Here are some samples of Greek literature that were written before or around the same time as the New Testament. They all use a particular word in Greek and you’ll find the English translation of this word in boldface. Read the passages and see if you can come up with an idea of what the word means:
On this Aristophanes observed: “Now that, Pausanias, is a good suggestion of yours, that we make a point of consulting our comfort in our cups: for I myself am one of those who got such a soaking yesterday.” (source)
The best measure of wine is neither much nor very little; for it is the cause of either grief or madness. It pleases the wine to be the fourth, mixed with three Nymphs. Then it is most suited for the bridal chamber too, but if it breathe too fiercely, it puts the Loves to flight and plunges us in a sleep which is neighbour to death. (source)
If the spear should fall into the sea, it is not lost, for it is jointed of oak and pine, so that when the oak sinks on account of its weight, it causes the other end to rise, and thus is easily recovered. (source)
Many died without an enemy’s stroke as the bodies piled up in the panic. There was crowding and it was difficult to keep one’s feet in the stream. Worst of all, as the rain came down heavily, the river swept downstream as a raging torrent and carried the men with it, drowning them as they struggled to swim in their heavy armour. (source)
At this time, too, it is said that he was holding many papers in his hand and would not let them go, though missiles were flying at him and he was immersed in the sea, but held them above water with one hand and swam with the other; his little boat had been sunk at the outset. (source)
So Holofernes commanded his guards not to hinder her. She remained in the camp three days. She went out each night to the valley of Bethulia, and bathed at the spring in the camp. (source)
He that washeth himself after the touching of a dead body, if he touch it again, what availeth his washing? (source)
If the title of this post hasn’t already given it away, these are all variants of the Greek word, baptizo (βαπτίζω), from whence we get the English word, “baptize.” The translations vary, but they all carry the idea of submersion. Most are submersions into water, but “plunges us in a sleep” shows that figurative submersions are possible, too. Notice that the word itself does not imply a ceremony.
There is a tendency to restrict words to certain religious meanings and apply these meanings elsewhere. Baptism is a good example of this. We are commanded to be baptized and to baptize others, but some well-meaning Christians apply the water baptism commanded in the Great Commission (Matt 28:19) to the baptism of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:13), then they dabble John’s Baptism of repentance into the mix (Matt 3:1-6) and all of the sudden we get into some really confusing and false teachings.
The word, baptize, simply means to submerge. Remember that next time you see baptism in the Bible and allow the context to determine who is submerging whom into what. Also, if you are drinking coffee during your Bible study and posting pictures to facebook to show off how holy you are, you can take a donut, submerge it into your coffee, and tell everyone that you baptized this morning. Just sayin’