Article No.43

The use of the word "BAPTIST" in the King James Version of l611

It has been suggested that the Greek word BAPTIZO should have been translated "TO IMMERSE" and that the translators failed to translate the word, but merely transliterated it, in deference to the ecclesiastical views of King James I. This criticism is not supported by the facts, which are as follows.

The rules of procedure drawn up before the commencement of the work did not contain any specific reference to baptism and King James did not attempt to superintend the work in any way. The six translation committees worked at Westminster, Oxford and Cambridge. Each member completed his own rendering of the whole portion assigned to the Committee and then submitted it to the other members. When agreement was reached the committee sent its portion to the other committees for revision and approval, and finally a small sub-committee under Miles Smith checked the whole.

The primary meaning of the English word "baptize" is "to immerse" and the translators used the word in this sense, They were all familiar with the Book of Common Prayer authorised by Queen Elizabeth I in 1559 and the earlier Prayer Books of Edward VI issued in 1549 and 1552. The 1549 book required "trine immersion" and the 1552 and 1559 books merely required that the minister should take the child and ... "shal dippe it in the water". The slight revision of the Prayer Book in 1604 did not affect this requirement, so it is evident that the translators, who were members of the Church of England, understood the word "baptism" to signify "dippe it in the water", or "to immerse".

It is not the object of the present article to discuss infant baptism, "baptismal regeneration", or any error which may be entertained on this subject, but merely to show that the translators of 1611 used a familiar English word meaning "to immerse". The English word "BAPTIZE" is not a direct transliteration from the Greek, and it was certainly not coined by the translators. It was in fact used in English literature as early as the year 1200 A.D. and was well established in the language for nearly two hundred years before Wyclif used it in his translation in 1382 A.D. In his version we find - "to be BAPTISED", "BAPTYM", "BAPTYSING", "BAPTEM", "I BAPTISE", "HE SHALL BAPTISE", etc.

The Greek BAPTISMOS was first taken into the Latin tongue, and according to Andrews' Latin-English Lexicon founded on Freund's Latin-German Lexicon, the Latin BAPTISMA meant "a dipping in, a dipping under, immersion, ablution", and is thus used by Prudentius, a Christian Poet in A.D. 397. The form "BAPTISMUM" is found often in the writings of Tertullian, Augustine, etc. The "BAPTISTERIUM" was "a bathing or swimming place, a vessel for bathing in"; in ecclesiastical Latin a "baptistery" or baptismal. font (in which the person was "dipped" or "immersed").

According to Prof. Skeat the Greek BAPTIZEIN was taken into Latin as BAPTIZARE, and thence into Old French as BAPTISER, and then into Middle English as BAPTISEN. In this way the word had a settled place in the language long before Wyclif's time and 400 years before the time of the King James Version. In due course Tyndale used the word in his 1524 N.T., and the Great Bible of 1538, the Geneva Version of 1560, and the Bishop's Bible of 1568 all translate the Greek BAPTIZEIN in this way.

Several other European languages have a similar word derived from the Greek through the Latin - Portuguese BATIZAR, BATISMO etc. Spanish - BAUTIZAR, BAUTISMO etc., French - BAPTISER, BAPTEME. The derivation and use of these words in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese were not in any way influenced by King James I or by the ecclesiastical views of the translators. The Greek BAPTIZEIN means to immerse, the Latin BAPTIZARE means to immerse, and the English BAPTIZE, French BAPTISER, Spanish BAUTIZAR and Portuguese BATIZAR - all mean "to immerse".

Even some of the most powerful advocates of infant baptism have felt unable to argue about the precise meaning of the Greek BAPTIZEIN. Calvin's Institutes contain a section on infant baptism, but the writer candidly admits, "the mere term, Baptize means to immerse entirely, and it is certain that the custom of thus entirely immersing was anciently observed in the Church." (French version)

Those who consider the Scriptural ordinance to require the immersion of a believer after a profession of faith should not reject the word "baptism" merely because it is of ten misused. They should rather be encouraged to know that they are correctly using a word which was used by the inspired Apostles and by their Divine Master.

The English language has preserved the word and its original meaning and this is recognised in the normal usage of the English speaking world. Thus a "Baptist" is one who practices "believer's baptism by immersion"; a ''Baptist Church" is a local congregation of "believers baptized by immersion", "Baptist Mid-Missions'', "The General Association of Regular Baptist Churches", "The Conservative Baptists", "The Strict Baptists", etc. are all immediately recognised by the word "Baptist" as groups of believers practising baptism by immersion. There is no need to change the word, for it is universally recognised as being the most appropriate in the English language. Whatever may have been the K.J.V. translators' view of the ordinance of baptism, it cannot be questioned that they translated the word correctly, with scrupulous fidelity to the Greek, with full knowledge of the meaning of the English word then already at least four hundred years old, without any deference to King James I and without grinding any ecclesiastical axe of their own.

They were not perfect men, they did not produce a perfect version, but it cannot be denied that they translated the Greek BAPRIZEIN correctly by the English word BAPTIZE.


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