on Matthew 3 :6
Were baptized - In what form baptism was originally administered, has been deemed a subject worthy of serious dispute. Were the people dipped or sprinkled? for it is certain βαπτω and βαπτιζω mean both. They were all dipped, say some. Can any man suppose that it was possible for John to dip all the inhabitants of Jerusalem and Judea, and of all the country round about the Jordan? Were both men and women dipped, for certainly both came to his baptism? This could never have comported either with safety or with decency. Were they dipped in their clothes? This would have endangered their lives, if they had not with them change of raiment: and as such a baptism as John's (however administered) was, in several respects, a new thing in Judea, it is not at all likely that the people would come thus provided. But suppose these were dipped, which I think it would be impossible to prove, does it follow that, in all regions of the world, men and women must be dipped, in order to be evangelically baptized? In the eastern countries, bathings were frequent, because of the heat of the climate, it being there so necessary to cleanliness and health; but could our climate, or a more northerly one, admit of this with safety, for at least three-fourths of the year? We may rest assured that it could not. And may we not presume, that if John had opened his commission in the north of Great Britain, for many months of the year, he would have dipped neither man nor woman, unless he could have procured a tepid bath? Those who are dipped or immersed in water, in the name of the Holy Trinity, I believe to be evangelically baptized - those who are washed or sprinkled with water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, I believe to be equally so; and the repetition of such a baptism I believe to be profane. Others have a right to believe the contrary, if they see good. After all, it is the thing signified, and not the mode, which is the essential part of the sacrament. See the note on Mark 10:16.
Confessing their sins - Εξομολογουμενοι, earnestly acknowledging that their sins were their own. And thus taking the whole blame upon themselves, and laying nothing to the charge of God or man. This is essential to true repentance; and, till a man take the whole blame on himself, he cannot feel the absolute need he has of casting his soul on the mercy of God, that he may be saved.
on Matthew 3 :6
Were baptized - The word "baptize" βαπτίζω baptizo signifies originally to tinge, to dye, to stain, as those who dye clothes. It here means to cleanse or wash anything by the application of water. See the notes at Mark 7:4. Washing, or ablution, was much in use among the Jews, as one of the rites of their religion, Numbers 19:7; Hebrews 9:10. It was not customary, however, among them to baptize those who were converted to the Jewish religion until after the Babylonian captivity. At the time of John, and for some time previous, they had been accustomed to administer a rite of baptism, or washing, to those who became proselytes to their religion; that is, to those who were converted from being Gentiles. This was done to signify that they renounced the errors and worship of the pagans, and as significant of their becoming pure by embracing a new religion.
It was a solemn rite of washing, significant of cleansing from their former sins, and purifying them for the special service of Yahweh. John found this custom in use; and as he was calling the Jews to a new dispensation - to a change in their form of religion - he administered this rite of baptism (washing), to signify the cleansing from sin, the adopting of the new dispensation, or the fitness for the pure reign of the Messiah. He applied an old ordinance to a new purpose. As it was used by him it was a significant rite, or ceremony, intended to denote the putting away of impurity, and a purpose to be pure in heart and life. The Hebrew word טבל Tabal which is rendered by the word "baptize," occurs in the Old Testament in the following places, namely: Leviticus 4:6; Leviticus 14:6, Leviticus 14:51; Numbers 19:18; Ruth 2:14; Exodus 12:22; Deuteronomy 33:24; Joshua 3:15; Job 9:31; Leviticus 9:9; 1 Samuel 14:27 (twice); 2 Kings 5:14; 2 Kings 8:15; Genesis 37:31; Joshua 3:15.
It occurs in no other places; and from a careful examination of these passages its meaning among the Jews is to be derived. From these passages it will be seen that its radical meaning is neither to sprinkle nor to immerse. It is to dip, commonly for the purpose of sprinkling, or for some other purpose.
Thus, to dip the finger, i. e., a part of the finger, in blood enough to sprinkle with, Leviticus 4:6. To dip a living bird, and cedar wood, and scarlet, and hyssop, in the blood of the bird that was killed, for the purpose of sprinkling; where it could not be that all these would be immersed the blood of a single bird, Leviticus 14:6. To dip hyssop in the water, to sprinkle with, Numbers 19:18. To dip a portion of bread in vinegar, Ruth 2:14. To dip the feet in oil - an emblem of plenty, Deuteronomy 33:24. To dye, or stain, Ezekiel 23:15. To plunge into a ditch, so as to defile the clothes, Job 9:31. To dip the end of a staff in honey, 1 Samuel 14:27. To dip in Jordan - a declaration respecting Naaman the Syrian, 2 Kings 5:14. The direction of the prophet was to wash himself 2 Kings 5:10, and this shows that he understood washing and baptizing to mean the same thing. To dip a towel, or quilt, so as to spread it on the face of a man to smother him, 2 Kings 8:15.
In none of these cases can it be shown that the meaning of the word is to immerse entirely But in nearly all the cases the notion of applying the water to a part only of the person or object, though it was by dipping, is necessarily to be supposed.
In the New Testament the word βαπτίζω baptizo, in various forms, occurs 80 times; 57 with reference to persons. Of these 57 times, it is followed by "in" ἐν en 18 times, as in water, in the desert, in Jordan; 9 times by "into" εἰς eis, as into the name, etc., into Christ; once it is followed by ἐπί epi Acts 2:38, and twice by "for" ὑπέρ huper, 1 Corinthians 15:29.
The following remarks may be made in view of the investigation of the meaning of this word:
1. That in baptism it is possible, perhaps probable, that the notion of dipping would be the one that would occur to a Jew.
2. It would not occur to him that the word meant of necessity to dip entirely, or to immerse completely.
3. The notion of washing would be the one which would most readily occur, as connected with a religious rite. See the cases of Naaman, and Mark 7:4 (Greek).
4. It cannot be proved from an examination of the passages in the Old and New Testaments that the idea of a complete immersion was ever connected with the word, or that it ever occurred in any case. If those who were baptized went into the water, it is still not proved by that, that the only mode of baptism was by immersion, since it might have been by pouring, though they were in the water.
5. It is not positively enjoined anywhere in the New Testament that the only mode of baptism shall be by an entire submersion of the body under water. Without such a precept it cannot be made obligatory on people of all ages, nations, and climes, even if it were probable that in the mild climate of Judea it was the usual mode.
In Jordan - The River Jordan is the eastern boundary of Palestine or Judea. It rises in Mount Lebanon, on the north of Palestine, and runs in a southerly direction, underground, for 13 miles, and then bursts forth with a great noise at Cesarea Philippi. It then unites with two small streams, and runs some miles farther, and empties into the Lake Merom. From this small lake it flows 13 miles, and then falls into the Lake Gennesareth, otherwise called the Sea of Tiberias or the Sea of Galilee. Through the middle of this lake, which is 15 miles long and from 6 miles to 9 miles wide, it flows undisturbed, and preserves a southerly direction for about 70 miles, and then falls into the Dead Sea. The Jordan, at its entrance into the Dead Sea, is about 90 feet wide. It flows in many places with great rapidity, and when swollen by rains pours like an impetuous torrent. It formerly regularly overflowed its banks in time of harvest, that is, in March, in some places 600 paces, Joshua 3:15; 1 Chronicles 12:15. These banks are covered with small trees and shrubs, and afford a convenient dwelling for wild beasts. Allusion is often made to these thickets in the sacred Scriptures, Jeremiah 49:19; Jeremiah 50:44. On the reason why a river, or a place abounding in water, was selected for administering baptism, see the notes at John 3:23.
on Matthew 3 :6