Skip to content

Does baptism always involve getting wet?

Of course not. Jesus, referring to his upcoming death, said:

I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!

(Luke 12:50)

There’s no evidence that Jesus got wet when he died.

Paul said of the Israelites,

For I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea …

(1 Cor 10:1-2)

The Israelites were baptized, but they didn’t get wet. In fact, the Israelites’ dryness is a pretty significant feature of the story of the Exodus. 1 Peter 3:20-21 talks about another time when not getting wet was the key factor in salvation (i.e. the time of Noah and the flood), and links this episode to “baptism”.

My point is that when we read the word βαπτίζω / βαπτισμός / βάπτισμα in the Bible, we shouldn’t rule out the possibility that it’s referring to a non-aqueous “immersion” into something or somebody. Of course, sometimes it’s obvious that the baptism actually involves water, and the baptisee gets wet (e.g. Luke 3:3, 16; and so therefore almost certainly Acts 2:38). But the literal use of water, as we have seen, is not always implied in the use of the word.

In other words, sometimes it’s better to actually translate the word-group βαπτι-* (as, e.g., “immersion”, which has a large semantic range in English) rather than merely transliterate it (as “baptism”, which has a much more specific and narrow semantic range).

I’m saying this because I think that people are often too quick to assume that Paul is talking about a Christian rite of initiation involving water when he talks about “baptism” in Romans 6:3-4 and Galatians 3:27.

Published inRomans

One Comment

  1. Dannii

    Great post. I’ve thought before how different Romans 6 sounds if you replace “baptise” with “immerse”.

    But as these uses of baptise are metaphorical you could also say that they got thoroughly wet in Christ, metaphorically 😉

Comments are closed.

Publications by Lionel Windsor:

  • Lift Your Eyes: Reflections on Ephesians

All posts

Recent blog posts

  • Photo by Ruben Bagues on UnsplashLiving light (Ephesians 5:11–14)
    How should Christians relate to the world around us? Should we withdraw, or should we engage? How do we know which action to do when?
  • Photo by Ben Mullins on UnsplashThe test that matters (Ephesians 5:10)
    We live in a world full of tests and measurements. Believers in Christ should also test our lives. But when we do, we need to use the right standard.
  • Photo by Eric Patnoudes on UnsplashChildren of light (Ephesians 5:8–9)
    Believers in Christ have had their very identity changed: once darkness like the world, but now light. The challenge is to believe it, and to live it.
  • Dark tunnel coming out of the Amphitheatre, PompeiiWhat do you want to become? (Ephesians 5:5–7)
    Our dreams drive our daily actions. In 5, 10, 20 years, what will you have become? Living in grace as an imitator of God, or a partner with the world?
  • Photo by Jordan Beltran on UnsplashHoly talk (Ephesians 5:3–4)
    Often we try to fit in with others by the way we speak. But God calls believers to be holy, not filthy, in our speech, even if it sounds strange to others.
  • Holding child's handImitators of God (Ephesians 5:1–2)
    Christians are God’s dearly loved children, raised from death to life and secure with him, now and forever. This is what gives us the power to sacrifice.
  • Preaching sermons and shepherding the flock: What’s the connection?
    Lionel Windsor | 2 Feb 2015 | Priscilla and Aquila Conference | Moore College, Sydney I’m here republishing my 2015 paper, which originally appeared as a PDF and video. See here for more on the
  • Photo: NASA/ISS CrewThe Amazon Fires: A Gospel Response
    Unprecedented numbers of fires are now burning in the Amazon rainforest. How can the gospel of Jesus Christ be brought to bear on the situation?
  • Photo by Xan Griffin on UnsplashThe Victory of the Cross
    According to the Bible, Jesus’ death on the cross is God’s victory and triumph—a victory and triumph Christ shares with all who trust in him... (Audio)
  • Photo by Lina Trochez on UnsplashThe power of forgiveness (Ephesians 4:31–32)
    Believers are to forgive, as God has forgiven us. Forgiveness is not only possible for believers, it’s also powerful for our lives and relationships.

On this site

All content copyright Lionel Windsor