Here is something I have wondered about. What is the history behind
“totally immersion” baptism? I understand how infant baptism does not mold
with the Bible?s teachings on baptism, but I always wondered what did the
first century Christians do if there was not available water? Or not
enough water for them to be totally immersed in. Is a person not saved if
they are not totally immersed? Would a body part out of the water prevent
hem from truly becoming a Christian? How does that hold to today?
These are good questions. The testimony of the New Testament
is that believers were immersed in water, as evidenced by the word baptism
itself, which means immersion. Besides, when John the Baptist or the
followers of Jesus baptized people, they always did so in rivers, at least
as far as the testimony of the New Testament writers records, which
certainly implies immersion is pouring or sprinkling does not require
going down into a river. As far as the book of Acts, it seems that Luke
assumed his writers knew the normal mode of baptism, as he does not
normally specify where the baptism took place. The exception is the
Ethiopian eunuch in Acts eight who, along with Phillip, stopped, got out
of the chariot and went down into water.
The very early church fathers are unanimous about immersion
being the normal mode of baptism. I am adding a paper below on what some
of the early leaders said, which will include evidence supporting this
claim. There is some evidence that as early as the second century in
cases of severe invalids, pouring was used as a substitute for full
immersion. The historical record is consistent in this throughout the
first several centuries. Sprinkling is not noted in the records until
well past the time of the fall of the Roman empire. It became common by
around the tenth or eleventh century.
As to whether one must literally be “fully immersed” to be
saved, I personally would let common sense apply. Anyone who claimed that
a person would go to hell for eternity because their little pinky finger
did not get immersed when they were baptized would strike me as taking
such a legalistic stance that that alone might keep that person out of
heaven! I am just kidding, but it is easy to see that this is an
outrageous perversion of the general tone of the New Testament. The next
logical question is what portion of one’s body can be out of the water and
still be saved? Again, this seem a ridiculous question in the light of
the attitude of love and grace in the New Testament, and in the Bible in
general for that matter.
I would conclude that the attitude of the heart is the main
thing, but obedience is certainly a factor. Of course it is hard to
separate the two. Could a person be saved who is “baptized” into Christ,
but who is in fact poured with water rather than immersed? I would
prefer to take the conservative view. I see no reason to suggest any
healthy person be poured on rather than immersed. That should take care
of any real question (as opposed to a speculative question with no real
I hope this answers your question. Below is an article I have
written on the general subject.
John Oakes, PhD
THE HISTORY OF BAPTISM: AN OUTLINE
? The Old Testament. For example, Leviticus 16:4,24. Ceremonial
washings for purification.
? Proselyte baptism. Non-Jews by birth were baptized to be accepted
into the faith.
? The Qumran sect. Stressed washings for purification on a daily
basis. Their “baptistries” have been excavated.
? John the Baptist. A baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of
sins. Matt 3:1-20 and Mark 1:1-13, especially Mark 1:4. Also see Acts
? The apostles baptized followers of Jesus. John 4:1,2. For the same
reason as JTB?
? New Testament baptism. Mark 16:16, Matt 28:19, Acts 2:38. See the
chart below. Believe, repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of
sins, to receive the Holy Spirit (John 3:5) and to be added to the church
(1 Cor 12:13).
? Baptism in the ancient church.
The Epistle of Barnabas, c. 70-100 A.D.
Blessed are they who, placing their trust in the cross, have gone down
into the water?We indeed descend into the water full of sins and
defilement. However, we come up, bearing fruit in our heart, having the
fear [of God] and the trust in Jesus in our spirit. Barnabas (c. 70-130,
Hermas, c. 70-130 A. D.
I hear, sir, some teachers maintain that there is no other repentance than
that which takes place, when we descended into the water and received
remission of our former sins. Hermas (c. 150, W), 2.22.
Before a man bears the name of the Son of God, he is dead. But when he
receives the seal, he lays aside his deadness and obtains life. The seal,
then, is the water. They descend into the water dead, and they arise
alive. Hermas (c. 150, W), 2.49.
The apostles themselves also gave them the seal of the preaching [i.e.,
baptism]. Accordingly, they descended with them into the water and
ascended again. Hermas (c. 150, W), 2.49.
Justin Martyr, c. 100-165 A.D.
As many as are persuaded and believe that what we teach and say is true,
and undertake to be able to live accordingly, are instructed to pray and
to entreat God with fasting, for the remission of their past sins. The
rest of us pray and fast with them. They are brought by us where there is
water, there is water, and are regenerated in the same manner in
A Study of Conversion in the Book of Acts
vv. 14, 15
which we were regenerated ourselves. They there receive the washing with
water in the I will also relate the manner in which we dedicated ourselves
to God when we had been made new through Christ?. As many as are persuaded
and believe that what we teach and say is true, and undertake to be able
to live accordingly, are instructed to pray and to entreat God with
fasting, for the remission of their past sins. The rest of us pray and
fast with them. They are brought by us name of God (the Father and Lord of
the universe), of our Savior Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit. For
Christ also said, “Unless you are born again, you will not enter into the
kingdom of heaven.” Justin Martyr (c. 160, E), 1.183.
This washing of repentance and knowledge of God has been ordained on
account of the transgression of God?s people, as Isaiah cries.
Accordingly, we have believed and testify that the very baptism which he
announced is alone able to purify those who have repented. And this is the
water of life.? For what is the use of that baptism which cleanses only
the flesh and body? Baptize the soul from wrath and from covetousness,
from envy and from hatred. Justin Martyr (c. 160, E), 1.201.
But there is no other [way] than this: to become acquainted with this
Christ; to be washed in the fountain spoken of by Isaiah for the remission
of sins; and for the rest, to live sinless lives. Justin Martyr (c. 160,
Irenaeus of Lyons, c. 130-200 A.D.
When we come to refute them [the Gnostics], we will show in its proper
place that this class of men have been instigated by Satan to a denial of
that baptism which is regeneration to God. Thus, they have renounced the
whole faith?. For the baptism institute by the visible Jesus was for the
remission of sins. Irenaeus (c. 180, E/W), 1.346.
But there are some of them [Gnostics] who assert that it is unnecessary to
bring persons to the water. Rather, they mix oil and water together, and
they play this mixture on the heads of those who are to be initiated?.
This they maintain to be the redemption?. Other [heretics], however,
reject all these practices and maintain that the mystery of the
unspeakable and invisible power should not to be performed by visible and
corruptible creatures?. These claim that the knowledge of the unspeakable
Greatness is itself perfect redemption. Irenaeus (c. 180, E/W), 1.346.
Clement of Alexandria, c. 150-215 A.D.
Being baptized, we are illuminated. Illuminated, we become sons?. This
work is variously called grace, illumination, perfection, and washing.
Washing, by which we cleanse away our sins. Grace, by which the penalties
accruing to transgressions are remitted. Illumination, by which that holy
light of salvation is beheld, that is, by which we see God clearly.
Clement of Alexandria (c. 195, E), 2.215.
In the same way, therefore, we also repent of our sins, renounce our
iniquities, and are purified by baptism. Thereby, we speed back to the
eternal light as children of the Father. Clement of Alexandria (c. 195,
Tertullian of Carthage, c. 160-230 A.D.
Now, the teaching is laid down that “without baptism, salvation is
attainable by no one.” This is based primarily on the ground of that
declaration of the Lord, who says, “Unless one is born of water he has not
life.” However, when this is laid down, there immediately arise scrupulous
(or rather, audacious) doubts on the part of some. Tertullian (c. 198, W),
“Unless a man has been born again of water and Spirit, he will not enter
into the kingdom of the heavens.” These words have tied faith to the
necessity of baptism. Accordingly, all thereafter who became believers
were baptized. So it was, too, that Paul, when he believed, was baptized.
Tertullian (c. 198, W), 3.676.
We, then, enter the font once. Our sins arewashed away once, for they
should never be repeated. Tertullian (c. 198, W), 3.676.
Origen, c. 185-255 A.D.
Matthew alone adds the words, “to repentance,” teaching us that the
benefit of baptism is connected with the intention of the baptized person.
To him who repents, it is saving. However, to him who comes to it without
repentance, it will produce greater condemnation. Origen (c. 228, E),
? The rise of false doctrines.
Apostolic Constitutions, compiled c. 390 A.D.
And after this vow, he comes next to the anointing with oil. Now, this is
blessed by the high priest [i.e., bishop] for the remission of sins. It is
the first preparation for baptism. For he calls upon the Unbegotten God,
the Father of Christ,?that He will sanctify the oil in the name of the
Lord Jesus and impart to it spiritual grace and efficacious strength?.
After this, he comes to the water and blesses and glorifies the Lord God
Almighty?. After this, let him stand up and pray the prayer that the Lord
taught us. Of necessity, he who is risen again should stand up and pray,
for he that has been raised up stands upright. Therefore, let him who has
been dead with Christ, and is raised up with Him, stand up. But let him
pray towards the east. Apostolic Constitutions (compiled c. 390, E), 7.477.
If any bishop or presbyter does not perform the three immersions of the
one initiation?but performs only one immersion into the death of Christ?
let him be deprived. For the Lord id not say, “Baptize into my death.”
Rather, He said, “God and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them
into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” Therefore, O
bishops, baptize three times into one Father and Son, and Holy Sprit,
according to the will of Christ. Apostolic Constitutions (compiled c. 390,
Baptize your infantsalso and bring them up in the nurture and admonition
of God. For He says, “Allow the little children to come unto me and do not
forbid them.” Apostolic Constitutions (compiled c. 390, E), 7.457.
Augustine. c. 400 A. D. Doctrine of original sin. Transubstantiation,
etc?. Doctrine of original sin was created to explain what was already a
common practice. Baptism of infants and unrepentant was common by 400 AD
By 1000 A. D. most baptisteries were filled in. Sprinkling was common
practice. Faith only salvation. Luther and Calvin 1500-1550 A. D.
The sinner?s prayer. Invented in the mid 1800?s