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Montego Bay, Jamaica, 3 February 2016

Last week we considered several Greek words that the New Testament could have used to denote baptism, if the "mode" of baptism didn't matter. As we saw, the word consistently used for baptism means immerse.

What about other ancient languages? As the church spread, the N.T. was soon translated into Syriac and Latin. Today's lesson gleans insights from those languages.

Yes -- wade in the Water!

Insights from the Syriac:
The Syriac translation of the New Testament dates from the 2nd century. Syriac was a dialect of Aramaic, and was the language spoken by eastern Christians. (Most likely Jesus' mother tongue was Aramaic.) From Syria missionaries traveled east to Persia, and when persecuted there journeyed even further: to India (where they connected with the Christian movement started by the apostle Thomas), China, Mongolia, and other distant lands. 

The word for baptize is hamad. Its derivative mamaditho appears in John 5:4 (later manuscripts) and 9:7, and means pool. In the Syrian authors mamaditho is a bath or baptistery. This we can see that immersion is the action of the word hamad -- not affusion, pouring, or sprinkling.

Insights from the Latin:
Some say that the King James translators (1605-1611) opted to transliterate baptidzo instead of to translate it, in order to avoid embarrassing the king, since he hadn't been immersed. Whether or not this is true, the fact is that the custom of transliterating dates back at least to the 5th century, when Jerome translated and standardized the Latin N.T.

The Latin Vulgate translation (begun 382 and completed 405 AD) of Acts 2:38 reads: Petro vero ad illos: Paenitentiam inquit agite et baptizetur unusquisque vestrum in nomine Iesus Christi. (But Peter replied to them "Do penance and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.")

At once we see two problems: the substitution of penance (acts of contrition) for repentance, and the use of baptizetur for the original baptisthētō

The Catholic Church "baptized" (adopted) baptidzo into their language (Latin) as baptizo. Why? Infant baptism appears to have been occasionally practiced in the late second century, in cases of "emergency baptism" (when some parents feared their children might die lost). Yet it seems to have been rare until the 5th century.

By the 5th century, with the weighty support of Augustine (354-430), who drafted the doctrine of original sin to justify infant baptism, infant baptism became widespread.

In light of this it is hardly surprising that the Latin church chose to create a new word (baptizo) instead of using the normal words for immerse (immergere, mergere, or tingere)  -- as had been done in previous centuries when rendering the Greek.

The languages of the early centuries of Christianity initially (and correctly) rendered baptisma in words that meant immersion. Yet through the centuries there was a serious drift away from solid apostolic foundations. The medieval church bowed to the weight of popular opinion. The ancient languages illustrate this drift, and strengthen the position that baptism is immersion. And so -- yes -- those who want to be saved must still "wade in the water."

The third (final) installment of the Baptism series will be released next week.

Caribbean update

Tonight I'm speaking here in Montego Bay, on Key Women in Proverbs. This lessons isn't for sisters -- it's for everyone. Then this weekend Jeff Hickman (North River evangelist) will join me to teach Old Testament Survey in Kingston. (The Damian Jean Baptiste Caribbean School of Ministry is in session.) In fact, in 2016 the international teaching ministry is sponsoring ministry in Port of Spain, Trinidad (twice), St. Kitts, St. Lucia, Montego Bay, and Kingston, Jamaica (twice).

Thanks to all whose donations enable us to teach in these locations free of charge! And if you are in a position to become one of our supporters, please know that we still need you.

With gratitude,
Douglas Jacoby
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