Page images



The Syriac Words for Baptism.

And precisely so the Syrian verb, when applied to baptism. It does not signify to administer baptism to another person, but intransitively to baptize or to become a baptized person. Thus in Luke 3: 7, Then said he to the multitude that came forth to baptize, or to pass under the rite of baptism; i. e. to perform an intransitive; not as in the Greek and English, ẞaлtiovai, to be baptized. So in Acts 2: 38, Repent and baptize (o) every one of you; not be baptized, Banrio Oro, as in the English and Greek. Acts 22: 16, Arise and baptize(); not, be baptized, as in the English. And so in

all cases where the baptized subject is made the nominative to the verb. And whenever the administration of baptism to a second person is spoken of, the verb is put in the causative conjugation, (Aphel, answering to the Hebrew Hiphil,) which makes the sense to be, causing another to baptize. This grammatical character and construction of the Syriac verb in reference to baptism, corresponding exactly with that of the Hebrew verb y signifying to stand, shows that the Syrian Christians did not essentially change the character of this verb when they applied it to baptism. They found it an intransitive verb, and they let it remain so, deeming it a suitable term to denote metaphorically the internal act of a person who receives baptism.

But what is the analogy between the physical act of standing, standing up, standing firm, etc. and the religious act of receiving baptism, or, how did the two things stand connected in the view of the Syrian Christians? This is the great problem which we must attempt to solve.

Some have supposed that, because the Syrian Christians always stood up at the time they were baptized, or always received baptism in a standing posture, therefore they denoted baptism by a word signifying to stand. But, if they ever baptized by immersion, they could not have always stood erect in the act of baptism. Besides, they undoubtedly stood up in various other religious acts, no less than in this; as in singing the praises of God, in repeating the Doxology, in receiving the public Benediction, etc. Moreover, the posture assumed in the reception of baptism was altogether too circumstantial and trivial a matter, to give a name and character to this sacred institution. We must therefore endeavor to find some more important relation or analogy between the primitive meaning of this verb and the Christian rite of baptism.

J. C. W. Augusti, who agrees with us as to the primitive meaning

1 See his Handbuch d. christl. Archaeologie, B. II. S. 309–312.

of this verb, thinks that the Syrian, like the other oriental Christians, were accustomed to join the rite of confirmation with that of baptism, the one being administered immediately after the other and by the same person; and by thus uniting the two rites and considering them as constituting but one transaction, they gave to it a name appropriate to one part of it, eonfirmation, but not suited to express baptism. But if this were true, why did they not put the verb into the passive conjugation Ethtaphal, whenever it denotes the reception of baptism? For, surely, the person was as passive in receiving confirmation as in receiving baptism; and if the causative conjugation only could properly denote the administering of confirmation, then only the passive form of the same conjugation could properly express the receiving of confirmation. there is another and very serious objection to this hypothesis, namely, the very dubious existence of confirmation as a necessary part and the consummation of baptism, at so early a period as that in which the apostles and their associates introduced and established the Syriac terms for denoting baptism. We read of no such appendage to baptism anywhere in the New Testament. For the apostolic imposition of hands and benediction, by which the Holy Spirit with his gifts was sometimes imparted to baptized Christians, though sometimes urged as a scriptural warrant for Episcopal confirmation, can hardly be supposed to have led all the early preachers of Christianity to administer confirmation along with baptism to all whom they baptized. From the numerous instances of the administration of baptism mentioned in the New Testament, it would seem that, in those early times, baptism was administered without any appendage called confirmation; and that the simple rite of baptism was then considered as the only evidence needful, to prove a man a professed and an established believer in the Christian religion. We are therefore disposed to give up the hypothesis of Augusti, so far as it makes confirmation, viewed as an appendage to baptism, give name to the whole baptismal transaction.

Our theory would be, that the early Syrian Christians, in conconformity, very probably, with Apostolic example and usage,employed the neuter verb to denote the reception of Baptism, because they associated with that act the idea of coming to a stand, or of taking a public and decisive stand, on the side of Christianity. They considered all baptized persons as being established in the Christian faith, and as having made a public profession of that faith, in and by their baptism, so that now, they stood up before the world as professed or visible Christians.·

According to this idea of the latent, etymological meaning of the term, the commission of our Lord to his apostles, in Matt. 28: 19,


The Syriac Words for Baptism.

might be rendered, -not, "Go ye and teach all nations, immersing (or washing) them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost," as in the Greek ; — but, "Go ye and teach all nations, making them to stand fast in the name of the Father," etc. And the declaration in the parallel passage, Mark 16: 15, 16, which in the Greek reads, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature: He that believeth and is immersed shall be saved; but he that believeth not, shall be damned," would in the Syriac, read, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature." He that believeth, and standeth fast, shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned." According to the Greek, our Lord seems to state two conditions of salvation; namely, believing, and being immersed or washed in the name of the Holy Trinity; but, according to the Syriac, he states in reality only one condition, namely, that of believing and standing fast in our confidence in the triune God. And therefore, very pertinently, the last part of the apostolic commission omits the clause respecting the baptism, and simply says: "He that believeth not shall be damned." Such views of these texts are in perfect harmony with the doctrine everywhere inculcated in the New Testament, that it is only the steadfast, persevering Christian, that will be saved.


Comparing now this Syriac word for baptism with the Greek, we shall see, that while the Greek word indicates the great change of character and life requisite to salvation, by the figure of a moral purification, or perhaps of a death and burial to sin; the Syriac word indicates the same great change, by the figure or metaphor of standing firm in the faith, or standing up before the world as one of those who follow Christ, or who love and obey the gospel. The Greek term has been adopted by all the Western churches; and it may therefore seem to us, much to be preferred. But, in reality, if it is more descriptive of the physical act which accompanies baptism, it less clearly and forcibly represents the permanent change of character and action, to which a baptized person becomes pledged. And if the Syriac term has the disadvantage of not being so descriptive of the outward and visible rite of baptism, it was less liable to abuse, by leading to heated controversies respecting the proper mode of baptism, whether it should be by immersion, or by some other application of water. And hence, while this controversy has caused permanent divisions and separations among our Western churches, it has never, so far as we know, been agitated at all in the East. Moreover, if the Greek term has the advantage of being more significant of the new birth or of that mysterious internal renovation effected by the Holy Spirit, it was, at the

[ocr errors]

same time, more liable to produce a superstitious veneration for the more external rite as if it were itself the cause or the appointed and necessary instrument of a saving change in man; thus giving rise to all the discussions among Western Christians respecting baptismal regeneration. If the Jesuit missionaries had obtained their ideas of the nature and import of Christian baptism from the phraseology of the Syriac Bible, they could hardly have adopted the belief that, by stealthily sprinkling water upon an ignorant pagan in the name of the Trinity, they converted him into a real Christian, and plucked him from perdition. Nor would some Protestants have been led to believe, that the mere rite of baptism translated a person into the kingdom or church of God, entitled him to divine grace, and was necessary to a man's salvation.

But whatever may be thought of the comparative merits of the two modes of designating baptism, the Grecian and the Syrian, the first seems to be clear and undeniable, that the Apostles, when writing in Greek, designated baptism by the verb Banzigo and its derivatives, but that their associates and followers probably adopting the usage of the apostles in the like circumstances, did in Syriac designate Baptism by the verb and its derivatives, which properly signify to stand up, to be firm, erect and stable, like pillars. Of course, both modes of designating baptism rest on good authority; both are suitable, and it is allowable for Christians to adopt either.

It may not be impertinent here to remark, that the conduct of the Syrian Christians in giving such a name to this sacrament, was exactly parallel with that of the early Greek and Latin Fathers in giving the name of Eucharist (¿vxaqıoría) to the other sacrament, for which the biblical name is the Lord's Supper. For, if the Syriac term

entirely disregards the physical act performed in the ܡܥܡܘܕܝܬܐ

symbolical washing, and only indicates the internal or mental act which should always accompany and follow baptism; just so the Greek term Evyapioría entirely disregards the physical act of eating the symbolical bread and drinking of the symbolical cup, and indicates only the internal or mental act of giving thanks for the inestimable gift of a Saviour. The Greek Fathers and their modern imitators, therefore take the same liberties with the Scriptural term δεῖπνον κυριακὸν, that the Syrian Christians take with the scriptural terms ẞazriço and ßārτισμα.

'On this use of evxapioría by the early Greek and Latin Fathers, and the reasons for it, see Suiceri Nov. Thesaur. Philol. Tom. I. p. 1270.


Voyage and Shipwreck of Paul.


Finally Augusti, in the work already cited, after giving to the verb the same original meaning that we do, and also the same derivative meaning when applied to baptism, ingeniously suggests, that the Syrian Christians may have chosen to translate Barrio by


[ocr errors]

stand, rather than to render it more literally by to dip, to immerse; because this latter word had been taken to denote their own sect by the ZABIANS or Hemerobaptists, a Jewish sect then existing among the Aramaeans, and sometimes called Mendaeans and Disciples of John. For the very name of that sect, Zabians (in Syriac




[ocr errors]



in Arabic being derived from, literally UMIMO, signified the immersed or the dipped; and therefore, if the Syrian Christians had said that they were baptized, they would have denominated themselves Zabians. And hence, to avoid ambiguity in their theological language, and to distinguish themselves from a religious sect with which they had no communion, they chose to designate Christian baptism not by the verb, which corresponds with the Greek ẞantico, and equally well describes the outward act in baptism, but rather by which describes metaphorically the internal act of the baptized person.




By Prof. H. B. Hackett, Newton Theol. Institution.

Departure from Caesarea and arrival at Myra, Vs. 1-5.

Verse 1. Exgion relates to the time of departure, not to the decision itself that they should be sent. nuas. It will be observed that the historian is one of the party. The plural of the pronoun was last used in 21: 18. naɛdídovv is not so vague as the third person plural impersonal (see St. § 174; Win. § 49. 1), but expresses the idea more concretely: they delivered, i. e. those who acted in this case under the command of the procurator.- ¿répovs, additional prisoners, not different in character from Paul, i. e. heathen, as Meyer supposes. Luke

« PreviousContinue »