So, by now we should have a pretty good picture of the origin and symbolism of spiritual cleansing, immersion and baptism. Now let’s have a look at the mode of baptism, as it is described and commanded in the New Testament.
When you look at the practice of baptism in the New Testament, we can conclude that baptism was carried out in one way: the person being baptized was immersed or put completely under the water and then brought back up again. So, baptism by immersion is therefore the mode of baptism. This is evident for several reasons:
The meaning of the Greek word
The Greek word ‘baptizō’ means ‘to plunge, dip, to immerse something in water’. If any New Testament author had wanted to indicate that people were sprinkled with water, a perfectly good Greek word ‘rhantizō’ (meaning ‘to sprinkle’) would have been used instead.
The mode of baptism
Secondly, as I said before, the word ‘immerse’ is appropriate and required in several New Testament passages. In Mark 1:5, people were baptized “in the Jordan river”; ‘in,’ not ‘beside’ or ‘by’ or ‘near’. Mark also tells us that when Jesus had been baptized He came “up out of the water” (Mark 1:10). In order to come up out of the water, you first have to be completely in the water. John’s gospel tells us that John the Baptist “was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there” (John 3:23). Much water was apparently a requirement for being able to baptize someone, and sprinkling, for instance, does not qualify for that requirement. When Philip had shared the Gospel with the Ethiopian eunuch, it is recorded in Acts 8:36, 38, 39, “As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, ‘Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?’ And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; and the eunuch no longer saw him, but went on his way rejoicing”.
The symbolism of baptism
Thirdly, the symbolism of union with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection seems to require baptism by immersion. Paul says in Romans 6:3-4, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life”, and in Colossians 2:12, Paul says, “Having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.” Now this truth of being buried and raised with Christ is clearly symbolized in baptism by immersion. When the candidate for baptism goes down into the water, it is a picture of going down into the grave and being buried. Coming up out of the water is then a picture of being raised with Christ to walk in newness of life.
The mode of baptism in the New Testament clearly also echoes the mikvah (immersion for spiritual cleansing) used in the old Jewish culture and traditions, representing the grave and the womb.