Baptism: Don’t get dunked … get SOAKED!

In Scripture, baptism is a beautiful metaphor – a symbol of the death of the worldly person who then reappears as a “new creation” (Rom 6 & 2 Cor 5:17).  As it turns out, the word “baptize” doesn’t refer to an event but to the transformation .

We know that biblical Greek has different words that have roughly the same meaning, but carry a different nuance.  Take, for example, the two Greek words bapto and baptiso – both of which mean “immersed.” In John 13:26, Jesus “took the morsel and dipped it (bapto) …,” while in Matthew 28:19 we are commanded to make sure that the new disciples we bring to Christ are immersed (baptizo) – the origin of our word “baptize.” 

A pickle recipe from just after 100 AD gives us a clue for understanding the difference between the two words.  In this recipe the author tells us that the vegetable being pickled should first be dipped [bapto] into boiling water and then immersed [baptizo] in the vinegar solution.  Both of these Greek verbs result in the vegetable getting dunked, but bapto is a quick in-and-out dunking while baptizo represents a prolonged soaking. [1]   Now as any good pickle-maker will tell you, that first dip – the bapto – is absolutely necessary!  It softens that tough outer skin of the veggie which otherwise would resist the influence of the spices.  It’s only after that skin has been softened that the vinegar and spices in the brine can permeate the vegetable, altering its very nature.

If you think about it, the pickling process provides an analogy of our own new life in Christ.  Our decision to accept the Gospel – to declare Him as Lord of our life – is a kind of bapto.  As a result of our decision, that tough outer shell that we stubbornly maintained as part of our human nature was softened by our repentance.  This decision allows us to be baptizo by the Holy Spirit who begins that life-long work of changing our nature into the very image of Christ.  This change comes about because in this new life, as we arise from the grave (as symbolized by the water baptism), we are surrounded by – immersed in (baptizo) – the Spirit of God.

I’m quite excited by the vision provided by this analogy!  Maybe we Christians should start using the humble pickle as a symbol or our regeneration.  Think about it:  We could print bumper stickers that proudly proclaim, “I’ve been pickled for Jesus!”  And then in VBS we could have the kids sing, “Jesus wants me for a gherkin” (instead of a “sunbeam”).  Or maybe the next translation of the Bible version should render Matthew 5:13 as, “You are the pickles of the earth, but if the pickles have lost their dill…” But you know, now that I think about it – given the “vinegariness” of some Christians, it’s probably best to not press it too far.

Doug Ebert


[1] from Strong’s Concordance, based on material attributed to James Montgomery Boice, Bible Study Magazine (May 1989).

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