Saturday, February 2, 2008

Dabney On Baptism

Immersionist Postulate as to Usage of Words.

Being the insomniac I am I was reading through the 1260 hits I received in Libronix for the search term "baptism." Robert Dabney is an old southern Presbyterian whose systematic theology was published in 1871 based on his lectures. I find his style somehow warm for a systematic theologian, enjoy.

"Let it be borne in mind that the thing the Immersionist must prove is no less than this: that βαπτιζω, etc., never can mean, in secular uses, whether in or out of the Scriptures, anything but dip under, plunge; for nothing less will prove that nothing but dipping wholly under is valid baptism, If the words mean frequently plunging, but sometimes wetting or washing without plunging, their cause is lost. For then it is no longer absolutely specific of mode. Let us then examine first the non–ritual or secular usage of the words, both in Hellenistic (Sept. Josephus) Greek, and in the New Testament. We freely admit that βαπτω very often means to dip, and βαπτιζω still more often, nay, usually, but not exclusively.

The Root βαπτω to be Examined.

And first, the trick of Carson is to be exposed, by which he endeavors to evade the examination of the shorter form, βαπτω, on the plea βαπτιζω and its derivatives are the only ones ever used in relation to the sacrament of baptism. True; but by what process shall we more properly discover the meaning of βαπτιζω than by going to that of its root, βαπτω, from which it is formed by the simple addition of ιζω, meaning verbal activity, (the making of anything to be βαπτ). Well, we find the lexicons all defining βαπτω, dip, wash, stain. Suidas, πλυνω, to wash clothes. These definitions are sustained by the well known case, from the classics, of Homer’s lake, βεβαμμενον, tinged with the blood of a dying mouse, which Carson himself gives up. But among the instances from Hellenistic Greek, the more important to our purpose, consult the following: Rev. 19:13, a vesturestained with blood, βεβαμμενον; Luke 16:24; Ex. 12:22; 1 Sam. 14:27; Lev. 4:6, 7; Dan. 4:33. So there are cases of the secular use of the word of βαπτιζω where immersion is not expressed. See the lexicons quoted by Drs. Owen and Rice, in which it is defined, not only to immerse, but also to wash, substantiated by the cases of “the blister baptized with breast milk,” in classic Greek, and of the altar, wood and victim of Elijah baptized by pouring on water in Origen. Hence, the common and secular usage is not uniformly in favor of dipping.

βαπτιζω not always Dip.

But if it were, the question would still be an open one; for it may well be, that when transferred to religious ritual, the word will undergo some such modification as we saw uniformly occurs in all other words transferred thus. We proceed, then, one step nearer, and examine the meaning of the word in the Septuagint and New Testament, when applied to religious rituals, other than the Christian sacrament itself; that is, to Jewish purifications. And here we find that the specific idea of the Jewish religious baptism was not dipping, but an act symbolical of purification, of which the actual mode was, in most cases, by effusion. In 2 Kings 5:14; Naaman baptized himself (εβαπτιζατο) seven times in the Jordan. This may have been dipping, but taking into account the Jewish mode of purification, was more probably by effusion. The Septuagint says: “He that baptizeth himself (of βαπτιζεται) after he toucheth a dead body, if he touch it again, what availed] his washings?” How this baptism was performed, the reader may see in Num. 31:19, 24, and 19:13–20. In Judith 12:7, this chaste maiden is said to have baptized herself at a fountain of water by a vast camp! In Josephus Antiq. Bk. 4, ch. iv., the ashes of the red heifer used in purifying are said to be baptized in spring water.

New Testament Use of the Verb not Always Dip.

In the New Testament there are four instances where the Jewish ritual purifications are described by the term baptize; and in all four cases it was undoubtedly by effusion. Mark 7:4: Luke 11:38; John 2:6; Heb. 9:10; 6:2. (The last may possibly be Christian baptism, though its use in the plural would rather show that it included the Jewish.) Now that all these purifications called here of βαπτιμοι and καθαρισμοι were by effusion, we learn, 1. From the Levitical law, which describes various washings and sprinklings, but not one immersion of a man’s person for purification. 2. From well known antique habits still Prevalent in the East, which limited the washings to the hands and feet, and performed them by affusion. Compare 2 Kings 3:11; Exod. 30:21. 3. From comparison of the two passages, Mark 7:4, and Luke 11:38; with John. 2:6. These water pots were too narrow at the mouth, and too small (holding about two bushels) to receive a person’s body, and were such as were borne on the shoulders of female servants. 4. From the great improbability that Jews would usually immerse all over so often, or that they could. 5. From the fact that they are declared to have practiced, not only these baptisms of their persons, but of their utensils and massive couches. Num. 19:17, 18. It is simply preposterous that these should have been immersed as often as ceremonia]ly defiled. Last, the Levitical law, which these Jews professed to observe with such strictness, rendered an immersion impossible anywhere but in a deep running stream, or living pit of a fountain. For if anything ceremonially unclean went into a vessel of standing water, no matter whether large or small, the water was thereby defiled, and the vessel and all other water put into that vessel, and all persons who got into it. See Lev. 11:32to 36.
It is true that Immersionists pretend to quote Talmudists (of whom I, and probably they, know nothing), saying that these purifications were by immersion; and that Solomon’s “sea” was for the priests to swim in. But the Talmud is 700 years A. D., and excessively absurd.


Now, if the religious baptisms of the Jews were not by dipping, but by effusion; if their specific idea was that of religious purification, and not dipping; and if Christian baptism is borrowed from the Jewish, and called by the same name, without explanation, can any one believe that dipping is its specific and essential form? Immersionists acknowledge the justice of our inference, by attempting to dispute all the premises. Hard task!

Dipping Impracticable Sometimes.

A CONSIDERATION of some probable weight may be drawn from the fact that Christianity is intended to be a universal religion. Remember that it is characterized by fewness and simplicity of rites, that it is rather spiritual than ritual, that its purpose was to make those rites the reverse of burdensome, and that the elements of the other sacraments were chosen from articles common, cheap, and near at hand. Now, in many extensive countries, water is too scarce to make it convenient to accumulate enough for an immersion; in other regions all waters are frozen over during half the year. In many cases infirmity of body renders immersion highly inconvenient and even dangerous. It seems not very probable that, under these circumstances, a dispensation so little formalistic as the Christian, would have made immersion essential to the validity of baptism, for a universal Church, amidst all climes and habits.

Grace Symbolized is Always Shed Forth.

An argument of far greater importance is derived from the obviously correct analogy between the act of effusion and the grace signified and sealed in baptism. It is this which Immersionists seek to evade when they endeavor, contrary to Scripture, to make baptism signify and commemorate primarily

Christ’s burial and resurrection. (Hence the importance of refuting that dream).The student will remember, that the selection of the element is founded, not upon the resemblance of its nature (for of this there can be none, between the material and spiritual), but on the analogy of its use to the graces symbolized. Water is the detergent element of nature. The great meaning of baptism is our cleansing from guilt by expiation (blood), and our cleansing from the depravity of heart by the Holy Spirit. Now, in all Bible language, without a single exception, expiation is symbolized as sprinkled, or effused, or put on; and the renewing Spirit, as descending, or poured, or falling. See all the Jewish usages, and the whole tenor of the promises. Lev. 14:7, 51; 16:14; Num. 8:7; 19:18; Heb. 9:1–22, especially last verse; 9:14; 10:22; Lev. 7:14; Exod. 29:16, 21, etc.; Ps. 14:2; Isa. 44:3; Ps. 21:6; Isa. 32:15; Joel 2:28, 29, quoted in Acts 2.

Isaiah, and other Old Testament Instances.

Nor is the force of this analogy a mere surmise of ours. See Isa. 52:15, where it is declared that the Redeemer, by His mediatorial, and especially His suffering work, “shall sprinkle many nations.” The immediate reference here doubtless is not to water baptism, but to that which it signifies. But when God chooses in His own Word to call those baptismal graces a sprinkling, surely it gives no little authority to the belief that water baptism is by sprinkling! Immersionists feel this so acutely that they have even availed themselves of the infidel glosses of the German Rationalists, who to get rid of the Messianic features of glorious prophecy, render יַזֶה —to cause to start up, “to startle.” The only plea they bring for this unscrupulous departure from established usage of the word is, that in all the other places this verb has as its regimen the element sprinkled and not the object. This objection Dr. J. A. Alexander pronounces frivolous, and denies any Hebrew or Arabic support to the substituted translation. Again: In Ezek. 36:25, are promises which, although addressed primarily to the Jews of the Captivity, are evidently evangelical; and there the sprinkling of clean water symbolizes the gospel blessings of regeneration, remission, and spiritual indwelling. The language is so strikingly favorable to us, that it seems hardly an overstraining of it to suppose it a prediction of the very sacrament of baptism. But this we do not claim.

New Testament Examples of Grace by Affusion.

Our argument is greatly strengthened when we proceed to the New Testament. Collate Matt. 3:11; Acts 1:5; 2:2–4; 2:15–18; 2:33; 10:44,45,48; 11:16,17. Here our argument is two–fold. First: that both John and Christ baptize with water, not in water. This language is wholly appropriate to the application of water to the person, wholly inappropriate to the application of the person to the water. No Immersionist would speak of dipping with water. They do indeed reclaim that the preposition is εν here translated “with,” and should in all fidelity be rendered “in,” according to its admitted use in the large majority of New Testament cases. This we utterly deny; first, because in the mouth of a Hebraistic Greek, εν being the established equivalent and translation of בְּ may naturally and frequently mean “with;” but second and chiefly because the parallel locutions of Luke 3:16; Acts 1:5; 11:16; Eph. 5:26; Heb. 10:22, identify the εν υδαιτ etc., with the instrument. And from the same passages we argue farther, that the mode of the baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire, is fixed most indisputably by the description of the event in Acts 2:2 and 4. The long promised baptism occurred. And what was it? It was the sitting of tongues of fire on each Apostle, and the “descent,” the fall, the “pouring out,” the “shedding forth,” of the spiritual influences. To make the case still stronger, if possible, when the spiritual effusion on Cornelius and his house occurred, which made Peter feel that he divas justified in authorizing their water baptism, he informs his disapproving brethren in Jerusalem (Acts 11:15, 16) that the “falling of the Holy Spirit on them as on us at the beginning,” caused him “to remember” the great promise of a baptism, not with water only, but with the Holy Spirit and with fire. If baptism is never an effusion, how could such a suggestion ever arise?"

Robert L. Dabney, Systematic Theology, Index created by Christian Classics Foundation., electronic ed. based on the Banner of Truth 1985 ed., 672 (Simpsonville SC: Christian Classics Foundation, 1996).


Anonymous said...

Just so you know, I'm keeping up with and thoroughly enjoying your posts on baptism. But I'm still having trouble at times bringing up your blog, though this time I have no advice for you, so don't change a thing. I'm just glad your feedburner emails contain the entire text of the post. But today your page opened successfully so I thought I'd comment while I had the chance.

I've been coming to some conclusions myself about baptism, and it relates to what you may have read in my post on Calvin as a theologian where I mentioned that the "first Baptist" John Smythe denied original sin like some of the anabaptists did, and it is clear to me that this was not only their way of encouraging holiness or something, but also their excuse to not baptize infants. The more I look into the Baptist defense of immersion-only-of-believers-onlyism, the more I find to make me want to repudiate it. This so does not make my life any easier. But I'm kind of glad for it. . .

Call me crazy!

In short it reinforces the slogan I developed a few years ago that summarized my explanation for the Baptist phenomenon:

Everything that's right about the Baptists, they learned from the "presbyterians", and everything that's wrong about the Baptists, they learned from the anabaptists.

Naturally, Reformed Baptists have better ways to explain their anabaptistic tendencies with which they're able to deny any association with them, but I'm still convinced they're just reworking anabaptism using Reformed theology.

This from an SBC deacon! I should be so ashamed!



Anonymous said...

To let you know how helpful this post is, I want you to know that I just transcribed most of the texts with Dabney's arguments on one of the front pages of my Reformation Study Bible. The one I carry to church.