IS IMMERSION THE “PROPER” MODE OF WATER BAPTISM?
by Shawn Brasseaux
Some sincere people have attempted to use the Bible to prove that water baptism by immersion is the only “proper mode.” They say this to counter those in Christendom who hold to water baptism by sprinkling (aspersion) and those who hold to water baptism by pouring (effusion). Like all groups, the immersionists have “pet” verses. If people have been in such a denomination for a long time, they will mindlessly say, “But, see, this verse sounds like immersion to me….” The top three passages used here are—Matthew 3:16, Acts 8:38-39, and Romans 6:3-4. In this study, we want to ask and answer two questions: (1) Are these three passages teaching water baptism by immersion, and (2) Are they instructing us to water baptize believers today?
Indeed, this controversial topic has generated many bitter battles for centuries, but, friends, Bible truth needs to be known no matter whom it contradicts. What we will soon share will probably contradict your preacher, your theology, your opinions, your alma mater, and your parents, but so what. None of them can change what the Bible says. The words we write now and the verses we share now will anger people who have very strong emotional attachments to religious tradition of any and every denomination. Again, it is our conviction to let the Holy Bible speak for itself, and to let it contradict whomever it contradicts. “Yea, let God be true, but every man a liar” (Romans 3:4). It does not matter who says what, which theological institution teaches what, which church believes what, et cetera. For far too long, “scholars” have been allowed to speak while the Bible has been pushed aside unless it teaches what they want it to teach. Dear readers, such nonsense ends here.
Let me be blunt. So many people suffer from “theological hydrocephalus.” This affliction troubles individuals who study the word “baptism” in the Bible through the lenses of denominational teaching. They do not read the Bible alone. Instead, they read books about the Bible, and then feed those preconceived ideas back into the Bible. Their minds get all muddled up because the traditions of men obscure the Bible’s clear teachings. They make the Bible text fit what they have heard all their lives in church, and end up all mixed up. One such example is our current topic—water baptism by immersion. Whenever someone sees something even close to proving that idea in Scripture, they will immediately pull the verse from its context and use it. No matter the topic, this is certainly a very dishonest approach the Scripture. No matter the denomination, they all “proof text” to some degree. That will not happen here. God’s words mean so much more to us than that.
The best way to analyze these three alleged “baptism by immersion” passages is to divide them into two groups. Matthew 3:16 and Acts 8:38-39 are clearly water baptisms—we will look at their contexts. However, Romans 6:3-4 is certainly not a water ceremony of any mode—we will look at its context. We will examine these passages shortly; for now, we have a verse of Scripture that has greatly helped me concerning this concept. I would like to share it with you first.
EZEKIEL 36:25—DATED 600 B.C.
Long before any part of the “New Testament” Scriptures was written, the Holy Spirit through the Prophet Ezekiel had already set a precedent in his book as to Israel’s baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. Notice what he wrote in Ezekiel 36:25: “Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you.” When referring to Israel’s national conversion, her re-gathering into Palestine, when JEHOVAH God restores her unto Himself in the last days (end times), He says that He will “sprinkle” clean water on them. Friends, we are free to believe whatever we like, but we cannot change what the Bible says. The mode of water baptism that God will use for Israel is sprinkling. There is no immersion here. If we want immersion, we have to toss out the precious words of God. If we do that, we show ourselves to be loyal to men instead of to God! Still want to do it?
From the book of Acts, chapter 5, verse 31, we learn of Jesus Christ: “Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.” We learn that God was coming in the Person of Jesus Christ to give Israel forgiveness of sins. There are no Gentiles such as ourselves here. John the Baptist’s ministry was to lead Israel back to JEHOVAH God and His Son (Messiah/Christ Jesus). Again, let us look at the Bible. Mark 1:4: “John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.” And, “When John had first preached before his coming the baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel” (Acts 13:24). Could the Bible be any clearer? We would have to want to miss it to miss it.
So, when we come to the books of Matthew through Revelation, Christ’s earthly ministry onward, and we see references to water baptism in the Bible, the mode of water baptism is implied to be sprinkling. Why? Remember, Ezekiel 36:25 had already predicted water baptism by sprinkling centuries earlier. If we say water baptism by immersion or water baptism by effusion (pouring) is “the New Testament practice,” we are forced to not take Ezekiel 36:25 literally. Either Ezekiel 36:25 is literal, and sprinkling is the mode of water baptism for Israel, or Ezekiel is wrong and the mode of water baptism in the New Testament is immersion. Either the Word of God is right, or a denomination is right. Those are the only two options. We cannot have it both ways, friend.
ADDRESSING THE WORDING OF MATTHEW 3:16 AND ACTS 8:38-39
“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” (Matthew 3:16). “And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. 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 rejoicing” (Acts 8:38-39).
As you can see, these two passages appeal to the immersionists. Jesus “went up straightway out of the water.” “They went down both into the water… they were come up out of the water.” It is contended that the language demands water baptism by immersion. But, again, are these verses really teaching immersion? No, not if we actually believe Ezekiel 36:25, a verse written long before Matthew and Acts. Matthew and Acts should be interpreted in light of the information the Holy Spirit had already revealed centuries prior. Ezekiel predicted “sprinkling” and Matthew and Acts are the fulfillment. That is the only logical way to look at it without changing the Bible.
So, if it is not water baptism by immersion, why the language of “he…went up straightway out of the water” and “they went down both into the water… And when they were come up out of the water…?” Remember, when John the Baptist water baptized people, he did so in the Jordan River. “Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him” (Matthew 3:13). A river (situated in a valley) is at lower elevation than the surrounding land, of course. It would only make sense that Jesus, leaving the river’s elevated banks, walked into the stream, stood on the (lower) riverbed, and then walked across the riverbed to stand on the (higher) banks. He climbed down into the river, stood in the river, and then climbed back onto land. The common picture of Jesus being immersed in water is fiction—Ezekiel 36:25 does not support it. Jesus was “sprinkled” with water. Of course, we can always throw out the Bible if we prefer our theology!
Now, to the water baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts chapter 8: “ 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, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?  And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ 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 baptized him.  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 rejoicing.”
Whether this was a river or a small oasis, the Bible text is obscure. Whatever “certain water” it was (verse 36), this baptism obviously was water baptism. Due to gravity, water collects in a basin, a low-lying area, whether a river, or oasis, either. Whether a river valley or oasis pond, water had collected to form a body in Acts 8:36. Like Jesus entering the Jordan River, both the Ethiopian eunuch and Philip had to climb down into the water body, stand there in the water as Philip sprinkled water onto the eunuch, and then they waded to come up out of the water body.
If we insist Acts 8:38-39 was immersion, we have a major problem: “…and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.  And when they were come up out of the water….” Both Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch went down into the water—then who immersed whom? See, the language is not immersion… it is descending from higher elevation (banks of the water body) to lower elevation (the water body). My dear friends, it is not hard to grasp unless we want to teach some denominational tenet!
ADDRESSING THE WORDING OF ROMANS 6:3-4
“ Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?  Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”
This passage is one of the most misconstrued passages in the whole book of Romans, probably in the whole Bible. As much as 99.9% of the preaching and teaching on this portion of Scripture can be reduced to the shallow expression, “We need to follow Jesus in believer’s baptism. Being dunked into water is a picture of our death to our old life, and us being raised out of the water is our resurrection to new life.” Friends, there is not one—NOT ONE!!—drop of water in these verses here! The passage never mentions the word “water” at all! For someone to make this passage a “water baptism” proof-text, he or she must invent an explanation and then force the Bible to say what he or she wants it to say. This is a most dishonest approach to the Bible, especially if that person claims Jesus Christ as personal Saviour!
If we are going to be Bible believers, we are going to have to believe the Bible. The verse says we are “baptized into Jesus Christ” and “baptized into his death.” There is no “baptized into water in the name of Jesus Christ” and no “baptized into water to picture our death to sin in Christ.” This is how denominationalists read the verse, and they are wrong. They are 100 percent wrong. Period. This “baptism” is not water baptism. It is a supernatural baptism. We cannot be placed into the death of Jesus Christ by being physically placed into water. That is dumb. We cannot be placed into Jesus by being placed into water either. That is heresy.
Romans 6:3 says we are placed into Christ’s death, not water. Jesus died 2,000 years ago, but we can still be placed into His death because the verse says so. How is this possible? The Holy Spirit is not limited by time or space. He can identify us with Christ’s death, even though that death happened many centuries ago. First Corinthians 12:13: “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.” A person who trusts Jesus Christ’s bloodshed, death, burial, and resurrection as sufficient payment for his or her sins (Romans 4:24-25; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4), the Holy Spirit takes that believing sinner and places him or her into the Church the Body of Christ. That individual is thereby made one with Jesus Christ’s death. In God’s mind, when Jesus died, that new believer died. When Jesus was raised again, that new believer was raised again. God sees complete identification here. No “picture” (a water ceremony) is needed. That is religious tradition. God is satisfied with that “one baptism” of 1 Corinthians 12:13 (Ephesians 4:5). That baptism of 1 Corinthians 12:13 is not water.
If you read all of Romans chapter 6, you can see how the Christian life operates (read chapters 7 and 8 for a fuller picture). We are dead to sin and alive unto God. We are crucified with Christ and we are raised with Christ. Sin no longer has an iron grip on our lives. We can choose not to sin because God has given us, in Christ, a capacity to be victorious over sin. There is nothing in Romans chapter 6 about water ceremonies—the whole book of Romans is silent about “water” altogether! Anyone who says there is water is Romans chapter 6 is being dishonest and simply mindlessly repeating what church tradition teaches. They need to read their Bible before they claim to believe it!
So what about water baptism today? Is it necessary for us to practice? There is not one command in God’s Word to us Gentiles, Paul’s epistles, Romans through Philemon, that we must water baptize believers in this the Dispensation of Grace. You would have to twist Israel’s verses and force them onto us—ignoring their contexts—to make them fit us the Body of Christ. As we mentioned earlier, Ephesians 4:5 says, “One Lord, one faith, one baptism.” The only baptism that we need is 1 Corinthians 12:13, and it is the Holy Spirit (not a priest or preacher) placing us into Jesus Christ the moment we believe the Gospel of the Grace of God—Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection as the all-sufficient payment for our sins (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). In fact, Paul said that he actually “thanked God” that he did not water baptize converts. Paul even admitted, “Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel” (1 Corinthians 1:17). How could Paul, our Apostle, God’s spokesman to us Gentiles (Romans 11:13), say that Christ did not commission him to water baptize? The only logical explanation is that water baptism has no place or purpose in the program of God currently in effect. We either believe those verses, or we believe our denomination. It really is that simple. Do not get angry with me. Friends, believe the verses and forget the traditions of men!
» Why was Jesus water baptized?
» Why do Matthew 28:19 and Acts 2:38 contain dissimilar instructions?
» Why did Paul water baptize?