Is immersion the only way of valid baptism?

There is much debate within Christianity on the proper mode of baptism. Some Christians believe sprinkling is acceptable while others believe that only immersion is acceptable. According to Strong's Concordance, the word βαπτίζω, ‘baptizo,' is translated as . . .

“baptize” 76 times, “wash” twice, “baptist” once, and “baptized once. It means to dip repeatedly, to immerse, to submerge (of vessels sunk). 2 to cleanse by dipping or submerging, to wash, to make clean with water, to wash one’s self, bathe. 1

So, we clearly see that the word means to immerse. Therefore, baptism by immersion is obviously biblical. Compare with Paul's words:

Romans 6:3-5, “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”

Notice that the baptism is equated with being buried with Christ and raised with him. In baptism, a person is buried under the water by full immersion and then raised up. This represents the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus as well as our dying to sin (Rom. 6:2).

Baptism and sprinkling

Without a doubt, we see baptism typically seen as immersion in the New Testament. However, if it were not for a single verse in Hebrews, we could safely say that baptism never involves sprinkling. But, there we see an exception:

Heb. 9:9-10,13-14, “Accordingly both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make the worshiper perfect in conscience, 10 since they relate only to food and drink and various washings (baptismois), regulations for the body imposed until a time of reformation . . . 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled, sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?

The writer of Hebrews speaks of washings which is the Greek word ‘baptismois’ (comes from baptizo), and then he goes on to exemplify those ‘washings’ by mentioning how the Old Testament priests sprinkled blood. Therefore, it would appear that baptism, at least in this instance, is used in the context of sprinkling.

Is this proof that baptism can be sprinkling? Not really, but it shows that the word does not only mean to immerse. Therefore, we must be careful when we assert that baptism can only mean immersion when it is used in different contexts in different ways.

  • 1. Strong, J. (1996). The exhaustive concordance of the Bible: (electronic ed.) (G907). Ontario: Woodside Bible Fellowship.

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.