The Bapto Word-family in the Septuagint

A sincere Bible student feels that the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, provides evidence that the Greek term bapto may signify the actions of either sprinkling or pouring, as a baptismal rite. What does the evidence actually reveal?
By Wayne Jackson | Christian Courier

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A gracious gentleman, who appears to be a sincere Bible student, suggests there is evidence in the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament; abbreviated LXX) that the word bapto (or kindred forms) may be used to signify the acts of sprinkling or pouring as a form of baptism. His assertion has troubled some. I have been asked to comment.

By the use of a Greek concordance, I was able to locate twenty passages in the LXX wherein some derivative of bapto is found. In not a solitary instance is the original word translated as “pour” or “sprinkle.” In fact, in some of the texts, the bapto family is distinguished from “pour” (cheo) and “sprinkle” (rhantizo).

Let us examine the evidence.

The following section contains the passages that appear in the Greek version of the Old Testament. I subsequently checked each of these texts in the Septuagint (Samuel Bagster & Sons, London, n.d.), and the following list reflects the way in which the various forms are rendered in that version.

  1. Exodus 12:22—dipped (of hyssop dipped in blood)
  2. Leviticus 4:6, 17—dip (distinguished from “sprinkle” in these texts)
  3. Leviticus 9:9—dipped (distinguished from “poured” in this text)
  4. Leviticus 11:32—dipped (rendered “put into water” ASV; ESV)
  5. Leviticus 14:6, 16, 51—dip (distinguished from “sprinkle” and “pour”)
  6. Numbers 19:18—dip ( over against “sprinkle”)
  7. Deuteronomy 33:24—dip (dipping one’s foot in oil)
  8. Joshua 3:15—dipped (dipping feet in water)
  9. Ruth 2:14—dip (dipping a morsel in vinegar)
  10. 1 Samuel 14:27—dipped (dipping the end of a rod in honeycomb)
  11. 2 Kings 5:14—dipped (Naaman dipped seven times in the Jordan)
  12. 2 Kings 8:15 – dipped (dipping a cloth in water)
  13. Job 9:31—plunged (in pain, Job felt as if he was “plunged” in a ditch/pit)
  14. Isaiah 21:4—overwhelm (overwhelmed by sin; different in Hebrew text)
  15. Ezekiel 23:15—dyed (a richly “dyed” garment; different in Hebrew text)
  16. Daniel 4:30 [v. 25 ASV]—bathed (Nebuchadnezzar “wet” with dew)
  17. Daniel 5:21—bathed (“wet” ASV; totally soaked with water)

The only possible texts that could be distorted, to argue for sprinkling, would be the two that speak of Nebuchadnezzar’s body being bathed with the dew from heaven. A desperate theologian might contend that the dew image reflected sprinkling.

The point being illustrated in these passages, however, is not the manner of the water’s application. Rather, it is the fact that the king was soaked with the water, hence ebaphe is appropriately rendered as “bathed.” In such an instance the term would have been used hyperbolically (an exaggeration for emphasis), signifying that it was as if the king had been immersed in water.

Professor Edward J. Young, a Presbyterian scholar, rendered the term as “drenched” (107). Brown, Driver and Briggs defined the basic word as “dip, wet” (1109).

One simply cannot array these two passages from Daniel against all of the others that clearly distinguish bapto (immerse), from cheo (pour), and rhantizo (sprinkle). These verbs, as employed literally, indicate different actions.

I would suggest to our friend, who feels he has precedent to the contrary, that he must produce the evidence supporting his assertion, and we will examine each case to evaluate the credibility of the argument.

The command to be baptized, as conveyed in the English New Testament, cannot be implemented by either the sprinkling or pouring of water upon the candidate’s head. Neither action replicates the burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, as pictured in Romans 6:3-4.

“Or are you ignorant that all we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him through baptism unto 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.”

  • Brown, Francis, S.R. Driver and Charles Briggs (1907), Hebrew English Lexicon of the Old Testament (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, Co.).
  • Young, Edward J. (1949), The Prophecy of Daniel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans).