "into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" ( εἰς τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ πατρὸς καὶ τοῦ υἱοῦ καὶ τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος , eis tó ónoma toú patrós kaı́ toú huioú kaı́ toú hagı́ou pneúmatos , Matthew 28:19 ). (On the genuineness of this passage see Plummer, Commentary on Matthew.)

II. Doctrinal Argument.

Whether Jesus spoke the words of Matthew 28:19 as a baptismal formula or not does not affect the question. The passages in Acts, "in the name of Jesus Christ" ( Acts 2:38; Acts 10:48 ), and "in the name of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 8:16; Acts 19:5 ), are not baptismal formulas, but mean the confession of Christ with all that Christ stands for, namely, the fullness of God and His salvation. The idea of the Trinity pervades the New Testament and many of the earliest writings (compare 1 Corinthians 12:4-6; 2 Corinthians 13:14; Ephesians 2:18; Ephesians 3:14-17; Ephesians 4:4-6; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-15; Hebrews 6:4-6; 1 John 3:23 , 1 John 3:24; 1 John 4:2; Judges 1:20 , Judges 1:21; Revelation 1:4 , Revelation 1:5 ). "Baptized into Christ" has the same religious content as Matthew 28:19 . Triune immersion is the symbol of baptism into the Triune God. All believers in the Trinity should see the consistency of this symbol. Baptism is the symbol (1) of a complete cleansing, (2) of death, (3) of burial, (4) of resurrection, and (5) of entering into full union and fellowship with the Triune God as revealed by Christ. Triune immersion is the only symbol that symbolizes all that baptism stands for. Note the words of Sanday on Romans 6:1-14 (comm. on Rom, ICC , 153): "Baptism has a double function: (1) It brings the Christian into personal contact with Christ, so close that it may fitly be described as personal union with Him. (2) It expresses symbolically a series of acts corresponding to the redeeming acts of Christ. Immersion = Death. Submersion = Burial (the ratification of Death). Emergence = Resurrection. All these the Christian has to undergo in a moral and spiritual sense, and by means of his union with Christ." Hence, the psychological need of a true symbol, triune immersion, to teach and impress the significance of the new life.

III. Historical Practice.

1. The Jews:

The Jews received proselytes by circumcision, baptism (complete immersion) and sacrifice (Schurer, HJP , II, 2, pp. 319 f; Edersheim, LTJM , II, 745, and I, 273). John the Baptist, baptized "in the river Jordan" (Matthew 3:6 ) and "in AEnon near to Salim, because there was much water there" (John 3:23 ).

2. John the Baptist:

Philip and the eunuch "both went down into the water" and they "came up out of the water." All New Testament baptisms were by immersion (see also Romans 6:1-11 ).

3. The Didache:

The Didache (100-150 AD) chapter vii: "Baptize into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit in living (running) water. But if they have not living water, baptize into other water; and if thou canst not in cold, in warm" ( βαπτίσατε εἰς τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ πατὸς καὶ τοῦ υἱοῦ καὶ τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος ἐν ὔδατι ζῶντι , baptı́sate eis tó ónoma toú patós kaı́ toú huioú kaı́ toú hagı́́ou pneúmatos en húdati zṓnti ). "But if thou have not either, pour out water thrice ( τρίς , trı́s ) upon the head into the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit." Here the triple action is maintained throughout, even in clinical baptism, while immersion is the rule.

Justin Martyr ( Apology i. 61) describes baptism which can only be understood as triune immersion.

4. Justin Martyr:

Tertullian ( De Corona , iii) says, "Hereupon we are thrice immersed" ( dehinc ter mergitamur ). Again ( Ad Praxeam , xxvi), "And lastly he commands them to baptize into the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, not into a unipersonal God.

5. Tertullian:

And indeed it is not only once but three times that we are immersed into the Three Persons, at each several mention of their names" ( nam nec semel, sed ter, ad singula nomina, in personas singulos, tinguimur ).

6. Eunomius:

Eunomius (circa 360) introduced single immersion "into the death of Christ." This innovation was condemned. Apostolical Constitutions, 50, says, "If any presbyter or bishop does not perform the one initiation with three immersions, but with giving one immersion only into the death of the Lord, let him be deposed." Single immersion was allowed by Gregory the Great (circa 691) to the church in Spain in opposition to the Arians who used a trine (not triune) immersion ( Epis ., i. 43). This was exceptional.

7. Greek Church:

The Greek church has always baptized by triune immersion. The historical practice of the Christian church may well be summed up in the words of Dean Stanley: "There can be no question that the original form of baptism - the very meaning of the word - was complete immersion in the deep baptismal waters; and that for at least four centuries, any other form was either unknown, or regarded, unless in the case of dangerous illness, as an exceptional, almost monstrous case.... A few drops of water are now the western substitute for the threefold plunge into the rushing river or the wide baptisteries of the East" ( History of Eastern Church , 28). "For the first three centuries the most universal practice of baptism was ... that those who were baptized, were plunged, submerged, immersed into the water" ( Christian Institutions , p. 21). See further, BAPTISM; LITERATURE , SUB-APOSTOLIC , II, 5.


James Quinter, Triune Immersion as the Apostolic Form of Christian Baptism ; C. F. Yoder, God's Means of Grace , Brethren Pub. House, Elgin, Ill., U.S.A.; Smith, Dict. of Christian Antiquities ; Hastings, ERE ; Bible Dicts.; Church Fathers; Church Histories, and Histories of Baptism.

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Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Trine (Triune) Immersion'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. 1915.

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