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Developing a
Systematic Messianic Theology

“The purpose of careful theological formulations is not to put barriers in the way of people who are seeking salvation, but to define clearly the truths upon which genuine [Biblical] faith rests, so that people will not be misled by false doctrines.” [Robert M. Bowman, Jr. Why You Should Believe in the Trinity: An Answer to Jehovah's Witnesses. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1989, p. 18.]

What the Bible Teaches About
Believer’s Baptism
Dr. Ari Levitt-Sawyer

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ContentsLesson 1Lesson 2Lesson 3Lesson 4GlossaryAppendix

Lesson Two:
The Vocabulary of “Baptism”


Bapto (baptw) is the Greek word from which the word “baptize” is directly formed. It is a primary verb which means to immerse in or to totally cover with a fluid,[1] and which appears only three times[2] in the Apostolic Scriptures (Luke 16:24; John 13:26; Rev. 19:13). It appears in several second-century non-biblical papyri in reference to fabric that had been colored by being dipped into dye.[3]

Embapto (embaptw) combines en (en), into, with bapto to signify to dip into.[4][5] It also appears only twice in the Apostolic Scriptures and refers to dipping the sop of bread into the dish to be offered to Yehudah (Judas) during the Last Seder (Matt. 26:23; Mark 14:20).


Baptizo (baptizw) is a form of bapto, to dip, and “was used among the Greeks to signify the dyeing of a garment [by dipping it into the vat of dye], or the drawing of water by dipping a vessel into another, etc. Plutarchus uses it of the drawing of wine by dipping the cup into the bowl (Alexis, 67) and Plato, metaphorically, of being overwhelmed with questions (Euthydemus, 277 D).”[6] As late as the 6th century C.E. the word is used of a “submerged” boat.[7] One of the earliest documented uses of the word is found in a papyrus from approximately 153 B.C.E. where it is used to describe one being “flooded,” or totally overwhelmed with calamities.[8] Strong translates it as “to make whelmed (i.e., fully wet).”[9]

the word baptizw [baptizo] has both a primary and secondary meaning. In its primary sense it indicates an intusposition, a physical envelopment in an element, which element has power to influence or change that which it envelops. In its secondary meaning, however, baptizw … departs somewhat from the original physical aspect and refers to one thing being brought under the transforming power or influence of another thing. None could speak with more authority respecting the precise meaning of baptizw than Dr. James W. Dale because of his extensive research. He defines this word in its secondary meaning thus: ‘Whatever is capable of thoroughly changing the character, state, or condition of any object, is capable of baptizing that object; and by such change of character, state, or condition does, in fact, baptize it’ (Classic Baptism, 2nd ed., p. 354)."[10]

Thus we can see that baptizw [baptizo] (and therefore all of the forms derived from baptizo) carries with it the strong image of an object being totally inundated or submerged into the medium of baptism, with the result that the object is so affected by the process as to take on the very character or nature of the baptizing agent.


Baptisma (baptisma), baptism, consisting of the process of immersion, submersion, and emergence (from bapto, to dip), is used (a) of John’s baptism, (b) of Believers’ baptism, (c) of the overwhelming afflictions and judgments to which the Lord voluntarily submitted on the Cross, e.g., Luke 12:50; (d) of the sufferings His followers would experience, not of a vicarious character, but in fellowship with the sufferings of their Master.”[11]

In Mark 10:38 the Lord refers to His suffering and death as a “baptism.”[12] Wuest translates this passage: “Are you able to be drinking the cup which I am drinking, or with the immersion [baptisma] with which I am to be overwhelmed [baptizomai], are you able to be immersed [baptisthenai]? … And the immersion [baptisma] with which I am to be overwhelmed [baptizomai], with that immersion [baptisma] you will be overwhelmed [baptisthesesthe].”[13]

Baptismos (baptismoV), as distinct from baptisma, is used of the ceremonial washing of articles[14] as required under the tradition of the Pharisees. It appears only three times in the most reliable manuscripts: Mark 7:4; Heb. 6:2; 9:10. Though KJV and NKJV include it in Mark 7:8, it is omitted in RSV, NASB, NIV, TEV, CEV, ANT, Wuest, and Moffatt. Baptismos is generally rendered “washings” or “ablutions” (ceremonial washings) except in Heb. 6:2 where KJV, NKJV, NIV, TEV use “baptisms” (“purifying,” ANT; “ceremonies of washing,” CEV).

Believers’ Baptism

On the Day of Pentecost the first 3,000 individuals to come to this new form of Judaism presented themselves to Shimon Kefa[15] and the Shliachim (Apostles) for a “new” tevilah, a tevilah of identification with the risen Yeshua, “Whom God has made … both LORD and Mashiach” (Acts 2:36). To those who heard Kefa’s message that day, this phrase had a huge significance. What the Hebrew-speaking people present heard Kefa say was this: “Elohim [the “Creator-and-Judge-and-Ruler” name for God] has made this Yeshua, whom you crucified, both ADONAI [the “Covenant-and-Relationship” name for God] and Mashiach” [the Anointed One — the Jews anointed three classes of people: prophets, priests, and kings]. Kefa’s message was unmistakable: as demonstrated through the power of His resurrection, Yeshua ben Yosef, the Nazarene carpenter, was declared by the Creator and Ruler of the cosmos to be not only the long-awaited Messiah, but also the Covenant-Making God Who had walked in the flesh with Adam and Avraham, and Who had given the Torah to Moshe on Sinai. Those who received that message submitted themselves for tevilah to signify their rejection of “this corrupt generation” and their identification with the followers of Yeshua. Ever since that day, the true Miqra of Yeshua HaMashiach (the true “Elect” of God) have practiced the immersion of believers in water (though following a distorted version of the traditional Jewish form of tevilah) as a first act of obedience to the risen Lord and a symbol of their submission to His Lordship (Acts 2:41).

The Meaning of Baptism

We have already demonstrated that true baptism consists both of Ruach HaKodesh’s immersion (baptism) of the believer into Yeshua and of Yeshua’s immersion (baptism) of the believer into Ruach HaKodesh, and that these both occur instantaneously and simultaneously at the moment the believer comes into a saving faith in HaMelech Yeshua HaMashiach (the Lord Jesus Christ). They (the two simultaneous baptisms) are, in fact, the very process or mechanics of salvation in that the very concept of salvation means that the Elect Believer (whether Jew or Gentile) is positionally “in Messiah,” having been placed there by Ruach HaKodesh at the instant of salvation, and is indwelt by Elohim, the Living God, in the Person of Ruach HaKodesh.

The act of water baptism is a reenactment, a one-act play, an illustrated sermon, depicting the death, burial, and resurrection of HaMelech Yeshua HaMashiach, and signifies the identification of the one being immersed with Yeshua’s completed act of redemption.

Don't you know that those of us who have been immersed into the Messiah Yeshua have been immersed into his death? Through immersion into his death we were buried with him; so that just as, through the glory of the Father, the Messiah was raised from the dead, likewise we too might live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will also be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was put to death on the execution-stake with him, so that the entire body of our sinful propensities might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For someone who has died has been cleared from sin. Now since we died with the Messiah, we trust that we will also live with him. We know that the Messiah has been raised from the dead, never to die again; death has no authority over him. For his death was a unique event that need not be repeated; but his life, he keeps on living for God. In the same way, consider yourselves to be dead to sin but alive for God, by your union with the Messiah Yeshua. (Rom. 6:3-1)

As a reenactment of the death, burial, and resurrection of Yeshua, it is also an illustrated sermon, a one-act play depicting the Gospel of Yeshua:

Now, brothers, I must remind you of the Good News which I proclaimed to you, and which you received, and on which you have taken your stand, … the Messiah died for our sins, in accordance with what the Tanakh says; and he was buried; and he was raised on the third day, in accordance with what the Tanakh says; and he was seen by Kefa, then by the Twelve. (1 Cor. 15:1-5)

Sha’ul (Paul) continues his presentation of the Gospel in this letter by introducing and developing the argument that Yeshua’s resurrection is the proof of the ultimate resurrection of the dead (vv. 12-19). Thus, by extension, the baptism of the believer also demonstrates his or her faith in the final resurrection of the dead.

The Mandate of Baptism

Yeshua HaMashiach Himself, immediately prior to His ascension, established tevilah as the second “ordinance” of the Holy Community [the first was the memorial aspect of Passover, Luke 22:19].

Yeshua came and talked with them. He said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make people from all nations into talmidim, immersing them into the reality of the Father, the Son and the Ruach HaKodesh, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember! I will be with you always, yes, even until the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:18-20)

This commandment was repeatedly confirmed by the shliachim, who routinely supervised the immersion (tevilah) of new believers in “living water” (Acts 2:38-41; 8:12, 38; 9:18; 10:47-48; 16:15, 33; 18:8; 19:5).

The Method of Baptism

How is the baptismal water to be applied?

The very best argument for immersion as the appropriate form of water baptism is the verbal, plenary inspiration of Scripture, that is, that Ruach HaKodesh (the Holy Spirit) inspired the very words, all of them, down to the very letters in the words, every yod and tittle, that were used by the human authors of the Sacred Text. Had Ruach HaKodesh intended for water to be sprinkled upon the believer, He would surely have chosen the word rantizw (rhantizo) “to sprinkle.” Had He intended for water to be poured over the believer, He would have chosen xew (cheo) “to pour,” or ballw (ballo), “to cast or throw.”

With the ability to say precisely what He means and to mean precisely what He says, the Author of all human languages chose the word baptizw, baptizo, to describe the method of application of water as a symbol of the true baptism.

We have discussed at length the vocabulary of baptism, and we have found that the word itself means to dip, to submerge, to immerse, to overwhelm, to completely envelope.

Likewise we have discussed that “Believer’s baptism” is based upon Hebrew tevilah, which is a total immersion in “living water.”

We have also discovered that water baptism is symbolic of Spirit baptism in which the believer is placed into Yeshua. Just as the believer did not have a little bit of Yeshua splashed onto him or her by Ruach HaKodesh, so it is inappropriate that a little bit of water being splashed onto him or her can demonstrate that experience. The form of baptism which best represents Spirit baptism is obviously immersion, in which the believer is placed into the water just as he or she was placed into HaMashiach.

Baptism is also symbolic of the death, burial, and resurrection of Yeshua HaMashiach. Yeshua did not have a handful of dirt or rocks tossed onto His body, but was rather placed bodily and completely into a tomb, which was then sealed over Him. Only immersion can adequately portray that burial and His subsequent resurrection from the grave. Immersion is the only form of water baptism that does not do violence to the very language of Scripture.

Who is to be baptized?

Every single time that Believer’s baptism is mentioned in Scripture, it is invariably a conscious act of obedience which is preceded by an open declaration of saving faith in Yeshua HaMashiach. We have already discussed that baptism in water is a reenactment of the Spirit’s baptism of the believer into Mashiach, which has already taken place in the life of the believer. We may conclude, therefore, that water baptism is to be reserved for those who:

It follows, then, that baptism is not to be administered to infants, to the unconscious, or to any other individual who lacks the capacity to experience and express that faith, to make a conscious decision toward obedience, and to understand the significance of the act they are performing.

Who is to do the baptizing?

We have also seen that the process of immersion of believers in “living water” is patterned directly on the ancient Jewish practice of tevilah in which the individual immerses him/herself in “living water,” which is the flowing water of a stream or a lake, or a specially constructed mikvah that provides “living water.” The process is witnessed, not performed by, another individual. Thus we hold that the practice of a member of the clergy immersing a new believer in a baptismal tank is inappropriate, and does not meet the Biblical pattern or requirement.

Into what are we to be baptized?

Rom. 6:3 Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Messiah have been baptized into His death?

Gal. 3:27 For all of you who were baptized into Messiah have clothed yourself with Messiah.

1 Cor. 12:13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.

The believer is baptized into Mashiach and into the Body of Mashiach, which is the true Miqra, the invisible and universal “Holy Community.”

1 Cor. 12 12For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Messiah. 13For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. 14For the body is not one member, but many.

This “one body” cannot possibly be the local congregation or assembly, for there is not just one local assembly, but many. Only the true universal “Body of Messiah” (the Miqra, the “Called Out”) is one. Therefore, the one body into which the believer is baptized can only be the universal Body and Bride of Yeshua, whose individual members affiliate themselves with many local congregations, and who are faithful to the true Apostolic doctrine.

Sha’ul’s rebuke to the local assembly at Corinth lends further support to the understanding that water baptism is to be into the universal Body rather than into the local assembly or into a “denomination.”

1 Cor. 1  10Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Adonai Yeshua HaMashiach, that you all agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment. 11For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you. 12Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, “I am of Sha'ul,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Kefa,” and “I of Mashiach.” 13Has Mashiach been divided? Sha'ul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Sha'ul? 14I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15that no man should say you were baptized in my name.

How often is water baptism to be repeated?

There is no Scriptural precedent for “believer’s baptism” to ever be repeated. The only Biblical reference to believers ever being baptized twice is for those who had performed the tevilah of Yochanan as their first water “baptism” prior to performing their tevilah as a believer. Once a believer has been baptized by Ruach HaKodesh into the true and universal Body of Mashiach, and has given public witness to that Spirit baptism by his or her immersion in water, there is no Scriptural basis whatever for further “baptism” into any denomination or into any local congregation of believers.

Eph. 4  4There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.

Why should baptism precede membership in the local congregation?

Since the local assembly is supposedly a regional assembly of members of the true and universal Miqra, membership in the universal Miqra is prerequisite to membership in the local assembly or congregation of that Body. The local congregation is therefore to be composed only of true believers in Yeshua HaMashiach. Therefore, Spirit baptism (that is, the very process of salvation) into the Body of Yeshua, which is the universal Miqra (“the Elect”), is therefore always a prerequisite to membership in a local assembly of believers.

Since Believer’s Tevilah (immersion in water) is a public testimony commemorating the Spiritual baptism that has already occurred in the life of the newly born-again believer, and since HaMelech Yeshua HaMashiach Himself is the One who established tevilah as an “ordinance” for the Miqra, then it logically follows that tevilah as a first act of obedience by the new believer should therefore always precede membership in the local assembly (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 8:12, 35-38; 10:34-48; 16:14-15, 31-32).

The Formula for Baptism

In the Apostolic Scriptures we find four different “formulas” for tevilah. We find “in the Name of Yeshua HaMashiach” used in Acts 2:38, “in the Name of Adonai” in Acts 10:48, and “in the Name of the Adonai Yeshua” in Acts 8:16 and 19:5. However, the formula that the Yeshua HaMashiach specified is recorded in Matthew 28:19: “… immersing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

Understanding that there is nothing either mystical or magical about either the action or the formula related to that action, it nevertheless behooves us to follow the commandment of the Lord as closely as possible. Therefore, if there is in fact a “correct” formula for the baptism of believer in water, it should be that which our Lord specified: “… in the Name of the Father (Abba) and the Son (haBen Yeshua) and the Holy Spirit (Ruach HaKodesh).”


  1. James Strong. Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance. Nashville: Crusade Bible Publishers, (n.d.). [RETURN]

 2. George V. Wigram. The Englishman’s Greek Concordance of the New Testament, 9th ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1974. [RETURN]

 3. James Hope Moulton and George Milligan. The Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1982. [RETURN]

 4. William Edwyn Vine. An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words. Old Tappan: Fleming H. Revell, 1966. [RETURN]

 5. Wigram, op. cit. [RETURN]

 6. Vine, op. cit. [RETURN]

 7. Moulton and Milligan, op. cit. [RETURN]

 8. Ibid. [RETURN]

 9. Strong, op. cit. [RETURN]

10. Chafer, op. cit., v. 6, p. 139. [RETURN]

11. Vine, op. cit. [RETURN]

12. Moulton and Milligan, op. cit. [RETURN]

13. Kenneth S. Wuest. The New Testament: An Expanded Translation. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. eerdmans, 1961. [RETURN]

14. Vine, op. cit. [RETURN]

15. Simon Peter [RETURN]

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