Baptism 1 - Response to Stuart Latimer's Christian Baptism series, sermon 1

10/28/2010 11:47

Sermon 1 – Sprinkling v. Immersion


Response by Dan Salter:


I must begin by stating my agreement with Pastor Latimer on the acceptance of an individual’s baptism whether by immersion, sprinkling, or pouring. I differ with Pastor Latimer, however, in that it appears the mode of baptism means somewhat more to him than it does to me. I formerly preferred immersion (while still accepting all modes) because of the picture I thought it presented. I have since changed from that view because I believe baptism to be more a picture of repentance of sin as rejecter of God and embrace of the New Covenant Kingdom. Any mode using water may picture that. (I do lean now toward pouring because I think it more vividly depicts what happens in this repentance/embrace picture--the cleansing by the blood and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, but that picture is a matter of degree and therefore not significant to press.) The point of Pastor Latimer’s first sermon, therefore, with which I find difficulty is the seeming insistence that sprinkling ought to be the manner in which we baptize because it best follows the Bible’s implication. My comments will follow the order of his sermon.

Pastor Latimer takes us first to Hebrews 9:10. He equates the “various washings” of that verse with the specific sprinkling examples of the rest of the chapter. However, I’m quite sure that he would not argue that the regulations summarily expressed in verse 10 as “food and drink and various washings” are only those mentioned in the rest of chapter 9. Certainly many other uses of food, drink, and washings were evident in the old covenant religious practice, including those washings which were not sprinklings but actual hand, foot, and vessel purification ceremonies (see Solomon’s temple furnishings in 2 Chronicles 4:6 for just one example). Hebrews 9 even implies other washings in the verses previous to verse 10, speaking of the rituals conducted by the priests in the “first section” or outer court. The laver existed in the outer court. That laver was used for washing (not sprinkling) of the hands and feet (Exodus 30:20-21).

This point is significant because Pastor Latimer uses it to begin construction of his argument that the Jews of Acts 2 would immediately think of sprinkling when Peter uses the word “baptize.” Baptisms or washings of the old covenant were not always sprinkling as Pastor Latimer’s sermon seems to imply.[1] Therefore, I do not believe that Pastor Latimer’s use of Hebrews 9:10 (and the chapter’s sprinkling examples) concludes foundational support for the equating of washings with sprinkling in the minds of the Jews in Acts 2.

I would offer a similar complaint for his reasoning in line with the John 1 baptism. The blood sprinklings and the water sprinklings of purification certainly were part of the old covenant practice, but so were other washings (pouring or partial dipping as with hands and feet). The baptisms performed by John, therefore, could very well have been pourings or sprinklings. And they even could have been immersions without as much astonishment by the people as Pastor Latimer would expect. We know immersion was a practiced mode of the first century based on the Didache and certain writings of the Qumran community. To imply, therefore, that John’s baptism would be a startling and confusing event had he immersed is a bit of a stretch.

Next Pastor Latimer points us to Isaiah 52:15 and the “sprinkling” of the nations by Christ. The Hebrew word nazah can mean “to startle” as well as “to sprinkle.” Although, admittedly, the word is never translated as startle in the OT, the meaning seems to fit the passage better contrasting with the first phrase in verse 14: “As many were astonished at you,…so shall he startle many nations.”

But even if we assume the word to mean “sprinkle” rather than “startle,” the picture in Isaiah shows a bloodied Messiah, sprinkling his blood much like the old covenant high priest sprinkled the animals’ blood. While that is a part of the meaning of the water rite of baptism, it is not the full meaning. If baptism is the sign of the New Covenant, it would (like Christ’s redemptive work) encapsulate all of the old covenant purification practices as well as the Spirit’s work as Pastor Latimer pointed out in discussion of Acts 2:17ff. Thus, baptism could be vividly shown through pouring and even immersion while still incorporating the idea of the blood-sprinkling aspect of Christ’s sacrifice.

Pastor Latimer next discusses the reason for the baptism of Christ. He astutely points out that Christ’s baptism in fulfilling all righteousness means he fulfilled the Law. That Law did have Aaron and his sons purified during their dedication and consecration. However, those two events (Exodus 40:12 and Leviticus 8:6) both have these Aaronic priests washed (that is rachats) not sprinkled (nazah or zaraq). The OT does not hesitate to say sprinkled when sprinkled is in view. Here, however, the word is washed as performed at the laver in the tabernacle’s outer court. Therefore, to assume from these OT priestly baptisms that Christ must have been sprinkled is just not justified.

After considering the message, I remain convinced of my original view that no mode of baptism holds more Scriptural sway over the others.  There just does not appear to me to be a scripturally implied mandate or preference on mode.

[1] I do not mean to assert that Pastor Latimer believes that old covenant washings were exclusively sprinklings. I am quite certain that he does not. However, I think his sermon would leave those not familiar with these old covenant practices with that impression.