Translating “Bapto”

By Wayne Jackson

The Greek word baptizo means to “dip, immerse.” It is so defined by virtually every New Testament language authority.

The verbal form occurs some eighty times in the New Testament. In most modern versions the verb is not translated at all; rather, it is anglicized, i.e., it is brought from the Greek language into English, almost letter-for-letter.

Why do you suppose this non-translating procedure has been followed? The answer is simple. Early in the history of the English Bible, many of those involved in the production of various versions were strongly in favor of “sprinkling” or “pouring” as a substitute for immersion. There was even a movement in England to abolish immersion by law! Accordingly, in an effort to cover up the true meaning of the original word, the term is left obscured in a “Greekish” form.

Even today, can you imagine a version being popular with the denominationalists (especially those who practice infant baptism) that reads: “He who believes and is immersed shall be saved” (Mk. 16:16)? It would be an economic disaster — and for many, making money is the name of the game!

It is curious, though, that when non-controversial passages were under consideration, the translators had no difficulty in knowing how to render the original term.

Consider, for example, the term bapto — an abbreviated form of baptizo. The word is found three times in the New Testament, and in each case it is rendered “dip” or “dipped.”

“And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame” (Luke 16:24).

“Jesus therefore answereth, He it is, for whom I shall dip the sop, and give it him. So when he had dipped the sop, he taketh and giveth it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot” (John 13:26).

“He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God (Rev. 19:13 – as reflected in the best Greek text. ESV; also, KJV).

Clearly, therefore, the translators understood the original significance of the term. “Baptism” is not sprinkling or pouring; it is an immersion in water, and that alone.

Circle the terms “dip” or “dipped” in these passages, and in your margin note: Bapto — baptism is a “dipping.”

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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.