Eckhard Schnabel, «The Meaning of Baptizein in Greek, Jewish, and Patristic
Literature.», Vol. 24 (2011) 3-40
The treatment of the Greek term Baptizein in the standard English lexicons is unsystematic. The use of the English term ‘to baptize’ for the Greek term Baptizein in English versions of the New Testament is predicated on the assumption that the Greek verb has a technical meaning which warrants the use of a transliteration. Since the first fact is deplorable and the second fact is unsatisfactory, an investigation into the meaning of the Greek term in Greek, Jewish, and patristic literary and documentary texts is called for in order to define the meaning of the term in classical and Hellenistic Greek with more precision than usually encountered in New Testament research, with a view to construct a more helpful lexicon entry for Baptizein.
28 Eckhard J. Schnabel
χεῖρες. Τί δήποτε; Ὅτι οὐκ ἔστιν ἡ ἀκαθαρσία φυσικὴ, οὐδὲ ἐκ τοῦ ἡμετέρου
σώματος, ὥσπερ οὐδὲ ἐκεῖ ἐκ τῶν ἐκείνου χειρῶν, ἀλλ’ ἐξ ἀλλοτρίων. Εἰ δὲ ἔνθα
ἀλλότριον σῶμα, οὐ παραιτεῖται ἐκεῖνος βαπτίσαι τὰς ἑαυτοῦ χεῖρας: ἔνθα τὸ
ἡμέτερον σῶμα, παραιτησόμεθα, εἰπέ μοι; σῶμα γὰρ ἡμέτερον ὑμεῖς, ἀσθενὲς μὲν
καὶ ἀκάθαρτον, ἡμέτερον δέ (“For a physician wishing to remove a putrid sore,
first thrusts his fingers into the wound, and if he does not first defile his healing
hands, he will not be able to cure it. So it is with me. Unless I first defile my mouth,
that heals your passions, I shall not be able to heal you. But rather neither is my
mouth defiled, nor his hands. Why then? Because the uncleanness is not that of
nature, nor from our own body as neither in that case from his hands, but from
what is another’s. But if where the body is another’s, he does not refuse to dip his
own hands, tell me, shall we refuse, where it is our own body? For you are our body,
sickly indeed and impure, but ours nevertheless”; P. Schaff) (iv/v).
Sense 1b: to make ceremonially clean; gloss: ‘to purify’ or ‘to cleanse’
Septuagint, Sir. 34:30: βαπτιζόμενος ἀπὸ νεκροῦ καὶ πάλιν ἁπτόμενος αὐτοῦ,
τί ὠφέλησεν ἐν τῷ λουτρῷ αὐτοῦ; (34:30: ‘When one bathes due to a corpse and
when one touches again—what did he gain by his washing?”; B. G. Wright; NRSV
translates, ‘If one washes after touching a corpse, and touches it again, what has
been gained by washing?’) (II).67
Septuagint, Judith 12:7: καὶ ἐξεπορεύετο κατὰ νύκτα εἰς τὴν φάραγγα
Βαιτυλουα καὶ ἐβαπτίζετο ἐν τῇ παρεμβολῇ ἐπὶ τῆς πηγῆς τοῦ ὕδατος (“And she
went out each night into the ravine of Beityloua and bathed at the spring of water”;
C. Boyd-Taylor) (II).68
Josephus, Antiquitates Judaicae 4.81: τοὺς οὖν ἀπὸ νεκροῦ μεμιασμένους τῆς
τέφρας ὀλίγον εἰς πηγὴν ἐνιέντες καὶ ὕσσωπον βαπτίσαντές τε καὶ τῆς τέφρας
ταύτης εἰς πηγὴν ἔρραινον τρίτῃ τε καὶ ἑβδόμῃ τῶν ἡμερῶν καὶ καθαροὶ τὸ λοιπὸν
ἦσαν (“When, therefore, any had been polluted by contact with a corpse, they put a
little of these ashes in running water, dipped69 hyssop into the stream, and sprinkled
The noun λουτρόν (‘bathing, washing’) describes the intention and effect of ritual
immersion (βαπτιζόμενος) in water for purification.
Sirach 34:25 and Judith 12:7 are early examples of the use of βαπτίζω for the means—
immersion in water—of ritual purification.
The Greek translators of Num. 19:17-20 used βάπτω in v. 18 (βάψει), which Josephus
replaces by βαπτίζω. Note that Josephus distinguishes between immersing (βαπτίσαντες)
an object (hyssop) into water and sprinkling (ἔρραινον) with water. Cf. Ferguson, Baptism,
p. 47, who adds that Josephus ″represents the tendency for βαπτίζω to replace βάπτω,
perhaps because he used βάπτω for dyeing.⁇ On Josephus’ rewriting of Num. 19:17-20 cf.
Louis H. Feldman, Flavius Josephus: Judean Antiquities, Books 1–4 (Flavius Josephus:
Translation and Commentary 3; Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2004), p. 357.