[B-Greek] B-Greek BAPTIZW/BAPTIZOMAI (part 3)

Carl W.Conrad cwconrad at artsci.wustl.edu
Thu Oct 25 08:33:50 EDT 2007

I want to finish up what I have to say about usage of this verb in  
the GNT, noting again that it is speculative and tentative and  
knowing that few may find my thinking about BAPTIZW/BAPTIZOMAI very  
persuasive. I want simply to sketch out my thoughts about  
possibilities. I'll try to be brief, and I really have no intention  
of continuing the discussion beyond this point: there is simply too  
much having to do with the question that is disputed or open to  

I wrote in part 2 of my lengthy response to Iver:

> I've been doing a lot of thinking about this verb and the process  
> which it represents; most of my thinking has been outside the box  
> and speculative, something I think I need to state clearly at the  
> outset. Whatever I suggest is tentative, and I can't help but feel  
> that there are hermeneutical and theological factors in play with  
> respect to how we think about the evidence that we must sift here  
> when we talk about whether the baptizee undergoes the process of  
> baptism voluntarily and deliberately -- and is therefore more than  
> a "patient" -- or whether the baptizee is manipulated, directed, or  
> otherwise the passive object of what the baptizer does to him or  
> her. It may well be also that our views regarding divine governance  
> and human freedom of choice are at play in how we understand the  
> process of baptism as represented by the GNT verb BAPTIZW/ 
> BAPTIZOMAI. I really want to avoid discussion of such views and of  
> hermeneutical and theological factors altogether; I mention them  
> because it seems to me that they may well influence how we are  
> inclined to think about the process of baptism.

I dealt with some of these matters in (part 2) There remains one  
other item with regard to the usage of the voice-forms of BAPTIZW/ 
BAPTIZOMAI in the GNT that I need to address, the key issue of them all:

(3) probabilities of lexical determinations of meaning and usage

> CC:
> For my part, I am not at all convinced that BAPTIZW/BAPTIZOMAI in the
> distinct sense of ritual baptism really does differ in grammatical
> formation from the more basic verb BAPTIZW/BAPTIZOMAI with the sense
> of "bathe ritually." I cite the relevant parts of the BDAG entry:
> --------
> 1. wash ceremonially for purpose of purification, wash, purify, of a
> broad range of repeated ritual washing rooted in Israelite tradition
> (cp. Just., D. 46, 2) Mk 7:4; Lk 11:38; Ox 840, 15.—WBrandt, Jüd.
> Reinheitslehre u. ihre Beschreibg. in den Ev. 1910; ABüchler, The Law
> of Purification in Mk 7:1–23: ET 21, 1910, 34–40; JDöller, D.
> Reinheits- u. Speisegesetze d. ATs 1917; JJeremias, TZ 5, ’49,  
> 418–
> 28. See 1QS 5:8–23; 2:25–3:12; 4:20–22.
> 2. to use water in a rite for purpose of renewing or establishing a
> relationship w. God, plunge, dip, wash, baptize. The transliteration
> ‘baptize’ signifies the ceremonial character that NT narratives
> accord such cleansing, but the need of qualifying statements or
> contextual coloring in the documents indicates that the term ß. was
> not nearly so technical as the transliteration suggests.
> ---------
> Iver:
> The dictionary is rather confused between technical usage and  
> different senses, and it fails to
> account adequately for those different senses. Louw and Nida is  
> somewhat better, but still
> inadequate.

Let's add LEH:
	2 Kgs 5:14; Is 21:4; Jdt 12:7; Sir 34:25 M: to dip oneself 2 Kgs  
5:14; to wash Jdt 12:7 ἡ ἀνομία με βαπτίζει [hH  
ANOMIA ME BAPTIZEI] I am imbued with transgression Is 21:4

and Barclay Newman's (well-named) "Concise Greek-English Dictionary  
of the NT":
	βαπτίζω [BAPTIZW] baptize; wash

and New American Standard Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible: Greek  
	907. βαπτίζω BAPTIZW; from 911; to dip, sink: —Baptist (3),  
baptize(9), baptized(51), baptizes(1), ceremonially washed (1),  
undergo (1).

I cited only the first part of BDAG's entry on BAPTIZW; it's much  
more thorough than anything else that I've seen on the lexicography  
of the word. Iver speaks of confusion "between technical usage and  
different senses" but I wonder whether we can speak of technical  
usage at all before the period when acknowledged institutional  
regulations governing Christian baptism come into evidence. LEH  
focuses, of course, on LXX usage and won't tell us anything about NT  
usage in the sense that we usually translate with some form of  
"baptize" -- but (a) it does seem to indicate that the middle sense  
"dip oneself" is present in the LXX, and (b) it shows a figurative  
sense in Isaiah 21:4 (where the LXX seems at great variance from the  
Hebrew of MT): the LXX translator was using BAPTIZW in a sense  
approaching "flood" or "engulf."

In the GNT we certainly have a variety of usages. of 77 instances (as  
tagged in Accordance), I find the breakdown by voice-morphology thus:
	Active 30x (Present 17x, Imperfect 2x, Future 3x, Aorist 8x)
	Middle 12x (Present 4x, Imperfect 5x, Aorist 2x, Perfect 1x)
	Passive 35x (Future 3x, Aorist 32x)

Some will understand some or most of the 12 Middle forms as  
semantically passive, although  the verb in Mark 7:4 (ἐὰν μὴ  
βαπτίσωνται οὐκ ἐσθίουσιν [EAN MH  
BAPTISWNTAI OUK ESQIOUSIN) is surely semantically middle; I have  
difficulty understanding the argument that the verb in Acts 22:16  
(ἀναστὰς βάπτισαι καὶ ἀπόλουσαι  
hAMARTIAS SOU]) is semantically passive (it's said that it can't mean  
"baptize yourself" -- and I agree --, and can't mean "have yourself  
baptized,"  but must mean "be baptized." Of the passive (QH) forms I  
would not contest the view that those instances with a hUPO +  
genitive agent constructions are semantically passive, but I'm not at  
all sure about many of the instances that don't have the agent  
construction: 1 Cor 10:2 καὶ πάντες εἰς τὸν  
Μωϋσῆν ἐβαπτίσθησαν ἐν τῇ νεφέλῃ  
καὶ ἐν τῇ θαλάσσῃ [KAI PANTES EIS TON MWUSHN  
several of the aorist passive forms in QH are semantically middle  
(EBAPTISQHN having become the more common form for EBAPTISAMHN). Luke  
11:38 is a clear instance of middle semantics in the QH aorist: ὁ  
δὲ Φαρισαῖος ἰδὼν ἐθαύμασεν ὅτι  
οὐ πρῶτον ἐβαπτίσθη πρὸ τοῦ  

Unquestionably BAPTIZW is used (1) transitively in the active voice  
with an accusative complement, often with an additional phrase  
indicating instrument: water, fire, spirit; (2) transitively in the  
middle voice in a direct reflexive sense with an implicit patient  
("immerse oneself"), especially in the sense of ritual purification;  
(3) in the passive voice as passive transformations of the transitive  
active construction; I suspect that several of the passive-voice  
forms are semantically middle.

> How the baptism actually took place, whether the baptizer went into  
> the water together with the
> baptizee or not, is not specified anywhere in these texts. Maybe  
> the baptizer only oversaw the
> confession of the baptizee and his immersion without himself being  
> in the water. I cannot deduce
> anything about that from either the syntax, morphology or  
> semantics. In the case of Spirit baptism,
> the baptizer (Jesus) is not visibly present, but he still remains  
> the agent.

My tentative, speculative suggestion: perhaps the verb BAPTIZW/ 
BAPTIZOMAI in all its GNT usages, whether of physical immersion in  
water or of metaphorical immersion in fire or water, should be  
understood as more closely related than is done when we set the usage  
of the verb BAPTIZW apart for "Christian" baptism. That is to say,  
BAPTIZWBAPTIZOMAI in the GNT should not be understood as a technical  
term at all -- although it may well be appropriate to speak of its  
usage as a technical term in post-Biblical usage.

As Iver says, we don't know the specifics of the process of baptism.  
But If the baptisand (for want of a better English word) enters into  
the water and submerges him/herself into it at the direction of the  
baptizer, then it seems to me that one could use the active form  
BAPTIZW for what the baptizer does and the middle-passive form  
BAPTIZOMAI for what the baptisand does. If that's the case, then the  
middle BAPTIZOMAI would function semantically exactly as it does in  
Mark 7:4, in 2 Kings 5:14, and in Luke 11:38 where EBAPTISQH =  

Enough already.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Ret)

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