The answer to this question is hinted at by the Greek word translated in the Bible as “baptize“: baptizo. This Greek term means “to dip or immerse.” Judging from the word pictures of Romans 6:4 and Colossians 2:12, the original mode of baptism in the apostolic church probably was immersion.
Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. ( Romans 6:4-6 NKJV)
In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. ( Colossians 2:11-12 NKJV)
Undeniably, the spiritual meaning of baptism as described in these passages is best illustrated by the symbolism of immersion. This is acknowledged by prominent, non-Baptist theologians 1 and church historians. 2
If I wasn’t baptized by immersion, do I need to be re-baptized?
We believe that the biblical standard is adult believer’s baptism by immersion. Adult believer’s baptism by immersion is an important symbolic act of identification with Christ. However, because salvation is by grace through faith in Christ, it is not absolutely necessary that you be baptized as an adult. Neither is it absolutely necessary that you be baptized by immersion. (See the ATQ article, Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation?).
In the final analysis, you must follow your own conscience in this matter. Most couples living in a common-law marriage, after becoming followers of Christ, desire to profess their commitment to each other in a public ceremony in spite of the fact that they could be considered already “legally” married. Similarly, many people decide that they should willingly demonstrate their symbolic union with Christ through baptism by immersion ( Acts 9:18-19; Acts 22:16; Romans 6:1-11 ) even if they have already been baptized as a child or by another mode of baptism.
- Even though he was a Reformed theologian, in a tradition that practices infant baptism, Karl Barth wrote:
“The Greek word baptizo and the German word Taufen (from Tiefe, “depth”) originally and properly describe the process by which a man or an object is completely immersed in water and then withdrawn from it again. Primitive baptism carried out in this manner had its mode, exactly like the circumcision of the Old Testament, the character of a direct threat to life, succeeded immediately by the corresponding deliverance and preservation, the raising from baptism. One can hardly deny that baptism carried out as immersion—as it was in the West until well on into the Middle Ages—showed what was represented in far more expressive fashion than did the affusion which later became customary, especially when this affusion was reduced from a real wetting to a sprinkling and eventually in practice to a mere moistening with as little water as possible . . . . Is the last word on the matter to be, that facility of administration , health, and propriety are important reasons for doing otherwise [i.e., for administering baptism in other than its original form]? Baptism vividly symbolizes our identification with Jesus Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection” (Teaching, pp. 9-10). Back To Article
- “As to the method of baptism, it is probably that the original form was by immersion, complete or partial. That is implied in Romans 6:4 and Colossians 2:12. Pictures in the catacombs would seem to indicate that the submersion was not always complete. The fullest early evidence is that of the Teaching:
Baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit in living (running) water. But if thou hast not living water, then baptize in other water; and if thou art not able in cold, then in warm. But if thou hast neither, then pour water upon the head thrice in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
“Affusion was therefore a recognized form of baptism. Cyprian cordially upheld it. Immersion continued the prevailing practice till the late Middle Ages in the West; in the East it so remains. The Teaching and Justin show that fasting and an expression of belief, together with an agreement to live the Christian life, were necessary prerequisites.
“By the time of Tertullian, an elaborate ritual had developed. The ceremony began with the formal renunciation by the candidate of the devil and all his works. Then followed the threefold immersion. On coming from the fount, the newly baptized tasted a mixture of milk and honey, in symbolism of his condition as a new-born babe in Christ. Too, that succeeded anointing with oil and the laying on of the hands of the baptizer in token of the reception of the Holy Spirit.” (Williston Walker, A History of the Christian Church, p. 96). Back To Article