I grew up in a credobaptist tradition. Studying both Scripture and church history for myself without the blinders of tradition, I have come to accept paedobaptism, as I have come to a different understanding of what baptism is altogether.

However, try as I might, I have been unable to find any sources that seem to be giving sprinkling an honest look (from either credo or paedobaptist perspectives). As far as I can tell, credobaptists seem to simply lump it in with infant baptism (and therefore reject it as part of that), or as Catholic tradition (that pours over into later traditions, and therefore reject it as part of that), while paedobaptists seem to argue that you can't safely immerse an infant, and so sprinkling has to be acceptable. Both arguments seem circular to me.

Can someone help me out with sources, either in Scripture or early Church tradition, linking sprinkling with Christian baptism? Sprinkling/splashing was very much a part of Jewish tradition and law, but is it clear somewhere, or just assumed, that sprinkling according to Jewish custom was equivalent to baptism by immersion?

1 Answer 1


The Early Church

"Sprinkling" can refer to either baptism by affusion or by aspersion, as both basically amount to tiny little pours or droplets of water. While it might make sense to couple this practice with infant baptism for "safety" reasons (babies do actually reflexively hold their breath when submerged), that's not the real reason for this form of baptism.

We find in the Didache, which is a first century manual for how the Church does thing, in Chap 7, gives fairly explicit instructions on how to baptise.

And concerning baptism, baptize this way: Having first said all these things, baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Matthew 28:19 in living water. But if you have not living water, baptize into other water; and if you can not in cold, in warm. But if you have not either, pour out water thrice upon the head into the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit. But before the baptism let the baptizer fast, and the baptized, and whatever others can; but you shall order the baptized to fast one or two days before.

The "pour out water thrice" refers to affusion which literally means to pour onto (usually from a shell) or aspersion (perhaps using palm leaves or an aspergilium), which literally means to scatter upon. It can be used with anyone, not just babies. And, never fear, you can get pretty wet with either method!

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    Regarding why baptism was done in this mode: one major element of the symbolism of baptism is death of the old man/woman. In ancient Greece (a cultural center point for early Christians) there was a societal requirement that a person who found a dead body bury it. Those who were materially unable to do so could dispense this obligation by throwing three handfuls of dirt over the body's head, symbolically 'burying' it. The same reasoning was applied to the symbolism of baptism; if you can't actually be buried in the water, do the symbolic burial. Commented Jun 5, 2023 at 22:49
  • This is a great answer. I don't believe there are any biblical passages referring to sprinkling as a method baptism. There has been the very remote notion that the penitent thief was 'sprinkled' by the blood of Jesus, when he was pierced by the Roman solider on the cross. Thus the idea was the thief was therefore baptised. I personally don't think this notion is correct.
    – M__
    Commented Jun 6, 2023 at 14:12
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    @M__ --- Indeed not. The Bible itself isn't a how-to manual. In order to understand things like baptism and eucharist in St Paul, we have to remember that he's not teaching a bunch of newbies. His letters presume that his audience is already in a church structure and already knows the how to. When we look at Didache, we see the more mundane how to manual! As for St Dismas, we have a saying: the Church is bound by the sacraments, God is not. When the Son of God says you'll be in paradise today, you don't need for anyone to climb up on your cross and douse you with water!
    – elemtilas
    Commented Jun 7, 2023 at 0:27
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    Thanks your comments are welcome and the treatise is particularly helpful. The last sentence I 100% agree, but I just didn't quite want to express it that way!
    – M__
    Commented Jun 7, 2023 at 2:01

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