Immersion baptism
Immersion baptism is a method of baptism
In Christianity, baptism is for the majority the rite of admission , almost invariably with the use of water, into the Christian Church generally and also membership of a particular church tradition...

 that is distinguished from baptism by affusion
Affusion is a method of baptism where water is poured on the head of the person being baptized. The word "affusion" comes from the Latin affusio, meaning "to pour on" . Affusion is one of three or four methods of baptism, in addition to the greater wetting of total immersion baptism and...

 (pouring) and by aspersion
Aspersion , in a religious context, is the act of sprinkling with water, especially holy water. Aspersion is a method used in baptism as an alternative to immersion or affusion...

 (sprinkling), sometimes without specifying whether the immersion is total or partial, but very commonly with the indication that the person baptized is immersed completely. The term is also, though less commonly, applied exclusively to modes of baptism that involve only partial immersion (see Terminology, below)

Majority view

According to Lindsay, the majority view in the Christian church identifies three modes of baptism; immersion (the baptizand enters the water bodily and submerges their head), affusion (water is poured on a baptizand who may or may not be standing in water), and aspersion (water is sprinkled on the face). The view that distinguishes immersion from affusion and aspersion is found in standard Bible dictionaries such as Eerdman's Bible Dictionary, the Encyclopedia of Christianity, the Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms, the Pocket Dictionary of Theological terms, and the New International Bible Dictionary.

Some of these do not explicitly indicate whether immersion is to be understood as complete or partial.

Grenz and Rice differentiate baptism by immersion from pouring water over the head of a baptismal candidate standing in water. It is differentiated also from pouring water on the head of the baptismal candidate not standing in water (affusion), by Lindsay (who understands baptism by immersion to imply submersion) and by others who do not specify the form of immersion.

Other views

Others interpret baptism by immersion as submersion, a usage found also in the denominational literature of the Roman Catholic, Jewish, and evangelical traditions. Other sources state explicitly that baptismal immersion can be either total or partial, and do not find it tautologous to describe a particular form of immersion baptism as "full" or "total".

The term "immersion baptism" is also used to refer exclusively to partial immersion such as simply immersion of the head. Three standard reference works, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, the Oxford Dictionary of the Bible, and Christianity in Roman Britain to A.D. 500 (a historical survey), differentiate total submersion from the term "immersion baptism", using the term "submersion baptism". This usage can be found also in the denominational literature of the Anglican, Catholic, Presbyterian, and Lutheran churches.

Early Christianity

Warren Wiersbe notes that New Testament scholars "generally agree that the early church baptized by immersion". Thomas Schreiner likewise states that "Most scholars agree that immersion was practiced in the NT", identifying submersion as the form of immersion practiced. Heyler says most New Testament scholars generally agree that Christian baptism in the New Testament era was by immersion. Everett Ferguson
Everett Ferguson
Everett Ferguson currently serves as Distinguished Scholar in Residence at Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas...

 similarly speaks of "general scholarly agreement" that the baptism commanded by Jesus was immersion in water by dipping, in the form of a "full bath". He describes medieval depictions of Jesus standing in water while John poured water over him as a "strange fantasy" deriving from later church practice. Di Berardino describes the baptism of the New Testament era as generally requiring total immersion, and Lang says "Baptism in the Bible was by immersion, that is, the person went fully under the waters".

Archaeological evidence

Five professional archaeological studies carried out in the last twenty five years which are cited widely and regularly in the relevant scholarly literature (Sanford La Sor
William Sanford La Sor
William Sanford La Sor was professor emeritus of Old Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.-Library:The William Sanford La Sor memorial library was left to Oral Roberts University. The library is held on the 4th floor of the Learning Resource Center...

, 1987; Lothar Heiser, 1986; Jean-Charles Picard, 1989; Malka Ben Pechat, 1989; Everett Ferguson, 2009), agree on the same conclusions on the archaeological and literary evidence. On the basis of archaeological and textual evidence, Sanford La Sor (1987), considers it likely that the archaeological evidence favours total immersion. Lothar Heiser (1986), likewise understands the literary and pictorial evidence to indicate total immersion. Jean-Charles Picard (1989), reaches the same conclusion, and so does Malka Ben Pechat (1989). The latest comprehensive survey of previous studies and examination of the archaeological and literary evidence in combination, a study by Everett Ferguson (2009), confirms the findings of La Sor, Heiser, Picard, and Pechat.

The same view is found in various reference works commenting on early church practice. A recent Bible encyclopedia speaks of the "consensus of scholarly opinion" that the baptismal practice of John the Baptist and the apostles was by immersion. An encyclopedia of Roman Catholicism specifies that the immersion was total, noting that the preference of the Early Church was total immersion in a stream or the sea or, if these were not available, in a fountain or bath-sized tank, and a standard Bible dictionary says that baptism was normally by immersion. Among other sources, Old says that immersion (though not the only form), was normally used, Grimes says "There is little doubt that early Christian baptism was adult baptism by immersion.", Howard Marshall says that immersion was the general rule, but affusion and even sprinkling were also practiced, since "archaeological evidence supports the view that in some areas Christian baptism was administered by affusion". His presentation of this view has been described by Porter and Cross as "a compelling argument". Laurie Guy says immersion was probably the norm, but that at various times and places full immersion, partial immersion and affusion were probably in use. Tischler says that total immersion seems to have been most commonly used. Stander and Louw argue that immersion was the prevailing practice of the Early Church.

Although stating that the New Testament does not state specifically what action the baptizer did to the person baptized, when both were in the water, Grenz states "Nevertheless, we conclude that of the three modes immersion caries the strongest case – exegetically, historically, and theologically. Therefore under normal circumstances it ought to be the preferred, even the sole, practice of the church.". Most scholars agree that immersion was the practice of the New Testament church.

The Oxford Dictionary of the Bible (2004) says "Archaeological evidence from the early centuries shows that baptism was sometimes administered by submersion or immersion...but also by affusion from a vessel when water was poured on the candidate's head...".

Earliest description of Christian baptism outside the New Testament

The Didache
The Didache or The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles is a brief early Christian treatise, dated by most scholars to the late first or early 2nd century...

or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, an anonymous book of 16 short chapters, is probably the earliest known written instructions, outside of the Bible, for administering baptism. The first version of it was written . The second, with insertions and additions, was written . This work, rediscovered in the 19th century, provides a unique look at Christianity in the Apostolic Age. Its instructions on baptism are as follows:
Commentaries typically understand that the Didache indicates a preference for baptizing by immersion. in "living water" (i.e., running water, seen as symbolic of life). Barclay observes the Diache shows that baptism in the early church was by total immersion, if possible, Barton describes the immersion of the Didache as "ideally by total immersion", and Welch says it was by "complete immersion". In cases of insufficient water it permits pouring (affusion), which it differentiates from immersion, using the Greek word ekcheō, ("pour", in the English translation) and not baptizō ("baptize", in the English translation), but which it still considers to be a form of baptism (baptisma).

Martin and Davids say the Didache envisages "some form of immersion", and the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church refers its readers to its entry on immersion, which it distinguishes from submersion and affusion.

The Didache gives "the first explicit reference to baptism by pouring, although the New Testament does not exclude the possibility of this practice"> Brownson says that the Didache does not state whether pouring or immersion was recommended when using running water, and Sinclair B. Ferguson argues that the only mode that the Didache mentions is affusion. Lane says that "it is probable that immersion was in fact the normal practice of baptism in the early church, but it was not regarded as an important issue", and states that the Didache does not suggest that the pouring of water was any less valid than immersion.

New Testament studies

Christian theologians such as John Piper
John Piper (theologian)
John Stephen Piper is a Christian preacher and author, currently serving as Pastor for Preaching and Vision of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota...

 use several parts of the New Testament
New Testament
The New Testament is the second major division of the Christian biblical canon, the first such division being the much longer Old Testament....

 to support full immersion (submersion) as the intended symbol:
Piper asserts that baptism refers to the physical lowering into the water and rising in faith in part because of the reflection of this symbol in which says "having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life." The majority scholarly view is that full immersion was the usual practice of the New Testament church. A minority view typically found in sectarian commentary is that there is no evidence in the New Testament that any one mode of baptism was used.

Grammatical criticism

As criticism of the claim that, in , which is the only reference in the New Testament to Christian baptism being administered in the open, the actions of "going down into the water" and "coming up out of the water" indicate that this baptism was by immersion, it is pointed out that "going down into" and "coming up out of" a river or a store of still water, actions there ascribed to both the baptizer and the baptized, do not necessarily involve immersion in the water. In the nineteenth century, anti-immersionist Rev. W. A. McKay wrote a polemic work against immersion baptism, arguing that it was a theological invention of the Roman Catholic Church. Differentiating between immersion and affusion, McKay held that βαπτίζω referred to affusion (which McKay understood as standing in water and having water poured over the head), as opposed to immersion. Challenging immersion baptism, he wrote: In the same passage the act of baptizing is distinguished from the going down into the water: "They both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water ..."
As McKay and others also pointed out, the Greek preposition εἰς, here translated as "into", is the same as is used when Peter is told to go to the sea and take the first fish that came up and in other passages where it obviously did not imply entry of the kind that submersion involves. In fact, in the same chapter 8 of the Acts of the Apostles, the preposition εἰς appears 11 times, but only once is it commonly translated as "into"; in the other verses in which it appears it is best translated as "to". The same ambiguity pertains to the preposition ἐκ.

Lexical criticism

John Calvin
John Calvin
John Calvin was an influential French theologian and pastor during the Protestant Reformation. He was a principal figure in the development of the system of Christian theology later called Calvinism. Originally trained as a humanist lawyer, he broke from the Roman Catholic Church around 1530...

 (1509–1564) wrote that "it is evident that the term baptise means to immerse, and that this was the form used by the primitive Church", but in the same context (Institutes of the Christian Religion IV, xv, 19), using the same verb "immerse", but indicating that it does not necessarily mean immersing "wholly", he also wrote: "Whether the person who is baptised be wholly immersed, and whether thrice or once, or whether water be only poured or sprinkled upon him, is of no importance; Churches ought to be left at liberty in this respect, to act according to the difference of countries." Modern, professional lexicography defines βαπτίζω as dip, plunge or immerse, while giving examples of its use for merely partial immersion. See "Meaning of the Greek word baptizo in the New Testament".

Syntactical criticism

and are two instances of New Testament uses of the verb baptizo outside the context of Christian baptism. One speaks of how the Pharisees do not eat unless they "wash their hands" thoroughly (nipto, the ordinary word for washing something), and, after coming from the market place, do not eat unless they "wash themselves" (literally, "baptize themselves", passive or middle voice of baptizo). The other tells how a Pharisee, at whose house Jesus ate, "was astonished to see that he did not first "wash himself" (literally, "baptize himself", aorist passive of baptizo) before dinner". Some commentaries claim that these two passages show that the word baptizo in the New Testament cannot be assumed to have the meaning "immerse".

In the first of the two passages, it is actually the hands that are specifically identified as "washed" , not the entire persons, who are described as having (literally) "baptized themselves" – ). Zodhiates identifies the meaning of baptizo here as 'immerse', even if not totally ("wash part of the body such as the hands"). but the word is rendered "wash themselves" or "purify themselves", not "baptize themselves" or "immerse themselves", by modern English Bible translations, professional commentaries, and translation guides. For the same reason, the Liddell-Scott-Jones Greek–English Lexicon (1996) cites the other passage as an instance of the use of the word baptizo to mean "perform ablutions", not "baptize", "dip", "plunge", "immerse", and the standard lexicon of Bauer and Danker treats it as an instance of a derived meaning, "wash ceremonially for the purpose of purification", distinct from the basic meaning ("immerse") of the verb baptizo, in line with the view that cannot refer to a total immersion of the person. References to the cleaning of vessels which use baptizo also refer to immersion,.

Hermeneutical criticism

The burial symbolism of and is seen by some Christians as a reference not to the manner of baptism in water but to "a spiritual death, burial, resurrection, and new life".

Views within Christianity

Forms of baptismal immersion differ widely between Christian groups. In the view of many, baptismal immersion can be either complete or partial, and adjectives such as "full", "total", and "partial" serve to differentiation between immersion of the whole body or only a part.

Eastern Churches

The Eastern Orthodox hold that baptism has always been by immersion and it is not proper to perform baptism by way of sprinkling of water. The immersion is done three times and is referred to as "total" or "full". Modern practice may vary within the Eastern Rite; Everett Ferguson cites Lothar Heiser as acknowledging: "In the present practice of infant baptism in the Greek church
Greek Orthodox Church
The Greek Orthodox Church is the body of several churches within the larger communion of Eastern Orthodox Christianity sharing a common cultural tradition whose liturgy is also traditionally conducted in Koine Greek, the original language of the New Testament...

 the priest holds the child as far under the water as possible and scoops water over the head so as to be fully covered with water", and the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church states that the rite "whereby part of the candidate's body was submerged in the baptismal water which was poured over the remainder ... is still found in the Eastern Church". Eastern Orthodox consider the form of baptism in which the person is placed in water as normative; only in exceptional circumstances, such as if a child is in imminent danger of death, may they baptize by affusion or, since there is always some moisture in air, perform "air baptism".

Armenian Baptists
Baptism by partial immersion, a mode of baptism that, according to the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church is still found in the Eastern Church, is also the form presented in the Key of Truth, the text described as the manual of the old Armenian Baptists, which lays down that the person to be baptized "shall come on his knees into the midst of the water" and there make a profession of faith to "the elect one", who "instantly takes the water into his hands, and ... shall directly or indirectly empty out the water over the head".

Saint Thomas Christians
The Saint Thomas Christians
Saint Thomas Christians
The Saint Thomas Christians are an ancient body of Christians from Kerala, India, who trace their origins to the evangelical activity of Thomas the Apostle in the 1st century. They are also known as "Nasranis" because they are followers of "Jesus of Nazareth". The term "Nasrani" is still used by St...

, who trace their origin to Thomas the Apostle
Thomas the Apostle
Thomas the Apostle, also called Doubting Thomas or Didymus was one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus. He is best known for questioning Jesus' resurrection when first told of it, then proclaiming "My Lord and my God" on seeing Jesus in . He was perhaps the only Apostle who went outside the Roman...

, have always practised pouring
Affusion is a method of baptism where water is poured on the head of the person being baptized. The word "affusion" comes from the Latin affusio, meaning "to pour on" . Affusion is one of three or four methods of baptism, in addition to the greater wetting of total immersion baptism and...

 rather than any form of immersion.

Roman Catholicism

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church
Catechism of the Catholic Church
The Catechism of the Catholic Church is the official text of the teachings of the Catholic Church. A provisional, "reference text" was issued by Pope John Paul II on October 11, 1992 — "the thirtieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council" — with his apostolic...

"Baptism is performed in the most expressive way by triple immersion in the baptismal water. However, from ancient times it has also been able to be conferred by pouring the water three times over the candidate's head"

Normative full-immersion baptism

Complete submersion of the person being baptized is the custom only among some denominations
Religious denomination
A religious denomination is a subgroup within a religion that operates under a common name, tradition, and identity.The term describes various Christian denominations...

 that have arisen in the second millennium, but, since the form of immersion that is in use in the Eastern Orthodox Church
Eastern Orthodox Church
The Orthodox Church, officially called the Orthodox Catholic Church and commonly referred to as the Eastern Orthodox Church, is the second largest Christian denomination in the world, with an estimated 300 million adherents mainly in the countries of Belarus, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Georgia, Greece,...

 is referred to as "full immersion", that church is included in this section.

Anabaptists are Protestant Christians of the Radical Reformation of 16th-century Europe, and their direct descendants, particularly the Amish, Brethren, Hutterites, and Mennonites....

s ("re-baptizers") and Baptists promote adult baptism, or "believer's baptism
Believer's baptism
Believer's baptism is the Christian practice of baptism as this is understood by many Protestant churches, particularly those that descend from the Anabaptist tradition...

". Baptism is seen as an act identifying one as having accepted Jesus Christ as Savior.

Early Anabaptists were given that name because they re-baptized persons who they felt had not been properly baptized, having received infant baptism, sprinkling, or baptism of any sort by another denomination.

Anabaptists perform baptisms indoors in a baptismal font, a swimming pool, or a bathtub, or outdoors in a creek or river. Baptism memorializes the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. Baptism does not accomplish anything in itself, but is an outward personal sign or testimony that the person's sins have already been washed away by the cross of Christ. It is considered a covenantal act, signifying entrance into the New Covenant
New Covenant
The New Covenant is a concept originally derived from the Hebrew Bible. The term "New Covenant" is used in the Bible to refer to an epochal relationship of restoration and peace following a period of trial and judgment...

 of Christ.

Immersion baptism, understood as demanding total submersion of the body, is required by Baptists, as enunciated in the 1689 Baptist Catechism: "Baptism is rightly administered by immersion, or dipping the whole body of the person in water, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit", indicating that the whole body must be immersed, not just the head.
Disciples of Christ

Baptism by submersion is also practiced by the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
The Christian Church is a Mainline Protestant denomination in North America. It is often referred to as The Christian Church, The Disciples of Christ, or more simply as The Disciples...

, although the faith does not suggest rebaptism of those who have undergone a different Christian baptism tradition. Baptism in Churches of Christ, which also have roots in the Restoration Movement
Restoration Movement
The Restoration Movement is a Christian movement that began on the American frontier during the Second Great Awakening of the early 19th century...

, is performed only by bodily immersion. This is based on their understanding of the meaning of the word baptizo as used in the New Testament, a belief that it more closely conforms to the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, and that historically immersion was the mode used in the 1st century, and that pouring and sprinkling later emerged as secondary modes when immersion was not possible.
Seventh-day Adventists

Seventh-day Adventists believe that "Baptism symbolizes dying to self and coming alive in Jesus." They practice full immersion baptism.

Optional immersion baptism

Major Protestant groups in which baptism by total or partial immersion is optional, although not typical, include Anglicans
Anglicanism is a tradition within Christianity comprising churches with historical connections to the Church of England or similar beliefs, worship and church structures. The word Anglican originates in ecclesia anglicana, a medieval Latin phrase dating to at least 1246 that means the English...

, Lutherans
Lutheranism is a major branch of Western Christianity that identifies with the theology of Martin Luther, a German reformer. Luther's efforts to reform the theology and practice of the church launched the Protestant Reformation...

, Presbyterians
Presbyterianism refers to a number of Christian churches adhering to the Calvinist theological tradition within Protestantism, which are organized according to a characteristic Presbyterian polity. Presbyterian theology typically emphasizes the sovereignty of God, the authority of the Scriptures,...

, Methodists
Methodism is a movement of Protestant Christianity represented by a number of denominations and organizations, claiming a total of approximately seventy million adherents worldwide. The movement traces its roots to John Wesley's evangelistic revival movement within Anglicanism. His younger brother...

, and the Church of the Nazarene
Church of the Nazarene
The Church of the Nazarene is an evangelical Christian denomination that emerged from the 19th century Holiness movement in North America with its members colloquially referred to as Nazarenes. It is the largest Wesleyan-holiness denomination in the world. At the end of 2010, the Church of the...


Immersion in other religious groups

  • In Judaism, self-administered immersion is used for ritual cleansing, and as a rite of passage for proselytes.

  • Latter Day Saints' beliefs concerning baptism state "You are briefly immersed in water, as Jesus Christ was baptized. Baptism by immersion is a sacred symbol of the death, burial, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and it represents the end of your old life and the beginning of a new life as a disciple of Jesus Christ." The baptism of immersion is the only way to be completely converted as a member. The Community of Christ
    Community of Christ
    The Community of Christ, known from 1872 to 2001 as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints , is an American-based international Christian church established in April 1830 that claims as its mission "to proclaim Jesus Christ and promote communities of joy, hope, love, and peace"...

    , formerly known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, practices baptism by submersion.

  • Complete immersion of the person in water is considered necessary by Jehovah's Witnesses
    Jehovah's Witnesses
    Jehovah's Witnesses is a millenarian restorationist Christian denomination with nontrinitarian beliefs distinct from mainstream Christianity. The religion reports worldwide membership of over 7 million adherents involved in evangelism, convention attendance of over 12 million, and annual...


External links

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