Is Sprinkling A Biblical ‘Mode’ Of Baptism?


In the religious world today, there are many ‘modes’ of baptism practiced, they say that the act may be carried out in various ways, ways which include the sprinkling or pouring of water on the head of the one coming to baptism, and so we need to clarify this particular point before we proceed any farther.

To start with, let’s be clear, their claim is quite erroneous because the word, ‘baptizo’, ‘to baptize’ which occurs 76 times in the Greek New Testament, has to do, without exception, with an ‘immersion’ and an ‘emergence’, in other words with ‘dipping’.

A prime example of this is seen in Acts 8 where the eunuch went

‘down into the water’

and after he was baptised, he

‘came up out of the water’

‘Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing.’ Acts 8:38-39

The act of ‘sprinkling’, which some churches substitute for immersion, comes from a quite different Greek word. It’s the word ‘rhantizo’, which means ‘to sprinkle’, and is found just 4 times in the New Testament Scriptures, in a cluster of verses in Hebrews 9+10.

‘The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean.’ Hebrews 9:13

‘When Moses had proclaimed every command of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves, together with water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people.’ Hebrews 9:19

‘In the same way, he sprinkled with the blood both the tabernacle and everything used in its ceremonies.’ Hebrews 9:21

‘Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.’ Hebrews 10:22

In the New Testament, the word ‘pouring’ is derived from the word ‘ekcheo’, which means ‘to pour out’. In the form of ‘ekcheuno’, it occurs in Acts 10 to describe the ‘pouring out’ of the Holy Spirit.

‘The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles.’ Acts 10:45

Whilst, in the form of ‘katacheo’, in Matthew 26 and Mark 14 it describes how the Lord Jesus was anointed by the woman with the alabaster flask of ointment, which was ‘poured upon’ his head.

‘A woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.’ Matthew 26:7

‘While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.’ Mark 14:3

Please note that none of these words is ever used with reference to baptism and so, the conclusion is obvious. There is no linguistic authority for regarding either sprinkling or pouring as the baptism about which we read in the New Testament.

Without taking up all my space with a discussion of the origin and spread of the unscriptural practice of substituting sprinkling or pouring for true baptism. Both were absolutely unknown to the early church and weren’t officially declared to be ‘alternative modes’ for baptism, until the Council of Ravenna, in the year 1311. Neither were normally practised in the UK until after the Reformation.

In 1556 a book containing John Calvin’s approval of what may properly described as ‘infant sprinkling’ was published in Geneva. It authorised the priest to ‘take water in his hand and lay it upon the child’s forehead’ and ‘Protestants’ who had fled to Geneva to escape the persecution instigated by Queen Mary carried this practice back to Scotland in 1559.

The practice soon found its way down to England, in the reign of Elizabeth the First, who, it might be noted, was herself immersed, but it wasn’t until 1643 that the Westminster Assembly, after debating the subject, decided, on the strength of the casting vote of Archbishop Lightfoot, who presided over the Assembly, to admit sprinkling as a form of baptism.

It’s important to understand that Biblical scholars have never denied that immersion is true New Testament baptism. What these churches tried to do was to introduce sprinkling or pouring as permissible ‘alternatives’, and it’s a well-known fact that all Biblical scholars admit that the baptism practised by the early church was, without exception, immersion in water.

Incidentally, we should be very careful to avoid the use of the word ‘mode’, when speaking about baptism, but we should rather speak of the ‘action’ of baptism.

Have you been fully immersed for the forgiveness of your sins?

Have you been fully immersed to receive God’s free gift of His Holy Spirit?

‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’ Acts 2:38



"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us."

Hebrews 12:1