Baptism: Immersion Only? (Hodge)

Outlines of Theology, rewritten and enlarged ed. One question that Christians sometimes ask is this: What is the proper mode of baptism?  In other words, when we baptize someone, should it be by immersion, pouring, or sprinkling?  Reformed Christians will answer: Yes!  The main question about the mode of baptism is not how much water, but only the fact that water is used.  For example, the Westminster Confession notes that dipping is acceptable, but so is pouring or sprinkling (28:3). This Reformed view – that dipping, pouring, or sprinkling are all valid modes of baptism – is found in Scripture.

A. A. Hodge did a nice job of explaining this in chapter 42 of his “Outlines of Theology.”  In the following paragraphs, Hodge notes that the baptisms in the NT are not necessarily and always done by immersion.  In fact, Hodge notes that immersion is sometimes not even probable in these examples:

(1) The baptism of the eunuch by Philip, Acts 8:26–39, is the only instance which even by appearance favors immersion. But observe (a) the language used by Luke… applies just as naturally to baptism performed by affusion [pouring – spl] as by immersion. (b.) The Greek prepositions, εἰς, here translated into, and ἐκ, here translated out of, are in innumerable instances used to express motion, toward, unto, and from.—Acts 26:14; 27:34, 40. They probably descended from the chariot to the brink of the water. Philip is also said to have “descended to” and to have “ascended from the water,” but surely he was not also immersed. (c.) The very passage of Isaiah, which the eunuch was reading, Is. 52:15, declared that the Messiah, in whom he believed, should “sprinkle many nations.” (d.) Luke says the place was “a desert,” and no body of water sufficient for immersion can be discovered on that road.

(2.) Every other instance of Christian baptism recorded in the Scriptures bears evidence positively against immersion. (a.) The baptism of three thousand in Jerusalem on one occasion on the day of Pentecost.—Acts 2:38–41. (b.) The baptism of Paul.—Acts 9:17, 18; 22:12–16. Ananias said to him “standing up, be baptized,” ἀναστὰς βάπτισαι, and, “standing up, he was baptized.” (c.) The baptism of Cornelius.—Acts 10:44–48. (d.) The baptism of the jailor, at Philippi.—Acts 16:32–34. In all these instances baptism was administered on the spot, wherever the convert received the gospel. Nothing is said of rivers, or much water, but vast multitudes at a time, and individuals and families were baptized in their houses, or in prisons, wherever they happened to be at the moment.

 Archibald Alexander Hodge, Outlines of Theology: Rewritten and Enlarged (New York: Hodder & Stoughton, 1878), 614–615.

Shane Lems,
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

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