William The Baptist

by James M. Chaney




W-- "I HAVE another case of immersion I am anxious to know how you will dispose of. It is recorded in Acts 8:36-39. It says, 'As they went on their Way they came to a certain water; and the Eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?' After Philip told him the condition on which he might be baptized, it is said, 'And he commanded the chariot to stand still. round they both went down into the water; both Philip and the Eunuch; and he baptized him.' "

P.-- "And this, you think, is a clear case of immersion?"

W.-- "It has always appeared so to me."

P.-- "In which statement does the immersion appear?"

W.-- "In all the circumstances. They both went down into the water, and both came up out of the water."

P.-- "If these circumstances prove immersion, then both were immersed; for precisely the same is said of the one that is said of the other. Is immersion any more apparent from this than from the similar statement in reference to the baptism of Jesus?"

W.-- "No, it is the same. But taking all the circumstances into consideration, it seems most probable that the Eunuch was immersed."

P.-- "But what circumstances?"

W.-- "The meaning of the word and their going down into the water, etc."

P.-- "Perhaps your meaning is this: taking it for granted that baptism means immersion, and can mean nothing else, then it seems, from these circumstances, that here was a case of immersion. You here advance what logicians call 'argumientum in circulo,' arguing in a circle -- a very common fallacy. Thus, in examining the word to find its meaning, we would say, 'It certainly means to immerse, because the circumstances so indicate.' Then, in examining the cases of its administration in the light of circumstantial evidence, you would say, 'The circumstances indicate immersion, because the word means to immerse.' "

W.-- "But does it not seem most probable, in this case, that the rite was performed by immersion."

P.-- "On the contrary, everything opposes such a conclusion, except the assumption that in apostolic times they immersed."

W.-- "What do you mean by everything?

" P.-- "I mean all the circumstantial evidence.

"First, from our knowledge of the country. Gaza was some forty or fifty miles southwest from Jerusalem. From the account of the country given in Old Testament history, we learn that it was a poorly cratered region. This we learn from the fact that wells were dug to secure a supply of water for animals, and a well was regarded as a valuable possession, and often led to contention and strife. We have an account of such wells in connection with the history of Abraham and Lot. Also, when Abraham's servant went to secure a wife for Isaac, he stopped at a well, and Rebecca came out to draw water. In Ex. 2:16; 1 Samuel 9:11, and Jer. 12:3, and in many other places we learn the value of wells. From these facts, and our knowledge of the country at the present time, the circumstantial evidence is decidedly against the probability of their finding water that would suffice for immersion.

"Second, if we examine the passage, we can see that the Eunuch had some idea of baptism; he felt that it was his duty to be baptized. From this it would follow that Philip had given him some instruction on the subject. But the burden of his instructions, as we learn, was an exposition of the portion of Scripture he was reading. We infer, then, that the passage read must have contained some reference to baptism. Let us examine it. At the time he was accosted by Philip, he was reading the first part of the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, as we learn from the quotation. He was then reading the first part of this chapter, and of course, had been reading for some little time. The book of Isaiah was not then divided into chapters and verses. Now let us see if we can find anything in the passage that could have suggested the subject of baptism. Yes, in the immediate context, in what is now -- in the divisions of the book -- the last verse of the fifty-second chapter, we find, 'So shall He SPRINKLE MANY NATIONS.

"Here, then, water was spoken of, which accords with the narrative; 'And as they went on their way they came unto a certain water, and the Eunuch said, 'See, water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?'

"It is clear that Philip must have spoken to him of water; and the water must have been spoken of in the passage read by the eunuch; and we have not found it; it had been read by the eunuch not two minutes before Philip addressed him. He had asked Philip what the prophet meant by saying many nations should be SPRINKLED, and Philip explained to him the necessity of the Spirit's work: and how the water of baptism was the symbol of that cleansing, descending, or being sprinkled upon those who trust in Jesus.

"Third, From what has been stated, the natural conclusion is, the water to which they came was small in quantity. This is in harmony with the statement that both went into it. Wearing sandals, they could, without any inconvenience, descend into the shallow water, and Philip, taking water in his hand, sprinkled it upon the eunuch, in accordance with the passage he had read, and in accordance with the only scriptural mode of administering the rite.

"That such were the facts, we find additional evidence from the entire absence of any hint as to any preparation for immersion, or any arrangement for dry apparel afterwards. If it had been an immersion, we would expect some such circumstances mentioned, especially as the record informs us of a less important particular that 'he commanded the chariot to stand still.'

"The narrative closes with the statement, '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. But Philip was found at Azotus," from which we may suggest --

"First, Philip's departure was sudden.

"Second, It is not probable that, traveling on foot, he had a change of raiment.

"Third, It is equally improbable that he would go to Azotus, fifteen or twenty miles distant, in his dripping apparel."

W.-- "All you have said is very plausible, but it is mere conjecture, and it is as easy to conjecture one thing as another. Is it proper to base an opinion on, or draw a conclusion from, such conjectures?"

P.-- "You must remember, my dear sir, that we are now in search of probable or circumstantial evidence. In attempting to establish anything by such evidence, the only proper course is to frame hypotheses, and see if all the known facts harmonize with them.

"Your hypothesis is that the eunuch was immersed. The probabilities are all against it. My hypothesis is that a small quantity of water was applied to him, sprinkled upon him. All the circumstances favor it. How does the case appear to you?"

W.-- "I confess I do not see the immersion as clearly as I once did."

P.-- "Have you another case to suggest?"

W.-- "None others suggest themselves to my mind."

P.-- "Do you remember the baptism of Cornelius?"

W.-- "Yes, sir, but I did not think it would throw any light on the question of mode."

P.-- "Did you ever examine the narrative with the view to see if it does?"

W.-- "No, sir, I cannot say that I did."
P.-- "Let us look at it for a moment. It is found in the tenth chapter of Acts. At the conclusion of the narrative we are told, 'While Peter yet spake these words the Holy Ghost FELL on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. Then Peter answered, can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord.' I would like to ask you a few questions in reference to this narrative."

W.-- "It will afford me pleasure to answer them to the best of my ability."

P.-- "First, then, what suggested to Peter the propriety of baptizing Cornelius and his household?"

W.-- "The account given says it was because they had received the Holy Ghost."

P.-- "Please state what the narrative says as to the manner of their receiving the Holy Ghost."

W.-- "It says the Holy Ghost fell on them. And again it speaks of Him as poured out on them."

P.-- "The circumstance, then, that Peter saw the Holy Ghost fall on them, or poured out on them, suggested to him the propriety of baptizing them with water? Would it be proper, and in harmony with other passages, to express these facts in this way: 'When Peter saw that they were baptized with the Holy Ghost, then he saw that they should be baptized with water'?"

W.-- "I see no objection to it."

P.-- "Do these incidental facts suggest anything as to mode?"

W.-- "I suppose they would to any one who believes in sprinkling."

P.-- "Without any degree of violence, the passage, as we last gave it, admits a very suggestive variation. In this, for 'baptized," in the first clause, we will substitute the equivalent term found in the narrative, and change the latter clause to conform to it. It will then be When Peter saw that the Holy Ghost FELL ON THEM, then he saw that the water of baptism should FALL ON THEM. But again, how does Peter present the question of their being baptized?"

W.-- "By asking if any man can forbid water."

P.-- "On the supposition that there was a place not very far distant where Peter intended to have them immersed, is the language used by him the most natural that suggests itself to your mind?"

W.-- "I would have expected him to ask, 'Can any one forbid us to go to the water.' "

P.-- "Then with which hypothesis does Peter's question best accord: That they were to go to the water, or that the water was to be brought to them?"

W.-- "The form of his question agrees best with the latter supposition."

P.-- "Now let us apply our rule of circumstantial evidence. To one wholly unprejudiced, ignorant of the contest about mode in baptism, but informed simply that the two modes are possible, to which of these do you think he would regard this narrative as pointing?"

W.-- "Taken by itself the circumstances would seem to favor the application of water to them."

P.-- "Do you recall another case of the administration of the rite?"

W.-- "None of special interest."

P.-- "Is not the baptism of Paul recorded?"

W.-- "Since you mention it, I recollect that it is.

P.-- "Will you please read the passage relating to his baptism? It is Acts 9:18."

W.-- " 'And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales; and he received sight forthwith, and arose and was baptized.' "

P.-- "To my mind, the circumstantial evidence derived from this passage is peculiarly strong and in favor of our mode of baptism."

W.-- "I never noticed anything striking in the account."

P.-- "Are you aware of Paul's physical condition when Ananias went to him?"

W.-- "In the ninth verse it stated that for three days he did neither eat nor drink."

P.-- "What is implied in the nineteenth verse?"

W.-- "It says when he had received meat he was strengthened."

P.-- "Do not these facts indicate great physical prostration?"

W.-- "They certainly do."

P.-- "On the supposition that he was to be immersed, what would you regard as a fit time to attend to that duty?"

W.-- "As soon as his strength would admit of it."

P.-- "If the case had been left to you, would you have started with him on foot, or in some vehicle provided for the purpose, in search of a suitable place to immerse him while he was in such an to which of these do you think he would regard this narrative as pointing?"

W.-- "Most certainly I would not."

P.-- "And when was he baptized?"

W.-- "The history does not inform us."

P.-- "Please read the eighteenth and nineteenth verses."

W.-- " 'And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales; and he received sight forthwith, and arose and was baptized. And when he had received meat he was strengthened.' I see the force of your argument. He was baptized before he partook of food. It is certainly a remarkable circumstance."

P.-- "If you will examine your Greek Testament, you will see some more very strong circumstantial evidence, that is to me decisive as to the mode of his baptism. The word translated 'rose,' is a participle, meaning 'rising,' or 'standing up.' He received sight forthwith, and RISING or STANDING UP, he was baptized. And when he had received meat he was strengthened. What think you now of the circumstantial evidence afforded by the baptism of Paul?"

W.-- "I can readily understand how it would have great weight with those entertaining your views of baptism."

P.-- "Do you think of another instance of the administration of the rite?"

W.-- "I think all have been mentioned."

P.-- "There are some instances with which you do not seem to be as familiar as with the baptism of Jesus and of the eunuch."

W.-- "I have been accustomed to refer to them in arguing on the question of baptism. What case, not yet mentioned, is recorded?"

P.-- "One of great interest; the baptism of the jailer at Philippi, and his household."

W.-- "Since you mentioned it, I remember it. But I do not see that it throws any light on the question of mode. Its only statement is that he baptized him."

P.-- "We are now in search of circumstantial evidence. I think a slight examination of the circumstances attending this baptism will show you that it is rich in this kind of evidence. It is recorded in the sixteenth chapter of Acts. Do you remember the general facts?"

W.--"I remember that Paul and Silas went to Philippi; and because of their preaching, and because of a miracle wrought by Paul, they were seized and cast into prison."

P.-- "Do you remember any particular charge given to the jailer by the magistrates?"

W.-- "I will see. Yes, in the twenty-third verse, it is said he was charged to keep them safely."

P.-- "And how did he comply with this charge?"

W.-- "He thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks."

P.-- "What idea does this suggest as to the construction of the prison?"

W.-- "I suppose it had an outer apartment for ordinary prisoners, and an inner apartment for keeping some more safely."

P.-- "The history tells us there was an earthquake, and that all the doors were opened; and the jailer being awakened, and seeing the doors of the prison open, supposing the prisoners had escaped, was about to slay himself. Can you tell me when this occurred ?"

W.-- "It says it happened about midnight."

P.-- "What did the jailer do when Paul cried to him, and assured him the prisoners were all there?"

W.-- "He called for a light, and sprang up, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas, and brought them out, and said, sirs, what mast I do to be saved?"

P.-- "Brought them 'out' of what, and into what?"

W.-- "I suppose out of the inner prison, into which they had been thrust, into the outer apartment."

P.-- "After Paul and Silas had answered his question -- told him what he must do to be saved -- what then took place? What did the jailer then do?"

W.-- "He took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes."

W.-- "And was baptized, he and all his, straightway."

P.-- "When did this baptism take place?"

W.-- "It was between midnight and daylight; perhaps about two o'clock."

P.-- "Where did the baptism take place?"

W.-- "It does not tell us."

P.-- "If by immersion, think you it was in the prison?"

W.-- "I never knew a jail to have such accommodations. They were not, in those days, as merciful to their prisoners as Christian nations now are. But there was a river near the city of Philippi.

P.--"You do not think, then, that they were immersed inside of the jail?"

P.-- "But you think they may have gone to that river?"

W.-- "Yes, they must have gone there."

P.-- "Who were baptized?"

W.-- "The jailer and his family."

P.-- "Did he have any children?"

W.-- "It is not stated."

P.-- "If there were but husband and wife, how, probably, would it have been stated?"

W.-- "I suppose it would have been simply 'The jailer and his wife.' The language implies that there were children."

W.-- "No; I think that is highly improbable as to  amount to a practical impossibility"

P.-- "But you think they may have gone to that river?

W.-- "Yes, they must have gone there."

P.--"Who was baptized?"

W:-- "The jailer and his family."

P.--"Did he have any children?"

W.-- "It is not stated."

P.--"If there were but husband and wife, how, probably, would it be stated?"

W.--"I suppose it would have been simply 'The jailer and his wife.' The language implies that there were children."

P.-- "And you think the jailer locked up the other prisoners; and that he, and his wife, and his children, accompanied by Paul and Silas, went down to the river at that midnight hour, and were there immersed, and then returned to the prison, and prepared a meal for the two preachers."

W.-- "I do not see why they were so hasty in baptizing them, why they did not wait till daylight?"

P.-- "Is it not an extraordinary -- an unlooked for event -- for Paul and Silas to take that man, and his wife, and his children, at that unreasonable hour, away to the river, and in the darkness of midnight, to immerse them, to say nothing of the jailer providing two suits of dry clothing. one for himself and one for one of the apostles?"

W.-- "I confess it was remarkable."

P.-- "In the light of circumstantial evidence, which theory of baptism has most to favor it in this case?"

W.-- "You have made a strong case of it. I can see no room for immersion in it, only on the assumption that that is or was the only mode of baptism. I never thought that so strong a case could be made of it."

P.-- "We have not seen its full strength yet. What did the magistrates do when it was daylight?"

W.-- "They sent to the jailer to let those men go."

P.-- "And did they go?"

W.-- "No, Paul refused to go, or to leave the prison, until the magistrates would come and bring them out."

P.-- "Do you think Paul and Silas were honest men?"

W.-- "Why do you ask such a question?"

P.-- "To get an answer, and thereby to make a point."

W.-- "Of course they were honest."

P.-- "Could they, as honest men, send the magistrates the word they did, refusing to go out of the walls of the prison till the magistrates would go and take them out; could they, as honest men, have thus spoken and acted, IF THEY HAD BEEN OUTSIDE OF THE PRISON DURING THE NIGHT without the knowledge or consent of the magistrates?"

W.-- "I see the point of your argument and feel its force. I think we must regard it as certain that they did not leave the prison during the night."

P.-- "It is not necessary to ask you which view of baptism this case most favors.

"We have now considered the subject according to agreement, confining ourselves to the word of God alone.

I. We endeavored to find the meaning of the word employed to designate the rite. We restricted our examination to its use in the Bible.

(1.) Because we wish to know how sacred writers understood and used the word.

(2.) Because a discussion of its classic use would be interminable; and, however decided, would be unsatisfactory.

In ascertaining the meaning of the word, we pursued the plan that is pursued by all lexicographers in giving their definitions. We selected passages in which the circumstances attending the use of the word would throw light on its meaning. In that investigation we discovered two facts --

1. The word 'baptizo,' occurs nowhere in the Bible where the context indicates that its meaning is to immerse. Not a single passage can be pointed Out.

The word found in the fourth chapter of Daniel, and there translated 'wet,' i. e., moistened by dew, occurs several times in the New Testament, sometimes to indicate partial immersion. Thus, Luke 16:24: 'Send Lazarus, that he may dip his finger, &c. Matt. 26:23: 'He that dippeth his hand with me in the dish.' Rev. 19:13: 'He was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood.' In the last quotation the meaning is very much the same as in Daniel. His garments became bloody in his conflicts with the enemy, whereby the blood was applied to, or sprinkled upon the garment.

If this word should be brought into the argument, and I do not see why it should not, then the 'baptizo,' leaves them without any Bible foundation for their use of the word.

2. The other fact learned is that in several places the word is used in the sense of applying mater to that which was baptized.

II. We considered the significance of the rite; assumptions of immersionists would be destroyed by the passage in Daniel. To restrict ourselves to what it was intended to symbolize or commemorate. In this investigation we found:

1. It was in no way connected with a burial:

(1.) Immersion would no better symbolize the disposition that was made of the dead body of Jesus than would sprinkling.

(2.) His burial had nothing to do with his work as our Redeemer. That work would have been as complete if the body of Jesus had not been buried at all.

(3.) That his resurrection, which immersionists associate with his burial, is abundantly commemorated by the Christian Sabbath.

(4.) There is no passage in the word of God that intimates that baptism was intended to have any connection with, or reference to, a burial.

2. We found that baptism was intended to signify, or symbolize and commemorate, the work of the Holy Ghost. The water, and blood, and the Spirit agree in one.

We found that in no case are we represented as immersed into the Holy Spirit. But on the other hand the Spirit is often spoken of as shed on us; as poured on us; as descending on us; as falling on us; from all of which but one conclusion can be drawn, and that is, in order to represent the work of the Spirit, WATER MUST BE APPLIED TO THE INDIVIDUAL.

III. We examined all the cases of its administration recorded that would throw any light on the question of mode.

We examined into the circumstances attending the baptism of the multitudes by John; also the baptism of Jesus; of the three thousand in one day; of the eunuch by Philip; of Cornelius by Peter; of Paul by Ananias; of the Philippian jailer and his household by Paul and Silas.

We examined all these cases in the light of circumstantial evidence; and in every case we found the evidence conclusive against immersion, and in favor of the application of water to those baptized.

These three methods of investigation are independent of each other. A conclusion reached by either method would suffice. But for the harmony and consistency of the sacred record, they ought to agree with each other. By each method the same conclusion is reached.

Our method of inquiry must commend itself to you as the only one that is legitimate and satisfactory.

I need not ask you to what conclusion you have come, as that is clearly indicated by your admissions. But I would make this suggestion: Before you make a final decision, go to the Rev. Mr. R. and ask him to go over the whole subject with you as I have. First, let him give you the meaning of the word. He will tell you it means to immerse, and nothing else. Ask him for proof; but confine him to the BIBLE, for the reasons I have already mentioned.

Ask him in reference to the significance of the rite, and let him give his authority for the assumption that it has any reference to a burial. When he quotes the sixth chapter of Romans, ask him for a detailed interpretation of the passage.

Let him examine all the cases of the administration of the rite in the light of circumstantial evidence. In the baptism of Jesus ask him to explain, 'Thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness.'

In the whole discussion, let him confine himself to the Bible, and let Paedo-baptist concessions alone. Tell him that such ad hominem arguments do not apply to you.

After such investigation let your decision be made independently of what I have said, or what he may say -- guided only by your perception of the truth, with the Bible as your only authority.

I would like to have you return one more evening, as there is a general view of the subject I would like to present, which, taken in connection with what has been said, will assist in coming to a clear and full understanding of the subject.

Texts Scanned and Edited by Michael Bremmer

Top of page

[Part: IX][TOC][Baptism][Home]