THE MEANING OF BAPTISM AT THE TIME OF KING JAMES

Categories: AV 1611 - New Versions

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OUR BAPTIST BIBLE: PROOF THAT THE AV TRANSLATORS DID NOT TRY TO HIDE THE MEANING OF THE GREEK WHEN USING THE WORD “BAPTISM”
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Along with the fable that there was no AV on the Mayflower, another old wives’ tale is the claim that King James, or the AV Translators, conspired to support “sprinkling” by refusing to translate the Greek word “baptizo,” etc., which they have rendered as “baptism,” etc., in the AV.

In researching the validity of this claim, I decided to peruse again my volume of “Mede’s Works” from the 17th century on the subject of the meaning of baptism. The binding is loose, but I was able to clearly read his sermon on Titus 3. Mede stated:

“I add…that there was no such thing as SPRINKLING…used in Baptism in the Apostle’s times, nor many ages after them.”
(Joseph Mede, 1586-1638, “Mede’s Works,” p. 62)

With some more research into 17th century Christian history, I soon discovered that the claim that the AV Translators used “baptism” in the AV so that they could justify “sprinkling” is an absolute fable! The word “baptize” was FIRMLY ESTABLISHED as an English word that meant “to dip, plunge or immerse” at the time of the translating of the AV. It did not begin to obtain the primary meaning of “sprinkling” (in some dictionaries) until much later. And it derived this new, primary meaning, not on the basis of etymology, but on the basis of later usage among the various denominations.

“Bullokar’s English Hard Word Dictionary” of 1616 (five years after 1611!) defines “baptism” by stating:

“It commonly signifieth a dipping or washing.”

This is all Bullokar gave for “baptism” in his early dictionary. With this definition, we wonder how the AV Translators could have supposedly attempted to hide anything by using a word that was commonly taken to mean DIPPING in 1616. The Authorized Version was printed in 1611!

J.M. Pendleton, in the 19th century, writes:

“There is no historical evidence that the king was opposed to immersion…”
(“Baptist Church Manual”).

To the contrary, King James himself revealed what the word “baptize” commonly meant in his day. In 1605, he stated:

“For as God, for the just Punishment of the first great Sins in the original World, when the Sons of God went in to the Daughters of Men, and the Cup of their Iniquities of all Sorts was filled and heaped up to the full, did, by a general Deluge and Overflowing of Waters, BAPTIZE the World to a general Destruction…”
(http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.asp?compid=28345)

I do not think that King James believed that God “sprinkled” the old world with a few rain drops!

The word baptism had been an English word for centuries (see the “Oxford Dictionary”). Bede (700 A.D.) held that baptism meant immersion. In the time of Queen Mary (1553-1558), the Catholic, only immersion was allowed. Erasmus believed baptism meant immersion.

All Baptist Confessions of Faith used the word “baptism” prior to 1611. Tyndale (a Baptist) used the word “baptism” in his version. Balthasar Hubmaier entitled a book, in 1526, “Old and New Believers on Baptism.” The word baptism was an established English word that was freely used (for immersion) by Baptists before 1611.

Those who capitalized on the later, adopted changes in meaning of the word “baptism” (after 1611), would have also capitalized on ANY word that might have been used. If they changed “baptize” to conform to their denominational views, they would have also changed any other word. For example, even the word “DIP” is defined by “Webster’s Dictionary” in 1843 (and 1828), in one of its definitions, as: “To moisten; to wet.” The popular Funk and Wagnall’s “Standard Dictionary” of 1895 also defines it as “to wet.” Therefore, even the word “DIP” would have been used to justify sprinkling by those looking for an excuse in word definitions.

Concerning the testimony of the AV Translators, where they write that, “We have on the one side avoided the scrupulosity of the Puritans who leave the old ecclesiastical words, as when they put WASHING for BAPTISM”, it is clear from history that some of these Puritans wanted “washing” instead of “baptism” because some of them were beginning to embrace “sprinkling”:

“The form of the Puritans was pouring; the form of the Baptists was immersion.”
(John T. Christian, “History of the Baptists”)

The Geneva Version had used “washing” instead of “baptism.” Calvin had written:

“Whether the person who is baptized be wholly immersed…or whether water be only poured or sprinkled upon him, is of no importance.”
(“Institutes,” IV, XV. 19)

Later, the Westminster Shorter Catechism and the Confession used the word “washing” as a synonym for sprinkling:

“In the view of those who do not practice immersion, baptism is ‘a WASHING with water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,’ in which the ‘dipping of the person into water is not necessary,’ but it may be ‘rightly administered by pouring or sprinkling water upon a person.”
(Westminister Shorter Catechism, Q. XCIV; and Confession, XXVIII.3; quoted in, “The New Schaff-Herzog Religious Encyclopedia,” 1908)

“Washings” is used to translate “baptismous” in the AV in Mark 7:4:

Mark 7:4 And when they come from the market, except they WASH, they eat not. And many other things there be, which they have received to hold, as the WASHING of cups, and pots, brasen vessels, and of tables.

However, the AV Translators rejected the word “washing” as a constant translation, and used the ESTABLISHED word for immersion (i.e. “baptism”) everywhere the religious ordinance is referred to. Therefore, King James, and the AV Translators, instead of trying to “sneak in” SPRINKLING, were actually, if anything, trying to hinder its adoption! Again, this is why all Baptists before 1611 used the word “baptism” in their confessions, books and translations; and it is why the Baptists after 1611 used the AV.

In the Providence of God, the AV, and its use of “baptism,” would help to open the door for the persecuted Baptists to multiply. And as they arose, their unique, Biblical views of religious liberty also multiplied and soon made America great and glorious through God’s grace. God ordained the AV (regardless of the alleged views of King James or the Translators) to become “Our Common Version,” and it soon launched the Baptists as the largest group in the U.S. And by their influence (according to the testimonies of America’s “founding fathers”), persecution ceased in the U.S.; and the open door in the new nation was used to spread the Gospel into all the world.

“Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee: the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain.” (Psalms 76:10). “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.” (Genesis 50:20).

However, as has been shown, it is a great myth to declare that King James and the AV Translators were trying to hinder “immersion” by using “baptism” in the AV. The great scholar and Baptist pastor, John Dowling (1807-1878), in 1850, preached:

“It was not until the time of the celebrated Westminster Assembly of Divines in the reign of the unfortunate Charles I, that sprinkling became at all current in England as a substitute for baptism, and even then was it found so difficult to pervert the evident meaning of the well-understood English word Baptize, that the learned Selden, himself a member of the Westminster Assembly, made the following pointed and striking remark. Speaking of the practice of sprinkling then coming into vogue, he says: ‘In England of late years I ever thought the person baptized his own fingers rather than the child.’”

Dowling proves that “baptism” meant immerse or dipping in 1611, and that this meaning was not altered until much later. He concludes:

“It is sufficient to say that the hundred thousand of New York Baptists, and the million of American Baptists, have been made so chiefly by means of the good old English Bible… In conclusion, then, I say, brethren, sisters and fathers, cling to your old-fashioned Bible!” (“The Old-Fashioned Bible,”1850)

And there are other witnesses. It is likely that no Baptist historian has so greatly proved that “baptize” commonly meant “to immerse or dip” in the days of the AV Translators as John Taylor Christian (1854–1925). How could the AV Translators have been trying to prove sprinkling by using the word “baptize,” if “baptize” commonly meant “to immerse or dip” in 1607-11? John T. Christian, in his “History of the Baptists,” writes:

“The Church of England everywhere tried to enforce the rite of immersion. The bishops were diligent in rooting out the basins which were substituted in some places instead of the font. The font was for immersion; the basin was used for affusion. The inquiries were for the purpose of obtaining information on any departure front the custom of the Church, and on no point were they more particular than this. The Bishop of London, 1627, inquired concerning the clergy:

‘Whether your minister baptize any children in any basin or other vessel than in the ordinary font, being placed in the church or doth put any basin into it? Concerning the Church he esquires: whether have you in your church or chapel a font of stone set up in the ancient usual place?’

Like inquiries were made by the Bishop of Exeter, in 1638; the Bishop of Winchester, in 1639; the Bishop of London, in 1640; and the Bishop of Lincoln, in 1641….The activity of the bishops put fonts in nearly all of the church houses in England, and vast numbers of these fonts and baptisteries may be seen to this day in these churches. Take for example the City of Canterbury. The Church of St. George the Martyr has the ancient octagonal font, the basin being upheld by eight small shafts and a thick center one. There is an immense baptistery in St. John’s. In 1636 this baptistery was in ruins and the want of a font in the Cathedral was regarded as a scandal. Several persons were baptized by immersion in this font from 1660 to 1663 (Archaeology, XI. pp. 146, 147). These fonts were large enough for immersion (Paley, Illustrations of Baptismal Fonts, p. 31)….The bishops of the Church of England stood squarely against the innovation of affusion in the reign of Charles I. They accounted it a bad practice….There are those who mention the practice of dipping in those days. Thomas Blake writing in 1645 relates:

‘I have been an eye witness of many infants dipped and know it to have been the constant practice of many ministers in their places, for many years together (Blake, Infants Baptisms Freed from Antichristianisme, pp.1, 2).

Daniel Featley is also a good witness (Clavis Mystica, 1636). He says:

‘Our font is always open, or ready to be opened, and the minister attends to receive the children of the faithful, and to dip them in the sacred laver.’

William Walker, a Pedobaptist, who wrote in 1678, says:

‘And truly as the general custom now in England is to sprinkle, so in the fore end of this century the general custom was to dip.’ (Walker, The Doctrines of Baptism, p. 146. London, 1678)

…Sir John Floyer, a most careful writer, says:

‘That I may further convince all of my countrymen that immersion in baptism was very lately left off in England, I will assure them that there are yet persons who were so immersed; for I am so informed by Mr. Berisford, minister of Sutton, that his parents immersed not only him but the rest of the family at his baptism’
(Floyer, The History of Cold Bathing, p. 182. London, 1722)

…Dr. Schaff, himself a Presbyterian, says:

‘In England immersion was the normal mode down to the middle of the seventeenth century. It was adopted by the English and American Baptists as the only mode.’
(Schaff, History of the Christian Church, VII. p. 79)

All of these writers affirm that immersion was the common practice in England; they mention many persons who were immersed and that affusion did not prevail till the introduction of the Directory in 1644…

The Greek lexicons used in England in the first half or the seventeenth century were Scapula, Stevens, Micaeus and Leigh. These all define ‘baptizein’ as dipping or submerging. A Greek lexicon is unknown prior to 1644 which gives sprinkle as a definition of ‘baptizein’; and the few that have since given such definitions appear to have been under the influence which shaped the action of the Westminster Divines….

Wall says of the Presbyterians who introduced affusion into England:

‘So (parallel to the rest of their reformations) they reformed the font into a basin. This learned assembly could not remember that fonts to baptize in had always been used by the primitive Christians, long before the beginning of popery…’…(Wall, History of Infant Baptism, I. p. 583).

He also says:

‘For sprinkling, properly so called, it seems that it was in 1645 just then beginning, and used by very few. It must have begun in the disorderly times after 1641; for Mr. Blake had never used it, nor seen it used.’

The action of the Westminster Assembly was followed by acts of Parliament which fully confirm the contention of Wall that sprinkling began in England ‘in the disorderly times of 1641,’ and that in 1645 it was ‘used by very few.’ The Presbyterians were not satisfied with an ecclesiastical law to govern the church, but now as they had authority they followed it with the laws of Parliament to control State action….

Dr. Joseph Angus, former President of Regents Park College, London, member of the committee who translated the Revised Version of the Bible, says:

‘During this period, very little is said about immersion, and the silence of the writers on the mode is said to be deeply significant. But it is overlooked that in that age immersion was the generally accepted mode of baptism in England. The Prayer Book has all along ordered the child ‘to be dipped warily’ in the water. The practice of dipping was familiar in the days of Henry VIII., and both Edward VI. and Queen Elizabeth were dipped in their childhood. In that century it was not necessary to lecture on the meaning of the word, or to insist on the mode of baptizing…’”
[End of Christian's, "History"]

As we can see, the dictionaries, the lexicons, and the eye-witness testimonies of the time, prove that when the AV Translators used “baptism,” “baptize,” etc., they were using the commonly understood English word for DIPPING. And since they desired their Version to be reverent and spiritual, they used “baptize” instead of “dip.” And we are glad that they did. “John the Dip” would not have been a worthy, reverent translation to describe the forerunner of our Lord. And no Baptist preacher that I know of would desire for the church he pastors to be called, “The First Dip Church.”

Anyone who has read much anti-Baptist literature knows that no great argument against Baptist views is raised on the basis of the word “baptism” in the AV. In fact, those who believe in sprinkling instead of immersion usually admit the validity of many Baptist arguments. For example, Benjamin B. Warfield (in “The New Schaff-Herzog Religious Encyclopedia,” 1908) admits:

“It is of course true that the term ‘to baptize’ goes back to a root which bears the sense of ‘deep’ (cf. W.W. Skeat, “Etymological Dict. of the English Language,” Oxford, 1882, p. 733, no. 89).”

He writes:

“It is important to keep in mind the exact point which is in debate. This is not whether the Greek word which was adopted to designate this sacrament, and which has passed into English as ‘to baptize’ means ‘to immerse.’ Nor is it whether the early Christians, or even the apostles, baptized by immersion. It is whether so slender a circumstance as the mode of applying the water can be so of the essence of baptism that nothing can be baptism except an immersion.” (B.B. Warfield)

An examination of other, 19th century, anti-Baptist writers in my library reveals the same confessions. Therefore, those who argue that the term “baptism” in the AV has hurt the “Baptist” cause (a somewhat contradictory statement in itself), apparently do not even realize that the greatest opponents of immersion do not even argue on the basis of the word “baptism”!

In conclusion, yet another claim of the zealous anti-AV folks has now been exposed as another old wives’ fable. But will they admit it by the grace of God?

Author: Pastor Joey Faust