Receiving the antitype before the type

     Most Baptists accuse believers in covenant baptism of confusing type with antitype. Actually, the boot is on the other foot in the special case of Carson who argues:

     “Sins are washed away by faith in the blood of Christ, but they are symbolically washed away in baptism. Just as we become partakers in the death of Christ the moment we believe; in baptism, this participation is exhibited by a symbol.”1

     There are several problems of interpretation attached to this very Arminian statement. It is not our faith in Christ that washes away sin but the objective fact that Christ has washed away our sins independent of our prior faith and He has given us faith to accept and believe this. The fact that we are made partakers in the death of Christ is not due to our belief but due to Christ’s saving work in which He has graciously included us. The problem here regarding baptism is clear. Carson pays lip service to the idea that baptism is a type which points symbolically to the antitype, yet in his brand of Baptist practice, as testified by Carson’s words above, this fact is reversed. The antitype is seen as faith in the blood of Christ, which is to occur before the type which points to it. Thus the antitype points forward to the type. One might argue, since the antitype is achieved, why then go through with the type?

Doing away with baptism altogether

     This logical conclusion was made by many a Continental Täufer sect in the early days of their movement, who argued quite logically that if the spiritual event has occurred, one needs no fleshly event to proclaim its coming. This fact is illustrated by the development of the Paulician sect in the eight and ninth centuries. Many present day Baptists look upon the Paulicians as their fore-runners. John T. Christian, though admitting that the Paulicians were Adoptionists, argues that Mosheim shows that they rejected infant baptism. Adoptionists are those who believe that Christ was originally only a man who, after being tested by God successfully was accepted into the Godhead. Having thus ‘proved’ that the Paulicians did not baptise children without consulting original documents, Christian further speculates that they obviously immersed three times because they came from Armenia and Armenian Christians practised triple immersion. Christian has not only no contact with original works but appears to have had no direct contact to Mosheim’s works either and allegedly quotes the historian though he gives neither volume, chapter nor page. Actually, Mosheim does not teach that the Paulicians rejected infant baptism as such at all but points out that the Paulicians abandoned the literal sense of baptism altogether. Rather than allying Paulicians with those who practice believer’s baptism, Mosheim, after saying that the Paulicians rejected symbolic baptism, lists six further dogmas describing the Paulicians’ faith: 1. The earth was not created by the Sovereign God. 2. They condemned the worship of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and reject the idea of her permanent virginity. However, they believed that Jesus did not gain his human body from Mary but this was pre-existent in heaven and Jesus took it with Him to earth. 3. They did not practise the Lord’s Supper but preached the truths it taught. 4. They taught that Christ’s body was ethereal and celestial and therefore could not have been nailed to a cross and tasted death. 5. They rejected the Old Testament as being prompted by the creator of the world and not the sovereign God. 6. They rejected the office of elders or presbyters.2 If modern followers of Christian wish to appeal to such doctrines for their roots, they are welcome to do so, but this would hardly speak for their orthodoxy.

     The Biblical pattern is that baptism proclaims in a symbolic manner, what heavenly treasures are there for those who put their trust in Jesus. It looks forward to this spiritual event, not backwards to a personal event in which a candidate professes that his faith in Christ has washed away his sins. Biblical baptism points to the treasures to be found in Jesus, and not to the personal decision of an individual who wishes, by this means, to join a certain denomination, believing that his professed faith in Christ has washed away his sins. Baptism is not a mere reminder of what has gone before in the personal life of the believer but it is a proclamation and demonstration of the saving gospel, to the Jew and his seed first, then to the Gentiles and their seed until Christ returns.

Baptists neglect to study Biblical neologisms

     Whatever baptizo means in Scripture, its meaning must be related to the Biblical neologisms baptisma and baptismos found there which do not occur in pagan literature. Baptist apologists who give much attention to these original, Biblical terms for Christian baptism are few and far between. Yet these terms are at the heart of the linguistic and theological problems which divide us. The very point of coining new words is to depict new meanings. Though Carson, Conant and other Baptist apologists write much of bapto and baptizo, emphasising but one of the many modes they express, they do not deal with the actual Biblical words for baptism with anything like the same scrutiny. They cannot claim that they deal adequately with the verbs which relate to the performance of baptism if they ignore the meaning of that baptism itself. In their defence, Baptist apologists point to Carson’s chapter Reply to the Congregational Magazine in his Baptism in its Modes and Subjects, where the author deals with the relationship between baptism and repentance. Though Section VIII is entitled Differences alleged between baptisma and baptismos, there is no discussion in this section as to what Christian baptism entails, i.e. what baptism really means and signifies. We are merely told that baptism’s meanings can only be derived from the classical verb and thus give the meaning ‘immersion’. In other words, if we find a specifically Biblical word in a Biblical context, it must be defined via non-Biblical, pagan and bye-gone Classical Greek usage. This is merely dodging the issue and arguing in circles.3 The unique Biblical usages and therefore meanings of the terms used for baptism are not taken into consideration at all. Nobody can argue with any conviction that the meaning of a Christian rite, which is only mentioned in Scripture, can only be ascertained by extra-Biblical words which do not refer to that rite in any way, or are, because of their culture and superstition, antagonistic to it.

     This does not mean that such as Carson and Conant are unaware of the argument that new forms of words bring with them new meanings. Carson states his views clearly on this matter in a lengthy chapter entitled Reply to Rev. E. Bickersteth in his Baptism in its Modes and Subject. Carson introduces his arguments against Bickersteth in this work by surprisingly saying that he has not read a line of Bickersteth’s book A Treatise on Baptism but concludes from an Appendix added by another author, that the views are Bickersteth’s and thus in dealing with them, he is dealing with Bickersteth. The Appendix to which Carson refers, is not an appendix at all placed at the end of Bickersteth’s book but a note attached to the second chapter (The Appointment of Baptism) by a friend of Bickersteth’s. Obviously the views expressed in the appendix are also Bickersteth’s because he inserted them to illustrate his point. However, having neither read Bickersteth’s chapter, nor anything else in his book bar the note, Carson cannot know how the appended note added to, summed up, backed up or illustrated the points Bickersteth makes. Carson is plainly nettled by the fact that the author of the ‘appendix’ politely points out that Carson has spent double as much space on the mode of Baptism as on the right subjects for baptism and has boasted he can convince anyone in five minutes of the truth of the Baptist position. Furthermore, Bickersteth’s friend demonstrates the ritualistic nature of Carson’s artificial view of baptism. He demonstrates that Carson’s arguments are self-contradictory and that he will not accept that the Christian meaning of baptism is different to that indicated by the secular baptizo. The note-writer also points out that the only proof Carson gives for his surmises is his own assertion that his views are correct.

     In his very long reply to the short note, Carson chooses rather to ridicule and comment on tiny asides rather than fully address the main problems stated. He makes a half-hearted shift to explain that the meaning of baptism in the New Testament is entirely explained by extra-Biblical usage. It is here, however, that he fails utterly to prove his point and leaves himself open again to the criticism that he is not consequent in his arguments but rather argues against himself. Carson maintains that though bapto and baptizo have basically the same meaning, bapto has moved in its meaning from ‘to dip’ to ‘to dye’ but baptizo has gone through no such development. The term means, and always has meant, ‘to dip’ which Carson interprets as ‘to immerse’. Thus, according to Carson, bapto can refer to both a mode and a meaning independent of mode but baptizo cannot. Baptizo can never mean ‘to dye’ like its sister word bapto. Carson concludes his hunch without the slightest display of evidence, arguing that whereas such a shift in application is normal for ‘a thousand other words’, baptizo must be an exception.

      Carson’s critic’s point is that just as bapto has moved in meaning in its Classical connotation as ‘a thousand other words’ have, so baptizo has also moved in meaning from ancient, pagan times taking on Christian connotations. Bapto has taken on the further meaning ‘dye’ and baptizo has taken on a new form and meaning in its Christian application of ‘baptism’. This is proven by the fact that the New Testament uses words apparently derived from bapto/baptizo such as baptisma and baptismos, which are unknown in Carson’s definitive Classical Greek and which obviously have a meaning of their own which is specifically Christian. But Carson will not have this at all. He stands by his main a priori thesis, “If at first the command was to immerse, the command must still be to immerse,” believing that Jesus told His disciples to immerse the nations.” Arguing in a circle and refusing to consider the importance of the neologisms which give us the term ‘baptism’, Carson feels he has thus won the debate and says of his opponent, who has addressed him most fairly, “When I have driven my opponent to take refuge among the mummery of the man of sin, my triumph is complete.”4 Thus a learned Christian who gives ample proof of Carson’s confused teaching is lumped together with ‘the man of sin’ just because Carson has no defence for his defective scholarship. This reminds one strongly of Goldsmith’s schoolmaster in his Deserted Village, who “E’en though vanquish’d, he could argue still”.

Philpot versus Baxter, Gale and Carson

     English Strict Baptists, especially of Gospel Standard persuasion, set great store by the linguistic capabilities of J. C. Philpot and especially his review of A. J. Baxter’s book Baptism: Its Mode, Design and Subjects which appeared in the August and September issues of the 1859 Gospel Standard Magazine. This almost blind trust in Philpot’s learning is difficult to explain as Philpot took a normal degree course without carrying on his studies to a higher grade or producing any learned treatise on the Biblical languages. In the September GSM issue, Philpot argues that “Dr Gale and other learned Baptist authors, as it appears to us, have committed an error, and allowed their opponents an undue advantage by regarding the two words (bapto and baptizo) as synonymous.” Philpot argues that if these two words were exact synonyms, which many Baptist scholars before and after Philpot have argued, then they would be interchangeable. I would not argue that bapto and baptizo are exact synonyms in their Classical, pre-NT usage as together they cover a very wide range of meanings, not all of which overlap. But in the sense of ceremonial cleansing, they certainly are used to express the same thing. Philpot sees a radical difference between bapto and baptizo not shared by many of his fellow Baptist scholars but this difference is not applicable to the Biblical examples given above. Philpot argues that bapto means ‘to dip partly’, (whatever that means) and baptizo ‘to dip fully’ or ‘to drench’. To complicate matters, Philpot tells us that Greek writers use bapto for baptizo but never the other way around. Thus, according to Philpot, when bapto, which normally is used for partial dipping only, means dipping fully, it can be replaced by baptizo. Baptizo, which means, according to Philpot, dipping thoroughly, can never be used in the sense of dipping partially and thus be replaced by bapto.

     What have we gained by this fine analysis? Philpot argues that baptizo is used throughout for baptism in the New Testament so it must always indicate baptism by immersion. This is greatly begging the question and Philpot must at least be suspected of merely inventing distinctions between two words in order to force his own meaning on both. If, however, Philpot gains his meaning of baptizo from Greek usage, he must admit that the term need not, and usually does not, mean immersion when applied to ceremonial cleansing or baptism and if Philpot obtains his meaning from Scripture alone, he must explain why his meaning does not allow for any other in view of the Biblical evidence against it. The fact that such as Philpot will not look to any other passages in the Bible but a few chosen texts in the New Testament for his interpretations, so ignoring all the prophetic nature of Old Testament ceremony, ought to make us cautious if not down right suspicious of such a nigh Marcionite interpretation. Philpot’s boast that “all good Greek writers” back him up, makes a very empty sound as those ancient Greek writers were not dealing with Scripture and Philpot is arguing that baptizo has developed a stricter and narrower meaning in New Testament times only.

     Furthermore, the authorities Philpot cites in his defence are most strange bed-fellows and it is difficult to see how Philpot can quote them as his mentors without blushing. We have the invariable Arians such as Gale, Robinson and Whitby and those very close to them in their view of Christ’s work such as Moral Government theorist Grotius and his translator Le Clerc. Indeed, only two of the dozen mentors Philpot gives refer to immersion as a possible mode of baptism. The one is Robinson whose sympathies are with the Arians and whose evidence in his History of Baptism points more to affusion than immersion; and the other the less known Pierre Jurieu (1637-17130 who had very little in common with Baptists and has extraordinary views concerning eschatology and revolutionary politics. Philpot’s two references to Liddell and Scott are of triple note. Firstly, Philpot says he has to play the school master and rebuke Baxter for his shallow learning when, for instance, he gets an author and title slightly wrong. Philpot invariable starts his correction with the words “amusingly enough” or similar, but makes a similar mistake to Baxter’s himself when referring to the two editors and their joint work. Secondly, Liddell and Scott relate bapto and not baptizo to the Latin immergere, a fact that Philpot denies. Indeed, he argues the very opposite to Liddell and Scott claiming against Baxter that bapto does not mean immersion whereas baptizo always does. Thirdly, Philpot claims that bapto and baptizo cannot be exchanged for each other and cannot therefore be used as synonyms but Liddell and Scott state that both words can be used for the sinking of a ship.5 It is interesting to note that Liddell and Scott give bapto as meaning to dip but baptizo as meaning to dip repeatedly. Philpot notes this but argues that the ‘repeatedly’ means more thoroughly, with more water – thus he concludes that baptizo means immersion though bapto does not. So Philpot needs more water so he can thoroughly baptise!

     On the other hand, Philpot’s fellow-Baptist Alexander Carson, who is followed by many a modern non-Philpotian Baptist, argues that the idea that bapto and baptizo are not synonyms is fanciful and the argument that baptizo is frequentative in any sense or indicates an increasing of the action of the verb in any sense or any development in meaning is ‘perfectly groundless conceit’.6 The term, he argues, was not especially formed for Christian baptism and thus should be used in what he called ‘the common sense’. This ‘common sense’ according to Carson is ‘primarily, to dip’. Thus Carson disagrees radically and in the strongest language with his Baptist brother Philpot. Both Carson and Philpot agree, however that baptism is merely another quite unnecessary word for ‘immerse’, which they see as being synonymous with ‘dip”. Baptizo, Carson, however, tells us, has only ever had one meaning “in the whole history of the Greek language’. Only a few paragraphs further on, Carson modifies this by saying that baptizo can mean either to dip or to sink but these two words cannot possibly be regarded as synonyms. Carson confuses the picture further by arguing that the sinking under the water so that the object is lying there covered is not to be taken literally. How then are we to take it? Carson appears to be arguing that baptizo, though it means to sink, does not mean always ‘sunk for ever’ but means that the person is put into the water, then taken out. This is not the common lexical meaning of ‘to sink’. When a ship is sunk in the ocean, one does not expect it to suddenly float or be floated again. Thus Carson sees baptism as ‘to be caused to dip, as it were by sinking’. Such sophism is hardly convincing linguistically. Carson then goes on to disagree with pioneer Baptist historian Robinson on the meaning of baptizo.

     This is the dilemma of dealing with the ever varying schools of authors who are ardent in looking for a non-Biblical meaning for baptism. As soon as one Baptist writer is quoted, others say “That is not what we Baptists believe.” So, in this way, they are able to wrangle themselves out of any argument like a slippery eel. The fact is, however, that is that there is no general linguistic basis amongst Baptists for what baptism is. Nor is there a basic Baptist history to which all Baptists subscribe. Baptists are merely united in a. believing that it cannot be a practice based on the pan-Biblical doctrine of the covenant of grace and b. denying the children of believers the right to be baptised as carriers of the covenant promises.

     However, Carson is demonstrably wrong in saying that baptizo has always had one meaning and that is the Classical, secular meaning ‘immerse’. Indeed, we find the word ‘immerse’ for baptism first used in third and four century Roman Catholic writers who believed one must immerse so that all sins are washed away. For them, immersion was not a symbol but a magical performance. Biblical usages stands in stark contrast to such secular and pagan usage. To describe the one in terms of the other is to erase baptism’s Christian, symbolic and spiritual meaning. Furthermore, there is abundant proof that a form of baptism was practised in pagan religions prior to and contemporary with New Testament times where baptizo was used to indicate ceremonial washings which ruled out immersion. We have, for instance, the example given in the Corpus Hermeticum describing a Hellenistic-Egyptian mystical rite. The narrator explains that every person has logos but not nus which is only given to an elect group. This occurs by means of God sending a jug full of nus down from heaven and commanding the elect one to baptise himself. Here the words used for baptise are ‘baptison,’ and ‘ebaptisanto’, i.e. forms of baptizo. We do not read that a swimming-pool-like baptistry full of nus descends and the elect one is told to immerse himself. A jug-full was sufficient for the rite. It is interesting to note that in classical and 1st century mythology, the idea of dying and being buried in ceremonial cleansing occurs frequently but the amount of material, whether nus, mud, water or even dung, is not sufficient to actually bury the candidate but is used simply as a token or symbol.7

     Though the Baptists refer to those who have been immersed as those who have been baptised, leaning on non-Biblical usage, this idea by no means reflects all such usage. Those who were immersed in water in ancient Egyptian cultic religion were not termed the ‘baptised’ but the ‘put in’, i.e. Εσιης. Tertullian, uses a similar Latin form ‘esietos’ in De Baptismo, Chapter 5.8 Obviously these duckings had nothing to do with a baptisma which is unique to Christianity. Thus it is folly to argue that baptism in pre-Christian and non-Christian circles can only refer to immersion and thus NT baptism must also be by immersion. That sacramentalists started to practice immersion in baptism hundreds of years after NT times would link Baptists with sacramentalists but not make them sound Biblical believers. If Baptists wish to be proved trustworthy in their linguistics, claiming that a baptisma is an immersion, they must come up with evidence. Though I have read some hundreds of Baptist apologies, I have never once found them producing a classical or pagan reference to immersion where baptisma is used. Even baptismos has evaded their search, though Kittel gives a few post-Biblical usages.

  1. Baptism in its Mode and Subjects, p. 156.
  2. Mosheim, pp. 254 ff, 320 ff, and 322 n.
  3. See also Baptism in its Modes and Subjects, Section III in Carson’s Reply to President Beecher, p. 436.
  4. See Carson, pp. 242.
  5. Gospel Standard, 1859, Appendix, p. 291.
  6. Baptism in its Mode and Subjects, pp. 18-22.
  7. See hier Kittel’s Theologisches Woerterbuch zum Neuen Testament, Band I under bapto/baptizo for a number of examples with exact sources given.
  8. See Kittel, Band I, p. 531 and Tertullian.