The Baptism In Water


The Baptism In Water

March 1st, 1964 @ 7:30 PM

Matthew 3:16

And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him:
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

Matthew 3:16

3-1-64    7:30 p.m.




On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas.  This is the pastor bringing the evening message entitled The Baptism in Water.  There are three of the baptisms announced by John the Baptist, The Baptism in Water, the baptism in fire, and the baptism in the Holy Spirit.  Tonight, following the life of Christ, we speak of The Baptism in Water.  Now on the radio, as in this great vast audience in the church tonight, turn to the First Gospel chapter 3; the First Gospel chapter 3; Matthew chapter 3, and let us read out loud together the first six verses [Matthew 3:1-6].  The first six verses of chapter 3 of the First Gospel, the Gospel of Matthew.  If we all have it, let us read it out loud together, all of us: 


In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea,

And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. 

For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make His paths straight. 

And the same John had his raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey. 

Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judea, and all the region round about Jordan, 

And were baptized of him in the Jordan, confessing their sins.

[Matthew 3:1-6]


Now turn to verse 13, verse 13, and let us read to the remainder of the chapter.  Verse 13: 


Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him. 

But John forbade Him, saying, I have need to be baptized of Thee, and comest Thou to me? 

And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness. Then he suffered Him. 

And Jesus, when He was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon Him: 

And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

[Matthew 3:13-17]


This was the beginning of the new dispensation, the new day, the new era of the grace and love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  And it began with the introduction of a new rite, a new ritual, one that the world had never seen before. 

John opens his Gospel with an introduction of John the Baptist.  And John the Baptist, he says, was down there at the Jordan River, baptizing his converts [Matthew 3:6].  And they sent a formal commission from the Sanhedrin to say to John the Baptist, “Who are you? [John 1:19].  Who are you?  Are you the Christ?” 

He said, “No” [John 1:20]

“Are you Elijah?” 

He said, “No” [John 1:21]

“Well, are you the Prophet that was spoken of by Moses who should follow after him?” 

He said, “No” [John 1:21]. 

Then they said, “Why baptize us thou then, if thou be not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor that Prophet?  By what authority,” they say to him, “do you introduce this new rite, this new ritual?  We have never seen it before” [John 1:22, 25]

You see, the Jews had many ablutions, many washings.  They washed their pots, they washed their pans, they washed their feet, they washed their head, they washed their hands, and every once in a while they washed themselves all over.  They had many ceremonials, but the first time that one man ever took another man and washed him was when John the Baptist did it in the Jordan River.  That is why they call him Iōannēs ho Baptistēs; John, the one that baptizes!  There were many Johns.  There were as many Johns in that day as there are Johns in this day.  But the first time the world ever saw a man take another man and wash him, baptize him, immerse him, was when Iōannēs did it, the baptizer; Iōannēs Baptistēs, John the Baptist. 

It was an amazing innovation.  And did you know that we, and a few others like us, are about the only ones in the world that keep inviolate and sacred that ordinance?  Practically the whole Christendom, practically the whole Western world of the churches, has turned aside from this sacred and holy ordinance that God gave John the Baptist from heaven [John 1:33].  And here is the other thing: they baptized, what they call baptized, but it is nothing like this in the Book.  And tonight we are going to see what it is that John was doing when God sent him to baptize down there in the Jordan River. 

Now that word “baptize” to us is an ecclesiastical word.  It is a word that is churchly.  When you think of being baptized, why, you think of something down there at the church.  It is a Greek word, b-a-p-t-i-z-o, baptizō, baptizō.  And it was an ordinary Greek word used in the household language of the whole Greek world. 

Hippocrates, for example, he lived 460 BC, said—now he is the father of medicine—Hippocrates, describing the respiration of a patient affected with inflammation and swelling in his throat, said, quote, “And he breathed as persons breathe after having been baptizō.”  Aristotle, 384 BC, Aristotle wrote, I quote, “The Phoenicians sailing beyond Hercules Pillars came to a land uninhabited, whose coast was full of seaweeds and is not laid underwater at ebb.  But when the tide comes in, it is wholly baptizō.”  Heraclitus, the author of the Homeric Allegories, a disciple of Aristotle, who wrote moralizing fables on what Aristotle had spoken of, he says this about Mars and Vulcan.  I quote, “Neptune is ingeniously supposed to deliver Mars from Vulcan to signify that when a piece of iron is taken red hot out of the fire and baptizō into water, the heat is repelled and extinguished.” 

In the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures written about 270 BC in Alexandria, in 2 Kings 5:14, “Then Naaman went down and baptizō himself seven times in Jordan [2 Kings 5:14], according to the saying of the man of God” [2 Kings 5:10]. Polybius, the historian who lived 204 BC, I quote: “Even if a spear falls into the sea, it is not lost, for it is compacted of oak and pine so that when the heavy part—the iron part—is baptizō by the weight, the less is buoyed up and it is easily recovered.”  Quoting from Polybius again, “The vessel being baptizō became full with sea water.”  Polybius again in history describing the passage of solders through the River Trebbia, which had been swollen during the night by heavy rains, says, I quote: “They crossed with difficulty, those on foot baptizō so far as the breast.” 

Diodorus, a Roman historian who lived about 60 BC, “The river rushing down with the current increased in violence and baptizō many.”  Again from Diodorus, “Most of the wild animals surrounded by the stream perished, being baptizō, but some escaping to the high grounds were saved.” 

Strabo, who was a contemporary of the Lord Jesus, a great historian and geographer; quoting from Strabo: “To one who hurles down a dart from above into the channel, the force of the water makes so much resistance that it is hardly baptizō.”  Strabo again in the geography, describing the march of Alexander’s army upon one occasion in a place where the tide came up to a cliff, “It happened that the whole day long the march was made in water, the men being baptizō up to the waist.” 

Flavius Josephus, who was a contemporary of the apostle Paul, “In stretching out the right hand so as to be unseen by many, he baptizō the whole sword into his body.”  May I take time to recount a story from Herod written by Flavius Josephus?  Josephus, as you know, wrote his history in Greek, as everybody who was cultured and learned in the Greco-Roman world spoke Greek, wrote in Greek. 

Now Flavius Josephus says that Herod the Great, the one that murdered the babes in Bethlehem [Matthew 2:16]—Herod the Great was so indescribably jealous, he slew his wife Mariamne, he slew his sons, he killed right and left.  The slaughter of the babes of Bethlehem was a peccadillo in the life of that bloody tyrant.  Well, anyway, Mariamne was the last of Maccabean princesses, and she had a fine, marvelously handsome young brother named Aristobulus.  And when he was seventeen years old, Mariamne, the wife of Herod the Great, prevailed upon Herod to make Aristobulus, her seventeen year old brother, high priest.  So when he was crowned high priest, when he was invested, Herod heard a tumult in Jerusalem, and he ran to the window to see out, and look, coming down from the temple area and winding through the streets of the capital city was Aristobulus.  He was a tall, handsome young Maccabean prince, the last one.  He was walking with his high priestly mitre and his high priestly robes.  He was walking at the head of the procession, and Jerusalem went wild! 

And Herod, looking out the window, said, “I have to get rid of Aristobulus.”  And this is the way he did it.  He said, “Now, I am going to take all the family and all my household servants down to the warm springs at Jericho where there is a Roman spa, a Roman bath.”  And Herod said to his household servants, “Now I am going to take Aristobulus down in the middle of the pool, and when I get in the middle of the pool with Aristobulus, and we have swum around a while, why, I am going to leave with the family, and you take the young man out into the pool, and you dunk him and immerse him until he is dead, until he is drowned.” 

Things came out just exactly as Herod the Great had planned.  They all went down to the Roman spa in the warm springs of Jericho.  They all went swimming into the pool.  Then after they had had their way of swimming, why, Herod, and Mariamne his wife, and all the rest of the family left to go to the palace.  And Aristobulus was left there with the household servants.  And Josephus says this in Greek, “And the household servants took Aristobulus out into the middle of the pool, and they baptizō, they baptizō, they baptizō until they drowned him.”  

Now I would like you to take that word, “And they took Aristobulus out into the middle of the pool, and they sprinkled him, and they sprinkled him, and they sprinkled him unto they drowned him.” 

I have one other before we leave.  This is a poem by Julian, and this is positively one of the sweetest, cutest little love poems you will find in the Greek language.  Listen to it: 


As I was once trimming a garland 

I found Cupid in the roses. 

Holding him by the wings,   

I baptizō him into wine, 

And took and drank him, 

And now within my members  

He tickles with his wings. 

[“Anacreontic,” Julian]


How could you better describe a boy in love, just, you know, that little?  I tell you, there is nobody can say it like a Greek. 


As I was once trimming a garland,  

I found Cupid in the roses. 

Holding him by the wings,  

I baptizō him into wine,  

And took and drank him,  

And now within my members,  

He tickles with his wings. 


Ah, I am just trying to show you that when these apostles wrote this Book, that was not an ecclesiastical word, that was not a churchly word.  That word baptizō was just an ordinary household word.  People used it every day.  The children used it.  It was just an ordinary Greek word. 

Now T. J. Conant—and I have seen the book, held it in my hand, looked at it—took every instance in the Greek language from 500 BC to 1000 AD, he took every instance where the word baptizō has ever been used in the Greek language, and without exception and without fail it means one simple thing: to immerse, to dip, to stick down in the water. 

The Greek language has changed less in two thousand five hundred years than our English language has changed in the last five hundred years.  Xenophon, and Socrates, and Plato, and Aristotle could sit down at the feet of the Acropolis today in Athens and read an Athenian newspaper.  That would be a little different; there would be some changes in it.  I can easily imagine Xenophon as he held a newspaper from Athens today in his hand, reading the paper, say, “I say to you, Socrates, and I say to you, Aristotle, somebody’s been tampering with our good ol’ Greek.”  But he could read it.  But he could read it. 

Now look at these words today.  A modern Greek writer on natural philosophy, in explaining the method of determining gravity says, “We first move a body, then baptizō it in water, and then weigh it, thus suspended by a cord.”  In the Mēnyma, which is the Athenian newspaper today, in explaining explosive gunpowder, he says, “Common cotton wad, cleaned, is taken, which being baptizō for about half a minute in strong nitric acid.”  That is the way you make guncotton. Cereas, a learned modern Greek man of letters, writes, “Righteousness forbids a man to baptizō his pen in the pools of flattery.”  It is just an ordinary Greek word.

When I was over there in Athens, I met a friend, a fine young businessman who is an evangelical, and I happened to have my Greek New Testament with me.  And he looked at it, and he said, “Why, this is the identical Greek New Testament that I read.”  It was Nestle’s Greek New Testament.  Today that Greek, reading that book, just like I have in my study. 

Now that word baptizō was just an ordinary word meaning to immerse, to dip, to plunge under the water.  That’s why the Greek church baptizes to the present day.  They immerse to the present day.  There has never been any exception to that.  Where people read Greek, you couldn’t do otherwise because there it is, written large on the sacred page.  I have copied the present ritual in the Greek church in baptism: 


And when the whole body is anointed, the priest shall immerse him, holding him erect, and looking toward the east, saying, This servant of God is immersed in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of the ages.  Amen. 


I like that.  That is the ritual of the Greek church.  Forever and forever, this is what God gave us to do. 

Now in the Latin Church, in the Latin Church, the Roman church, the church of the Western world, in the Latin church, did you know it was not until Thomas Aquinas in 1274 AD—he was the first theologian in the Latin church that made it optional as to whether you sprinkle or whether you would immerse?  And it was not until the Council of Ravenna in 1311 AD that it was formally ratified by the church that a minister could do either way, he could either sprinkle, or pour, or baptize. 

Have you visited those ancient churches over there in Italy?  For example, in the newspaper about, oh, two or three days ago, they had the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and the thing’s about to lean too far.  People climb that thing; it just scares the living daylights out of me.  That is where Galileo, you know, threw his rocks down and showed that the weight of a rock, no matter what it was, it just fell at the same speed.  Well, the Leaning Tower is the bell tower of the cathedral there.  And the cathedral is here and the bell tower is here, and right there is one of the most glorious baptisteries you ever looked at in your life.  And that is one of the oldest churches in civilization.  

Were you ever in the beautiful Duomo, the incomparable cathedral of Florence?  In front of it is the bell tower.  Michelangelo said the doors on that tower are so glorious they could well be the gates to glory, to heaven.  And then right back, right to the side is the baptistery, a beautiful thing. 

Have you ever been in St. Paul’s church in Rome?  The most gorgeous, the most glorious, the most effective of all the baptisteries I have ever seen in the world is in St. Paul’s church in Rome.  Made out of beautiful colored marble, why, the thing’s big enough you could baptize a hundred people in it at the same time.  Why?  Because all of the churches baptized for centuries and centuries and centuries! 

And it is not until recent times that the ordinance was changed.  In 1551, in the prayer book of Edward VI, in 1559 under Queen Elizabeth, and in King James’ prayer book in 1604, they all read, “The priest shall dip the child in water, but if they certify that the child is weak, it justifies to pour water upon him.”  If somebody came and said, “Now the child is sick, the child is sick,” why, then the priest could pour water on him.  But other than that, it was not until 1551 that even permission was given that they could pour water instead of dipping the child. 

Now where did this come from?  Where did this change come from?  First, it came from that old doctrine, which is one to me of the most aberrational of all of the perversions of the Word of God.  It came from the doctrine, the heresy that you had to be baptized in order to be saved.  That is where the thing started.  You had to be baptized in order to be saved.  And if you were not baptized, you were damned and you were lost. 

The first time in ecclesiastical history that anybody every had water put on them was in 250 AD.  And Eusebius says in his ecclesiastical history about Novation, who was the first one, I quote from that historian, “Being delivered by the exorcist, he fell into severe sickness.  And as he seemed about to die, he received baptism by effusion.”  They just poured gallons and barrels of water on him because he is about to die.  And on the bed where he lay, if indeed we can say such a one did receive baptism.  And then thereafter there was a violent controversy in the church that raged for centuries.  They call them trenicies, trenicies, trenic baptism, trenic baptism, baptism when they are sick; that is, they poured water on them. 

And you know how time went on?  As they poured gallons and barrels of water on them, somebody said, “Well, let’s leave off a barrel.”  So as time went on and they poured gallons of water on them, they said, “Let’s leave off one barrel.”  So as time went on, they poured one by one, and a guy said, “Well, man a-living, what’s the idea?  Let’s just pour a bucketful.”  So they poured a bucketful on him.  And as time went on, the guy said, “Well, why in the world bother pouring a bucketful on, get all the bed wet?  Let’s just pour a glass on him.”  So as time went on, fellow said, “Why pour a glass of water on him?  Let’s just sprinkle a few dew drops on his head.”  And as time on, as you have seen many times, they take a lily and so-called water out of the Jordan River, and put it on an unconscious little infant’s head, and say, “I baptize thee in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” 

That is where that aberration, that heresy began.  Finally, finally, it came to the place where men did not care.  What does it matter?  What does it matter?  God says it, yes.  There is not a true minister in the world but that will admit God says we are to be baptized.  There is not a lexicon written in speech that does not say that word “baptize” means to immerse, buried and raised.  But it doesn’t matter, doesn’t matter. 

Now how come you to have that word “b-a-p-t-i-z-e” in the King James Version, in the English Bible?  Where did that word come from?  All right, this is where that word came from.  The translators in 1611, they met and they came to that word “b-a-p-t-i-z-o,” baptizō.  And the Lord meant, as I have said to you, just an ordinary Greek word for “immerse.”  So they did not know what to do because the English church at that time was sprinkling.  So they took it to King James, and said, “O King, we don’t know what to do, for this word says ‘immerse,’ but we dare not translate it.” 

And King James resolved it.  He said, “You take the Greek word, b-a-p-t-i-z-o and anglicize it.  Take off the ‘o,’ which is the Greek ending, and put an ‘e’ on it.  Anglicize it.  Spell it out, b-a-p-t-i-z-e, and don’t translate it.”  So in the Bible, when you read in God’s Word of these holy and beautiful occasions of baptism, the word is never translated.  It is just anglicized, the Greek word spelled out in English. 


Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same Scripture, and preached unto him Jesus. 

And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, Look, look, look, here is water; what doth hinder me to me baptized?  I want to be baptized. 

And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest.  And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus is the Son of God. 

And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptizō

And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way, Hallelujah, Glory to God, rejoice, rejoice! 

[Acts 8:35-40] 


Anybody, any soul will find that response when he follows the blessed Lord Jesus.  This is something I can do for Him who has done so much for me; I can follow Him through the waters of the Jordan [Matthew 3:13-17]

Now bear me a sentence or two.  I have, oh, so much to say.  Bear me a sentence.  

They asked John, “Where did you get your baptism?  Where did you get your baptism?  Who sent you to baptize?” [John 1:22, 25].

And Jesus asked the question, “The baptism of John, was it from God or was it from men?” [Matthew 21:25].  John said, “He that sent me to baptize saith” [John 1:25, 33].  John got it from heaven.  God gave it to him.  But what did it mean?  John did not know all that it meant.  To John, the baptizing was a purification, a cleansing, a washing in water [Mark 1:4]

But when finally we came to know what it meant, the baptism, the pattern of which God gave to John from heaven [John 1:25,33], baptism meant we are buried with the Lord in the likeness of His death, and we are raised in the likeness of His resurrection [Romans 6:3-5].  Baptism is burial and resurrection.  “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; He was buried, and the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures” [1 Corinthians 15:3-4], the Word and promise of God.  John had no idea of that, but God knew.  And when God gave John the pattern [John 1:25,33], just as God said to Moses: “Moses, see that you do all things according to the pattern that I have shown thee in the mount” [Exodus 25:40; Hebrews 8:5], and Moses did everything according to the pattern God gave him.  So did John the Baptist [John 1:33]. 

God gave him the pattern to be buried, to be raised [John 1:25, 33].  John was faithful to it [Matthew 3:13-17], though he did not know ultimately its final meaning.  But to us, it is the following of our blessed Lord [Romans 6:3-5].  It is an open, unashamed confession.  If I die with Him, I shall also live with Him: if we suffer with Him, we shall reign with Him [2 Timothy 2:11-12].  If I trust Him as my Savior, He will raise me even from the dead [1 Corinthians 6:14]. 

Oh, what a commitment!  And it is our highest privilege to follow our Lord through the waters of the Jordan. 

And while we sing our invitation hymn tonight, you, somebody you, giving your heart in trust to Jesus [Romans 10:8-13], come and stand by me.  Somebody you, put your life in the fellowship of the church [Hebrews 10:20-25]; a family you, one somebody you, “Pastor, I trust, I believe.  I’ve looked in faith to the Savior.  I want to be baptized” [Acts 8:3-38].  Come, come, come; while we stand and while we sing. 


Dr. W.
A. Criswell

3:1-6, 13-17


I.          Introduction

A.  New dispensation
begins with introduction of a new rite

B.  Commission
of Sanhedrin sent to challenge John the Baptist (John

An amazing innovation

II.         The meaning of the word “baptize”

A.  Ordinary Greek word baptize

      1.  Used by
ancient writers and in the Scriptures (2 Kings

      2.  Means “to dip,
to immerse, to stick down in the water”

      3.  Used in modern

III.        The persistence of the act of

A.  Ritual of the Greek

B.  Thomas
Aquinas in 1274 A.D. the first theologian in Latin church to make immersion

C.  1551 in English
church commission given to pour instead of dip

IV.       The reason for the change

A.  Heretical doctrine
of baptismal regeneration

B.  Finally came to

C.  King James
anglicized baptizo in 1611

V.        The mind and purpose of God

A.  John’s baptism
ordained from heaven (Matthew 21:25, John 1:33)

B.  God gave the pattern
of baptism – burial and resurrection (Exodus