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There are two modes of water baptism of which I am familiar--immersion and sprinkling. As far as I know Catholics practice sprinkling along with many Protestant traditions, although many other Protestant traditions practice immersion.

What is the biblical basis for immersion according to those who have a literal interpretation of the Bible?

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It's also possible to distinguish between "infusion" (pouring water on the head) and "sprinkling". Infusion is the most common practice I've seen as a Catholic, but immersion has regained some ground among Catholics in the last few decades. –  Ben Dunlap Dec 29 '11 at 22:54

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up vote 5 down vote accepted

There is an excellent article here that covers the Biblical arguments for, and the common arguments against each point. A few relevant excerpts"

  • The word baptizo in Greek, translated "baptize" in the New Testaments, meant to "dip" or "immerse." It is sometimes argued that in Mark 7:4 and Luke 11:38 the word means "to wash by pouring," not "immerse"; but in those texts the actual meaning (as historical information substantiates) is to "wash by dipping or immersing in water."

  • Baptism is specifically stated in the New Testament to represent the Christian's spiritual union with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection (Romans 6:3-7), which is remarkably and dramatically pictured in immersion.

  • Whenever the act of baptism is described in the New Testament (which is rarely), the one who is baptized actually goes into the water. Thus, after Jesus was baptized, He "came up out of the water" (Mark 1:10), and when Philip baptized the Ethiopian eunuch, "they both went down into the water" (Acts 8:38). These descriptions do not quite prove complete immersion, however, since they could have stood, let us say, ankle-deep in water while one of them scooped up some water and poured it over the other's head. Furthermore, we are not told in Scripture that we must baptize in exactly the same way as John or Philip.

  • The mode used by the early Church in the first few centuries was immersion, with affusion reserved for occasions when immersion was impossible due to lack of sufficient water, and aspersion used for individuals too sick or weak for either immersion of affusion.

There is more in the original article, but in summary, the Biblical argument is based on both the meaning of the original Greek word, and also from evidence inferred, but not directly stated in Scripture.

The summary, however, is excellent, in my opinion. The author states:

...Scripture and common sense indicate that the water is not all-important and that, therefore, other modes may be used as substitutes in exceptional circumstances. God accepts the believer on the basis of his faith in Christ and his desire to obey Him, not on the basis of how much water covered his body when he was baptized. The doctrine that immersion is the only valid mode of baptism and that only those so baptized should be admitted into the fellowship of the Church body would, therefore, appear to be a bit extreme and not based on Scripture.

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No link to the article mentioned. –  Jürgen A. Erhard Dec 29 '11 at 21:36
    
Oops. Added the link. –  David Stratton Dec 29 '11 at 21:36

The biblical basis of the baptism can be found only in orthodoxy, known today as "Old Calendar Orthodoxy". The baptism in this Church has the same form as the baptism performed by apostles.

The Peter's vision (Acts 10) describes significance and details of the baptism procedure: the thrice time descending of the vessel corresponds the 3 time immersion in the water. Details of the complete explanation of the view is in Holy Tradition, in the "Life of saint Cornelius".

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