AskDefine | Define baptismal

Dictionary Definition

baptismal adj : of or relating to baptism; "baptismal font"

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. relating to baptism

Extensive Definition

In Christianity, baptism (from Greek βάπτισμα and βαπτισμός, meaning "immersing", "performing ablution" - see below) is the sacramental act of cleansing in water that admits one as a full member of the Church. Most Christians, such as Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Lutherans, Anglicans, and Methodists are baptized as infants. Baptists and certain other groups baptize only after a person accepts Jesus Christ as their Savior ("believer's baptism"). Most Christians baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but some baptize in Jesus' name only.
Jews baptized proselytes. The periodically repeated Jewish purification rite of mikvah is not normally spoken of as baptism, largely because of the Christian associations of the word "baptism". John the Baptist baptized for repentance, baptizing Jesus and many others. In the Gospel of St. Matthew, the resurrected Jesus commands his disciples to baptize (see Great Commission). The Gospel of John says that Jesus baptized, but adds that "Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples." Clement of Alexandria reports that at the end of the second century it was believed that Jesus personally baptized Saint Peter. 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.
Baptism has traditionally been seen as necessary for salvation. Martyrdom was identified early in church history as baptism by blood, allowing martyrs who had not been baptized by water to be saved. Later, the Church identified baptism by desire, by which, when joined with repentance for their sins, and charity, those preparing for baptism who die before actually receiving the sacrament are considered to be saved.
By analogy, the English word "baptism" is used of any ceremony, trial, or experience by which one is initiated, purified, or given a name. See Other initiation ceremonies below.

Meaning of the Greek word βαπτίζω

The Greek-English Lexicon of Liddell and Scott gives the primary meaning of the word (transliterated as "baptizô"), from which the English word baptism is derived, as dip, plunge, but indicates, giving Bible verse |Luke|11:38 as an example, that another meaning is perform ablutions.
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 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. Bible verse |Luke|11:38 uses the verb of such a ritual washing: a Pharisee, at whose house Jesus ate, "was astonished to see that he did not first wash ( – literally, "be baptized" or "baptize himself") before dinner." This is the passage that Liddell and Scott cites as an instance of the use of to mean perform ablutions. The other New Testament passage pointed to is Bible verse |Mark|7:3–4a: "The Pharisees ... do not eat unless they wash (, 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" - )".


Background in Jewish ritual

Although the term "baptism" is not used to describe the Jewish rituals, the purification rites (or mikvah - ritual immersion) in Jewish laws and tradition have some similarity to baptism, and the two have been linked although their relationship is disputed. In the Jewish Bible and other Jewish texts, immersion in water for ritual purification was established for restoration to a condition of "ritual purity" in specific circumstances. For example, Jews who (according to the Law of Moses) became ritually defiled by contact with a corpse had to use the mikvah before being allowed to participate in the Holy Temple. Immersion is required for converts to Judaism as part of their conversion. Immersion in the mikvah represents a change in status in regards to purification, restoration, and qualification for full religious participation in the life of the community, ensuring that the cleansed person will not impose uncleanness on property or its owners (see Numbers Chapter , and Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Chagigah, page 12). This change of status by the mikvah could be obtained repeatedly. Baptism is seen as creating a definitive change of status and is thus not repeatable.

Apostolic period

The New Testament gives accounts of baptisms performed, in the lifetime of Jesus, by John the Baptist in the Jordan River, and by Jesus himself, not personally but rather through his disciples
In the apostolic period, the Acts of the Apostles reports baptisms of about 3,000 persons in Jerusalem within a single day, that of Pentecost, of men and women in Samaria, of an Ethiopian eunuch, of Saul, whose Greek name was Paul, of the household of Cornelius, of Lydia's household, of the Philippi jailer's household, of many Corinthians, of certain Corinthians baptized by Paul personally.
None of these accounts gives an exact description of the method(s) by which baptism was administered in the apostolic period, whether by submersion (full immersion), by immersion (pouring water on someone standing in a stream or pool, as envisaged by the Oxford Dictionary of World Religions), or in some other way. For instance, when Bible verse |Acts|8:38-39 says that "both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him", and continues: "When they came up out of the water ...", it uses terms that apply equally to the action of two people fording a stream by, both of them, "going down into the water" on one side and "coming up out of the water" on the other side, without either of them having been completely immersed in the water. However, the idea of washing implicit in the word (see above) does imply the use of water, though in apostolic times there is only one explicit mention (Bible verse |Acts|8:36) of the use of water in connection with baptism.
The mentions of baptisms by John in the River Jordan and that of the eunuch in the spring or pool of water found on the desert road from Jerusalem to Gaza (Bible verse |Acts|8:26 and ) do not speak explicitly of submersion, but some claim that they imply it. They interpret similarly the figure of speech of "burial" used in connection with baptism in both Bible verse |Romans|6:3-4 ("Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.") and Bible verse |Colossians|2:12 ("When you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead"). They take this as implying baptism by full immersion (submersion) to symbolise burial. Additionally, some take the figure of speech used in Bible verse |John|3:3-5 of how a Christian is "born again" by being "born of water" as implying a baptism of complete immersion (submersion) in water from which the person baptized comes out from under the water as if being born again.
Others, while not denying that total immersion (submersion) may have been the usual form of baptism in apostolic times, claim that there is no evidence that it was the only form in use. They point to physical problems in supposing that total immersion was used when, for instance, 3,000 people were baptized in a single day in Jerusalem,
The Didache or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, an anonymous book of 16 short chapters, is probably the earliest known written instructions, outside of the Bible, for administering baptism. Most scholars date it to about the year 100. It indicates a preference for baptizing in "living" (i.e. running, as in a river or stream) water at its natural temperature, but considers that, if necessary, it is enough to pour water of any kind on the head: "Concerning baptism, baptize this way: Having first said all these things, baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living water. But if you have no living water, baptize into other water; and if you cannot do so in cold water, do so in warm. But if you have neither, pour out water three times upon the head into the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit."
Many scholars believe immersion, whether partial or complete (submersion), was the dominant mode of baptism in the early church. Other forms were also admitted in certain circumstances, as today in the East, where submersion and immersion continue to be prevalent.
In imitation of the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan, early Christians preferred rivers for performing baptisms, and this was also suitable for the baptism of large crowds. Since rivers were not available everywhere, some important writers of the second and third centuries (Justin, Clement, Victor I, and Tertullian) remarked that seas, lakes, ponds and springs are equally proper baptismal sites. In the most usual form of early Christian baptism, the candidate stood in water and water was poured over the upper body.The theology of baptism attained precision in the 3rd and 4th centuries.
As baptism forgave sins, the issue of sins committed after baptism arose. Hardliners periodically insisted that apostasy, even under threat of death, and other grievous sins could cut one off forever from the Church, but the Church consistently readmitted the repentant. Some early Christians delayed baptism until they were dying, as is said to have been the motive for which Constantine delayed receiving baptism.
Baptism of the sick or dying used means other than even partial immersion and was still considered valid.

Early Middle Ages

Infant baptism became common, alongside the developing theology of original sin, displacing the earlier common practice of delaying baptism until the deathbed. Against Pelagius, Augustine insisted that baptism was necessary for salvation even for virtuous people and for children.

Middle Ages

Baptism was subsumed into the medieval theology of the sacraments. Medieval theologians identified baptism as one of seven sacraments, all instituted by Christ and necessary for salvation.
In the period between the twelfth and the fourteenth centuries, affusion (pouring) became the usual manner of administering baptism in Western Europe, though immersion continued to be found in some places even as late as the sixteenth century. to the half-metre deep basin in the 6th century baptistery of the old Cologne Cathedral.
Both East and West considered washing with water and the Trinitarian baptismal formula necessary for administering the rite. Scholasticism referred to these two elements as the matter and the form of the sacrament, employing terms taken from the then prevailing Aristotelian philosophy.

Protestant Reformation

see Anabaptism
In the 16th century, various Reformers broke from the Roman Catholic Church and challenged numerous church doctrines and practices.
Martin Luther recategorized all the sacraments other than baptism and the eucharist as rites. Zwingli differed with Luther here, denying sacramental status even of these. Swiss Reformer Huldrych Zwingli identified baptism and the Lord's supper as sacraments, but in the sense of an initiatory ceremony or pledging. His understanding of these sacraments as symbolic differentiated him from Luther. However, all those Reformers and the Protestant/reformed churches in their tradition continued the practice of infant baptism.
Anabaptists ("Rebaptizers") rejected church authority so thoroughly that they even denied the validity of baptism outside their sect. They rebaptized converts. The Amish, Hutterites, and other groups descend from this tradition.

Modern practice

Today, baptism is most readily identified with Christianity, where it symbolizes the cleansing (remission) of sins, and the union of the believer with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection so that he may be called "saved" or "born again." Most Christian groups use water to baptize and agree that it is important, yet may strongly disagree with other groups regarding aspects of the rite such as:
  • manner or method of baptism
  • recipients of baptism
  • meaning and effects of baptism
A few Christian groups assert that water baptism has been supplanted by the promised "baptism of the Holy Spirit", and water baptism was unnecessarily carried over from the early Jewish Christian practice

Manner of baptism

Christian baptism is performed in the following forms:


Aspersion is the sprinkling of water on the head.


Affusion is the pouring of water over the head.


Immersion is a method of baptism employed at least from the second century, whereby part of the candidate's body was submerged in the baptismal water which was poured over the remainder. The term is occasionally loosely used to include submersion, from which it is strictly to be distinguished. The rite is still found in the Eastern Church. In the Latin Church, immersion seems to have prevailed until the twelfth century.


Submersion (also called "total immersion" or, loosely, "immersion") is the form of baptism in which the water completely covers the candidate's body. Though immersion is now also common, submersion is practised in the Orthodox and several of the other Eastern Churches, as well as in the Ambrosian Rite. It is one of the methods provided in the Roman Catholic rite for the baptism of infants. On the basis of Bible verse |Romans|6:3-11 it has been generally supposed to have been the custom of the early Church, but this view has been challenged from the evidence of primitive pictorial representations and measurements of surviving early baptismal fonts.
Biblical passages such as Bible verse |Romans|6:2-13 and Bible verse |Colossians|2:12-13 is often interpreted to mean that baptism is by full immersion (submersion) in water in order to represent a death and burial (when the person being baptized is submerged under the water, as if buried), and a resurrection (when the person comes up out of the water, as if rising from the grave) - a "death" and a "burial" to an old way of life focused on sinning, and a "resurrection" to the start of a new life as a Christian focused on God. Anglicans believe that Baptism is also the entry into the Church and therefore allows them access to all rights and responsibilities as full members, including the privilege to receive Holy Communion. Most Anglicans agree that it also cleanses the taint of what in the West is called original sin, in the East ancestral sin.
Eastern Orthodox Christians usually insist on complete threefold immersion as both a symbol of death and rebirth into Christ, and as a washing away of sin. Latin Rite Catholics generally baptize by affusion (pouring); Eastern Catholics usually by submersion, or at least partial immersion. However, submersion is gaining in popularity within the Latin Catholic Church. In newer church sanctuaries, the baptismal font may be designed to expressly allow for baptism by immersion. Anglicans baptize by submersion, immersion, affusion or sprinkling.
Baptists argue that the Greek word originally meant "to immerse." They interpret some Biblical passages concerning baptism as requiring submersion of the body in water. They also state that only submersion reflects the symbolic significance of being "buried" and "raised" with Christ (see ). Many Baptist Churches baptise in the name of the Trinity—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The few exceptions include full gospel churches, who note that in the Bible there were no references to such baptisms. These baptise only in the name of Jesus Christ.

Comparative summary

Comparative Summary of Baptisms of Denominations of Christian Influence.

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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