Words Mean Something

In Lexington, Kentucky, in the year 1843, Alexander Campbell debated Nathan L. Rice, a Presbyterian.  The debate occurred between the dates of November 15th and December 2.  The daily sessions, on most days, was from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.  Six issues were debated: (1) The action or “mode” required in baptism – dipping, sprinkling, or pouring?; (2) The proper subject for baptism – can infants be properly baptized?; (3) The purpose of baptism – necessary for salvation?; (4) The administrator of baptism – must one be a licensed and ordained clergy to baptize?; (5) What influence did the Holy Ghost have in conversion – a direct or indirect influence?; (6) Human creeds – should we follow man-made creed books?

It’s the first issue (“mode” of baptism) that we turn our attention.  Campbell pressed the point: “baptize… it is incontrovertibly derived from bapto, and therefore inherits the proper meaning of the bap, which is ‘dip’; then it is not irresistibly evident that baptizo can never authorize or sanction any other action than dipping, or immersing, as found in Christ’s commission?” (page 57). Again he said, “Ancient Greek grammarians sometimes arranged their verbs in the form of trees, making the origin of the family the root… a great majority of our citizens are better reads in forests, fields, and gardens, than in the schools of philology or ancient languages.  Agriculturalists, horticulturists, botanists, will fully comprehend me when I say, in all the dominions of vegetable nature, untouched by human art, as the root, so is the stem, and so are the branches.  If the root be oak, the stem cannot be ash, nor the branches cedar… my first argument, then is found on the root bapto whose proper signification, all learned men say is dip, and whose main derivative is baptizo – which, by all the laws of philology, and all the laws of nature, never can, never did, and never will signify ‘to pour’ or ‘to sprinkle’.” (page 57-58).  So, Campbell’s first argument, on the first issue, was that words have meanings, and that this word transliterated “baptize” does not mean “to pour” or “to sprinkle.”

N.L. Rice was not without an argument.  He went to Revelation 19:13.  The Peshitta Syriac and Jerome’s Latin Vulgate (two old translations) have the word meaning “sprinkled” in their tongue, instead of “dipped” as in the King James Version (argument found on page 115).  Again, he pronounced his rebuttal saying: “I have already turned your attention to Revelation 19:13 where bapto has been translated by the word ‘sprinkle’.  But I omitted to state one important fact, viz; that not only the Syriac and Latin Vulgate, but the Ethiopic, one of the most ancient and valuable versions… translates bapto, in this passage, ‘to sprinkle’ (page 116).

Alexander Campbell’s response is recorded on page 119.  He pointed out that Origen, a writer of the second century, quoted from Revelation 19:13, the verse in question, but when he did, he did not use the derivative of bapto but of rantizo (meaning ‘sprinkle’).  He then said, “Now the probability is, that Origen quoted from another reading, or a more ancient copy; and if the Syriac copy alluded to was before Origen’s time, it would corroborate that conclusion.  The fact, also, that Jerome, the real author of the vulgate, has it he having been the translator of Origen’s Greek works into Latin, still more confirms a different reading.  Unless, then, it can be proved that they had the present reading before them, it is wholly idle to urge this solitary verse as an exception…” (page 119).

Let’s summarize: A. Campbell knew words meant something.  No, he knew of no manuscript that had in the Greek the word normally meaning ‘sprinkled’, within the questioned verse.  But he knew that bap referred to a dipping process and not sprinkling.

Nearly sixteen years later, on February 4, 1859, in a convent on Mt. Sinai, Codex Sinaiticus was found by a German – Tischendorf.  In that ancient manuscript Alexander Campbell’s theory of a different rendering was discovered to be true.  Revelation 19:13 had the word in question derived from raino (to sprinkle) and not bapto (to immerse, or dip).

Now the point is simply this: words have meaning.  When in a Bible study do not let people change the meaning of words on you.  Have courage in this area.

About Bryan Hodge

I am a minister and missionary to numerous countries around the world.
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2 Responses to Words Mean Something

  1. Terri says:

    Very good brother Hodge. I am interested to know what was said about the person administering the baptism and the authority needed to baptize today.

    • Bryan Hodge says:

      Thanks for your comment! Concerning the question of who is to do administer baptism, consider the following points: (1) The early christians went everywhere preaching the Gospel (Acts 8:4). This was not the apostles (Acts 8:1). (2) One who was not an apostle could baptize (Acts 8:12,14-17; 8:36-38) (3) Most of the time we are not told who administered baptism. If the administer was important, why is the person ordinarily not mentioned? (4) Many Corinthians were baptized as a result of Paul`s work (Acts 18:8). Yet, Paul did not personally baptize many of them (1 Corinthians 1:14-17). (5) Jesus did not personally baptize, but His disciples (John 4:1-2). One of His disciples was Judas (Matthew 10:1-4). Yet, Judas had a heart problem long before he betrayed Jesus (John 6:64,70-71; 12:3-6). There is no indication that anyones baptism was invalid because of the one who administered the baptism.

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