Ever since I committed to writing my undergrad thesis (this word being an explicit profanity for most college seniors) on baptism, I’ve been rather fascinated with the topic. So when I was given only 35 minutes this past weekend to spill my guts on it, you could imagine how many boxes of tissues I went through. Countless trees paid the ultimate price as I wiped tear after tear off my cheek. There was so much I wanted to say, but so little time to say it. Piece after piece of valuable compelling research was cut from the script.
I sit here today confident that I know exactly what it’s like to be Dusty Baker at the end of spring training. Making cuts is no easy thing.
BTW – You can watch thevideo right here.
But in hopes of healing, here are three things that I had to cut that I thought were pretty interesting. Encourage these forgotten tid-bits by wasting 5 minutes reading them.
(1) The Greek verb baptizō, which is ultimately the word our English verb “baptize” was transliterated from, was used in a variety of contexts. However, it almost always carried the same meaning: baptizō literally means to dip, immerse, or wash. If you tuned in on Sunday, you know this. Here’s what you may not know.
Occasionally when this word was used metaphorically, it meant to be completely overwhelmed by something. Greeks would say things like:
*The affairs of my life have overwhelmed [baptizō] me! (Sign of Socrates 24 = Moralia 593f)
*My huge debt has overwhelmed [baptizō] me! (Galba 21.2 = Lives 1062c)
*All the alcohol I drank has overwhelmed [baptizō] me! (Summary of a Comparison between Aristophanes and Menander 1 = Moralia 853b).
(The previous are not exact quotations, but they help you get the right idea.)
In the context John the Baptist used it in, this word certainly did not carry any “religious” connotations. Nor could it represent anything less than complete overwhelming immersion in water. The very nature of the word demands it, both literal and metaphorical.
(2) The Greek verb baptizō actually comes from the more primitive Greek verb baptō (which also meant “to dip/immerse”). But the difference between the two verbs, baptizō and baptō, is the intensity of their meaning. The Greeks used the verb baptizō as an intensification of the simple verb baptō. By adding the “izo” root, it served to strengthen and intensify the meaning!
An ancient example of the difference between baptizō and baptō can be taken from an epigram on Eupolis’ play Baptae. Because Eupolis had satirized Alcibiades in his play, Alcibiades threw him into the sea crying, “You [Eupolis] dipped [baptō] me [Alcibiades] in plays, but I, immersing [baptizō] you in waves of the sea, will destroy you with waves more bitter.”
Multiple Choice question for you: Which is worse? (a) being dipped in humiliation because of a pointed stage-play OR (b) being immersed in the tumultuous waves of the sea to drown to your death.
In other words, in the context John the Baptist used baptizō, it most certainly did not mean that you just sorta-kinda dipped something. It meant to completely submerge it. Plunge it.
(3) Tertullian, a 2nd-3rd century Christian apologist, was actually the first person to reference the “baptism” of infants (On Baptism 18). This would place the development of this practice over 100 years after the date many mark as the completion of the New Testament canon and over 150 years after the birth of the church.
And ironically, his citation of this practice was not to promote it but rather to oppose it. He believed that baptism was being given too hurriedly when performed on young children. Tertullian writes (emphasis added):
“In what respect does the innocent period of life hasten to the remission of sins? Should we act more cautiously in worldly matters, so that divine things are given to those to whom earthly property is not given? Let them learn to ask for salvation so that you may be seen to have given ‘to him who asks.'”
This point to say that the early church’s formula seems to be immersion, in the name of Jesus, for those capable of conscious belief and personal repentance. And when other methods and means began to emerge with complimentary theological explanations to go with them, the “Founder of Western Theology” was quick to remind every one of their roots.
*Special thanks to the scholarship of Dr. Everett Ferguson & Dr. Jon Weatherly in the research for this sermon.