Building a biblical vocabulary: Baptism

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 2, 2016

Norm Fields

Contributing columnist

In recent articles I have talked about the theme for my preaching and teaching in 2016 — “Spend More Time with God.”

In planning for 2016, the goals I talked about last week were focused on achieving that theme of spending more time with God. Of course, one cannot spend time with God outside the scope of His word. That is, we learn how to spend time with God within His word, the Bible.

We must know and understand our Bibles for us to be able to spend time with God. To help us all do that I would like to write a series of articles on biblical word studies under the heading, “Building A Biblical Vocabulary.” I need your input for words from the Bible that you would like to have defined from the standpoint of how the Bible uses those words.

When we’re reading our Bibles we need to keep in mind that the Bible was not originally written in English. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew, with a little Aramaic in places. The New Testament was written in Koine Greek, also with some Hebrew and Aramaic words used in places.

While we can certainly read and understand the Bible in English (cf. Eph. 3:4), by getting the definitions of the original words and how they were used by biblical writers, in their cultural and historical settings, it will help us to have a deeper, fuller understanding of the Bible. Which will, in turn, help us to make a more complete application of the Bible to our lives.

For example, did you know that the word “baptize” is not actually an English word? And, when you look up the modern definition of “baptize” in an English dictionary it does not match the original use of that word in the Bible.

The Oxford Dictionary has it defined as “administer baptism to (someone); christen.” Christen! Really? Not even close! And, if you look up “baptism” in the Oxford, it says, “the religious rite of sprinkling water onto a person’s forehead or of immersion in water, symbolizing purification or regeneration and admission to the Christian Church.”

Keep in mind that a dictionary defines a word according to its common use at the time of the dictionary’s publication. The Oxford’s definition of baptism doesn’t even come close to matching the biblical use of the word.

Again, the word “baptism,” with its derivatives, is not an English word. It was not translated from a Greek word into an English word. Rather, it was transliterated into English. To transliterate a word means to simply give the original word a spelling in the English alphabet. So, it is actually a Greek word. And, the Greek word does not mean what modern dictionaries say the English word means.

The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament defines the words of the New Testament according to how they were both by biblical writers and outside the Bible. It says of “baptism,” “to dip in or under.” It was often used in Greek writing to refer to the dying of cloth, as the cloth would “immersed” in the dye.

Plato used it when referring to ships sinking beneath the water. Philo (20 BC – 50 AD) used it when referring to “sinking into.” The literal meaning of “baptism” is immersion. It was never used in reference to sprinkling or pouring water. It was used only in reference to being completely immersed in something — water, die, etc.

For example, it is used metaphorically of the Israelites being completely immersed into Moses authority as the leader for the nation (1 Corinthians 10:2). And New Testament Great Commission Baptism (Matthew 28:19, 20; Mark 16:16) is immersion in water for the forgiveness of sins and cleansing by the blood of Christ (Acts 2:38; 8:35-38; 22:16; cf. Rev. 1:5).

Thayer’s Greek Lexicon says of New Testament baptism, “…according to the view of the apostles, is a rite of sacred immersion, commanded by Christ, by which men confessing their sins and professing their faith in Christ are born again by the Holy Spirit unto a new life, come into the fellowship of Christ and the church (1 Co. 12:13), and are made partakers of eternal salvation.”

Again, those who communicated in Greek never used the word baptism to refer to sprinkling or pouring. For example, in the Greek translation of the Old Testament — the same one Paul would have preached from — in Leviticus 4:17, 18, the Holy Spirit uses three different words for “dip,” “sprinkle” and “pour.” The word of “dip” is baptism. The tip of the finger was to be immersed in the blood and then the blood on the tip of the finger was to be sprinkled seven times before the Lord. The blood that remained, after putting it on the horns of the altar, was to be poured out at the base of the altar.

The Greek words used here for sprinkle and pour are never used in reference to a person becoming a Christian. For a person to become a Christian they must be “immersed,” baptized, into Christ (Rom. 6:3, 4; Gal. 3:26, 27).

If there are specific words in the Bible that you would like to have studied in the course of this series, “Building A Biblical Vocabulary,” please let me know. You can email me or use the contact form on our website at to send me your words. Or, better yet, just come by to visit us and give it to me then.

Norm Fields is the minister for the Church of Christ Northside meeting at 1101 Hogansville Road in LaGrange. He may be reached at 706-812-9950 or