Baptism: Sprinkling, Pouring, or Immersion?

by Paul K. Williams

Is It Important To Know?

Is Bible baptism sprinkling, pouring or immersion, or can we choose whichever baptism we like? And why should we be concerned anyway?

Paul wrote, “There is one body and one Spirit,just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and,through all and in all." (Ephesians 4:4-6) Paul placed the one baptism in the company of the one Lord, one God and one Spirit. We can be sure, therefore, that the subject of the one baptism is important. Baptism is from God, not from man. There is only one and we have no freedom to change it. We should be concerned with every aspect of the subject, and certainly we should be sure of how it is performed.

“Baptizo,” the Greek Word

The New Testament was written in Greek, and the Greek word which is translated “I baptize” when spelled in English letters is “baptizo.” As you can see, it is almost the same as the English word. The reason for this similarity is that the word has not really been translated. “Baptize” is a Greek word spelled in English letters and the meaning has not been given. In other languages the word has sometimes been translated. In Afrikaans it is “doop,” which gives us a good clue as to its meaning. When not used in a religious sense “doop” simply means “dip.” To find the meaning of the Greek word we can consult the Greek lexicons (dictionaries) to discover how the word is used in the New Testament. Then we will know for sure what the word means as used by Jesus and the apostles.

The Meaning in the Greek Lexicons

I have two Greek lexicons in my library. The older one is the standard Thayer’s Greek lexicon. He gives almost a page on the use of the word with many examples. But the part which directly concerns us is the following: II. In the N.T. (New Testament) it is used particularly of the rite of sacred ablution, first instituted by John the Baptist, afterwards by Christ’s command received by Christians and adjusted to the contents and nature of their religion, VIZ. an immersion in water. (Emphasis added.) The other lexicon is by G. Abbott-Smith, also considered to be a standard. He gives the meaning very simply: “to dip, immerse, sink.” In all of the examples of the uses of this word neither lexicon gives anything which can include sprinkling or pouring a little water on a person. The meaning of “baptizo” is to immerse!

How the New Testament Uses the Word

The Bible consistently uses the word so that the meaning “immerse” fits the context. The only meaning of the word “baptize” as it is used in the New Testament is “immerse.” Note the following:

I. In Water

“And they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River." (Mark 1:5) ***“And it came about in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And immediately coming up out of the water…” ***(Mark 1:10) Jesus did not come from the water but up out of the water. He was in the water when He was baptised.

II. Much Water

“And John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there; and they were coming, and were being baptized." (John 3:23)

Baptism requires “much” water, more water than can be carried. John chose the place for baptising which had much water. The people came there to be baptised; the water was not taken to the people.

III. Down into the Water

“And Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him. And as they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, ‘Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?’ And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch; and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water…" (Acts 8:35-36,38-39) These verses vividly paint the picture of baptism. Philip did not use the water which the traveler must have carried in his chariot. In fact, it is clear that a small amount would not have been enough. It was when they “came to some water” that the eunuch saw that he could be baptised. Then both the preacher and the one baptised went into the water, the preacher baptised him, then they came up out of the water. What but immersion will fit the picture of this baptism?

IV. “Buried” and “Raised”

The action of baptism is most clearly shown in the two verses which use the words “buried” and “raised.” “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." (Romans 6:4)


In commenting on Romans 6:4 the Pulpit Commentary, which was written by preachers in the Church of England, says: “The reference rather is to the form of baptism, viz. by immersion, which was understood to signify burial, and therefore death." (Romans, p 156) What other conclusion can one come to? There is no way in which a person who has had water sprinkled or poured on his head can be described as “buried” and “raised.” The other verse is Colossians 2:12 which says, “having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.” Immersion is demanded by these two verses!

Sprinkling and Pouring in the New Testament

The words “sprinkle” and “pour” are used many times in the New Testament. They refer to sprinkling blood and ashes, to the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, the wrath of God, and the money from the tables of the money changers. Not once is “sprinkle” or pour” used to describe baptism. Sprinkling cannot describe immersion!

Why Sprinkling?

Substituting sprinkling and pouring for immersion came about over a period of centuries. It was not until A.D. 1311 that the Roman Catholic Church proclaimed officially that baptism could be performed only by pouring. The Protestant churches cannot cite Biblical authority for their practice of sprinkling or pouring—they must admit that they adopted the practice from the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church does not pretend to find the practice in the Bible. They believe the Catholic Church has the right to define and change doctrine regardless of what the Bible says. Therefore sprinkling and pouring for baptism have only human authority, not divine authority.

Do You Care?

If after studying these things you still say, “What difference does it make?” you are showing that you do not care what GOD says about the matter. Or you are showing that you do not believe that the Bible is the complete will of God. The Bible believer knows that God’s word is complete in the Bible (2 Timothy 3:16-17; Jude 3), that we MUST follow it only (Matthew 7:21-23), and that if we depart from it we will be cursed (Galatians 1:6-8; 2 John 9). The believer searches the scriptures (Acts 17:11) and practices only what he can find Jesus wants him to do. That is why the one who honours the scriptures will make sure he obeys God in the one baptism, the IMMERSION commanded by Jesus Christ.