Since I am almost certain someone will come in and think the title of this question needs editing, I'm going to request that you leave it as it stands.

The full/expanded question:

I have seen shells used in Lutheran imagery in relation to infant baptism. What is the Scriptural basis for this practice of using a shell? If knowledgeable -- additionally, what is the historical basis for Lutherans to do this in their denominational history?

I realize there other Catholic spinoff denominations may use the same imagery, but for the scope of this question I'm only asking about the Lutherans.

  • The answer to your question may be a more practicable one than an a scripturally based one. The symbol of the seashell has been associated with baptism since the first centuries of the Christian church. We know this from paintings on the walls of the catacombs where early Christians worshiped which depict people being baptized with water poured from a seashell. (presbyterianmission.org/ministries/worship/faq/faq-signssymbols)
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Sep 29, 2016 at 11:38
  • I edited the body of your question due to some awkward phrasing, organization, and punctuation. Please make sure that your intended meaning was preserved. If not, edit it again. Commented Sep 29, 2016 at 12:21
  • Eh, good enough. There were some minor edits that to me seem rather trivial and take my voice away a little--causing me to feel less like I've been given the freedom to express myself. But those are the breaks. Yes, there's nothing too major. I'm sure you were doing your best to help bring it up to "community standards" so... thanks!
    – user31124
    Commented Sep 30, 2016 at 1:33
  • @KenGraham, thank you for your reply. That may very well be the conclusion of the matter. For me, it's rather disappointing, but an answer nonetheless. Also, first centuries is a curiously imprecise term. I understand rounding it off by a hundred to generalize the year but is the third century one of the first centuries? I have no idea, the author of the article was too imprecise. That term should not exist. First means first; so year 1 to 150 or so? That includes centuries one and two, right? Ah well, such is usage.
    – user31124
    Commented Sep 30, 2016 at 1:42

2 Answers 2


Faith Lutheran Church - Symbols and Meaning on Page 12

The Scallop Shell – (at six points around the edge of the bowl). John is said to have baptized Jesus with water from a scallop shell and it has been used as a symbol of baptism since then.

I can find no biblical evidence for the scallop shell to be associated with it but did find sermons where a pastor actually said the following showing that its mostly because the art depicts the shell even though the text shows Paul said Jesus was baptised by immersion.

. All of the earliest art that I have seen shows Jesus and John standing in knee deep water with John pouring water over Jesus' head from a scallop shell. Did you know that that shell is the Christian symbol for baptism? I have to admit that the symbolism of baptism by immersion is amazing. In Romans 6:8 we hear Paul tell us that if we died with Christ, we have faith that we will also live with him. When we are baptized by immersion we enter into the world of water where we cannot survive for long. When we are raised from the water and we take that first breath we have a new appreciation for the air we breathe. So dying to Christ and living to Christ have new meaning and significance for us. But that is the symbolism from a human perspective.
The Baptism of Jesus

I find a couple verses that support immersion over pouring as well as the quote by Paul in Romans...

Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. Mar 1:10

As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. Mat 3:16

Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. 39 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. Act 8:38-39

These verses lead me to believe that the shell may have originally just been a convienient way to "iconize" or "symbolize" baptism as it would be difficult to create a simple symbol to represent immersion. Also it would have been common that many baptisms took place in desert regions where standing water or rivers were not common so in those areas baptisms likely were "poured" and scallop shells were preserved by the person performing the baptism for continual use. However, the scripture still supports Jesus being baptised by immersion.

  • 1
    Thank you, I appreciate the answer. I like that you include Scripture refuting the erroneous claims. We know that baptism was not a new invention by "Christianity" as the disciples were called "Followers of the Way". Jesus, of course, being the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Being called a "Christian" didn't come until significantly later. So what we have is the mikveh in Judaism. Being such it has a few requirements and that is that the body of water be a living body and not stagnated and that it be done in accordance with the law. So, as such, John would not have an unkosher shell.
    – user31124
    Commented Sep 30, 2016 at 7:48

The use of the three texts (i.e., Mk. 1:10; Matt. 3:16 & Acts8:38,39) are incorrect. The Greek makes it clear that in each case Jesus, Philip and the eunuch were not coming up from "under" the water but "out of" the water. The Greek prepositions are "apo - away from" in Matthew and "ek - out of" in Mark and Acts. The Greek preposition for "from under" would be "hupo" which is not used. This means that in each case the persons involved came out of the water (i.e., walked away from the water) not came up from under the water. They therefore cannot be employed to support immersion. Of course, the text certainly allows for immersion, it simply does not describe such methodology in the verses.

For anyone desiring to confirm the Greek meanings of the words used in the text under consideration please consult a Greek lexicon such as A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature by Bauer, Gingrich and Danker. In this lexicon the word "apo" is on page 86, the word "ek" on page 234 and the word "hupo" on page 843.

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