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.
40 Eckhard J. Schnabel
(6) There is no difference in the meaning of βάπτειν and βαπτίζειν in
terms of their use in Greek, in Jewish, or in Christian texts.
(7) Neither βάπτειν nor βαπτίζειν are technical terms in the strict
sense of the word. Even though βάπτειν is frequently used with the sense
‘to dye’, there are numerous Greek words which denote, and specify, the
action of dyeing,86 which means that βάπτειν is not a technical word for
dyeing. The fact that βαπτίζειν is used for immersions in water which make
the person ritually clean does not mean that βαπτίζειν is a technical term
for ritual purification from spiritual or moral defilement. Translators of
the non-Christian texts quoted above do not use the gloss ‘to baptize’ as a
standard English equivalent for βαπτίζειν.87 While the church fathers use
the term βαπτίζειν most often with reference to Christian baptism, they
continue, at the same time, to use the term with the traditional physical
and metaphorical senses. This suggests that βαπτίζειν had not become
a technical term, in the narrow sense of the word, for Christian water
baptism, even at a time when the Christian faith and immersion ″in the
name of Jesus⁇ or ″in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy
Spirit⁇ had become much more common than in the first century.
Prof. Eckhard J. SCHNABEL
Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
2065 Half Day Road
Deerfield, IL 60015
See n. 70.
There are some exceptions, e.g. Clement F. Rogers, ″How Did the Jews Baptize?⁇ JTS
12 (1911), pp. 437–45.