"Of Dipping" by John Owen
Bapto, used in these scriptures, Luke xvi.24,
John xiii. 26, Rev. xix. 13, we translate "to dip." It is only "to touch
one part of the body." That of Rev. xix. 13 is better rendered, "stained
In other authors it is "tingo, immergo,
laveo," or "abluo;" but in no other author ever signified
"to dip," but only in order to washing, or as the means of washing. It
is nowhere used with respect unto the ordinance of baptism.
The Hebrew word, tabal, is rendered by the
LXX, Gen. xxxvii. 31, by moluno, "to stain by sprinkling" or
otherwise; mostly by bapto. 2 Kings v. 13 they render it by
baptizo, and nowhere else. In verse 10, Elisha commands Naaman "to
wash;" therefore that in verse 13 is that "he washed." Exod. xii. 22,
is, to put the top of the hyssop into blood, to sprinkle it; I Sam xiv.
27, is to take a little honey with the top of a rod. In neither place
can dipping or plunging be intended. Lev. iv. 6, 17, ix. 9, and in other
places, it is only to touch the blood, so as to sprinkle it.
Baptizo signifies "to wash," and instances out
of all authors may be given,-Suidas, Hesychius, Julius Pollux,
Phavorinus, and Eustathius.
It is first used in the Scripture, Mark i. 8, John i.
33, and to the same purpose, Acts i. 5. In every place it either
signifies "to pour," or the expression is equivocal. "I baptize you with
water, but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost;" which is the
accomplishment of that promise, that the Holy Ghost should be poured on
For the other places, Mark vii. 3, 4, nipto
and baptizo are plainly the same both "to wash." Luke xi. 38 is
the same with Mark vii. 3. No one instance can be given in the Scripture
wherein baptizo doth necessarily signify either "to dip" or
Baptizo may be considered either as to its
original, natural sense, or as to its mystical use in the ordinance.
This distinction must be observed concerning many
other words in the New Testament, as ekklesia, cheirotonia,
and others, which have a peculiar sense in their mystical use.
In this sense, as it expresseth baptism, it denotes
"to wash" only, and not "to dip" at all: for so it is expounded, Tit.
iii. 4; Eph. v. 26; Heb. x. 22; I Pet. iii. 321. And it signifies that
communication of the Spirit which is expressed by "pouring out" and
"sprinkling," Ezek. xxxvi. 25, and expresseth our being washed in the
blood of Christ, Tit. ii. 14; Heb. ix. 14, 19, 23.
Wherefore, in this sense, as the word is applied unto
the ordinance, the sense of dipping is utterly excluded. And though as a
mere external mode it may be used, provided the person dipped be naked,
yet to urge it as necessary overthrows the nature of the sacrament.
For the original and natural signification of it, it
signifies "to dip, to plunge, to dye, to wash, to cleanse."
But I say,-1. It doth not signify properly "to dip"
or "plunge," for that in Greek is embapto and embaptizo.
2. It nowhere signifies "to dip," but as a mode of and in order to
washing. 3. It signifies the "dipping" of a finger, or the least touch
of the water, and not plunging the whole. 4. It signifies "to wash,"
also, in all good authors.
I have not all those quoted to the contrary. In the
quotations of them whom I have, if it be intended that they say it
signifies "to dip," and not "to wash" or "to dip" only, there is neither
truth nor honesty in them by whom they are quoted.
Scapula is one, a common book, and he gives it the
sense of "lavo, abluo," "to wash," and "wash away."
Stephanus is another, and he expressly, in sundry
places, assigns "lavo" and "abluo" to be also the sense of
Aquinas is for dipping of children, provided it be
done three times, in honour of the Trinity; but he maintains pouring or
sprinkling to be lawful also, affirming that Laurentius, who lived about
the time 250, so practised. But he meddles not with the sense of the
word, as being too wise to speak of that which he understood not; for he
knew no Greek.
In Suidas, the great treasury of the Greek, tongue,
it is rendered by "madefacio, lavo, abluo, purgo,
The places in the other authors being not quoted, I
cannot give an account of what they say. I have searched some of them in
every place wherein they mention baptism, and find no one word to the
purpose. I must say, and will make it good, that no honest man who
understands the Greek tongue can deny the word to signify "to wash," as
well as "to dip."
It must not be denied but that in the primitive times
they did use to baptize both grown persons and children oftentimes by
dipping, but they affirmed it necessary to dip them stark naked, and
that three times; but not one ever denied pouring water to be lawful.
The apostle, Rom, vi. 3-5, is dehorting from sin,
exhorting to holiness and new obedience, and gives this argument from
the necessity of it and our ability for it,-both taken from our
initiation into the virtue of the death and life of Christ, expressed in
our baptism,-that by virtue of the death and burial of Christ we should
be dead unto sin, sin being slain thereby, and by virtue of the
resurrection of Christ we should be quickened unto newness of life; as
Peter declares, I Pet, iii. 21. Our being "buried with him," and our
being "planted together in the likeness of his death" and "in the
likeness of his resurrection," Rom. vi. 4, 5, is the same with "our old
man being crucified with him," and the "destroying of the body of sin,"
verse 6, and our being raised from the dead with him; which is all that
is intended in the place.
There is not one word nor one expression that
mentions any resemblance between dipping under water and the death and
burial of Christ, nor one word that mentions a resemblance between our
rising out of the water and the resurrection of Christ. Our being
"buried with him by baptism into death," verse 4, is our being "planted
together in the likeness of his death," verse 5. Our being "planted
together in the likeness of his death" is not our being dipped under
water, but "the crucifying of the old man," verse 6. Our being "raised
up with Christ from the dead" is not our rising from under the water,
but our "walking in newness of life," verse 4, by virtue of the
resurrection of Christ, I Pet. iii. 21.
That baptism is not a sign of the death, burial, and
resurrection of Christ, is clear form hence, because an instituted sign
is a sign of gospel grace participated, or to be participated. If
dipping be a sign of the burial of Christ, it is not a sign of a gospel
grace participated; for it may be where there is none, nor any
For the major: If all gospel ordinances are signs and
expressions of the communication of the grace of Christ, then baptism is
so; but this is the end of all gospel ordinances, or else they have some
other end, or are vain and empty shows.
The same individual sign cannot be instituted to
signify things of several natures; but the outward burial of Christ, and
a participation of the virtue of Christ’s death and burial, are things
of a diverse nature, and therefore are not signified by one sign.
That interpretation which would enervate the
apostle’s argument and design, our comfort and duty, is not to be
admitted; but this interpretation, that baptism is mentioned here as the
sign of Christ’s burial, would enervate the apostle’s argument and
design, our comfort and duty: and therefore it is not to be admitted.
The minor is thus proved: The argument and design of
the apostle, as was before declared, is to exhort and encourage unto
mortification of sin and new obedience, by virtue of power received from
the death and life of Christ, whereof a pledge is given us in our
baptism. But this is taken away by this interpretation; for we may be so
buried with Christ and planted into the death of Christ by dipping, and
yet have no power derived from Christ for the crucifying of sin and for
the quickening of us to obedience.
(John Owen, Works, vol.16, pp. 266-268)