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Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary
1. (n.) One who administers baptism; -- specifically applied to John, the forerunner of Christ.

2. (n.) One of a denomination of Christians who deny the validity of infant baptism and of sprinkling, and maintain that baptism should be administered to believers alone, and should be by immersion. See Anabaptist.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia


1. Terminology

2. Proselyte Baptism

3. Greek Usage

4. New Testament Usage

5. The Didache

6. Baptismal Regeneration




This article is not a discussion of the whole subject, but is merely a presentation of the Baptist interpretation of the ordinance. The origin and history of the ordinance, as a whole, do not come within the range of the present treatment.

I. Meaning of Baptism.

1. Terminology:

The verb used in the New Testament is (baptizo). The substantives baptisma and baptismos occur, though the latter is not used in the New Testament of the ordinance of baptism except by implication (Hebrews 6:2, "the teaching of baptisms") where the reference is to the distinction between the Christian ordinance and the Jewish ceremonial ablutions. Some documents have it also in Colossians 2:12 (compare Hebrews 9:10, "divers washings") for a reference purely to the Jewish purifications (compare the dispute about purifying in John 3:25). The verb baptizo appears in this sense in Luke 11:38 (margin) where the Pharisee marveled that Jesus "had not first bathed himself before breakfast" (noon-day meal). The Mosaic regulations required the bath of the whole body (Leviticus 15:16) for certain uncleannesses. Tertullian (de Baptismo, XV) says that the Jew required almost daily washing. Herodotus (ii.47) says that if an Egyptian "touches a swine in passing with his clothes, he goes to the river and dips himself (bapto) from it" (quoted by Broadus in Commentary on Matthew, 333). See also the Jewish scrupulosity illustrated in Sirach 34:25 and Judith 12:7 where baptizo occurs. The same thing appears in the correct text in Mark 7:4, "And when they come from the market-place, except they bathemselves, they eat not." Here baptizo is the true text. The use of rhantizo ("sprinkle") is due to the difficulty felt by copyists not familiar with Jewish customs. See also the omission of "couches" in the same verse. The couches were "pallets" and could easily be dipped into water. It is noteworthy that here rhantizo is used in contrast with baptizo, showing that baptizo did not mean sprinkle. The term baptismos occurs in Josephus (Ant., XVIII, v, 2) in connection with John's baptism (compare also Irenaeus 686 B about Christ's baptism). In general, however, baptisma is the substantive found for the ordinance. The verb baptizo is in reality a frequentative or intensive of bapto ("dip"). Examples occur where that idea is still appropriate, as in 2 Kings 5:14 (Septuagint) where Naaman is said to have "dipped himself seven times in the Jordan" (ebaptisato). The notion of repetition may occur also in Josephus (Ant., XV, iii, 3) in connection with the death of Aristobulus, brother of Mariamne, for Herod's friends "dipped him as he was swimming, and plunged him under water, in the dark of the evening." But in general the term baptizo, as is common with such forms in the late Greek, is simply equivalent to bapto (compare Luke 16:24) and means "dip," "immerse," just as rhantizo, like rhaino, means simply "sprinkle."

If baptizo never occurred in connection with a disputed ordinance, there would be no controversy on the meaning of the word. There are, indeed, figurative or metaphorical uses of the word as of other words, but the figurative is that of immersion, like our "immersed in cares," "plunged in grief," etc. It remains to consider whether the use of the word for a ceremony or ordinance has changed its significance in the New Testament as compared with ancient Greek

It may be remarked that no Baptist has written a lexicon of the Greek language, and yet the standard lexicons, like that of Liddell and Scott, uniformly give the meaning of baptizo as "dip," "immerse." They do not give "pour" or "sprinkle," nor has anyone ever adduced an instance where this verb means "pour" or "sprinkle." The presumption is therefore in favor of "dip" in the New Testament.

2. Proselyte Baptism:

Before we turn directly to the discussion of the ceremonial usage, a word is called for in regard to Jewish proselyte baptism. It is still a matter of dispute whether this initiatory rite was in existence at the time of John the Baptist or not. Schurer argues ably, if not conclusively, for the idea that this proselyte baptism was in use long before the first mention of it in the 2nd century. (Compare The Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ, Div ii, II, 319; also Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus, appendix, xii, Baptism of Proselytes). It matters nothing at all to the Baptist contention what is true in this regard. It would not be strange if a bath was required for a Gentile who became a Jew, when the Jews themselves required such frequent ceremonial ablutions. But what was the Jewish initiatory rite called proselyte baptism? Lightfoot (Horae Hebraicae, Matthew 3:7) gives the law for the baptism of proselytes: "As soon as he grows whole of the wound of circumcision, they bring him to Baptism, and being placed in the water they again instruct him in some weightier and in some lighter commands of the Law. Which being heard, he plunges himself and comes up, and, behold, he is an Israelite in all things." To this quotation Marcus Dods (Presbyterian) HDB adds: "To use Pauline language, his old man is dead and buried in the water, and he rises from this cleansing grave a new man. The full significance of the rite would have been lost had immersion not been practiced." Lightfoot says further: "Every person baptized must dip his whole body, now stripped and made naked, at one dipping. And wheresoever in the Law washing of the body or garments is mentioned, it means nothing else than the washing of the whole body." Edersheim (op. cit.) says: "Women were attended by those of their own sex, the rabbis standing at the door outside." Jewish proselyte baptism, an initiatory ceremonial rite, harmonizes exactly with the current meaning of baptizo already seen. There was no peculiar "sacred" sense that changed "dip" to "sprinkle."

3. Greek Usage:

The Greek language has had a continuous history, and baptizo is used today in Greece for baptism. As is well known, not only in Greece, but all over Russia, wherever the Greek church prevails, immersion is the unbroken and universal practice. The Greeks may surely be credited with knowledge of the meaning of their own language. The substitution of pouring or sprinkling for immersion, as the Christian ordinance of baptism, was late and gradual and finally triumphed in the West because of the decree of the Council of Trent. But the Baptist position is that this substitution was unwarranted and subverts the real significance of the ordinance. The Greek church does practice trine immersion, one immersion for each person of the Trinity, an old practice (compare ter mergitamur, Tertullian ii.79 A), but not the Scriptural usage. A word will be needed later concerning the method by which pouring crept in beside immersion in the 2nd and later centuries. Before we turn directly to the New Testament use of bapti zo it is well to quote from the Greek Lexicon of the Roman and Byzantine Periods by Professor E. A. Sophocles, himself a native Greek. He says (p. 297): "There is no evidence that Luke and Paul and the other writers of the New Testament put upon this verb meanings not recognized by the Greeks." We expect therefore to find in the New Testament "dip," as the meaning of this word in the ceremonial sense of an initiatory Christian rite. Thayer's Lexicon likewise defines the word in this ceremonial Christian use to mean "an immersion in water, performed as a sign of the removal of sin."

Baptists could very well afford to rest the matter right here. There is no need to call for the testimony of a single Baptist scholar on this subject. The world of scholarship has rendered its decision with impartiality and force on the side of the Baptists in this matter. A few recent deliverances will suffice. Dr. Alfred Plummer (Church of England) in his new Commentary on Matthew (p. 28) says that the office of John the Baptist was "to bind them to a new life, symbolized by immersion in water." Swete (Church of England) in his Commentary on Mark (p. 7) speaks of "the added thought of immersion, which gives vividness to the scene." The early Greek ecclesiastical writers show that immersion was employed (compare Barnabas, XI, 11): "We go down into the water full of sins and filth, and we come up bearing fruit in the heart." For numerous ecclesiastical examples see Sophocles' Lexicon.

4. New Testament Usage:

But the New Testament itself makes the whole matter perfectly plain. The uniform meaning of "dip" for baptizo and the use of the river Jordan as the place for baptizing by John the Baptist makes inevitable the notion of immersion unless there is some direct contradictory testimony. It is a matter that should be lifted above verbal quibbling or any effort to disprove the obvious facts. The simple narrative in Matthew 3:6 is that "they were baptized of him in the river Jordan." In Mark 1:9, 10 the baptism is sharpened a bit in the use of eis and ek. Jesus "was baptized of John in (eis) the Jordan. And straightway coming up out of (ek) the water, he saw." So in Acts 8:38 we read: "They both went down into (eis) the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. And when they came up out of (ek) the water, the Spirit. caught away Philip." If one could still be in doubt about the matter, Paul sets it at rest by the symbolism used in Romans 6:4, "We were buried therefore with him through bapti sm into death: that like as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life." The submergence and emergence of immersion thus, according to Paul, symbolize the death and burial to sin on the one hand and the resurrection to the new life in Christ on the other. Sanday and Headlam (Church of England) put it thus in their Commentary on Romans (p. 153): "It expresses symbolically a series of acts corresponding to the redeeming acts of Christ. Immersion = Death. Submersion = Burial (the ratification of death). Emergence = Resurrection." In Colossians 2:12 Paul again says: "having been buried with him in baptism, wherein ye were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead." The same image is here presented. Lightfoot (Church of England) on Colossians (p. 182) says: "Baptism is the grave of the old man, and the birth of the new. As he sinks beneath the baptismal waters, the believer buries there all his corrupt affections and past sins; as he emerges thence, he rises regenerate, quickened to new hopes and new life."

There is nothing in the New Testament to offset this obvious and inevitable interpretation. There are some things which are brought up, but they vanish on examination. The use of "with" after baptize in the English translation is appealed to as disproving immersion. It is enough to reply that the Committee of the American Standard Revision, which had no Baptist member at the final revision, substituted "in" for "with." Thus: "I indeed baptize you in water unto repentance" (Matthew 3:11; compare also Mark 1:8). The use of both "with" and "in" in Luke 3:16 is a needless stickling for the use of the Greek en with the locative case. In Mark 1:8 en is absent in the best manuscripts, and yet the American Revisers correctly render "in." In Acts 1:5 they seek to draw the distinction between the mere locative and en and the locative. As a matter of fact the locative case alone is amply sufficient in Greek without en for the notion of "in." Thus in John 21:8 the translation is: "But the other disciples came in the little boat." There is no en in the Greek, but "the boat" is simply in the locative case. If it be argued that we have the instrumental case (compare the instrumental case of en as in Revelation 6:8, "kill with sword"), the answer is that the way to use water as an instrument in dipping is to put the subject in the water, as the natural way to use the boat (John 21:8) as an instrument is to get into it. The presence or absence of en with baptizo is wholly immaterial. In either case "dip" is the meaning of the verb The objection that three thousand people could not have been immersed in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost is superficial. Jerusalem was abundantly supplied with pools. There were 120 disciples on hand, most of whom were probably men (compare the 70 sent out before by Jesus). It is not at all necessary to suppose that the 12 (Matthias was now one of them) apostles did all the baptizing. But even so, that would be only 250 apiece. I myself have baptized 42 candidates in a half-hour in a creek where there would be no delay. It would at most be only a matter of four or five hours for each of the twelve. Among the Telugus this record has been far exceeded. It is sometimes objected that Paul could not have immersed the jailer in the prison; but the answer is that Luke does not say so. Indeed Luke implies just the opposite: "And he took (took along in the Greek, para) them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized." He took Paul and Silas along with him and found a place for the baptism, probably, somewhere on the prison grounds. There is absolutely nothing in the New Testament to dispute the unvarying significance of baptizo.

5. The Didache:

Appeal has been made to the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, which may belong to the first half of the 2nd century. Here for the first time pouring is distinctly admitted as an ordinance in place of immersion. Because of this remarkable passage it is argued by some that, though immersion was the normal and regular baptism, yet alongside of it, pouring was allowed, and that in reality it was a matter of indifference which was used even in the 1st century. But that is not the true interpretation of the facts in the case. The passage deserves to be quoted in full and is here given in the translation of Philip Schaff (Presbyterian) in his edition of the Didache (pp. 184): "Now concerning baptism, baptize thus: Having first taught all these things, baptize ye into (eis) the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, in living water. And if thou hast not living water, baptize into other water; and if thou canst not in cold, then in warm (water). But if thou hast neither, pour water thrice upon the head in (eis) the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." There is thus no doubt that early in the 2nd century some Christians felt that baptism was so important that, when the real baptism (immersion) could not be performed because of lack of water, pouring might be used in its place. This is absolutely all that can be deduced from this passage. It is to be noted that for pouring another word (ekcheo) is used, clearly showing that baptizo does not mean "to po ur." The very exception filed proves the Baptist contention concerning baptizo. Now in the New Testament baptizo is the word used for baptism. Ekcheo is never so used. Harnack in a letter to C. E. W. Dobbs, Madison, Ind. (published in The Independent for February 9, 1885), under date of January 16, 1885 says:

(1) Baptizein undoubtedly signifies immersion (eintauchen).

(2) No proof can be found that it signifies anything else in the New Testament and in the most ancient Christian literature. The suggestion regarding `a sacred sense' is out of the question.

This is the whole point of the Baptists admirably stated by Adolph Harnack. There is no thought of denying that pouring early in the 2nd century came to be used in place of immersion in certain extreme cases. The meaning of baptizo is not affected a particle by this fact. The question remains as to why this use of pouring in extreme cases grew up. The answer is that it was due to a mistaken and exaggerated estimate put upon the value of baptism as essential to salvation. Those who died without baptism were felt by some to be lost. Thus arose "clinic" baptisms.

6. Baptismal Regeneration:

(For the doctrine of baptismal regeneration see Justin Martyr, First Apology, 61.) Out of this perversion of the symbolism of baptism grew both pouring as an ordinance and infant baptism. If baptism is necessary to salvation or the means of regeneration, then the sick, the dying, infants, must be baptized, or at any rate something must be done for them if the real baptism (immersion) cannot be performed because of extreme illness or want of water. The Baptist contention is to protest against the perversion of the significance of baptism as the ruin of the symbol. Baptism, as taught in the New Testament, is the picture of death and burial to sin and resurrection to new life, a picture of what has already taken place in the heart, not the means by which spiritual change is wrought. It is a privilege and duty, not a necessity. It is a picture that is lost when something else is substituted in its place.


II. The Subjects of Baptism.

It is significant that even the Teaching of the Twelve apostles with its exaggerated notion of the importance of baptism does not allow baptism of infants. It says: "Having first taught all these things." Instruction precedes baptism. That is a distinct denial of infant baptism. The uniform practice in the New Testament is that baptism follows confession. The people "confessing their sins" were baptized by John (Matthew 3:6). It is frankly admitted by Paedobaptist scholars that the New Testament gives no warrant for infant baptism. Thus Jacobus (Congregationalist) in the Standard Bible Dictionary says: "We have no record in the New Testament of the baptism of infants." Scott (Presbyterian) in the 1-vol HDB says: "The New Testament contains no explicit reference to the baptism of infants or young children." Plummer (Church of England), HDB, says: "The recipients of Christian baptism were required to repent and believe." Marcus Dods (Presbyterian), DCG, says: "A rite wherein by immersion in water the participant symbolizes and signalizes his transition from an impure to a pure life, his death to a past he abandons, and his new birth to a future he desires." It would be hard to state the Baptist interpretation in better terms. Thus no room is found in the New Testament for infant baptism which would symbolize what the infant did not experience or would be understood to cause the regeneration in the child, a form of sacramentalism repugnant to the New Testament teaching as understood by Baptists. The dominant Baptist note is the soul's personal relation to God apart from ordinance, church or priest. The infant who dies unbaptized is saved without baptism. The baptized individual, child (for children are often baptized by Baptists, children who show signs of conversion) or man, is converted before his baptism. The baptism is the symbol of the change already wrought. So clear is this to the Baptist that he bears continual protest against that perversion of this beautiful ordinance by those who treat it as a means of salvation or who make it meaningless when performed before conversion. Baptism is a preacher of the spiritual life. The Baptist contention is for a regenerated church membership, placing the kingdom before the local church. Membership in the kingdom precedes membership in the church. The passages quoted from the New Testament in support of the notion of infant baptism are wholly irrelevant, as, for instance, in Acts 2:39 where there is no such idea as baptism of infants. So in 1 Corinthians 7:14, where note husband and wife. The point is that the marriage relation is sanctified and the children are legitimate, though husband or wife be heathen. The marriage relation is to be maintained. It is begging the question to assume the presence of infants in the various household baptisms in Acts. In the case of the family of Cornelius they all spake with tongues and magnified God (Acts 10:46). The jailer's household "rejoiced greatly" (Acts 16:34). We do not even know that Lydia was married. Her household may have been merely her employes in her business. The New Testament presents no exceptions in this matter.

III. The Present Obligation.

The Baptists make one more point concerning baptism. It is that, since Jesus himself submitted to it and enjoined it upon His disciples, the ordinance is of perpetual obligation. The arguments for the late ecclesiastical origin of Matthew 28:19 are not convincing. If it seem strange that Jesus should mention the three persons of the Trinity in connection with the command to baptize, one should remember that the Father and the Spirit were both manifested to Him at His baptism. It was not a mere ceremonial ablution like the Jewish rites. It was the public and formal avowal of fealty to God, and the names of the Trinity properly occur. The new heart is wrought by the Holy Spirit. Reconciliation with the Father is wrought on the basis of the work of the Son, who has manifested the Father's love in His life and death for sin. The fact that in the acts in the examples of baptism only the name of Jesus occurs does not show that this was the exact formula used. It may be a mere historical summary of the essential fact. The name of Jesus stood for the other two persons of the Trinity. On the other hand the command of Jesus may not have been regarded as a formula for baptism; while in no sense sacramental or redemptive, it is yet obligatory and of perpetual significance. It is not to be dropped as one of the Jewish excrescences on Christianity. The form itself is necessary to the significance of the rite. Hence, Baptists hold that immersion alone is to be practiced, since immersion alone was commanded by Jesus and practiced in the New Testament times. Immersion alone sets forth the death to sin, and burial in the grave the resurrection to new life in Christ. Baptism as taught in the New Testament is "a mould of doctrine," a preacher of the heart of the gospel. Baptists deny the right of disciples of Jesus to break that mould. The point of a symbol is the form in which it is cast. To change the form radically is to destroy the symbolism. Baptists insist on the maintenan ce of primitive New Testament baptism because it alone is baptism, it alone proclaims the death and resurrection of Jesus, the spiritual death and resurrection of the believer, the ultimate resurrection of the believer from the grave. The disciple is not above his Lord, and has no right to destroy this rich and powerful picture for the sake of personal convenience, nor because he is willing to do something else which Jesus did not enjoin and which has no association with Him. The long years of perversion do not justify this wrong to the memory of Jesus, but all the more call upon modern disciples to follow the example of Jesus who himself fulfilled righteousness by going into the waters of the Jordan and receiving immersion at the hands of John the Baptist.


The Greek Lexicons, like Suicer, Liddell and Scott, Sophocles, Thayer, Preuschen; the Biblical Dictionaries; the Critical Commentaries on the New Testament; books of antiquities like Smith's Dictionary of Christian Antiquities; the new Sch-Herz; Binghara's Antiquities of the Christian Church; Schaff's Creeds of Christendom; Neale's History of the Holy Eastern Church; Lives of Christ, like Edersheim's LTJM, or a survey of the customs of the Jews like Schurer's HJP; books on John the Baptist like Reynolds' John the Baptist, Feather's Last of the Prophets, Robertson's John the Loyal; special treatises on Baptism like Wall's History of Infant Baptism, Stanley's Christian Institutions, Dargan's Ecclesiology, Conant's Baptizein, Mozley's Review of the Baptismal Controversy, Christian's Immersion, Broadus' Immersion, Frost's The Moral Dignity of Baptism, Whitsitt's a Question in Baptist History, Lofton's The Baptist Reformation, Lambert's The Sacraments of the New Testament, Dale's Classic Baptism and Christian and Patristic Baptism, Kirtley's Design of Baptism, Forester's The Baptist Position, Frost's Baptist Why and Why Not, Ford's Studies in Baptism.

A. T. Robertson







1. The Scene

2. His First Appearance

3. His Dress and Manner

4. His Message

5. His Severity


1. Significance

(1) Lustrations Required by the Levitical Law

(2) Anticipation of Messianic Lustrations Foretold by the Prophets

(3) Proselyte Baptism

2. Baptism of Jesus


1. The Time

2. The Occasion


1. The Inner Circle

2. Their Training

3. Their Fidelity


1. John's Relation to Jesus

2. Jesus' Estimate of John


I. Sources.

The sources of first-hand information concerning the life and work of John the Baptist are limited to the New Testament and Josephus Luke and Matthew give the fuller notices, and these are in substantial agreement. The Fourth Gospel deals chiefly with the witness after the baptism. In his single notice (Ant., XVIII, v, 2), Josephus makes an interesting reference to the cause of John's imprisonment. See VI, 2, below.

II. Parentage.

John was of priestly descent. His mother, Elisabeth, was of the daughters of Aaron, while his father, Zacharias, was a priest of the course of Abija, and did service in the temple at Jerusalem. It is said of them that "they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless" (Luke 1:6). This priestly ancestry is in interesting contrast with his prophetic mission.

III. Early Life.

We infer from Luke's account that John was born about six months before the birth of Jesus. Of the place we know only that it was a city of the hill country of Judah. Our definite information concerning his youth is summed up in the angelic prophecy, "Many shall rejoice at his birth. For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and he shall drink no wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb" (Luke 1:14-16), and in Luke's brief statement, "And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his showing unto Israel" (Luke 1:80). The character and spiritual insight of the parents shown in the incidents recorded are ample evidence that his training was a fitting preparation for his great mission.

IV. Ministry.

1. The Scene:

The scene of the Baptist's ministry was partly in the wilderness of Southern Judea and partly in the Jordan valley. Two locations are mentioned, Bethany or Bethabara (John 1:28), and Aenon near Salim (John 3:23). Neither of these places can be positively identified. We may infer from John 3:2 that he also spent some time in Peraea beyond the Jordan.

2. His First Appearance:

The unusual array of dates with which Luke marks the beginning of John's ministry (Luke 3:1, 2) reveals his sense of the importance of the event as at once the beginning of his prophetic work and of the new dispensation. His first public appearance is assigned to the 15th year of Tiberius, probably 26 or 27 A.D., for the first Passover attended by Jesus can hardly have been later than 27 A.D. (John 2:20).

3. His Dress and Manner:

John's dress and habits were strikingly suggestive of Elijah, the old prophet of national judgment. His desert habits have led some to connect him with that strange company of Jews known as the Essenes. There is, however, little foundation for such a connection other than his ascetic habits and the fact that the chief settlement of this sect was near the home of his youth. It was natural that he should continue the manner of his youthful life in the desert, and it is not improbable that he intentionally copied his great prophetic model. It was fitting that the one who called men to repentance and the beginning of a self-denying life should show renunciation and self-denial in his own life. But there is no evidence in his teaching that he required such asceticism of those who accepted his baptism.

4. His Message:

The fundamental note in the message of John was the announcement of the near approach of the Messianic age. But while he announced himself as the herald voice preparing the way of the Lord, and because of this the expectant multitudes crowded to hear his word, his view of the nature of the kingdom was probably quite at variance with that of his hearers. Instead of the expected day of deliverance from the foreign oppressor, it was to be a day of judgment for Israel. It meant good for the penitent, but destruction for the ungodly. "He will gather his wheat into the garner, but the chaff he will burn up with.... fire" (Matthew 3:12). "The axe also lieth at the root of the trees: every tree therefore that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire" (Luke 3:9). Yet this idea was perhaps not entirely unfamiliar. That the delay in the Messiah's coming was due to the sinfulness of the people and their lack of repentance, was a commonplace in the message of their teachers (Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, I, 169).

The call to repentance was then a natural message of preparation for such a time of judgment. But to John repentance was a very real and radical thing. It meant a complete change of heart and life. "Bring forth.... fruits worthy of repentance" (Luke 3:8). What these fruits were he made clear in his answers to the inquiring multitudes and the publicans and soldiers (Luke 3:10-14). It is noticeable that there is no reference to the usual ceremonies of the law or to a change of occupation. Do good; be honest; refrain from extortion; be content with wages.

5. His Severity:

John used such violence in addressing the Pharisees and Sadducees doubtless to startle them from their self-complacency. How hopelessly they were blinded by their sense of security as the children of Abraham, and by their confidence in the merits of the law, is attested by the fact that these parties resisted the teachings of both John and Jesus to the very end.

With what vigor and fearlessness the Baptist pressed his demand for righteousness is shown by his stern reproof of the sin of Herod and Herodias, which led to his imprisonment and finally to his death.

V. Baptism.

1. Significance:

The symbolic rite of baptism was such an essential part of the work of John that it not only gave him his distinctive title of "the Baptist" (ho baptistes), but also caused his message to be styled "preaching the baptism of repentance." That a special virtue was ascribed to this rite, and that it was regarded as a necessary part of the preparation for the coming of the Messiah, are shown by its important place in John's preaching, and by the eagerness with which it was sought by the multitudes. Its significance may best be understood by giving attention to its historical antecedents, for while John gave the rite new significance, it certainly appealed to ideas already familiar to the Jews.

(1) Lustrations Required by the Levitical Law.

The divers washings required by the law (Leviticus 11-15) have, without doubt, arcligious import. This is shown by the requirement of sacrifices in connection with the cleansing, especially the sin offering (Leviticus 14:8, 9, 19, 20; compare Mark 1:44 Luke 2:22). The designation of John's baptism by the word baptizein, which by New Testament times was used of ceremonial purification, also indicates some historical connection (compare Sirach 34:25).

(2) Anticipation of Messianic Lustrations Foretold by Prophets.

John understood that his baptism was a preparation for the Messianic baptism anticipated by the prophets, who saw that for a true cleansing the nation must wait until God should open in Israel a fountain for cleansing (Zechariah 13:1), and should sprinkle His people with clean water and give them a new heart and a new spirit (Ezekiel 36:25, 26 Jeremiah 33:8). His baptism was at once a preparation and a promise of the spiritual cleansing which the Messiah would bestow. "I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me.... shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire" (Matthew 3:11 margin).

(3) Proselyte Baptism.

According to the teaching of later Judaism, a stranger who desired to be adopted into the family of Israel was required, along with circumcision, to receive the rite of baptism as a means of cleansing from the ceremonial uncleanness attributed to him as a Gentile. While it is not possible to prove the priority of this practice of proselyte baptism to the baptism of John, there can be no doubt of the fact, for it is inconceivable, in view of Jewish prejudice, that it would be borrowed from John or after this time.

While it seems clear that in the use of the rite of baptism John was influenced by the Jewish customs of ceremonial washings and proselyte baptism, his baptism differed very essentially from these. The Levitical washings restored an unclean person to his former condition, but baptism was a preparation for a new condition. On the other hand, proselyte baptism was administered only to Gentiles, while John required baptism of all Jews. At the same time his baptism was very different from Christian baptism, as he himself declared (Luke 3:16). His was a baptism of water only; a preparation for the baptism "in the Spirit" which was to follow. It is also to be observed that it was a rite complete in itself, and that it was offered to the nation as a preparation for a specific event, the advent of the Messiah.

We may say, then, that as a "baptism of repentance" it meant a renunciation of the past life; as a cleansing it symbolized the forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:4), and as preparation it implied a promise of loyalty to the kingdom of the Messiah. We have no reason to believe that Jesus experienced any sense of sin or felt any need of repentance or forgiveness; but as a Divinely appointed preparation for the Messianic kingdom His submission to it was appropriate.

2. Baptism of Jesus:

While the multitudes flocked to the Jordan, Jesus came also to be baptized with the rest. "John would have hindered him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? But Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it now: for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness" (Matthew 3:13-15). Wherein was this act a fulfillment of righteousness? We cannot believe that Jesus felt any need of repentance or change of life. May we not regard it rather as an identification of Himself with His people in the formal consecration of His life to the work of the kingdom?

VI. Imprisonment and Death.

1. The Time:

Neither the exact time of John's imprisonment nor the period of time between his imprisonment and his death can be determined. On the occasion of the unnamed feast of John 5:1, Jesus refers to John's witness as already past. At least, then, his arrest, if not his death, must have taken place prior to that incident, i.e. before the second Passover of Jesus' ministry.

2. The Occasion:

According to the Gospel accounts, John was imprisoned because of his reproof of Herod's marriage with Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip (Luke 3:19, 20; compare Matthew 14:3, 1 Mark 6:17, 18). Josephus says (Ant., XVIII, v, 2) that Herod was influenced to put John to death by the "fear lest his great influence over the people might put it in his power or inclination to raise a rebellion. Accordingly, he was sent a prisoner, out of Herod's suspicious temper, to Macherus, and was there put to death." This account of Josephus does not necessarily conflict with the tragic story of the Gospels. If Herod desired to punish or destroy him for the reasons assigned by the evangelists, he would doubtless wish to offer as the public reason some political charge, and the one named by Josephus would be near at hand.

VII. John and His Disciples.

1. The Inner Circle:

Frequent reference is made in the Gospel narrative to the disciples of John. As the multitudes crowded to his baptism, it was natural that he should gather about him an inner circle of men who should receive special instruction in the meaning of his work, and should aid him in the work of baptism, which must have soon increased beyond his power to perform alone. It was in the formation of this inner circle of immediate followers that he prepared a sure foundation for the work of the Messiah; for it was from this inner group that the disciples of Jesus were mainly drawn, and that with his consent and through his witness to the superior worth of the latter, and the temporary character of his own mission (John 1:29-44).

2. Their Training:

Concerning the substance of their training, we know from the disciples of Jesus (Luke 11:1) that it included forms of prayer, and from his own disciples (Matthew 9:14) we learn that frequent fastings were observed. We may be sure also that he taught them much concerning the Messiah and His work.

3. Their Fidelity:

There is abundant evidence of the great fidelity of these disciples to their master. This may be observed in their concern at the over-shadowing popularity of Jesus (John 3:26); in their loyalty to him in his imprisonment and in their reverent treatment of his body after his death (Mark 6:29). That John's work was extensive and his influence lasting is shown by the fact that 20 years afterward Paul found in far-off Ephesus certain disciples, including Apollos, the learned Alexandrian Jew, who knew no other baptism than that of John (Acts 19:1-7).

VIII. John and Jesus.

1. John's Relation to Jesus:

John assumed from the first the role of a herald preparing the way for the approaching Messianic age. He clearly regarded his work as Divinely appointed (John 1:33), but was well aware of his subordinate relation to the Messiah (Mark 1:7) and of the temporary character of his mission (John 3:30). The Baptist's work was twofold. In his preaching he warned the nation of the true character of the new kingdom as a reign of righteousness, and by his call to repentance and baptism he prepared at least a few hearts for a sympathetic response to the call and teaching of Jesus. He also formally announced and bore frequent personal testimony to Jesus as the Messiah.

There is no necessary discrepancy between the synoptic account and that of the Fourth Gospel in reference to the progress of John's knowledge of the Messianic character of Jesus. According to Matthew 3:14, John is represented as declining at first to baptize Jesus because he was conscious of His superiority, while in John 1:29-34 he is represented as claiming not to have known Jesus until He was manifested by the heavenly sign. The latter may mean only that He was not known to him definitely as the Messiah until the promised sign was given.

The message which John sent to Jesus from prison seems strange to some in view of the signal testimonies which he had previously borne to His character. This need not indicate that he had lost faith in the Messiahship of Jesus, but rather a perplexity at the course of events. The inquiry may have been in the interest of the faith of his disciples or his own relief from misgivings due to Jesus' delay in assuming the expected Messianic authority. John evidently held the prophetic view of a temporal Messianic kingdom, and some readjustment of view was necessary.

2. Jesus' Estimate of John:

Jesus was no less frank in His appreciation of John. If praise may be measured by the worth of the one by whose lips it is spoken, then no man ever received such praise as he who was called by Jesus a shining light (John 5:35), more than a prophet (Matthew 11:9), and of whom He said, "Among them that are born of women there hath not arisen a greater than John the Baptist" (Matthew 11:11). If, on the other hand, He rated him as less than the least in the kingdom of heaven, this was a limitation of circumstances, not of worth.

Jesus paid high tribute to the Divine character and worth of John's baptism; first, by submitting to it Himself as a step in the fulfillment of all righteousness; later, by repeated utterance, especially in associating it with the birth of the Spirit as a necessary condition of inheriting eternal life (John 3:5); and, finally, in adopting baptism as a symbol of Christian discipleship.


The relative sections in the Gospel Commentaries, in the Lives of Christ, and the articles on John the Baptist in the several Bible dictionaries. There are a number of monographs which treat more minutely of details: W.C. Duncan, The Life, Character and Acts of John the Baptist, New York, 1853; Erich Haupt, Johannes der Taufer, Gutersloh, 1874; H. Kohler, Johannes der Taufer, Halle, 1884; R.C. Houghton, John the Baptist: His Life and Work, New York, 1889; H.R. Reynolds, John the Baptist, London, 1890; J. Feather, John the Baptist, Edinburgh, 1894; George Matheson in Representative Men of the New Testament, 24-66, Edinburgh, 1905; T. Innitzer, Johannes der Taufer, Vienna, 1908; A.T. Robertson, John the Loyal, New York, 1911.

Russell Benjamin Miller




2197. Zacharias -- Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist ...
... Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, Zechariah, the son of Barachiah. Part
of Speech: Noun, Masculine Transliteration: Zacharias Phonetic Spelling: (dzakh ...
// - 6k

910. baptistes -- a baptizer
... Part of Speech: Noun, Masculine Transliteration: baptistes Phonetic Spelling:
(bap-tis-tace') Short Definition: the baptizer, the Baptist Definition: the ...
// - 6k

907. baptizo -- to dip, sink
... Word Origin from bapto Definition to dip, sink NASB Word Usage Baptist (3), baptize
(9), baptized (51), baptizes (1), baptizing (10), ceremonially washed (1 ...
// - 9k

649. apostello -- to send, send away
... This verb is used of closely connecting (the sender) to the believers He personally
commissions -- as with John the Baptist (Mk 11:2) and the twelve apostles ...
// - 10k

2130. eumetadotos -- ready to impart
... virtue. The teaching is Christian: John the Baptist had instructed people
to give to the needy (Lk 3:11)" (C. Spicq, 2, 121).]. Word ...
// - 7k

2491. Ioannes -- John, the name of several Israelites
... Part of Speech: Noun, Masculine Transliteration: Ioannes Phonetic Spelling:
(ee-o-an'-nace) Short Definition: John Definition: John: the Baptist, the apostle ...
// - 6k

3146. mastigoo -- to scourge
... 38). For example, God authorized an incredible amount of earthly pain
(bringing ) in the lives of Jeremiah and John the Baptist. ...
// - 7k

32. aggelos -- a messenger, angel
... churches. [32 () can refer to "a messenger" (cf. John the Baptist, Mt
11:10, quoting Mal 3:1; see also Lk 7:24, 9:52). 32 (plural ...
// - 8k


John the Baptist
John the Baptist. <. John the Baptist FB Meyer. E-text prepared by Al Haines
Table of Contents. Title Page. JOHN THE BAPTIST. By Rev. FB MEYER, BA. ...
// the baptist/

The Baptist Confession of 1688.
Confession.) [This is the most generally accepted Confession ...
/.../the baptist confession of 1688.htm

John the Baptist
... Part I. Preparatory VI John The Baptist. Matt. ... The wonder is that the Baptist so
far freed himself from current thought; yet he did not belong to the new order. ...
/.../rhees/the life of jesus of nazareth/vi john the baptist.htm

Relation of the Baptist to Elijah. The Theory of Transmigration
... Book XIII. 1. Relation of the Baptist to Elijah. The Theory of Transmigration.
Considered. "The disciples asked Him, saying, Why ...
/.../origens commentary on the gospel of matthew/1 relation of the baptist.htm

Herod and the Baptist.
... Book X. 21. Herod and the Baptist. The narrative of Matthew is as
follows,""for Herod had laid hold on John and bound him in the ...
/.../origen/origens commentary on the gospel of matthew/21 herod and the baptist.htm

Messianic Discussion with John the Baptist.
... Sixth Book. 6. Messianic Discussion with John the Baptist. Then the Jews sent
priests and levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou? ...
/.../origens commentary on the gospel of john/6 messianic discussion with john.htm

The Baptist's Testimony.
... III. THE BAPTIST'S TESTIMONY. "There came a man, sent from God, whose name was John. ...
And to many besides, the Baptist was the true forerunner of the Messiah. ...
/.../the expositors bible the gospel of st john vol i/iii the baptists testimony.htm

St. John Baptist
... II. THE CHRISTIAN YEAR St. John Baptist. [1056]282 On Jordan's bank the Baptist's
cry Also the following: [1057]63 Hark! a thrilling voice is sounding. ...
/.../the hymnal of the protestant episcopal church in the usa/st john baptist.htm

The First Ministry of the Baptist.
John the Baptist. <. ... V. The First Ministry of the Baptist. (Luke
3. "Hark, what a sound, and too divine for hearing, Stirs ...
// the baptist/v the first ministry of.htm

English Baptist Missionary Society.
... STATISTICS OF CHURCHES. English Baptist Missionary Society. EAST ... Kingston. This
was the origin of the Baptist missions in the West Indies. ...
/.../hayward/the book of religions/english baptist missionary society.htm

Baptist (16 Occurrences)
... BAPTISM (THE BAPTIST INTERPRETATION). ... It is still a matter of dispute whether this
initiatory rite was in existence at the time of John the Baptist or not. ...
/b/baptist.htm - 56k

Baptist's (1 Occurrence)
...Baptist's (1 Occurrence). Matthew 14:8 And she, being before instructed of her mother,
said, Give me here John Baptist's head in a charger. (KJV). ...
/b/baptist's.htm - 6k

Charger (17 Occurrences)
... The "charger" in which the Baptist's head was presented was a platter or
flat wooden trencher (Matthew 14:8, 11; Mark 6:25, 28). ...
/c/charger.htm - 14k

Lamb (124 Occurrences)
... See SHEEP. Alfred Ely Day. LAMB OF GOD. (ho amnos tou theou): This is a title specially
bestowed upon our Lord by John the Baptist (John 1:29-36), "Behold, the ...
/l/lamb.htm - 50k

Violence (98 Occurrences)
... Nor can it be determined whether the words "from the days of John the Baptist until
now" are meant to include or exclude the work of the Baptist himself. ...
/v/violence.htm - 38k

Violent (151 Occurrences)
... Nor can it be determined whether the words "from the days of John the Baptist until
now" are meant to include or exclude the work of the Baptist himself. ...
/v/violent.htm - 36k

... HISTORICAL PRACTICE 1. The Jews 2. John the Baptist 3. The Didache 4. Justin Martyr
5. Tertullian 6. Eunomius 7. Greek Church LITERATURE I. Linguistic Basis. ...
/i/immersion.htm - 14k

... HISTORICAL PRACTICE 1. The Jews 2. John the Baptist 3. The Didache 4. Justin Martyr
5. Tertullian 6. Eunomius 7. Greek Church LITERATURE I. Linguistic Basis. ...
/t/trine.htm - 14k

... HISTORICAL PRACTICE 1. The Jews 2. John the Baptist 3. The Didache 4. Justin Martyr
5. Tertullian 6. Eunomius 7. Greek Church LITERATURE I. Linguistic Basis. ...
/t/triune.htm - 13k

Elias (30 Occurrences)
... (KJV DBY). Matthew 16:14 And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist:
some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. (KJV DBY). ...
/e/elias.htm - 15k

Bible Concordance
Baptist (16 Occurrences)

Matthew 3:1 In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea,

Matthew 11:11 Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

Matthew 11:12 And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.

Matthew 14:2 And said unto his servants, This is John the Baptist; he is risen from the dead; and therefore mighty works do shew forth themselves in him.

Matthew 14:8 And she, being before instructed of her mother, said, Give me here John Baptist's head in a charger.

Matthew 16:14 And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.

Matthew 17:13 Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist.

Mark 1:4 John came baptizing in the wilderness, and proclaiming a baptism of reformation -- to remission of sins,
(See NAS)

Mark 6:14 And king Herod heard of him; (for his name was spread abroad:) and he said, That John the Baptist was risen from the dead, and therefore mighty works do shew forth themselves in him.

Mark 6:24 And she went forth, and said unto her mother, What shall I ask? And she said, The head of John the Baptist.

Mark 6:25 And she came in straightway with haste unto the king, and asked, saying, I will that thou give me by and by in a charger the head of John the Baptist.

Mark 8:28 And they answered, John the Baptist; but some say, Elias; and others, One of the prophets.

Luke 7:20 When the men were come unto him, they said, John Baptist hath sent us unto thee, saying, Art thou he that should come? or look we for another?

Luke 7:28 For I say unto you, Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist: but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.

Luke 7:33 For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine; and ye say, He hath a devil.

Luke 9:19 They answering said, John the Baptist; but some say, Elias; and others say, that one of the old prophets is risen again.



Related Terms

Baptist's (1 Occurrence)

Charger (17 Occurrences)

Lamb (124 Occurrences)

Violence (98 Occurrences)

Violent (151 Occurrences)




Elias (30 Occurrences)

Eli'jah (93 Occurrences)

Andrew (12 Occurrences)

Herodias (7 Occurrences)

Shew (226 Occurrences)

Interpretation (45 Occurrences)

Zacharias (11 Occurrences)

Juttah (3 Occurrences)

Gabriel (5 Occurrences)

Working (205 Occurrences)

Forerunner (3 Occurrences)

Raised (267 Occurrences)

Elisabeth (8 Occurrences)

Dish (54 Occurrences)

Disciple (38 Occurrences)

Mighty (514 Occurrences)


Plate (34 Occurrences)

Salome (2 Occurrences)

Judaea (45 Occurrences)

Request (248 Occurrences)

Philip (37 Occurrences)

Salvation (386 Occurrences)

Abstinence (2 Occurrences)

Tiberius (1 Occurrence)


Themselves (911 Occurrences)

Sacrifice (300 Occurrences)

Works (379 Occurrences)

Locust (25 Occurrences)

Nazirite (10 Occurrences)

Baptize (19 Occurrences)

Preaching (116 Occurrences)

Birth (357 Occurrences)

Dress (38 Occurrences)

Heaven (653 Occurrences)

Reign (468 Occurrences)

According (7613 Occurrences)

Teaching (372 Occurrences)

Teacher (103 Occurrences)

Elijah (104 Occurrences)

Teach (172 Occurrences)

James (40 Occurrences)

Matthew (5 Occurrences)

Offices (14 Occurrences)

Replied (532 Occurrences)

Peter (181 Occurrences)

Virgin (62 Occurrences)


John (154 Occurrences)

Light (2869 Occurrences)

Holy (1097 Occurrences)

Mark (182 Occurrences)

Quickly (254 Occurrences)

Visitation (17 Occurrences)

Verily (146 Occurrences)

Nathanael (6 Occurrences)

Notwithstanding (37 Occurrences)

Nazarite (8 Occurrences)

Unquenchable (5 Occurrences)

Jeremias (3 Occurrences)

Jutah (1 Occurrence)

Leather (34 Occurrences)

Lysanias (1 Occurrence)

Lips (199 Occurrences)

Lower (72 Occurrences)

Girl (71 Occurrences)

Wrought (186 Occurrences)

Waste (668 Occurrences)

Waiting (274 Occurrences)

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