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

Recent blog posts

  • Elf on the Shelf Balloon. Photo by Kim on Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/thegirlsny/8208193899God: Beyond us—and with us (Ephesians 3:20–21)
    God is nothing like the Elf on the Shelf. God’s power is far beyond us. Yet God’s power is at work in us. So God’s glory is our joyful goal.
  • EducationWhen education is not the answer (Romans 2:17–27)
    When education is not the answer (Romans 2:17–27). Amongst all the pragmatics & demands & struggles of ministry, you first need to know the why of ministry. You need deep and strong theology, and to apply that theology to your life & ministry.
  • Colosseum with skyThis is huge (Ephesians 3:18–19)
    God’s plans for his world, and his love for us in Christ, are vast and awe-inspiring. They change everything. That’s why need prayer to grasp them.
  • Inscription behind table in St Stephens Anglican Church NewtownWhere does God live? (Ephesians 3:16–17)
    Can God’s presence be with us? If so, how? In bread and wine? In a tangible experience of worship? In Ephesians, Paul speaks about how Christ dwells among us.
  • Photo by Greg Rakozy on UnsplashWho are you praying to? (Ephesians 3:14–15)
    Most people pray. But not everyone prays in the same way. Your view of God will have a profound effect on your prayer life. Who are you praying to?
  • Photo by Jilbert Ebrahimi on UnsplashWith Israel Folau (repost)
    Given the current controversy surrounding Israel Folau's social media post, a piece I wrote for the ABC News website has again become highly topical.
  • My afflictions, your glory (Ephesians 3:12–13)
    We can react to suffering by avoiding or escaping or denying or rationalising it. For Paul, the gospel of Christ leads to a profoundly different reaction.
  • Ceiling Pattern, Christ Church College Staircase, OxfordGod’s multidimensional wisdom (Ephesians 3:9–11)
    Do you think being a Christian is boring? If so, maybe your view of God is one-dimensional. But Paul sees God and his purposes in vivid multidimensional glory.
  • People and the Post, Postal History from the Smithsonian's National Postal MuseumThe meaning of ministry (Ephesians 3:7–8)
    Christian ministry is hard. So why be involved at all? Pragmatics and techniques alone can’t answer that question. We need to know the meaning of ministry.
  • Photo by Sai de Silva on UnsplashThe open secret (Ephesians 3:4–6)
    How can we know God’s will? Some try to see God’s will in the progress of history. But this is disastrous. God’s will is something we can’t work out by ourselves.

On this site

All content copyright Lionel Windsor