How To Baptize: The Mode

Biblically speaking, what is the proper mode of baptism? In other words, is the only option immersion, or are pouring and sprinkling also OK? In Reformed churches, all three are acceptable (dipping, pouring, and sprinkling; see WCF 28.3). Here’s how J. G. Vos explains it:

“The mode of baptism is a matter of indifference. That is, the quantity of water to be used and the manner in which it is to be applied are not matters which have been appointed in Scripture. In the history of the church there have been three modes of baptism, namely, effusion (pouring), sprinkling, and immersion. Any one of these constitutes a valid administration of baptism. The Confession of Faith states: ‘Dipping of the person into the water is not necessary; but baptism is rightly administered by pouring or sprinkling water upon the person’ (28.3). It should be noted that the Confession does not say that immersion is wrong, but only that it is not necessary; nor does it say that sprinkling is the only right mode of baptism, but only that by sprinkling or pouring baptism is ‘rightly administered,’ that is, that either of these modes, equally with immersion, constitutes a valid administration of the sacrament.”

A good question arises: “Is it true that the Greek word translated ‘baptize’ in the New Testament literally means ‘to immerse’?”

“Certainly not. In its New Testament usage, the Greek verb baptizo literally means ‘to wash,’ as will be seen by looking up Mark 7:4 and Luke 11:38, in both of which texts this verb is used, and where the idea of ‘immersion’ would obviously be out of place. The Greek noun baptismos literally means ‘washing,’ as is evident from mark 7:4, 8 and Hebrews 9:10. To suppose that tables were cleansed by immersion is absurd. Yet the Greek text of Mark 7:4 speaks of the ‘baptism’ of tables. The confident claim of Baptists that baptizo and baptismos in their New Testament usage mean ‘to immerse’ and ‘immersion’ will not stand the test of a careful scrutiny of the passages in the New Testament where these words occur.”

J. G. Vos, The Westminster Larger Catechism: A Commentary, p. 471-2.

Shane Lems

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