The Origin and Meaning of “”Baptism””

By Gil Rugh

The mode of baptism the Bible points to is immersion. Consider the word baptize. You may be aware that the word baptize and baptism are not English words but Greek words.

For example, the Greek word for baptize is baptizo. Instead of being translated into English, this word was transliterated. In transliteration, each letter of a foreign word is given its English equivalent. So baptizo becomes baptize, and baptizma becomes baptism.

There was a reason that the words for baptism were transliterated. Several centuries ago when the Bible was first translated into English in Great Britain, the Anglican Church in Britain practiced sprinkling as its mode of baptism.

The translators of the Bible could have gotten themselves into a great deal of trouble if they had translated this Greek word into English. Why? Because the word literally translates “to dip, plunge or immerse.” It is used in secular Greek of dyeing a garment, immersing it so that it is thoroughly covered. It is also used to describe a boat that has sunk beneath the water.

The meaning of the word is clear, but the translators did not wish to come into conflict with the beliefs of the Church of England, so they decided not to translate it, but transliterated it instead.

What would Matthew 28 look like if the word baptize were translated literally? “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, [immersing] them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (vv. 19, 20). There are other Greek words for sprinkling and pouring. The word immerse is an appropriate translation. It conveys that immersion is the biblical mode of baptism.