Pristine Grace

Dispelling the Stink about Submersion
by Bob Higby

Dispelling the Stink about Submersion

     I can't believe how much preachers continue to lie to us in spite of abundant evidence of the truth! "Ritual immersion among the Essenes" is parroted as evidence that the New Testament commands a believer to have the entire body submerged in a 'watery grave' Well,

     1. As all who read here know by now, none of the Dead Sea Scroll community documents were written by Essenes (in spite of the bad theology in some)!

     2. The baptisms described in the community rule document were CLEARLY administered by aspersion and not submersion:

And when his flesh is sprinkled with purifying water and sanctified by cleansing water, it shall be made clean by the humble submission of his soul to all the precepts of God. 1QSIII9 (Geza Vermes translation)

     It is true that many (though not all) baptisms occurred with a portion of the body IMMERSED in 'cleansing' water, however, even in such instances the water applied to the remainder of the body was administered by aspersion (the 'sprinkling' with purifying water). This practice continued until at least the second century A.D. The Didache describes a similar administration:

And concerning baptism, baptize this way: Having first said all these things, baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living water. But if you have no living water, baptize into other water; and if you cannot do so in cold water, do so in warm. But if you have neither, pour out water three times upon the head into the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit. But before the baptism let the baptizer fast, and the baptized, and whoever else can; but you shall order the baptized to fast one or two days before. (Roberts-Donaldson translation)

     While the theology of the Didache is certainly suspect on many points, I am convinced that the basic mode of baptism is not altered from that of the Jewish nonconformists, John the Baptist, or the apostles of Jesus Christ. Some think that the pouring allowed here is a substitute for submersion in extreme circumstances; it is not. It is simply stating that a cleansing by aspersion alone may be performed if no large quantity of clean water is available to stand in. In other words, the aspersion in the name of the Trinity was still performed when the candidate stood in running water (similar to what is described as the 'cleansing water' in the DSS).

     The trine submersion of Eastern Orthodoxy and bare dab of Roman Catholicism are both extremes of administration that developed over time; the differences were largely to distinguish one branch of christendumb from the other (like the difference in 'sacred calendars').

     This all perfectly harmonizes with the biblical meaning of BAPTIZO--to wetten, soak, immerse with water. In the same manner as Nebuchadnezzar was baptized with the dew of heaven (Dan. 4:33). The aspersion of water on a believer signifies the washing or baptism of the Holy Spirit in regeneration that has taken place.

     Those who require water submersion as a condition of church membership, communion, and the holding of teaching offices are showing contempt for the real purpose and intent of water baptism in scripture. It was intended as a joyful celebration of faith in the gospel, not as a neo-nomian dividing wall of hostility.