The historic practice of the Christian church is that baptism is to be carried out by immersion in water. This is because the word baptism comes from the Greek word baptisma which describes the dipping of an object in liquid. This is recognized by all secular historians and Greek scholars. That baptism was practiced by immersion also is confirmed by the Jewish roots of baptism. The practice of baptizing by sprinkling or pouring water arose over time for pragmatic reasons in the Western Church while the Eastern Church which knew Greek continued to practice baptism by immersion. The following quotations come from those who believed in infant baptism and practiced baptism by sprinkling yet nevertheless recognized that immersion was the ancient and biblical mode of baptism. Many more quotations could be added to this list:

Martin Luther

“The name baptism is Greek; in Latin it can be rendered immersion, when we immerse anything in water, that it may be all covered with water. And although that custom has now grown out of use . . . yet they ought to be entirely immersed, and immediately drawn out. For this the etymology of the name seems to demand” (On the Sacrament of Baptism; Opera Lutheri, 1:319).

Philip Melanchthon

“Baptism is immersion in water, which is performed with the accompanying benediction of admiration . . . Plunging signifies ablution from sin and immersion into the death of Christ” (Catechesis De Sacramentis; Opera Omnia, 1:25).

Ulrich Zwingli

“When ye were immersed into the water of baptism, ye were ingrafted into the death of Christ; that is, the immersion of your body into water was a sign that ye ought to be ingrafted into Christ” (Annotations on the Epistle to the Romans on Romans 6:3; Opera Omnia, 4:420).

John Calvin

“The very word baptize, however, signifies to immerse; and it is certain that immersion was the practice of the ancient church” (Institutues of the Christian Religion, Book 4, Chapter 15, Section 19).

Theodore Beza

“Christ commanded us to be baptized, by which word it is certain immersion is signified” (Second Letter to Tilium).

Girolamo Zanchius

“Baptism is a Greek word, and signifies two things; first, and properly, immersion in water: for the proper signification of Baptizo, is to immerse, to plunge under, to overwhelm in water” (Works 6:217).

William Tyndale

“The plunging into the water signifieth that we die, and are buried with Christ, as concerning the old life of sin which is Adam. And the pulling out again, signifieth that we rise again with Christ in a new life full of the Holy Ghost, which shall teach us and guide us and work the will of God in us, as thou seest” (Obedience of a Christian Man, 1571 edition, 143).

Richard Baxter

“We grant that Baptism then was by wash­ing the whole Body: And did not the differences of our cold country as to that hot one, teach us to remem­ber (I will have mercy and not sacrifice) it should be so here” (Paraphrase of the New Testament on Matthew 3:6).

Herman Witsius

“It is certain, that both John and the disciples of Christ ordinarily used dipping; whose example was followed by the ancient church, as Vossius, Disput. 1. de baptismo, Thes. 6, and Hoornbeck de baptismo Veterum, sect. iv. have shown from many testimonies both of the Greeks and Latins. 2dly, It cannot be denied, but the native signification of the words, baptein and baptizein, is to plunge or dip” (The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man, 3:390).

Francis Turretin

“As in former times the persons to be baptized were immersed in the water, continued under the water, and emerged out of it; Matt. 3:16. Acts 8:38; so the old man died in them and was buried, and the new man arose” (Disp. de Bap. Nubis and Mans, § 24. Inst. Theol., tom. 3, Loc. 19, Quaes. 11, § 14).

Thomas Chalmers

“The original meaning of the word baptism is immersion” (Lectures on Romans on Romans 6).

John Wesley

“Mary Welsh, aged eleven days, was baptized according to the custom of the first church, and the rule of the Church of England, by immersion. The child was ill then, but recovered from that hour” (Extract of Mr. John Wesley’s Journal, from his embarking for Georgia, 10).

Buried with him,’ alluded to the ancient manner of baptizing by immersion.” (Wesley’s Notes on Romans 6:4).

Philip Schaff

“Immersion and not sprinkling was unquestionably the original normal form of baptism. This is shown by the meaning of the Greek word and the analogy of the baptism of John” (History of the Apostolic Church, 2:256).

James Gibbons

“For several centuries after the establishment of Christianity baptism was usually conferred by immersion; but since the 12th century the practice of baptism by infusion has prevailed in the Catholic church, as this manner is attained with less inconvenience than by immersion” (Faith of Our Fathers, 317).

William Cave

“The action having proceeded thus far, the party to be baptized was wholly immerged, or put under water, which was the almost constant and universal custom of those times, whereby they did more notably and significantly express the three great ends and effects of baptism. For, as in immersion there are, in a manner, three several acts, the putting the person into water, his abiding there for a little time, and his rising up again, so by these were represented Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection; and, in conformity thereunto, our dying unto sin, the destruction of its power, and our resurrection to a new course of life. By the person’s being put into water was lively represented the putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, and being washed from the filth and pollution of them; by his abode under it, which was a kind of burial unto water, his entering into a state of death or mortification, like as Christ remained for some time under the state or power of death” (Primitive Christianity, 220).

William Wall

“Their (the primitive Christians) general and ordinary way was to baptize by immersion, or dipping the person, whether it were an infant, or grown man or woman, into the water. This is so plain and clear by an infinite number of passages, that as one can not but pity the weak endeavors of such Pedobaptists as would maintain the negative of it, so also we ought to disown and show a dislike of the profane scoffs which some people give to the English Antipedobaptists, merely for their use of dipping. It was, in all probability, the way by which our blessed Savior, and for certain was the most usual and ordinary way by which the ancient Christians did receive their baptism. Tis a great want of prudence, as well as of honesty, to refuse to grant to an adversary what is certainly true, and may be proved so. It creates a jealousy of all the rest that one says. As for sprinkling, I say, as Mr. Blake, at its first coming up in England, ‘Let them defend it who use it.’ They (who are inclined to Presbyterianism) are hardly prevailed on to leave off that scandalous custom of having their children, though never so well, baptized out of a basin, or porringer, in a bed-chamber, hardly persuaded to bring them to church, much further from having them dipped, though never so able to bear it” (History of Infant Baptism, part 2, chapter 2).

“In the case of sickness, weakness, haste, want of quantity of water, or such like extraordinary occasions, baptism by affusion of water on the face, was by the ancients, counted sufficient baptism. France seems to have been the first country in the world where baptism, by affusion, was used ordinarily to persons in health, and in the public way of administering it. There has been some synods, in some dioceses of France, that had spoken of affusion, without mentioning immersion at all, that being the common practice; but for an office or liturgy of any church, this is, (Referring to Calvin’s ‘Form of administering the Sacraments’) I believe, the first in the world that prescribes affusion absolutely; and for sprinkling, properly called, it seems it was, at 1645, just then beginning, and used by very few. It must have begun in the disorderly times after 1641. But then came The Directory, which says: ‘Baptism is to be administered, not in private places, or privately, but in the place of public worship, and in the face of the congregation,’ and so on. ‘And not in the places where fonts, in the time of Popery, were unfitly and superstitiously placed.’ So they reformed the font into a basin. This learned assembly could not remember that fonts to baptize in had been always used by the primitive Christians, long before the beginning of Popery, and ever since churches were built; but that sprinkling, for the common use of baptizing, was really introduced (in France first, and then in the other Popish countries) in times of Popery; and that accordingly, all those countries in which the usurped power of the Pope is, or has formerly been, owned, have left off dipping of children in the font; but that all other countries in the world, which had never regarded his authority, do still use it; and that basins, except in case of necessity, were never used by Papists, or any other Christians whatsoever, till by themselves. What has been said of this custom of pouring or sprinkling water in the ordinary use of baptism, is to be understood only in reference to these western parts of Europe, for it is used ordinarily nowhere else” (History of Infant Baptism, part 2, chapter 9).


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