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Study Resources :: Dictionaries :: Baptism (Lutheran Doctrine)

Dictionaries :: Baptism (Lutheran Doctrine)

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International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia

Baptism (Lutheran Doctrine):


1. The Derivation

2. The Meaning

3. The Application

4. Equivalent Terms


1. The Teaching of Scripture

(1) An Authoritative Command

(2) A Clear Declaration of the Object in View

(3) A Definite Promise

(4) A Plain Indication of the Scope

(5) A Prescribed Formula for Administering the Ordinance

2. The Biblical History of the Ordinance

3. Types of Baptism


1. Are Matthew 28:18-20 and Mark 16:15,16 Genuine?

2. Was the Trinitarian Formula Used in New Testament Times?

3. Was Christian Baptism Really a New Ordinance?

4. Should Infants Be Baptized?

5. Why Did Paul not Baptize?

6. What Is the Baptism for the Dead?

I. The Term.

1. The Derivation:

The word "baptism" is the Anglicized form of the Greek baptisma, or baptismos. These Greek words are verbal nouns derived from baptizo, which, again, is the intensive form of the verb bapto. "Baptismos denotes the action of baptizein (the baptizing), baptisma the result of the action (the baptism)" (Cremer). This distinction differs from, but is not necessarily contrary to, that of Plummer, who infers from Mr 7:4 and Heb 9:10 that baptismos usually means lustrations or ceremonial washings, and from Ro 6:4; Eph 4:1; 1Pe 3:21 that baptisma denotes baptism proper (Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible (five volumes)).

2. The Meaning:

The Greek words from which our English "baptism" has been formed are used by Greek writers, in classical antiquity, in the Septuagint and in the New Testament, with a great latitude of meaning. It is not possible to exhaust their meaning by any single English term. The action which the Greek words express may be performed by plunging, drenching, staining, dipping, sprinkling. The nouns baptisma and baptismos do not occur in the Septuagint; the verb baptizo occurs only in four places, and in two of them in a figurative sense (2Ki 5:14; Judith 12:7; Isa 21:4; Ecclesiasticus @@31 (34): 25). Wherever these words occur in the New Testament, the context or, in the case of quotations, a comparison with the Old Testament will in many instances suggest which of the various renderings noted above should be adopted (compare Mr 7:4; Heb 9:10 with Nu 19:18,19; 8:7; Ex 24:4-6; Ac 2:16,17,41 with Joe 2:28). But there are passages in which the particular form of the act of baptizing remains in doubt. "The assertion that the command to baptize is a command to immerse is utterly unauthorized" (Hodge).

3. The Application:

In the majority of Biblical instances the verbs and nouns denoting baptism are used in a lit sense, and signify the application of water to an object or a person for a certain purpose. The ceremonial washings of the Jews, the baptism of proselytes to the Jewish faith, common in the days of Christ, the baptism of John and of the disciples of Christ prior to the Day of Pentecost, and the Christian sacrament of baptism, are literal baptisms (baptismus fluminis, "baptism of the river," i.e. water). But Scripture speaks also of figurative baptisms, without water (Mt 20:22; Mr 10:38; Lu 12:50 = the sufferings which overwhelmed Christ and His followers, especially the martyrs-baptismus sanguinis, "baptism of blood"; Mt 3:11; Mr 1:8; Lu 3:16; Ac 1:5; 11:16 = the outpouring of the miraculous gifts of the Holy Ghost, which was a characteristic phenomenon of primitive Christianity-baptismus flaminis, "baptism of wind, breeze," i.e. "spirit"). Some even take Mt 21:25; Mr 11:30; Ac 18:25; 1Co 10:2 in a synecdochical sense, for doctrine of faith, baptism being a prominent feature of that doctrine (baptismus luminis, "baptism of light").

4. Equivalent Terms:

Scripture occasionally alludes to Christian baptism without employing the regular term. Thus in Tit 3:5, and Eph 5:26 we have the term loutron, "washing," instead lent terms of baptisma. From this term the Latin church derived its lavacrum (English "layer") as a designation of baptism. In Heb 10:22 we have the verbs rhantizo and louo, "sprinkle" and "wash"; in Eph 5:26 the verb katharizo, "cleanse"; in 1Co 6:11 the verb apolouo, "wash" are evidently synonyms of baptizo, and the act has been so denominated from its prime effect.

II. The Ordinance.

1. The Teaching of Scripture:

Christian baptism, as now practiced, is a sacred ordinance of evangelical grace, solemnly appointed by the risen Christ, prior to His entering into the state of glory by His ascension, and designed to be a means, until His second coming, for admitting men to discipleship with Him. Mt 28:18-20 and its parallel Mr 16:15,16 are the principal texts of Scripture on which the church in all ages has based every essential point of her teaching regarding this ordinance. The host of other baptismal texts of Scripture expand and illustrate the contents of these two texts. We have in these texts:

(1) An Authoritative Command

An authoritative (Mt 28:19) command, issued in plain terms: "Make disciples.... baptizing." This command declares (a) speciem actus, i.e. it indicates with sufficient clearness, by the use of the term "baptize," the external element to be employed, namely, water, and the form of the action to be performed by means of water, namely, any dipping, or pouring, or sprinkling, since the word "baptize" signifies any of these modes. On the strength of this command Luther held: "Baptism is not simple water only, but it is the water comprehended in God's command"; and the Westminster Shorter Catechism (Ques. 94) calls baptism "a washing with water." Water is distinctly mentioned as the baptismal element in Ac 8:38; 10:47; Eph 5:26; Heb 10:22. "There is no mention of any other element" (Plummer). The phraseology of Eph 5:26, "the washing of water with the word," shows that not the external element alone, nor the physical action of applying the water, constitutes baptism; but "the word" must be added to the element and the action, in order that there may be a baptism. (Detrahe verbum, et quid est aqua nisi aqua? Accedit verbum ad elementum, et fit sacramentum, "Remove the word and what is water but water? The word is added to the element and it becomes a sacrament" Augustine). "Without the Word of God the water is simple water, and no baptism" (Luther). The command prescribes (b) exercitium actus, i.e. it enjoins a continued exercise of this function of the messengers of Christ for all time.

(2) A Clear Declaration of the Object in View.

The participle "baptizing" qualifies the imperative "make disciples," and expresses that, what the imperative states as the end, is to be attained by what the participle names as a means to that end. The participle "baptizing," again, is qualified by "teaching" (Mt 28:20). The second participle is not connected by "and" with the first, hence, is subordinate to the first (Meyer). Discipleship is to be obtained by baptizing-teaching. There is no rigid law regarding the order and sequence of these actions laid down in these words; they merely state that Christ desires His disciples to be both baptized and fully informed as to His teaching.

(3) A Definite Promise:

Salvation (Mr 16:16), i.e. complete and final deliverance from all evil, the securing of "the end of faith" (1Pe 1:9). This is a comprehensive statement, as in 1Pe 3:21, of the blessing of baptism. Scripture also states, in detail, particular baptismal blessings:

(a) Regeneration, Tit 3:5; Joh 3:3,5. Despite Calvin and others, the overwhelming consensus of interpreters still agrees with the ancient church and with Luther in explaining both these texts of baptism.

(b) Remission of sins, or justification (Ac 2:38; 22:16; 1Co 6:11; Eph 5:26; Heb 10:22). This blessing, no doubt, is also intended in 1Pe 3:21, where eperotema has been rendered "answer" by the King James Version while the Revised Version (British and American) renders "interrogation." The word denotes a legal claim, which a person has a right to set up (See Cremer under the word and Ro 8:1).

(c) The establishment of a spiritual union with Christ, and a new relationship with God (Ga 3:26,27; Ro 6:3,4; Col 2:12). In this connection the prepositions with which baptizein in the New Testament connects may be noted. Baptizein eis, "to baptize into," always denotes the relation into which the party baptized is placed. The only exception is Mr 1:9. Baptizein en, or baptizein epi, "to baptize in" (Ac 10:48; 2:38), denotes the basis on which the new relation into which the baptized enters, is made to rest (Cremer).

(d) The sanctifying gifts of the Holy Spirit (1Co 12:13; Tit 3:5). All these blessings Scripture declares to be effects of baptism (Wirkung der Taufe, Riehm, Handworterb.). "Baptism is called ?washing of regeneration,' not merely because it symbolizes it, or pledges a man to it, but also, and chiefly, because it effects it" (Holtzmann, Huther, Pfleiderer, Weiss). "Regeneration, or being begotten of God, does not mean merely a new capacity for change in the direction of goodness, but an actual change. The legal washings were actual external purifications. Baptism is actual internal purification" (Plummer). To these modern authorities Luther can be added. He says: "Baptism worketh forgiveness of sin, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe, as the words and promises of God declare" (Smaller Catech.). In Tit 3:5 the King James Version the force of the preposition dia, "by," deserves to be noted: it declares baptism to be the regenerating, renewing, justifying, glorying medium to the heirs of eternal life. The baptismal promise is supported, not only in a general way, by the veracity and sincerity of the Speaker, who is the Divine Truth incarnate, but also in a special way, by the Author's appeal to His sovereign majesty (Mt 28:18), and by the significant assurance of His personal ("I" = ego, is emphatic: Meyer) presence with the disciples in their afore-mentioned activity (Mt 28:20; compare Mr 16:20).

(4) A Plain Indication of the Scope:

"All nations," "the whole creation" (pase te ktisei to be understood as in Col 1:23 =" all men"). Baptism is of universal application; it is a cosmopolitan ordinance before which differences such as of nationality, race, age, sex, social or civil status, are leveled (compare Col 3:11 with 1Co 12:13). Accordingly, Christ orders baptism to be practiced "alway" (literally, "all days"), "even unto the end of the world," i.e. unto the consummation of the present age, until the Second Advent of the Lord. For, throughout this period Christ promises His cooperative presence with the efforts of His disciples to make disciples.

(5) A Prescribed Formula for Administering the Ordinance:

"Into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." The belief in the Trinity is fundamental to Christianity; accordingly, the sacred rite by which men are initiated into the Christian religion justly emphasizes this belief. The three Persons are mentioned as distinct from one another, but the baptismal command is issued upon their joint and coequal authority ("in the name," not "names"), thus indicating the Unity in Trinity. This ancient baptismal formula represents "the Father as the Originator, the Son as the Mediator, the Holy Ghost as the Realization, and the vital and vitalizing blessing of the promise and fulfillment," which is extended to men in this ordinance (Cremer).

2. The Biblical History of the Ordinance:

After the Lord had entered into His glory, we find that in the era of the apostles and in the primitive Christian church baptism is the established and universally acknowledged rite by which persons are admitted to communion with the church (Ac 2:38,41; 8:12 f, 36,38; 9:18; 10:47 f; 16:15,33; 18:8; Ro 6:3; 1Co 12:13; Ga 3:27). Even in cases where an outpouring of the special gifts of the Holy Spirit had already taken place, baptism is still administered (Ac 10:44 ff; 11:15 f). "Thus, baptism occupied among the Gentile converts to Christianity, and later among all Christians, the same position as circumcision in the Old Covenant (Col 2:11 f; Ga 5:2). It is, essentially, part of the foundation on which the unity of the Christian society rested from the beginning (Eph 4:5; 1Co 12:13; Ga 3:27 f)" (Riehm, Handworterb.).

3. Types of Baptism:

In 1Co 10:1,2 the apostle states that the Israelites "were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea." Farrar attempts the following solution of this type: "The passing under the cloud (Ex 14:19) and through the sea, constituting as it did their deliverance from bondage into freedom, their death to Egypt, and their birth to a new covenant, was a general type or dim shadow of Christian baptism (compare our collect, 'figuring thereby Thy holy baptism'). But the typology is quite incidental; it is the moral lesson which is paramount. 'Unto Moses'; rather, into. By this 'baptism' they accepted Moses as their Heavensent guide and teacher" (Pulpit Comm.). In 1Pe 3:21 the apostle calls baptism the antitupon of the Deluge. Delitzsch (on Heb 9:24) suggests that tupos and antitupon in Greek represent the original figure and a copy made therefrom, or a prophetic foretype and its later accomplishment. The point of comparison is the saving power of water in either instance. Water saved Noah and his family by floating the ark which sheltered them, and by removing from them the disobedient generation which had sorely tried their faith, as it had tried God's patience. In like manner the water of baptism bears up the ark of the Christian church and saves its believing members, by separating them from their filthy and doomed fellow-men.

III. Difficulties.

1. Are Matthew 28:18-20 and Mark 16:15,16 Genuine?:

Feine (PER3, XIX, 396 f) and Kattenbusch (Sch-Herz, I, 435 f) argue that the Trinitarian formula in Mt 28:19 is spurious, and that the text in Mr belongs to a section which was added to this Gospel at a later time. The former claim had first been advanced by Conybeare, but later research by Riggenbach has established the genuineness of the Trinitarian formula in Mt. Feine still maintains his doubts, however, on subjective grounds. As to the concluding section in Mr (16:9- 20), Jerome is the first to call attention to its omission in most Greek manuscripts to which he had access. But Jerome himself acknowledged Mr 16:14 as genuine. Gregory of Nyssa reports that, while this section is missing in some manuscripts, in the more accurate ones many manuscripts contain it. No doctrinal scruple can arise on account of this section; for it contains nothing that is contrary to the doctrine of Scripture in other places on the same subject; and it has always been treated as genuine by the Christian church. The question is a purely historical one (see Bengel, Apparatus Criticus, 170 f).

2. Was the Trinitarian Formula Used in New Testament Times?:

No record of such use can be discovered in the Ac or the epistles of the apostles. The baptisms recorded in the New Testament after the Day of Pentecost are administered "in the name of Jesus Christ" (Ac 2:38), "into the name of the Lord Jesus" (Ac 8:16), "into Christ" (Ro 6:3; Ga 3:27). This difficulty was considered by the Fathers; Ambrose says: Quod verbo tacitum fuerat, expressum est fide, "What had not been expressed in word, was expressed by faith." On close inspection the difficulty is found to rest on the assumption that the above are records of baptismal formulas used on those occasions. The fact is that these records contain no baptismal formula at all, but "merely state that such persons were baptized as acknowledged Jesus to be the Lord and the Christ" (Plummer). The same can be said of any person baptized in our day with the Trinitarian formula. That this formula was the established usage in the Christian church is proven by records of baptisms in Justin (Apol., I, 61) and Tertullian (Adv. Prax., XXVI).

3. Was Christian Baptism Really a New Ordinance?:

Baptism was practiced among the Jews prior to the solemn inauguration of this ordinance by the risen Christ. The ceremonial washings of the Jews are classed with the transient forms of the Levitical worship (Heb 9:9,10), which had not been intended to endure except "until a time of reformation." They were removed when Christian baptism was erected into an abiding ordinance of the church of God (Col 2:11-13). It is erroneous to say that those ancient washings developed into Christian baptism. A shadow does not develop into a substance. Nor do we find the origin of Christian baptism in the baptism of proselytes, which seems to have been a Jewish church custom in the days of Christ. Though the rite of baptism was not by unknown to the Jews, still the baptism of John startled them (Joh 1:25). Such passages as Isa 4:4 (1:16); Eze 36:25; 37:23; Zec 13:1 had, no doubt, led them to expect a rite of purification in the days of the Messiah, which would supersede their Levitical purification. The delegation which they sent to John was to determine the Messianic character of John and his preaching and baptizing. Johannic baptism has been a fruitful theme of debate. The question does not affect the personal faith of any Christian at the present time; for there is no person living who has received Johannic baptism (Chemnitz). The entire subject and certain features of it, as the incident recorded Ac 19:1-7, will continue to be debated. It is best to fix in our minds a few essential facts, which will enable us to put the Scriptural estimate on the baptism of John. John had received a Divine commission to preach and baptize (Lu 3:2; Joh 1:33; Mt 21:25). He baptized with water (Joh 3:23). His baptism was honored by a wonderful manifestation of the holy Trinity (Mt 3:16,17), and the Redeemer, in His capacity as the Representative of sinful mankind, the sin-bearing Lamb of God, accepting baptism at John's hand (Mt 3:13 ff; Joh 1:29 ff). It was of the necessity of receiving John's baptism that Christ spoke to Nicodemus (Joh 3:3 ff). The Pharisees invited their eternal ruin by refusing John's baptism (Lu 7:30); for John's baptism was to shield them from the wrath to come (Mt 3:7); it was for the remission of sin (Mr 1:4); it was a washing of regeneration (Joh 3:5). When Jesus began His public ministry, He took up the preaching and baptism of John, and His disciples practiced it with such success that John rejoiced (Joh 3:22,25-36; 4:1,2). All this evidence fairly compels the belief that there was no essential difference between the baptism of John and the baptism instituted by Christ; that what the risen Christ did in Mt 28:18-20 was merely to elevate a rite that had previously been adopted by an order "from above" to a permanent institution of His church, and to proclaim its universal application. The contrast which John himself declares between his baptism and that of Christ is not a contrast between two baptisms with water. The baptism of Christ, which John foretells, is a baptism with the Holy Ghost and with fire, the Pentecostal baptism. But for the general purpose of begetting men unto a new life, sanctifying and saving them, the Spirit was also bestowed through John's baptism (Joh 3:5).

4. Should Infants Be Baptized?:

The command in Mt 28:19; Mr 16:16 is all-embracing; so is the statement concerning the necessity of baptism in Joh 3:5. After reading these statements, one feels inclined, not to ask, Should infants be baptized? but Why should they not be baptized? The onus probandi rests on those who reject infant baptism. The desire to have their infants baptized must have been manifested on the day when the first three thousand were baptized at Jerusalem, assuming that they were all adults. The old covenant had provided for their children; was the new to be inferior to the old in this respect? (See Plummer in Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible (five volumes).) The baptism of entire households is presumptive evidence that children and infants were baptized in apostolic times (Ac 16:15,33; 18:8; 1Co 1:16). The arguments against infant baptism imply defective views on the subject of original sin and the efficacy of baptism. Infant faith-for, faith is as necessary to the infant as to the adult-may baffle our attempts at explanation and definition; but God who extends His promises also to children (Ac 2:39), who established His covenant even with beasts (Ge 9:16,17); Christ who blessed also little children (Mr 10:13 ff), and spoke of them as believers (Mt 18:6), certainly does not consider the regeneration of a child or infant a greater task than that of an adult (compare Mt 18:3,4).

5. Why Did Paul not Baptize?:

Paul did baptize Crispus, Gaius and Stephanas with his household. These baptisms he performed at Corinth alone; we have no record of his baptisms at other places. What Paul declares in 1Co 1:14-17 is, that by his baptizing he could not have become the cause of the divisions in the Corinthian congregation, because he had baptized only a few persons at Corinth, and, moreover, he had not baptized in his own name, hence had attached no one to his person. The statement, "Christ sent me not to baptize," is made after the Semitic idiom, and means: "not so much to baptize as to preach" (Farrar in Pulpit Commentary). If they are taken in any other sense, it is impossible to protect Paul against the charge that he did something that he was not authorized to do, when he baptized Crispus, etc.

6. What Is the Baptism for the Dead?:

1Co 15:29 is sometimes taken to mean that the early Christians practiced baptism by proxy. After they had been converted to Christianity, it is held, they desired to convey the benefits of their faith to their departed friends who had died in paganism, by having themselves baptized "in their behalf," perhaps on their graves. We have no evidence from history that such a practice prevailed in the early Christian churches. Nor does the text suggest it. The Greek preposition huper expresses also the motive that may prompt a person to a certain action. In this case the motive was suggested by the dead, namely, by the dead in so far as they shall rise. The context shows this to be the meaning: If a person has sought baptism in view of the fact that the dead are to rise to be judged, his baptism is valueless, if the dead do not rise.

Written by W. H. T. Dau


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