Baptism in a nutshell


Charles Taylor, M.d ., D.D.,

Of the Kentucky annual conference, m. e. church, south.


Edited by Thomas o. summers, d.d.


Published by a. h. redford, agent,

for the m. e. church, south





Baptism in a nutshell



 Baptism, as a Christian ordinance, is the application of water to the person, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. For John the Baptist says, in Matt. 3: 11: “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance; but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.” This declaration is also recorded, in nearly the same words, by Mark, Luke, and John.

How were they baptized with fire? On the day of Pentecost, “there appeared unto them cloven tongues like unto fire, and it sat upon each of them.”

How were they baptized with the Holy Ghost? “They were all filled with  the Holy Ghost.” It came upon them; for Jesus said, in Luke 24: 49: “Behold I send the promise of the Father upon you.” Again, in Acts 1: 5, He said: “For John truly baptized with water, but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.” Also in verse 8: “Ye shall receive power after the Holy Ghost is come upon you.”

Of this baptism, Peter said, in Acts 2: 17: “This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel, And it shall pass in the last days, saith God, “I will pour my Spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thy offspring.” Peter says, in Acts 2: 33: “Having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear.” Then I remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost.”

That which Solomon, Isaiah, Joel, and Peter called pouring, John the Baptist, Peter, and our Lord Himself, called baptism. The Spirit came upon—was poured out—was shed forth—fell upon. It also positively determined that in the way in which they were baptized with the Holy Ghost, was the way in which John baptized with water; consequently he must have poured it upon them. Then do not they who say that baptism may not be by pouring contradict John the Baptist, Peter, and even our Saviour himself?

“Born of water and the Spirit.” John 3: 5. If this refers to baptism at all, it must be as above shown. The Spirit was to be poured upon—should not the water be applied in the same way?



John baptized “in Jordan.” He also baptized “in Bethabara beyond Jordan .” Was Bethabara a river? Thus we see that the little Greek word translated “in,” often means “at,” “by,” “near,” “with,” etc. And as we have been shown that he must have baptized by pouring, the people may have stepped down to, or into, the edge of the stream, where he took some water in his hand, or in some convenient vessel, and poured it on their heads. “Jesus went up into a mountain.” Did he go under the ground on the mountain? Peter—2 Epistle 1: 18—referring to the transfiguration, says: “When we were with him in the holy mount.” Were they under the earth there? So that coming up out of the water does not by any means imply that he had been put under it. The more correct translation of the word “out of,” would have been “from,” as every Greek scholar knows for himself—it is “apo.” Matt. 3: 16.



We read in Mark 7: 4: “The washing of cups, and pots, and brazen vessels, and tables.” The word “washing” is in the original, “baptisms,” and the word “tables” is “beds,” or “couches.” Ask any Greek scholar, Could they have immersed beds or tables?

That the quantity of water used was altogether unimportant, even to be called a washing, is evident from what Christ said to Peter in John 13: 10: “He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit.”

In 1 Peter 3: 20, 21, we read: “In the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us, (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), etc. Paul tells us how that was—“having our hearts sprinkled from and evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.” Heb. 10: 22, 23.

The Lord directed Moses (Num. 8: 7): “Sprinkle water of purifying upon them,” etc. So God says in Ezekiel 36: 25: “I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean,” etc. These and many other passages that might be quoted, show that water, being pure, is used only as a symbol of purifying, and that for this purpose a few drops do as well as an ocean.

John was baptizing “in Enon—because there was much water there.” The original is, “many waters,” and the very name “Enon” is a Chaldee word, meaning “springs.” When those great multitudes went out to hear John, it was particularly necessary, in that dry and hot country, that he should go where they could have enough water for drinking, cooking, and for their animals. So with us, whenever a place is wanted for a camp-meeting, it is always selected where there is “much water;” for it is needed for all those purposes. An army always, when it can, encamps near a pond, stream, or springs, because it requires “much water.”



The eunuch was baptized in a region which is “desert.” Acts 8: 26. Geographers and travelers tell us that from Jerusalem to Gaza there are no streams deep enough to immerse in; but that water is to be procured mostly from wells. The words translated “into” and “out of,” very often, as we have seen, mean “to” and “from,’ and most learned men think they should have been so rendered here. For it is incredible that they went down into a spring or well; but down from the chariot to (eis) the rivulet or water drawn from a well; and when Philip had baptized him, they came up from the water.

Saul, on his way to Damascus , when the sudden light shone around him, fell to (eis) the ground—the very same word. Did he fall into the ground? Acts 22: 7, and 26: 14.

In John 21: 9, “As soon as they were come to (eis) land.” The same word again. Did they come into the land?

Christ commanded Peter to go to (eis) the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that came up—Matt. 17: 27—the very identical word that is used where it says Philip and the eunuch went down “eis” the water. Did Peter go into the sea? In this case it is probable the baptism was by sprinkling; for only a few verses (there was no division into chapters and verses then) before the passage the eunuch was at that moment reading in Isaiah, he had doubtless just (chapt. 52: 15), “And he shall sprinkle many nations.” Was not this prophecy fulfilled on the day of Pentecost?



Three thousand people, of at least fifteen different nations, were baptized after nine o’clock in the morning. Acts 2: 1-15. This was at the rate of about five in every minute, even if they stopped preaching altogether and did nothing but baptize from that time till sunset. Could so many have been immersed in that time? Especially as it was near midsummer, when water must have been very scarce—the little brook Kidron, to the East of Jerusalem, being nearly dry, and the pools and cisterns in the city probably affording the people only sufficient for daily use. Think, too, of thus defiling all the water, even if there was enough, in and around Jerusalem , from which the multitudes there had to drink and cook. Besides, would the enraged people and authorities of Jerusalem , who had crucified Jesus, have permitted such a use of their pools and cisterns to accommodate his hated followers? Think also of these thousands going about all the day with wet clothing; for nearly all of them were strangers, far from home. These and many other circumstances render their immersion improbable in the extreme, if not absolutely impossible. Must they not have been baptized by sprinkling, as predicted by both Isaiah and Ezekiel?



Acts 10: 44-47: “While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished,…because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost…Then answered Peter, Can any man forbid water that these should not be baptized which have received the Holy ghost as well as we?” Can this possibly mean anything else than that water should be brought and poured upon them as the Holy Ghost had just been? If Peter had meant immersion, would he not have said, “Can any man forbid that these should be taken to the water?”

Referring to this event in the next chapter (Acts 11: 15), he says: “The Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning. Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost.”



 Of Saul, about the time of his conversion, it is said, in Acts 9: 18: “He arose, and was baptized.” In the original Greek it reads, “Having risen up (stood up), he was baptized”—right there in the room where he was. If by immersion, would it not have said, “He went, and was baptized?”

When the element or material to be used, or the thing to be done, was actually present, the command was, as to the paralytic, “Arise, take up thy bed, and walk:” because the bed was within reach. The command to Peter in his vision was, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat;” because the animals were there near him. When it was not near at hand, the command was, as to the foolish virgins, “Go wash in the pool of Siloam, and he went, and washed”—because the water was not there within reach.

So Paul, in Acts 22: 16, tells us that Ananias said to him, “Arise and be baptized,” because there must have been enough water for that, there in the house. The original is, “Having risen up, be baptized”—right here where you are. If by immersion; would Ananias not have said, “Go, and be baptized?” But Saul had been fasting for three days and nights, and had probably become too weak to walk till after his baptism. For the next verse tells us, “When he had received meat he was strengthened.”

Will some one say there might have been a bath in the room? This is highly improbable; for baths were mostly confined to public bathhouses; being rarely found in the dwellings of the very rich. But suppose there was one there in the house of Judas. Their baths were vessels only deep enough to sit in while the water was poured upon the body. (See Anthon’s School Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, pages 47, 48.)

“The word baptisterium is not a bath sufficiently large to immerse the whole body, but a vessel containing cold water for pouring over the head.” (Smith’s Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, page 148.)



The jailer and all his family were baptized in the night and in the prison (Acts 16: 33), where it is most unwarrantable to presume that there was enough water to immerse. Very few if any city jails, even in the days of modern civilization, have bathing arrangements for prisoners; much less can we suppose that in those times, proverbial for neglect of all conveniences for the comfort and health of such unfortunates, bath-tubs or tanks of water were provided for them. They had been “thrust into the inner prison.” The jailer brought them out into his house, which must have been in the outer prison, as is often the case. If Paul left the prison premises to go to some river or pond to immerse, he was, on the next morning, guilty of deception; for when the magistrates sent word to let him and Silas go, he refused to stir from the prison (verse 37, as if he had not been out already) till they should come and fetch them out. Besides, by Roman law, the penalty for letting prisoners go out was death to the jailer. Would Paul have so exposed him?



 The Israelites “were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea.” 1 Cor. 10: 2. They could not have been immersed in the cloud, for it “went before their face, and stood behind them.” Ex. 14: 19. It would be natural that, as it passed over their heads, drops from it should fall upon them. Referring to this very event, Psalm 77: 17 says “the clouds poured out water.” Besides this baptizing, Paul says “they were baptized in the sea.” This could only have been by their being sprinkled by the spray from the walls of water as they went through on “dry ground.” They certainly were not immersed in the sea, but the Egyptians were.



“So many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death: therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death.” Rom. 6: 3, 4. “Buried with him in baptism.”  Col. 2: 12. In these passages there is no allusion whatever to the mode of baptism. The meaning is evidently this: that in receiving baptism by any mode, we attest our faith in our Lord Jesus Christ; and in the design and efficacy of his death; and by this act declare ourselves dead unto sin, and buried with regard to it, indication that our separation of our bodies from the world would be if they were dead and buried.

But is our immersionist friends still insist that the mode is here referred to, let them bear in mind that, in burial, the earth is sprinkled, poured, put upon the body, which is not immersed into the earth.

“One Lord, one faith, one baptism.” Eph. 4: 5. The baptism of the Spirit is here evidently alluded to: for “by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body.” 1 Cor. 12: 13. And we have already seen how he baptized. But is any insist that it means water, the argument remains the same—a baptism, by whatever mode, pouring being the most scriptural, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.



The Lord’s-supper is admitted to be a divine ordinance, as well as baptism. If adherence to what is presumed to be the original mode of administration and reception is essential in the latter, it must be equally so in the former. Now we know that the ancients, in taking their meals, reclined on broad couches, and their feet extended at full length out behind, and supporting the body on one elbow, they took their food from the table before them with the other hand. The posture was that of nearly lying down. This explains how the woman could come behind Jesus at the table, and wash and anoint his feet. Now, to be at all consistent with themselves, immersionists should adhere as rigidly to this mode of celebrating the Lord’s-supper as to what they assume to be the mode in baptism, and should never administer or receive it in any other position than in reclining on a wide couch. They attach great importance to following the example of Christ, as they say, in baptism: why not follow his example as closely in the Lord’s-supper?



Again: consider the extreme difficulty and frequent impossibility of immersion among the inhabitants of the frigid zones—regions of perpetual ice—difficulties and dangers often very great, even here in our milder climate during the winter. To those in delicate health, it has been known in some cases to prove fatal.* On the other hand, how can it be practicable in vast deserts, as in Sahara and in Arabia, where the only water the numerous wandering tribes ever see is in deep wells?

Once more: must those who repent on sick beds or in their dying hours be denied baptism? We have known of some in that condition who received baptism by sprinkling or pouring, and were satisfied with it, though they had been led for years to think immersion the only way, and then died rejoicing. If pouring was sufficient just before entering heaven, is it not sufficient for our Christian life on earth?

Now can any one believe that the Lord would enjoin a mode of performing an ordinance that cannot be practiced in all seasons, in all climates, in all countries, on all persons, at all times, in all places, in all conditions, and under all circumstances? It is impossible. For what is commanded to all, must be practicable to all, always and everywhere. Immersion is often impracticable, dangerous, and impossible: it cannot, therefore, be the proper mode of baptism.



The Cleveland Plaindealer chronicles the following fact: “On that cold Monday, the 30th of December last (1872),  the rite of baptism was administered to three ladies by a minister of the Disciple persuasion in one of the towns of this country. A hole was cut in the ice, and with the thermometer down to zero, the minister entered the creek tightly enveloped in a water-proof suit and immersed the three ladies. The ladies had on their usual wearing apparel—no water-proof vestments for them. Before the ladies could be taken to the nearest house, their hair and clothing were frozen stiff. One of them is confined upon a sick-bed with the chances against her recovering, and the other two are ill from the effects of their immersion.”


Christian Baptism  Baptism: its Mode, its Meaning, its Madness 




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