Friday, January 26, 2018

Immersed in immersion (modified)

I am a Baptist. Baptists, in addition to the ordinance of pot luck, are known for

  1. Baptizing  professing believers
  2. Baptizing by immersion

I'm for both. However I think only the first can lay a reasonable claim to being proved by scripture. The second, in my opinion, cannot be demonstrated beyond what we call in math and physics a "plausibility argument." I support baptism by immersion not because it is prescribed in the bible, but because it is a beautiful tradition that almost perfectly symbolizes death, burial, and resurrection.

I simply don't find "proofs" of immersion from my beloved baptist brothers and sisters satisfying. I'd like to, but I don't.

The Baptist derivation of  immersion as the only acceptable mode for baptism is based on three arguments. One is the meaning of the Greek word babtizo, for which the (incorrect) claim is made that it absolutely implies immersion. The second (and strongest) argument is that Paul's writing identifies baptism as the symbolism for Christ's death, burial, and resurrection, and only immersion gives justice to that symbolism. And the third is that the baptisms described in scripture clearly indicate immersion.

All three of these points are susceptible to counter-arguments, but the last one is probably the weakest of the three, and is the only one I'll discuss here.

The basis for the argument is the Greek preposition eis which, in the relevant passages we'll examine, is translated as out of and into. However, it can also be translated as to, upon, unto, towards, for, and among.

The most quoted passage is that of Jesus' baptism, another famous 3:16 verse:
And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: (Matt 3:16)
Here the argument goes that if Jesus came "out of" the water, then he must have been immersed. Obviously that is not the case: if one is waist deep with a dry head one can still come up out of the water by walking to the shore. This passage is, at most, suggestive of immersion. It does not require it.

However, the death blow to this argument (not the death blow to the case for immersion, just the death blow for using such passages to prove that it is the only legitimate mode) comes from the case of the Ethiopian eunuch. There we read:
36As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, "Look, here is water. Why shouldn't I be baptized?" 38And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. 39When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. (Acts 8:36-39, NIV)
The problem here for Baptists is that whatever was described for the Ethiopian in relation to the water must also apply to Philip. They both went "into" the water. They both came "up out of" the water. If such language, the same as used in describing Jesus' baptism, demands immersion—then we must conclude that the baptizer (Philip) was also immersed. I know of no Baptist church that requires the pastor to be immersed when administering the ordinance.

 The observant will note there is no verse 37. It was not left out.

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