Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology, and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries

By Everett Ferguson | Go to book overview

3. Words from the Bapt- Root
in Classical and Hellenistic Greek

The verbs

and are common enough in literal and metaphorical usage to establish their meaning with some degree of confidence.1 The nouns , , and and the adjective appear occasionally. The usage of these words in a religious sense is rare apart from Judaism and Christianity. Without being exhaustive I will cite enough examples to show representative usage.



Literal Usage

The basic meaning of

is “to plunge,” “to dip” in a yielding medium, usually a liquid. From this basic sense comes a use that emphasizes the result, “to wet.” Special

1. The nineteenth century saw major compilations of their word usage: notably, T. J. Conant, The Meaning and Use of Baptizein Philologically and Historically Investigated (New York: American Bible Union, 1864). James W. Dale’s volumes,

: Classic Baptism (1867); Judaic Baptism (1869); Johannic Baptism (1898); Christic Baptism and Patristic Baptism (2nd ed. 1874), have been reprinted (Wauconda, IL: Bolchazey-Carducci; Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing Co., 1989, 1991, 1993, and 1995 respectively); the usefulness of Dale’s large collection of source material is marred by use of outdated editions, repetitious polemic, and a tendentious effort to impose secondary and derived meanings on the usage of the words. For the twentieth-century understanding of = “to dip in or under” and as its intensive see the summary by Albrecht Oepke, “ (et al.),” in Gerhard Kittel, ed., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, tr. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), Vol. 1, pp. 529–546; J. Ysebaert, Greek Baptismal Terminology (Nijmegen: Dekker & Van de Vegt, 1962), pp. 12–83, on the terms for washing and immersion (pp. 41–83 on the New Testament and early Christian literature).

2. John Chadwick, Lexicographica Graeca: Contributions to the Lexicography of Ancient Greek (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), pp. 59–62, enlarges on and modifies Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, Henry Stuart Jones et al., A Greek-English Lexicon with Supplement (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968).

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