Why Do We Baptize by Dunking People All the Way in Water?

How is a baptism administered? Why does the person being baptized have to go all the way under the water? Doesn't the Bible mention other ways? Below, Pastor Mark and Dr. Gerry Breshears tackle the scriptural basis for full immersion baptism. All agree that water is the element of baptism. But the debate ensues regarding how water should be applied. Some prefer to sprinkle with water in light of a handful of biblical texts that mention being sprinkled with clean water. Others prefer pouring, to symbolize the Spirit poured out in new-covenant blessings. Still others prefer to immerse in water. We believe that the Bible clearly teaches baptism by immersion. It is the only mode associated with baptism in the Bible and the only mode that expresses the meaning of baptism as shown in passages such as Romans 6:1–10 and seven other lines of biblical reasoning.
  1. The Greek word used for baptism in the New Testament means to plunge, dip, or immerse in water. In secular ancient Greek, this word was used to explain such things as the sinking of ships that had been submerged in water. … The early translators of the Bible into English ran into the dilemma that translating baptizein as "immerse" would confuse people. So rather than translating the word, they merely transliterated it, changing the greek characters into Roman letters. However, the Dutch Bible actually translates the word so that the man who appears in Matthew 3:1 is Johannes de Doper, John the Dipper!
  2. According to Mark 1:5 John the Baptizer immersed people in the river. John also selected the Jordan River as the place for conducting his baptisms because "water was plentiful there."
  3. When Jesus was baptized it seems he was immersed in water since he came out of the water as the dove descended on him.
  4. Philip took the Ethiopian eunuch down into the water to baptize him, indicating it was by immersing him in water.
  5. Baptism is in a very real sense the remembrance of and identification with Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection. It would be inconceivable to understand Jesus' brutal murder as something that was sprinkled upon him rather than as a total burial into death and the grace. Only immersion accurately shows Jesus' death and descent into burial, followed by emersion out of the water into resurrection.
  6. When someone who was not racially Jewish converted to Judaism in the Old Testament (and in the present day), they underwent a Jewish proselyte baptism to show that God had cleansed them from their sin. The mode of this baptism was (and is) immersion.
  7. The Bible does speak of our salvation in terms of being cleansed from sin, sprinkled by Jesus, and having the Holy Spirit poured out upon us. However, it is important to note that none of the occurences of sprinkling or pouroing in the Bible are in any way related to baptism.
Christians should be baptized in the same manner as Jesus, immersed in water and then brought forth. In so doing, they are identifying with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. For more on baptism, check out our previous post on what baptism means and Pastor James' story about baptism and a little wafer. This post is excerpted from Vintage Church, by Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears, copyright © 2008. Used by permission of Crossway Books, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Illinois 60187, www.crossway.org.

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