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.
The Meaning of βαπτίζειν in Greek, Jewish, and Patristic Literature 39
μετὰ τῶν δέκα φίλων ἀποσφάττει τὸν Γαδαλίαν καὶ τοὺς κατακειμένους σὺν
αὐτῷ ἐν τῷ συμποσίῳ (“Seeing him [i.e. Gedaliah] in this condition, sunken into
unconsciousness and a drunken sleep, Ismaelos sprang up with his ten friends and
slaughtered Gadalias and those reclining with him at the banquet table”; R. Marcus)
The evidence of the literary and documentary concerning the use of
βάπτειν and βαπτίζειν in Greek and Jewish texts can be summarized as
(1) The basic meaning of both verbs is ″to plunge, to dip, to immerse⁇.
The definition ″to put into a yielding substance⁇ can be substituted in
essentially all occurrences of βάπτειν and βαπτίζειν, particularly when
the verbs are used in connection with a physical substance such as water,
dyes, or bodies.
(2) The uses of βάπτειν and βαπτίζειν in connection with physical
substances can be specified in terms of six extended meanings which
focus on the result of the action of immersion: to cleanse with water (“to
wash’), to make ritually clean (“to purify, cleanse⁇), to take (water, wine)
by dipping a drinking vessel (“to draw⁇), to perish by submersion in wa-
ter (“to drown, sink⁇), to put to death a living being (“to slaughter, kill⁇),
to tinge fabric with a color (“to dye⁇, not attested for βαπτίζειν).
(3) Both Greek and Jewish texts use different words for bathing and
washing on the one hand and dipping or immersing on the other hand,
even though the extended sense of βάπτειν and βαπτίζειν can designate
the effect of the immersion in water, i.e. washing (sense 1a).
(4) The physical idea of immersion is extended to non-physical reali-
ties in two figurative or metaphorical senses of βάπτειν and βαπτίζειν;
both verbs denote being overpowered by an abstract reality (debts, argu-
ments, thoughts, passions) into which a person is ‘immersed’, and both
verbs denote being overpowered by intoxicating drinks.
(5) The verbs βάπτειν and βαπτίζειν share the basic, the extended, and
the figurative senses, with the exception of the extended meaning ‘to dye’.
The intensive verb βαπτίζειν seems to become more frequent as βάπτειν
often denotes ‘to dye’, but both verbs are used across the centuries with
essentially identical senses.
Josephus describes the murder by Gedaliah by Ishmael and the latter’s associates
who had become drunk during a banquet; cf. Jer. 41:1-3 (LXX 32:1-3); the Scriptural text
mentions neither a banquet nor the intoxication of Gedaliah.