HOW IS BAPTISM DEFINED
BY GREEK DICTIONARIES?
We must remember that "baptize" is an untranslated
word. The Greek term baptizo was simply brought into the
English, without translation. The final "o" (omega)
was dropped and the English "e" was added to give
us the English verb "baptize." In the case of the
Greek baptisma, the final "a" (alpha) was dropped
to give us the English noun "baptism." Therefore,
instead of trying to discover the meaning of the English
terms—"baptize" and "baptism"—we
need to discover the meaning of the Greek terms baptizo and
baptisma (and the related baptismos).
Just as a modern English dictionary defines English words
according to contemporary usage in the English-speaking world,
so a dictionary or "lexicon" of the Greek language
of ancient times will define the Greek term according to
its usage at that time in history. We are concerned about
the meaning of the Greek term baptizo at the time of Christ
when He commanded his disciples to "baptize" all
nations (Matt. 28:19).
How do standard and generally reliable lexicons define this
important Greek term? This is an important question since
a very few unreasonable anti-immersionists make certain startling
affirmations, such as the following: "Baptizo in various
forms is used 112 times in the New Testament, always meaning ‘pouring’" (E.J.
Berkey, The Bible Mode of Baptism, p. 15). A Lutheran writer
also makes this incredible assertion: "Neither John’s
nor any other baptism mentioned in the New Testament was
administered by immersion" (R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation
of The Acts of the Apostles, p. 112. In saying this, he conflicts
with Luther himself who at first was a strong proponent of
infant dipping.) Is there any possibility that such statements
can be consistently maintained? Is there any linguistic evidence
that would lead to these utterly extreme assertions? This
shows the importance of careful word studies, particularly
using contemporary, unbiased, and reliable Greek lexicons.
It is important that we consult the better, more reliable,
and more contemporary lexicons in our study of this term
as well as other Greek terms. A.T. Robertson makes this point: "When
one quotes an antiquated and partisan lexicon in favor of
sprinkling, he should be sure to give the date. No modern
Greek lexicons give any other meaning for baptizo than dip.
. . . A man today who argues that baptizo means to sprinkle
or pour throws suspicion on his scholarship and is on the
defensive" (Modern Scholarship and the Form of Baptism,
p. 4). With this caution in mind, notice these quotations
from a variety of Greek lexicons:
Baptizo: "To make a thing dipped or dyed. To immerse
for a religious purpose" (A Critical Lexicon and
Concordance to the English and Greek New Testament, E.W.
Baptizo: "Dip, immerse, mid. Dip oneself, wash (in
non-Christian lit. also ‘plunge, sink, drench, overwhelm.
. . .’)" (A
Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Arndt and
Gingrich, p. 131).
Baptizo: "immersion, submersion" (A
Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Grimm-Thayer,
Baptizo: "to dip, immerse, sink" (Manual
Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, Abbott-Smith, p.
Baptizo: "dip, plunge" (A Greek-English Lexicon,
Liddell & Scott, p. 305).
of the process of immersion, submersion and emergence (from
bapto, to dip)" (Vine’s
Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words).
sumberge. The peculiar N.T. and Christian use of the word
to denote immersion, submersion for a religious
purpose" (Biblico-Theological Lexicon of the New
Testament Greek, Cremer).
Baptizo: "to dip, immerse; to cleanse
or purify by washing" (The
New Analytical Greek Lexicon, Perschbacher, p. 66).
dip, to immerse, to sink. . . . There is no evidence that
Luke or Paul and the other writers of the
New Testament put upon this verb meanings not recognized
by the Greeks" (Greek and English Lexicon, Sophocles).
This is sufficient for us to see that there is little controversy
as to the meaning of the term baptizo as found in the Koine
(common) Greek language of the first century. The standard
Greek lexicons reveal that the term means to dip, to immerse,
to plunge, to sink, to submerge, to overwhelm, and other
synonyms. In one of the references, the result of the immersion
is given—to purify through washing.
We must qualify the definition above by Vine. He says that
the Greek baptisma consists of "the process of immersion,
submersion, and emergence." Strictly speaking, to baptize
means to dip, immerse, plunge, submerge, sink, or overwhelm
without reference to what occurs subsequent to this action.
Conant clarifies this point:
The word immerse, as well as its synonyms immerge, etc.,
expresses the full import of the Greek word baptizein. The
idea of emersion is not included in the meaning of the Greek
word. It means, simply, to put into or under water (or other
substance), without determining whether the object immersed
sinks to the bottom, or floats in the liquid, or is immediately
taken out. This is determined, not by the word itself, but
by the nature of the case, and by the design of the act in
each particular case. A living being, put under water without
intending to drown him, is of course to be immediately withdrawn
from it; and this is to be understood, wherever the word
is used with reference to such a case (Thomas Jefferson Conant,
The Meaning and Use of Baptizein, pp. 106-107).
As we discover that the Greek words bapto and baptizo do
have a meaning that was well known, we need to begin to break
the language barrier and see this matter from the perspective
of the Greek-speaker and Greek-writer. F.H. Chase explains
In English we translate the Greek word baptizein. When we
use the word "baptize" we think at once and we
think only of the religious rite. Apart from that rite the
word has no meaning for us. It is simply and solely a religious
technical term. But the Aramaic Christian when he used the
Aramaic word, and the Greek Christian when he used the Greek
word, would never in this particular application of the term
lose sight of its primary and proper signification "to
immerse," "to plunge in or into" ("The
Lord’s Command to Baptize," The Journal of Theological
Studies, July, 1905, p. 503).
Chase then asks us to think of how the Greek baptizo was
translated in the early versions of Scripture:
In their versions
of the New Testament the Syriac and the Egyptian Christians
translated the word baptizein. Latin-speaking
Christians, though like ourselves they commonly transliterated
it (baptizare), yet sometimes . . . used as its equivalent
the Latin verb tingere. What if we dare to follow their example
and, instead of transliterating it, venture to translate
it—Baptizontes autous eis to onoma, "immersing
them into the Name"? So surely a Greek-speaking Christian
would understand the words. He would regard the divine Name
as the element, so to speak, into which the baptized is plunged.
Thus the outward rite is seen to be an immediate parable
of a great spiritual reality (Ibid.).
Therefore, we must cross the language barrier
and seek to understand the word "baptize" as the
Greek-speaker would understand baptizo. Our examination of
dictionaries reveals that there is no mystery about the meaning
of the Greek terms baptizo and baptisma even though there
may be denominational objections to this practice today.