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File:Baptism - Marcellinus and Peter.jpg
Representation of baptism in early Christian art.
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In Christianity, baptism (a word derived from Greek baptizo: "immersing", "performing ablutions")[1][2] is the ritual act, with the use of water, by which one is admitted as a full member of the Christian Church and, in the view of some, as a member of the particular Church in which the baptism is administered.

Martyrdom was identified early in Church history as "baptism by blood", enabling martyrs who had not been baptized by water to be saved. Later, the Catholic Church identified a baptism of desire, by which those preparing for baptism who die before actually receiving the sacrament are considered saved.[3] As evidenced also in the common Christian practice of infant baptism, baptism was universally seen by Christians as in some sense necessary for salvation, until Huldrych Zwingliw in the 16th century denied its necessity.[4]

The New Testament reports that Jesus himself was baptized.[5] The usual form of baptism among the earliest Christians was for the candidate to be immersed totally (submersion) or partially (standing or kneeling in water while water was poured on him or her).[6][7][8][9][10][11][12] While John the Baptist's use of a deep river for his baptism suggests immersion,[13] pictorial and archaeological evidence of Christian baptism from the 3rd century onward indicates that a normal form was to have the candidate stand in water while water was poured over the upper body.[14][15][16][17] Other common forms of baptism now in use include pouring water three times on the forehead. The most usual form of baptism among Early Christians was for the candidate to stand in water and water to be poured over the upper body.[17] Other common forms of baptism now in use include pouring water three times on the forehead or complete submersion in water.

Today, some Christians, particularly Quakersw and the Salvation Armyw, do not see baptism as necessary. Among those that do, differences can be found in the manner of baptizing and in the understanding of the significance of the rite. Most baptize "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit", but some baptize in Jesus' name only. Most baptize infants, others do notw. Some insist on submersion or at least partial immersion of the person who is baptized, others consider that any form of washing by water is sufficient.

Baptism has traditionally been seen as necessary for salvation. Martyrdom was identified early in church history as baptism by blood, enabling martyrs who had not been baptized by water to be saved. Later, the Catholic church identified a baptism of desire, by which those preparing for baptism who die before actually receiving the sacrament are considered saved.[18]

The English word "baptism" has been used in reference to any ceremony, trial, or experience by which one is initiated, purified, or given a name.[19] See Other initiation ceremoniesw.


Meaning of the word in the New Testament

File:Baptism - Saint Calixte.jpg
Catacombs of San Callistow: baptism in a third-century painting

As Christians of different traditions dispute whether total immersion (submersion) is necessary for baptism, the precise meaning of the Greek word has become important for exegesis.

The Greek-English Lexiconw of Liddell and Scott gives the primary meaning of the word βαπτίζω (transliterated as "baptizô"), from which the English word baptism is derived, as dip, plunge, but indicates, giving Luke 11:38 as an example, that another meaning is perform ablutions.[20]

Liddell and Scott is not the only authority to state that the Greek word βαπτίζω does not mean exclusively, dip, plunge or immerse. Scholars of various denominations[21] point to two passages in the New Testament as indicating that the word, when applied to a person, did not always indicate submersion. It is Jewish custom that, before any meal of which bread forms a part, the hands must be solemnly washed, and this washing must be done by pouring water on the hands, not by dipping them in water.[22] Luke 11:38 uses the verb βαπτίζω of such a ritual washing: a Pharisee, at whose house Jesus ate, "was astonished to see that he did not first wash (βαπτίζω – literally, "be baptized" or "baptize himself") before dinner." This is the passage that Liddell and Scott cites as an instance of the use of βαπτίζω to mean perform ablutions.[23] The other New Testament passage pointed to is Mark 7:3–4a: "The Pharisees ... do not eat unless they wash (νίπτω, the ordinary word for washing) their hands thoroughly, observing the tradition of the elders; and when they come from the market place, they do not eat unless they wash themselves (literally, "baptize themselves" - βαπτίζω)".


Baptism has been part of Christianity from the start, as shown by the many mentions in the Acts of the Apostles and the Pauline epistles. Christians consider Jesus to have instituted the sacrament of baptism. How explicit Jesus' intentions were and whether he envisioned a continuing, organized Church is a matter of dispute among scholars.

Baptism and salvation in Roman Catholic teaching

In Roman Catholic teaching, baptism plays an essential role in salvation.[24] This teaching dates back to the teachings and practices of first-century Christians, and the connection between salvation and baptism was not, on the whole, an item of major dispute until Martin Luther'sw teachings regarding grace. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament."[25] Accordingly, a person who knowingly, willfully and unrepentantly rejects baptism has no hope of salvation. This teaching is based on Jesus' words in the Gospel according to John: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God."[26]

Catholics are baptized in water, by submersion, immersion or infusion, in the name (singular) of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit[27] — not three gods, but one God subsisting in three Persons. While sharing in the one divine essence, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct, not simply three "masks" or manifestations of one Person. The faith of the Church and of the individual Christian is based on a relationship with these three Persons of the one God. Adults can also be baptized, if they aren't baptized already, through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA).

It is claimed that Pope Stephen I, St. Ambrose, and Pope Nicholas I declared that baptisms in the name of "Jesus" only as well as in the name of "Father, Son and Holy Spirit" were valid. The correct interpretation of their words is disputed.[28] Current canonical law requires the Trinitarian formula and water for validity[24]

The Church recognizes two equivalents of baptism with water: "baptism of blood" and "baptism of desire". Baptism of blood is that undergone by unbaptized individuals who are martyred for the Faith, while baptism of desire generally applies to catechumens who die before they can be baptized. The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes these two forms:

The Church has always held the firm conviction that those who suffer death for the sake of the faith without having received Baptism are baptized by their death for and with Christ. This Baptism of blood, like the desire for Baptism, brings about the fruits of Baptism without being a sacrament. (1258)

For catechumens who die before their Baptism, their explicit desire to receive it, together with repentance for their sins, and charity, assures them the salvation that they were not able to receive through the sacrament. (1259)

Non-Christians who seek God with a sincere heart and, moved by grace, try to do God's will as they know it through the dictates of conscience can also be saved without water baptism; they are said to desire it implicitly. (cf. Catechism, 1260). As for unbaptized infants, the Church is unsure of their fate; "the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God" (Catechism, 1261).

35px Wikipedia has more about this subject:



  1. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert (1940). A Greek-English Lexicon (revised and augmented throughout by Sir Henry Stuart Jones with the assistance of Roderick McKenzie ed.). Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0198642261. 
  2. Liddell and Scott's Greek-English Lexicon
  3. "The Necessity of Baptism". Catechism of the Catholic Church. Vatican Publishing House. 1993. Retrieved February 24, 2009. 
  4. Cross, Frank Leslie; Elizabeth A. Livingstone (2005). "Baptism". The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Oxfordw: Oxford University Pressw. pp. 151–154. ISBN 0-19-280290-9. OCLC 58998735. 
  5. Matthew 3:16, Mark 1:9–10, Luke 3:21
  6. "In the early centuries baptism was usually by immersion. However, this need not have meant full submersion in the water. Early Christian mosaics portray persons kneeling or standing in the baptismal pool with water being poured over them" (Presbyterian Church (USA), Holy Baptism; and, Services for the Renewal of Baptism: The Worship of God (Westminster Press 1985 ISBN 0-664-24647-8), p. 54).
  7. Schaff, Philip (2009). "Baptism". History of the Christian Church, Volume I: Apostolic Christianity. A.D. 1–100.. "The usual form of baptism was immersion…. But sprinkling, also, or copious pouring rather, was practiced at an early day(late second early third Century) with sick and dying persons, and in all such cases where total or partial immersion was impracticable" 
  8. "In the case of such a pouring type of baptism, one is necessarily 'immersed' by someone who actually does the pouring over the body" (Joan E. Taylor, The Immerser: John the Baptist within Second Temple Judaism (Eerdmans 1997 ISBN 0-8028-4236-4), p. 54).
  9. "Very probably Paul pictures baptism as it was given in the early Church by partial immersion, and as the word in its original meaning suggests" (William A. van Roo, (Gregorian University Press 1971), 212
  10. "Roman Catholicism: Baptism". Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009. "Two points of controversy still exist in modern times. One is baptism by pouring or sprinkling water on the head rather than by immersion of the entire body, even though immersion was probably the biblical and early Christian rite" 
  11. Collins, Adela Yarbro (1995). "The Origin of Christian Baptism". In Maxwell E. Johnson. Living Water, Sealing Spirit: Readings on Christian Initiation. Collegeville Township, Stearns County, Minnesota: Liturgical Press. pp. 35–57. ISBN 0-8146-6140-8. OCLC 31610445. "The baptism of John did have certain similarities to the ritual washings at Qumran: both involved withdrawal to the desert to await the lord; both were linked to an ascetic lifestyle; both included total immersion in water; and both had an eschatological context" 
  12. Dau, W. H. T. (1979). "Baptism". In Geoffrey W. Bromiley. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: A–D. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. p. 416. ISBN 0-8028-3781-6. OCLC 50333603. "It is to be noted that for pouring another word ‘’(ekcheo)’’ is used, clearly showing that baptizo does not mean pour. …There is thus no doubt that early in the 2nd century some Christians felt baptism was so important that, 'when the real baptism (immersion) could not be performed because of lack of water, a token pouring might be used in its place" 
  13. France, R. T. (2007). The Gospel of Matthew. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. p. 109. ISBN 0-8028-2501-X. OCLC 122701585. "The fact that he chose a permanent and deep river suggests that more than a token quantity of water was needed, and both the preposition 'in' (the Jordan) and the basic meaning of the verb 'baptize' probably indicate immersion. In v. 16 Matthew will speak of Jesus 'coming up out of the water.' The traditional depiction in Christian art of John the Baptist pouring water over Jesus' head may therefore be based on later Christian practice" 
  14. Warfield, Benjamin Breckinridge. "The Archæology of the Mode of Baptism". "We may then probably assume that normal patristic baptism was by a trine immersion upon a standing catechumen, and that this immersion was completed either by lowering the candidate's head beneath the water, or (possibly more commonly) by raising the water over his head and pouring it upon it" 
  15. While in some places and in certain circumstances total immersion very likely was practiced, all the evidence (and there is much more) points to baptism in most cases by partial immersion, or affusion (dunking of the head or pouring water over the head, typically when the baptizand was standing in the baptismal pool). Here the words of St. John Chrysostom might be noted: "It is as in a tomb that we immerse our heads in the water… then when we lift our heads back the new man comes forth" (On John 25.2, PG 59:151). In a word, while early Christians were very attentive to symbolism relating to baptism (cf. the funerary shape of the baptistry building; the steps, typically three, for descending and rising from the font; the iconography relating to regeneration, etc.), they show few signs of preoccupation with total immersion. (Father John Erickson in St Vladimir's Theological Quarterly, 41, 77 (1997), quoted in The Byzantine Forum)
  16. McGuckin, John Anthony (2004). "Baptism". The Westminster handbook to patristic theology. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press. pp. 41–44. ISBN 0-664-22396-6. OCLC 52858567. "Eastern tradition strongly defended the practice of three-fold immersion under the waters, but Latin practice increasingly came to use a sprinkling of water on the head (also mentioned in Didache 7 if there was not sufficient water for immersion.)" 
  17. 17.0 17.1 Bowker, John (1999). The Oxford Dictionary of World Religionsw. Oxfordw: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-866242-4. OCLC 60181672. Template:Page needed
  18. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1259
  19. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition 2000
  20. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert (1940). A Greek-English Lexicon (revised and augmented throughout by Sir Henry Stuart Jones with the assistance of Roderick McKenzie ed.). Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0198642261. 
  21. For instance, The Mode of Baptism; The Sacrament of Baptism#How is Baptism to be Applied?; Baptism: Immersion Only?
  22. Jewish Encyclopedia: Ablution
  23. Jesus' omission of the rite has been compared with that by his disciples, mentioned in Matthew 15:1-2: "Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, 'Why do your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash (νίπτω) their hands when they eat.'"
  24. 24.0 24.1 Code of Canon Law, canon 849
  25. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1257
  26. John 3:5
  27. Ordo initiationis christanae adultorum, editio typica, Vatican City, Typis polyglottis vaticanis, 1972, pg 92, cf Lateran IV De Fide Catholica, DS 802, cf Florence, Decretum pro Armeniis, DS , 1317
  28. Baptism in Catholic Encyclopediaw

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