Summary: This is 1 of 2 sermons that share some common elements. This one focuses on the Greek behind the word “baptizo” and some of the historical, literature references
Baptism has become a part of every believer’s life. At some point, we make the plunge, are cleansed from our sins, and take on the name as Christians. But, Christians, as a whole, can not agree on the proper way to baptize and the effect that bestows on us. Tonight, I’d like you to open your heart, consider that we all have bias, and look at what scripture says about it. This is not a lecture to convert you to a new way of thinking, or to change you to follow my way of thinking. But, it is a critical look at what we know, and what we don’t know and this key sacrament or ordinance. Scripture itself shows a debate over Baptism so it’ should be no surprise to us that the Christian community can’t agree today. As a key point of Christianity, I thought tonight would be a good time to look at baptism and what that consists of. After all, we spend too much time bickering between ourselves. Instead, I’d like to look at the common idea of baptism as a Christian practice, and use this time to examine our own preconceived notions.
Baptism, What Does It Mean?
It all starts in the New Testament, written in the everyday Greek of the Roman world, the language spoken and written around the time of our Lord. Our scripture was addressed in the common tongue of the land. If not, it would have been difficult for anyone of that day to understand what was being said.
The word baptism, by itself, is an untranslated Greek word âáðôßæù (baptiso). Some scholars have suggested that the word was left untranslated because a precise meaning was not known. But, by examining other Greek documents from the same time period we are able to see how the word was used in other contexts. It was used to describe ceremonial washings such as the purification of unclean couches, tables, cups and dishes when they became ritually unclean. It was also used in Greek literature to mean a man wadding up to his chest in water, as well as describe ship wrecks and capsized boats. But, probably the most common use of the word appears to be our English translation of the word “dip”.
One of those sources we can look at is the Septuagint. This ancient book was a Greek translation of the Old Testament, written so that more could read the scriptures. It’s an important work because we have a Hebrew word translated into Greek and was used extensively during Jesus day. It can help us better understand how the Greek speakers wrote our New Testament. Just like the Rosetta Stone allowed researchers the ability to look into Hieroglyphics, the Septuagint allows us to look into the Greek language of the day by comparing it with the Hebrew.
In the Septuagint, the Greek word âáðôßæù (baptiso), the same word from our Gospel message, was used to refer to the preparations for the Israelites freedom of Egypt. As the last plague prepared to hit the land, the Passover was initiated and blood was applied to the door frame with hyssop branches. The branches were “baptized” into blood and the blood brushed onto the header above the door. But, this meant “dipped,” which is exactly what you do with a brush when you use it to paint. In another example, the finger is dipped in blood. There are 21 examples of âáðôßæù, (baptiso) in the Septuagint, all referring to smearing, daubing or dipping. But not immersing. (supporting information available in David King, “Baptism: Sprinkling and Pouring versus Immersion”, http://www.christianhomesite.com/belfast/text/baptism.htm pg 17)
Greek writers of the period wrote of ships that were baptized when speaking of a wreck, people baptized up to their waist in water, people being baptized in water and unable to sink and even swords baptized in someone’s neck when talking of combat. It’s also used to refer to washing, bathing and ritual purification. And, of course, we see it also to refer to going completely under the water as immersion.
Church dogma, and the traditions of our various faiths have sometimes blinded us by allowing us only to see one meaning. We often put things up as dividers between our various denominations rather than finding ways in which we can share God’s word together.
I spent quite a bit of time this past week reviewing and researching this one, simple, untranslated word, to try to put aside my own preconceptions and bias, to find out what God was trying to tell us in His Word. The simple fact is that the word baptism has multiple meanings. However, the most prevalent idea that is recorded is that of “dip.” Again, I don’t mention this to try to sway anyone to a new method of baptism or to challenge anyone’s beliefs. But, I talk about these things to help you understand your bias, and to allow us to share together with a common understanding.