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Can Baptism be Translated as Immersion?

Someone informed me of an article entitled "The RC church recognises baptism was immersion," which can be found at the following address: http://members.aol.com/dippings/rcrom6l.htm. After a great deal of deliberation, I decide that I would make a response to this article.

The first thing wrong with this article is the use of the abbreviation RC in the title. Obviously this abbreviation is for Roman Catholic, and this article continually refers to the Church incorrectly as the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman Rite of the Church is only one of many rites, although it is the largest. Other rites within the Church are the Ambrosian Rite, the Mozarabic Rite, the Coptic Rite, the Ethiopian Rite, the Syrian Rite, the Maronite Rite, the Malankarese Rite, the Armenian Rite, the Chaldean Rite, the Syro-Malabarese Rite, the Albanian Rite, the Belarussian Rite, the Bulgarian Rite, the Croatian Rite, the Georgian Rite, the Greek Rite, the Hungarian Rite, the Italo-Albanian Rite, the Melkite Rite, the Romanian Rite, the Russian Rite, the Ruthenian Rite, the Slovackian Rite, the Serbian Rite, and the Ukrainian Rite. These different rites vary in their customs and traditions (that's tradition with a small "t"), but all hold the same doctrines and Traditions (that's Tradition with a capital "T"), and are guided by the Bishop of Rome as the Vicar of Christ.

I belong to the Roman Rite, which is the largest and most common in the western world. Occasionally, I attend Mass in a Ukrainian Rite church. Their Ordered of Mass is different from the Roman Rite, they cross themselves differently, their music is a cappella, and some of their priests are married. Despite these differences, they belong to the same Church as the Roman Rite, have the same doctrines, and have the same pope.

Since the article under discussion deals with translations of the Bible that are approved for use throughout the Church, and not solely the Roman Rite, the correct name of the Church that includes all if the different rites should be used. The correct name is the Church. Often this name is preceded by adjectives, such as the holy catholic Church, or the one holy catholic and apostolic Church (note that only the word Church is capitalised). Other names for the Church that are commonly use are the Christian Church and the Church of Christ. It is also very common to refer to the Church as the Catholic Church, which is only correct when it is understood that the word Catholic means Universal, and is only a adjective describing the Church.

The article under discussion is focused on two different translations of the Bible that are approved by the Church, the Confraternity Version, and the Urdu Version. I am completely unfamiliar with the Urdu language, and I do not know anyone from Pakistan, therefore I cannot make any comments concerning the Urdu Version. I will give the author of this article the benefit of the doubt and believe that the word used for baptism in this version of the Bible is the Urdu word for immersion.

The Confraternity Version is an English translation, and I actually have a copy of it. The part of the Confraternity Version that is under examination is the notes for Romans 6:3,4. The notes in my copy are a little different than the ones presented in the article under discussion, so I will provide both.

The notes for Romans 6:3,4 presented by the article under discussion are as follows:

    6, 3: Paul elaborates on the meaning of being "dead to sin." He evokes the symbolism of the baptismal rite through the word "baptized" (submerged in water). When the neophyte was immersed in water, the immersion symbolized burial or death with Christ; when the neophyte emerged, the emergence symbolized resurrection and life with Christ. With "all we who have been baptized into Christ Jesus," Paul tells the Romans that they have been "submerged" in Jesus, i.e., each of them has become in a real sense a part of him or another Christ. By this "submerging" the apostles means a loyalty far more profound and effective than that of a loyal servant to his master.
    Paul reminds the Romans that they were not only "baptized into Christ" but also "into his death" (i.e., into Christ precisely at the moment when he died to save man.) This "saving moment" is mysteriously realized in man at baptism. At that moment, in a real but mysterious way, all who have been baptized join Christ in his crucifixion, burial, resurrection, and according to v. 4, in his new life of glory.

    6, 4: Just as Christ . . . newness of life: the newly baptized, as he emerged from the water, symbolized Christ's resurrection and a new life. Christ has arisen: literally, "Christ was raised up" (see Mk 8, 31 n).

My copy of the Confraternity Version does not have any notes for Romans 6:4, but it does have the following notes for Romans 6:3:

    6, 3: St. Paul alludes to the manner in which Baptism was ordinarily conferred in the primitive Church, by immersion. The descent into the water is suggestive of the descent of the body into the grave, and the ascent is suggestive of the resurrection to a new life. St. Paul obviously sees more than a mere symbol in the rite of Baptism. As a result of it we are incorporated into Christ's mystical body and live a new life.

What do these notes say? They say that the word baptism comes from a word that original meant immersion, and that immersion is the preferred way to baptise because it better symbolises death and new life. This is what the Church taught in apostolic times, and it is what she continues to teach today. However, the Church has never taught that immersion is the only way to baptise. It is more than likely that the authors of these notes, and the people that authorised there use, were themselves baptised by infusion or aspersion. Therefore, they did not find any problems with the origins of the word baptism and baptism by infusion or aspersion.

This is illustrated in the notes for Romans 6:4 found in the Navarre Bible:

    4. It is easier to grasp the symbolism of burial and resurrection if one remembers that in earlier times, and particularly in the apostolic period, Baptism was usually administered by immersion in water - in some cases by total immersion, up to three times, with one Person of the Blessed Trinity being invoked each time. "They asked you, 'Do you believe in God the Father almighty?' You said, 'I believe', and you were immersed, that is, you were buried. Again they asked you, 'Do you believe in our Lord Jesus Christ and in his cross?' You said, 'I believe', and you were again immersed. This time you have been buried with Christ, and he who is buried with Christ rises with Christ. For a third time you were asked, 'Do you believe in the Holy Spirit?' You said, 'I believe', and for a third time you were immersed, so that by this three-fold confession you might be loosed of your many attachments to your past life" (St. Ambrose, De sacramentis, II, 7).
    Today Baptism is normally administered by pouring water over the head - a method also used in apostolic times and which gradually came into general use because it was found more convenient.

These notes say that baptism was administered by infusion or aspersion as well as by immersion in apostolic times. How could baptism be administered by infusion or aspersion when the origins of the word baptise means immersion? Simple, the word baptism in the context of a religious ritual does not maintain all the connotations that the original context did.

Another example of a slight change in meaning is the word deacon. Does Jesus hold the office of deacon in the Church? No, Jesus holds the office of Lord and King! Did Paul hold the office of deacon in the Church? No, Paul held the office of apostle! However, in the original context, the word deacon meant servant or waiter, and is used to describe Christ in Romans 15:8, and Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:5, 2 Corinthians 3:6, and 2 Corinthians 6:4. Neither Christ nor Paul held the ecclesiastical office of deacon, but both were described as servants with the word deacon, which was its original meaning.

As well, the word deacon in the context of an ecclesiastical office differs from its original meaning. The original meaning of the word deacon is a servant that waits on tables and serves food. I would be very surprised if the main duty of the deacons in your congregation is to wait on tables and serves food. Like the word baptism, the meaning of the word deacon has changed; although, it is still clear how the modern meaning was derived from the original.

It is quite commonly agreed upon that baptism was administered by immersion in apostolic times, but is there evidence of baptism by infusion or aspersion in apostolic times? The New Testament that is approved by the Church, which most Protestants also use, does not contain a description of the act of baptising, but other New Testaments do.

The New Testament Canon used by the Church and by the vast majority of Protestants is the Damasan Canon; however, before Pope Damasus declared this canon as the universal Canon of the New Testament in 382 A.D., other canons were in use. Many of these other canons included the Didache, also known as the Doctrine of the Twelve Apostles, or the Apostolic Constitutions, which contained the Didache. As well, there are some churches today that still have the Apostolic Constitutions in their New Testament Canon, such as the Coptic Orthodox Church, and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

The Didache was written between the years 65 and 80 A.D., and there is an old credence that each of the Twelve Apostles contributed to this work, but there is no evidence to support this. However, it is quite likely that this book does have an apostolic origin, and the exclusion of it from the Damasan Canon was greatly disputed. Although the Didache was excluded from the Damasan Canon, its worth as authentic Christian literature was never denied, and it was required reading for catechumens (those entering the Church of Christ).

This is what the Didache says concerning baptism:

    In regard to Baptism - baptize thus: After the foregoing instructions, baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living water. If you have no living water, then baptize in other water; and if you are not able in cold, then in warm. If you have neither, pour water three times on the head, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Before the Baptism, let the one baptizing and the one to be baptized fast, as also any others who are able. Command the one who is to be baptized to fast beforehand for one or two days. (Didache 7:1-4)

The Didache specifically says, "pour water three times on the head"!

If a person is willing to accept the Church's declaration that the Didache is not part of the New Testament Canon, but is unwilling to accept the Church's acceptance of the Didache as valuable Christian literature, he must concede that the word baptism was used in apostolic times in referring to infusion or aspersion. This piece of first century literature, that was widely distributed, proves that baptism was administered by infusion and aspersion during apostolic times. Therefore, the word baptism cannot be literally translated as immersion.