“Muscle & Shovel”: Chapter 16, 17 & 18 (Pouring & why the KJV uses “baptize”)

muscleshovelWe are considering Michael Shank’s book Muscle and a Shovel.

Chapter 16

Shank gets into a discussion with another friend about Acts 2:38.

I’m going to cut short the long litany of Baptist vs. Church of Christ baptism arguments at this point because most readers have heard them all and, I’m sure, don’t care to hear more of the same arguments once again.

Chapter 17

Shank runs into a Methodist and finds that they pour, sprinkle, or immerse, depending on the individual or circumstance. Randall is upset by this, explaining that the Methodist minister is ignorant of his Greek. Randall insists that baptizo means “immerse” only.

Baptidzo means to submerge, to immerse completely or to fully go under the surface.

(Kindle Locations 3310-3312).

A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature  (BDAG) is the most respected dictionary of New Testament Greek. It says,

1. wash ceremonially for purpose of purification, wash, purify, of a broad range of repeated ritual washing rooted in Israelite tradition …

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 b. was not nearly so technical as the transliteration suggests.

Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament is also a very well respected Greek dictionary. It says —

1. properly, to dip repeatedly, to immer[s]e, submerge (of vessels sunk … ).

2. to cleanse by dipping or submerging, to wash, to make clean with water; in the middle and the 1 aorist passive to wash oneself, bathe

And so “immerse” is not the only possible meaning of baptizo. For example,

(Mar 7:1-4 ESV)  Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem,  2 they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed.  3 (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders,  4 and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash [Greek: baptize]. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing [baptizing] of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.)

How did the Pharisees wash their hands? Well, they had strict rules.

The washing was accomplished by pouring water on the hands, and this fact excludes all suggestions of immersing the hands from Mark’s reference in verse 3. The evangelist correctly specifies that a handful of water was required. The position of the hand was cupped, with the fingers flexed to allow the water to pass between them so as to reach all parts of the hand. By cupping the hand the entire hand could be washed with a very small quantity of water. A distinction was maintained between this type of washing, sprinkling, and bathing or the immersion of the hands up to the joint of the fingers, and apparently it is this third category of ablutions to which reference is made in verse 4 in connection with food purchased in the marketplace.

William L. Lane, The Gospel of Mark, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1974), 246–247.

And as to the dining couches —

That these couches were immersed in every instance of ceremonial washing, can be thought probable, or even possible, only by those who are under the necessity of holding that this Greek word not only means to dip or plunge, originally, but, unlike every other word transferred to a religious use, is always used in that exclusive and invariable sense, without modification or exception; to those who have no purpose to attain by such a paradox, the place before us will afford, if not conclusive evidence, at least a strong presumption, that beds (to say no more) might be baptized without immersion.

John Peter Lange, Philip Schaff, and William G. T. Shedd, A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Mark (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008), 65.

And so, “baptize” clearly can mean “wash” and perhaps even “pour.” Obviously, the couches weren’t immersed! And honesty keeps me from pretending otherwise.

But it seems, to me, that Christian baptism was immersion. I mean, you can’t really translate Acts 2:38 as “Repent and be poured everyone of you …” (But “washed” would work.) New Testament water baptism was likely patterned after the Jewish washings in mikvahs — except that no one could baptize himself whereas mikvah washing was a purely one-person operation. And the mikvahs were used for an immersion.

In Acts 2, Peter preached, I believe but cannot prove, at the Temple — because crowds that big could not gather at many places in Jerusalem — and I don’t think God could have resisted the symbolism. And the Temple was surrounded by pools and mikvahs for ceremonial washings — and so immersion would have been entirely natural in that setting. After all, 3000 people had to be baptized in one day. The vicinity of the Temple had to water needed to do that.

This would have been the natural interpretation in a culture and location where immersion was routinely practiced as a ceremonial cleansing.

On the other hand, the Greek Orthodox baptize through a dipping process (three times!), and the Greek dictionaries are clear that baptizo can also mean “dip.” My Big Fat Greek Wedding is a great movie with a baptismal scene you should watch.

In short, let’s not be quite so insistent about immersion being the only meaning allowed in the Greek. The dictionary doesn’t get you there. And that means that we can’t insist that new converts should know that baptizo means immerse and only immerse.

Nonetheless I believe immersion to have been the First Century practice. It’s just not an obvious conclusion unless you have access to quite a lot more information than a dictionary.

Chapter 18

In chapter 18, Randall explains how the Catholics corrupted the translation of baptizo to avoid “immerse” so that they could keep sprinkling. And this is a favorite argument in the Churches of Christ, although it’s easily shown to be untrue.

Tyndale’s English translation — the first English translation other than Wyclif’s from centuries earlier (and forgotten by the time of Tyndale) — was made on the run from Catholic authorities, courageously in opposition to Catholic decrees. Tyndale’s translation, from 1534, of the very familiar Matthew 3:11 is as follows:

I baptise you in water in toke of repentaunce: but he that cometh after me is myghtier then I whose shues I am not worthy to beare. He shall baptise you with the holy gost and with fyre:

And so William Tyndale, who was burned at the stake by the Catholic Church for making his translation, used “baptise” — surely not because this would help the Catholic Church sprinkle! The Catholic Church had issued a death warrant for  him!

The King James Version was heavily based on Tyndale’s brilliant work, by a committee of scholars from the Church of England, a church founded by King Henry VIII in opposition to the Catholic Church. And King James, who followed was the son of Henry, was also a Protestant, and no friend of the Pope.

Randall argues,

Transliteration of the word allowed the Catholic doctrine of sprinkling and pouring to remain intact because the word baptize was so vague. It was a strange, almost esoteric word; therefore, religious people accepted the false idea (promoted by Catholicism) that the word baptize could mean to sprinkle, to pour over or to immerse. Most importantly, the word baptize wouldn’t directly oppose the sprinkling and pouring doctrine advocated by the Catholic Church.

(Kindle Locations 3326-3336).

This is an argument borrowed from the age of anti-Catholic bigotry (not that Randall is necessarily bigoted against Catholics). I mean, notice how often the point is made that this is wrong because it’s Catholic. (And the chapter is filled with such language.) It would be closer to the truth to replace “Catholic” with “Anglican” — and the Anglicans sprinkle, too, but “Catholic” was preferred — despite being contrary to history — surely because it helped persuade readers that the translation was corrupted by those terrible Catholics.

Much more importantly, even if the Church of England wished to preserve sprinkling (which is surely true), “baptize” had been in the English language nearly 300 years earlier than even Tyndale’s translation, at the least. The Merriam-Webster dictionary traces “baptize” to Middle English and finds it in use among English speakers as early as the 13th Century (1200’s) — 300 years before Tyndale and 400 years before the King James Version.

The Canterbury Tales were written by Chaucer at the end of the 13th Century, and its “Second Nun’s Tale” makes repeated mention of baptism. (Clever of those Catholics to sneak that transliteration into the English language so early, in case someone might make an illegal translation.)

And obviously those English families who wished to have their babies baptized in whatever church held the throne at the time needed a word for “baptize.” Do we really think that English peasants went to the local parish priest and requested “immersion” for their babies? And I’ve yet to see evidence that they used any word other than “baptize.” Tyndale had to use the word the people of England used, or else he would not have been understood.

In short, Randall’s argument is wrong, and it wasn’t hard and didn’t take long to disprove its veracity. You just have to be willing to check.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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29 Responses to “Muscle & Shovel”: Chapter 16, 17 & 18 (Pouring & why the KJV uses “baptize”)

  1. Price says:

    Jay… question…. You mentioned that early Christian baptism wasn’t the same as a using a mikvah… Do you have something that clearly shows that someone else dunked a person in the water as is done today ? I was just wondering if our concept of what happened was more influenced by art than actual historical proof… And, you know this post will likely get your house rolled…LOL

  2. The path to truth is not found in inventing enemies and conspiracies and bogeymen to which to attribute that which you do NOT believe. That’s all Shank really does in this book. His thesis seems to be, “If I can show that everybody else is somehow wrong– or evil, or demonic or weird– then that proves I am correct.”

  3. laymond says:

    Price, have you ever read Nicander’s pickles recipe ?

  4. laymond says:

    As my governor once said ooops.
    Through baptism Nicander took cucumbers and turned then into pickles, through baptism God takes sinners, and turns them into saints.

  5. Logan Cowart says:

    I had one teacher try to tell us that the King James (KJV) translators invented the transliteration “Baptize”. But when I go to the Latin Vulgate, compiled by Jerome around 400 A.D. It also uses a transliteration of baptize into Latin. So the transliteration goes all the way back to some of the first translations from the Greek.

  6. Jay Guin says:


    I have to say it’s beyond my skillset to check the Vulgate. Very glad to have you hear commenting.

    PS – Not worth the trouble to check, but there were dozens of translations pre-Vulgate into many languages. It would take far more linguistic talent than I have, but I wonder how far back the transliteration practice goes. I bet Jerome followed the precedent of previous Latin translations — or else his Latin readers would not have understood. Interesting line of thought indeed.

  7. Jay Guin says:


    “Baptize” when used of Christian water baptism, is always in the passive voice in the NT. The archaeological evidence — paintings and such — of early baptisms always have someone baptizing someone else. And the obvious verse is —

    (Act 8:38 ESV) 38 And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him.

    And the ancient baptismal fonts found by the archaeologists often require the baptizee (I just made that word up) to lay back into the water — meaning most people would need help to get up and not drown.

    Thus, while I wash myself “clean” in a mikvah, I am washed in baptism. The interesting question, to me, is why make the change? And notwithstanding vigorous disagreement by many commenters, I continue to hold that this is the church’s declaration of this person as righteous, in parallel with God’s own declaration — that is, the baptism does many things, and one of those things is announce that this person is justified as determined by a member of Christ’s church. It’s an acceptance of that person into God’s community. Baptism is a corporate act as well as individual — even if that is a little Baptist-ish. But that’s not all that baptism does, by any means, but I find the subtle rejection of sheer individualism important.

    Or maybe there’s another symbolism. Always interested in other ideas.

  8. John says:

    I’m bit too tired today to do a lot of thinking, but I have Just one thought. Would the amount of water applied to the individual for baptism make no more difference than the amount of bread and wine taken for the Lord’s Supper? After all, we today do see a difference between eating and taking a pinch or a sip; but, for ceremonial purposes, we call the LS eating. Can we not approach baptism with the same freedom?

  9. Jay, I know you strive for accuracy in all things. So you might want to check the lineage og James I of England. Prior to being offered the throne of England after the death of Queen Elizabeth I, the daughter of Henry VIII and successor of her older sister, Bloody Mary, James was James VI of Scotland. He was a distant relative of the Tudor dynasty of England, but was himself the first of the Stewart or Stuart dynasty on the throne of England. (See the first paragraph of http://www.infoplease.com/biography/var/jamesi.html.)

    Even lawyers slip up occasionally. That’s why one hired my wife many years ago as a paralegal – to make sure he didn’t make mistakes like your well-intentioned one here.

    That was the only mistake I saw in your excellent article.

  10. As to the baptism of Nicander, it reminds me of a story. A young friend, raised nominal Catholic, was immersed at a CoC and called her mother to tell her. Mom asked about the immersion event, “Did you see Jesus?” I told my friend to tell her mother that we try not to hold people under quite that long.

  11. Alabama John says:

    Did it mattter who baptized you andn how many times?

    As a child in the COC, we young boys baptized each other in the creek while fishing, frog gigging or swimming many times each summer. Especially if we had snuck down to the local still and drank a little white lightning.

  12. Price says:

    @ Jay.. Thanks for the info on the “being baptized” and the historical data supporting… Makes sense that there would be some confirmation by a member of the church rather than a person just saying that they were baptized…

  13. laymond says:

    AJ , You can’t turn a cucumber into a pickle by just pouring water on it, there is more to it than that. A cucumber has to become a pickle through and through, a sinner has to become a Christian through and through. They both are changed, or they remain a cucumber, and a sinner.

  14. Now we are back to being actually saved by actual water. It’s what the water does that saves us, suggests Laymond. That’s why the quantity is critical. Water can’t save us if there is not enough of it to get the job done.

    Gives a whole new meaning to “holy water”.

  15. laymond says:

    What I said Charles was, a sinner has to be properly prepared before they can become a Christian. And a cucumber has to be properly prepared before it can become a pickle.
    We need to know the difference in (baptô) and (baptizô) Both verbs concern the immersing
    But the first is temporary. The second, the act of baptizing produces a permanent change.
    baptism in water prepares us to be baptized by the spirit.

  16. laymond says:

    Act 2:47 Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.

    I don’t know of any place where it is said that everyone who is “dipped” in water is saved.
    (and I don’t believe they are, not that it matters what I believe)
    But I believe that the bible says everyone who is accepted into Jesus’ baptism is saved for eternity. Why do I believe this, because anyone can be emersed in water, only truly repentant people will be accepted into Jesus’ baptism, into Jesus’church.
    I believe everyone who is baptized by John’s baptism is washed of their sins, they no longer are held responsiable for sins of their fathers, but if they are not truly repentant in their heart as Jay said, “God knows” and they are not added to Jesus church by spiritual baptism. ” And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved. ”

    Jhn 3:5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

  17. Alabama John says:

    Some times we come on here to actually learn something and other times we get our best laugh for the day.
    Good way to start or finish the day.

  18. Jay Guin says:


    I (and the dictionaries) agree that baptizo can mean to “immerse” as in immersing a cucumber to make a pickle. It is doubtlessly a possible meaning. But words often can take more than one meaning — and context determines the meaning.

    And the dictionaries agree that baptizo can mean things other than “immerse,” such as to wash or to dip or even to ritually clean — as when the Bible speaks of baptizing couches for the sake of ritual cleanliness.

    Therefore, the dictionary does not define the term absent context. The dictionary meaning is just the first step.

    And I’m not so much concerned to argue for this or that unique definition of baptizo as to point out the extreme level of sophistication in language and grammar and history to make a legitimate argument for “immerse” for baptizo in the NT — a level that novices to Christianity cannot reasonably be expected to master.

    The same is true for eis in Acts 2:38. Prepositions can be a challenge to translate, even for the experts, and a dictionary only takes you but so far. Again, it requires considerable background knowledge and study of languages and history — which we shouldn’t demand of new converts.

  19. Jay Guin says:

    John asked,

    Would the amount of water applied to the individual for baptism make no more difference than the amount of bread and wine taken for the Lord’s Supper?

    Well, we’ve certainly pushed the Lord’s “supper” to its theoretical limits. John Mark Hicks points out that “supper” means the evening meal — so how does that fit the “pattern”? BDAG defines it as “the main meal of the day,” and the First Century custom was to take that meal in the evening. Interesting, isn’t it, that we accept a symbolically small amount of bread and grape juice as constituting a “supper,” even though Jesus himself instituted the practice as part of a full meal. I guess that the intention to honor Jesus is enough.

    And so I suppose that we’re good with a token, symbolic meal but not a token, symbolic burial. And it gets a little complicated. Romans 6 says were buried with Jesus — one word in the Greek: co-buried. If we’re co-buried with Jesus, what should that look like?

    Consider the burial practices of First Century Judea, where the first sermon regarding baptism was preached. Jesus was “buried” in a hewn out hole in the side of a rock ledge. He was not buried six-feet under. That’s us, not them. To be co-buried with Jesus, symbolically, we’d have to be carried sideways into the water!!

    How much “dirt” did it take to bury Jesus? Literally: none. He was placed on a rock ledge in a hewn out, walk in grave. (But in Rome, burial was in the dirt, much as we practice it. Interesting.)

  20. Jay Guin says:


    You are quite right about King James (not the basketball player). I’ll fix the article.

  21. Jay Guin says:

    Laymond wrote,

    You can’t turn a cucumber into a pickle by just pouring water on it, there is more to it than that. A cucumber has to become a pickle through and through, a sinner has to become a Christian through and through. They both are changed, or they remain a cucumber, and a sinner.

    I just hope we don’t have to hold our breaths for long enough to be pickled! (But I agree with the principle.)

  22. R.J. says:

    I wouldn’t say this verse gives probable cause that baptism doesn’t always mean immersion. Many of the oldest manuscripts don’t have “and couches”. Plus the Greek word in question is “Kline” which is more like a portable mat to lean on during a meal(quite unlike a modern sofa).

    In the Rabbinic writings they submerge each part of the mat individually. Just in case the dust of an impure person touches their utensils, they would immerse each object within a Laver made for that purpose. This was washing method mandated by the Elders.

    “In a laver, which holds forty seahs of water, which are not drawn, every defiled man dips himself, except a profluvious man; and in it , they dip all unclean vessels”

  23. Jay Guin says:


    The NET Bible translators comment as to the originality of the reference to “couches” —

    Several important witnesses (î45vid ‌א‎‏‎ B L Δ 28* pc) lack “and dining couches” (καὶ κλινῶν, kai klinon), while the majority of MSS (A D W Θ ƒ1, 13 33 Û latt) have the reading. Although normally the shorter reading is to be preferred, especially when it is backed by excellent witnesses as in this case, there are some good reasons to consider καὶ κλινῶν as authentic: (1) Although the addition of κλινῶν could be seen as motivated by a general assimilation to the purity regulations in Lev 15 (as some have argued), there are three problems with such a supposition: (a) the word κλίνη (kline) does not occur in the LXX of Lev 15; (b) nowhere in Lev 15 is the furniture washed or sprinkled; and (c) the context of Lev 15 is about sexual impurity, while the most recent evidence suggests that κλίνη in Mar 7:4, in keeping with the other terms used here, refers to a dining couch (cf. BDAG 549 s.v. κλίνη 2). Thus, it is difficult to see καὶ κλινῶν as a motivated reading. (2) κλίνη, though a relatively rare term in the NT, is in keeping with Markan usage (cf. Mar 4:21; Mar 7:30). (3) The phrase could have been dropped accidentally, at least in some cases, via homoioteleuton. (4) The phrase may have been deliberately expunged by some scribes who thought the imagery of washing a dining couch quite odd. The longer reading, in this case, can thus be argued as the harder reading. On balance, even though a decision is difficult (especially because of the weighty external evidence for the shorter reading), it is preferable to retain καὶ κλινῶν in the text.

    Thank for bringing the uncertainty of the text to my attention. I should have so stated in the post but wasn’t aware of the issue.

    And the commentaries I quoted all support the language as original.

    BDAG defines kline as a “bed, couch … or dining couch.” In Mark, it occurs two other times —

    (Mar 4:21 ESV) And he said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand?

    (Mar 7:30 ESV) And she went home and found the child lying in bed and the demon gone.

    It’s hard to imagine Jesus referred to a mere mat as something one might hide a light under. And “vessels” would not normally refer to a couch or bed.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_furniture and http://www.mlahanas.de/Greeks/Furniture/Furniture.htm offer pictures of a typical kline — it was furniture, not a mat.

    In any event, it seems that the method of washing hands to eat was to pour water over them, as Lane comments in the NICNT. The 40 seahs is for a mikvah — immersion — (http://www.myjewishlearning.com/life/Life_Events/Conversion/Conversion_Process/Mikveh/how-to-mikveh.shtml) but the complaint in Mark was a failure to wash hands, not to undergo mikvah cleansing.

    But the sages imposed in certain circumstances the minor form of contamination known as “hand contamination” in which only the hands, not the whole body, was contaminated and for this to be removed total immersion was not required, only the ritual washing of the hands. Since there was a good deal of priests’ tithe in ancient Palestine which could easily come into contact with the hands, the sages eventually ordained that the hands of every Jew, not only the hands of a priest, must be washed ritually before meals.


    And so, I certainly should have noted the uncertainty of the text (and should have read more carefully to discover that fact), and I appreciate you pointing that out. But Mark still uses “baptize” to refer to a ceremonial pouring.

    I really don’t want to build a case for pouring as the right mode of baptism, just to point out that this is not the slam dunk, just-read-the-dictionary that we often argue.

    Dipping and pouring are certainly permitted dictionary definitions and we find in Mark the use of “baptize” to mean “pour” — regardless of the originality of the text re couches or how the couches were cleansed.

  24. Price says:

    I guess if someone is going to limit God’s ability to save someone by means of water, I’m pretty sure He could use a “drop” and get the job done…

  25. Thanks, Price. The previous was starting to read like legal arguments which might be offered before a jury when all the witnesses are dead and the judge no better informed than we.

    When our view of salvation becomes mechanical and human, THEN the “right mode” becomes critical, because its effectiveness is predicated on proper adherence to policy and procedure. When we remember that salvation is a spiritual act and condition, physical modes and methods fade in significance and become little more than theoretical curiosities.

  26. Monty says:

    And John was baptizing in AEnon near to Salim, because there was “much water” there,.(John 3:23)

  27. Kent West says:

    I’m sure y’all are aware of the early writing (near-ish 100 A.D) Didache’s reference to baptism as pouring, when only limited amounts of water are available – “If you have very little, pour water three times on the head in the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit.”

    And something that just came into my head this morning is that the promise was that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit (Lk 3:16; Acts 1:4), but the actual event was described as pouring (Acts 2:33; 10:45).

    Just food for thought.

  28. Dwight says:

    Sometimes we need to look at association and context in regards to “immersion”. We often speak of “baptism of the HS” as what happened in Acts 2 and although it did happen to them, they were not dipped into the HS, as the HS came upon them. They were immersed in the sense that they were surrounded and inundated by the Holy Spirit. In I Peter “eight souls, were saved through water. There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” 1.) Noah and the Ark weren’t submerged (not a submarine), but rather surrounded by water, but was considered baptized. 2.) they were saved THROUGH water, not BY water, and we are saved through water, but not by water, and yet water is part of the equation. Water was used in washing and cleansing so why not. It washes us internally as we do it externally.
    So pouring or sprinkling might be a viable option if there is not enough water to be submerged in.
    We often say it was the “outpouring” of the Holy Spirit on them, but deny the concept in baptism.

  29. Dwight says:

    Also another thought. We are baptized into Christ burial. Christ wasn’t buried six feet under or even two feet under, but in a cave, so in this he was surrounded by ground, even though the ground was rolled in front of him in the form of a stone.
    I know of many who liken baptism to how the Israelites were surrounded by water as they went through the Red Sea and yet they were not immersed, but the water was formed around them.
    True we miss the concept of cleansing that was evident to the early Jews and turn it into ceremony for the sake of a command and an idea that isn’t like we think it to be.
    If we are tasked with baptisms in an area low on water, we must therefore wait till we have a good supply of water before we convert one to Christ, which might not happen. And then if the person dies before the “immersion”, we argue that God know his heart, but he still dies not knowing. Insane.

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