top of page

"Baptism" In King James Version

By Paul Kirkpatrick


Posted by permission of Paul Kirkpatrick





I. The Problem Stated  

Why do some claim that words such as "baptism" or "to baptize" are inaccurate
translations in the KJV?


II. Some Preliminary Consideration

An analysis of the view that the KJV translators may not have been totally
honest when they  chose to use words such as "baptism" and "to baptize"
rather than "immersion" or "to immerse."


III. Etymology of the Word "Baptism"

How did the words "baptism" and "to baptize" come to be used in the English language used by the KJV translators?


IV. History of Immersion for Baptism in England

Did King James I of England or the KJV translators really use some other baptismal mode than immersion?


V. Semantical Relationship of "Baptism" to the KJV Translators

Why it is illogical to claim that the KJV translators were not honest when they used the words "baptism" and "to baptize."


VI. Conclusions to be Drawn

Why one can be confident that the KJV translators were not deceptive when they used such words as "baptism" and "to baptize."




By Paul Kirkpatrick


The Problem Stated

       In the course of examining the question as to why some religious groups use modes other than immersion for their baptism, one will occasionally come across the charge that is leveled by some people, Baptists in particular, that one possible reason for the existence of these variations in the mode of baptism is that the English words "baptism," or "to baptize" which are found in the King James Version [KJV] of the Bible are extremely vague in their meanings.

       Should one ask of these same people their explanation of why the KJV's translators chose to use such words as these rather than "immersion" or "to immerse," many of them will offer something on the order of the following line of reasoning:

1) The translators (as well as King James I himself) were members of the Church of England (sometimes referred to as the Anglican Church), and that denomination uses sprinkling as their mode of baptism.

2) Because of this, when the translators came to the Greek words for this ordinance (which, implicit in their literal definitions, preclude any other mode but immersion), they had to do something to conceal the true meaning of these words.

3) To use words such as "immersion" or "to immerse" would expose the erroneous practice of their mode for baptism; therefore, to accomplish their goal and to becloud the issue of the proper mode of baptism, the KJV translators chose not to translate those Greek words, Instead, they transliterated the Greek letters of these words into our Roman alphabet, thus coining a brand new set of English words: "baptism" and "to baptize" (1)

      While such logic as this may make good material for exposing some aspect of Protestant deceitfulness, is such a charge as this an accurate one? Are the translators of the KJV guilty of "taking away" from the Word of God (Rev. 22:19)? Moreover, if they mishandled this very important aspect of baptism, who is to say that they may not have also misrepresented other important Christian doctrines and practices?


Some Preliminary Considerations

       The purpose of this work is to examine the above viewpoint from three disciplines that are essential to determining its validity:

1) The etymology of our English words "baptism" and "to baptize" i.e., the study of how these English words got their origin.

2) The history of the mode of baptism that was used in England up to the time that the KJV was produced (A. D. 1611).

3) In conjunction with 1 and 2 above, an examination into the semantics of these words as they applied to the translators will also be taken into consideration.

       This work will deal with baptism only in the realm of its mode. Although there are other aspects concerning baptism that may be important in their place, they lie beyond the scope of this work's purpose and therefore will not be addressed in it.

       It should also be understood that any reference cited within this work does not necessarily imply an endorsement by its author of that person's views either on baptism or any other subject. Such references that do appear shall be used only as they relate to the immediate subject within this work.


Etymology Of "Baptism"

       Contrary to the opinions of those who maintain that the KJV translators were the ones who gave birth to the English words "baptism" and "to baptize," these words have a long history of usage before early seventeenth century England.

     Greek. These words have their ultimate origin in the Greek language. "Baptism" derives from the Greek noun baptisma, which means "a dipping in water." (2) It was first found in the Greek New Testament, and then in later Greek ecclesiastical writings. (3) The verb "to baptize" comes from the Greek baptizein or baptizo, both of which have the meaning "to dip, to immerse, submerge," and have been in existence from at least the time of the Greek philosopher Plato (c. 400 B.C.). (4, 5. 6) However, these words did not remain dormant for some fifteen hundred years as the advocates of the above viewpoint might lead one to believe. 

    Latin. From the Greek, they were assimilated into Ecclesiastical Latin,(7) the style of Latin used primarily by the church fathers of the West. The Latin noun for this ordinance was baptisma ("a dipping"), and the verb form was baptizare ("to dip").:s: Tertullian (c. 160 - c. 230), a North African leader of the dissident Montanist group and creator of this style of Latin,(9,10) is credited with being the one who introduced this word into the Latin vocabulary,(11) most likely as a result of his important tract, De Baptismo (c. 190). (12)

     French. These Latin words went on to be adopted into the Old French language (c. 850 - c. 1350). (13) In this language the nouns appeared as bapteme or baptesma, and the verb form was baptiser. (15) Both noun and verb forms are cited as being found in an Old French poem entitled Vie de Saint Alexis, written about the year 1040, which is considered as being "the oldest French poem possessing literary merit." (16, 17, 18)

     Old English (to C. 1150). The event that led to the appearance of the forerunners of the words "baptism" and "to baptize" in Great Britain was the Norman Invasion and Conquest of that island by William the Conqueror which began in 1066. (19) The Norman Conquest influenced almost every aspect of British life, including its language in general and its ecclesiastical terminology in particular. (20) Old French-speaking clergymen who came to the island soon after the invasion brought their words for this ordinance along with them. (21) The extent to which the Old French language influenced the Old English (Anglo-Saxon) language can be seen by the fact that the Old French noun baptesme began to appear in Old English writings. (22, 23)

     Middle English (c. 1150 - C. 1475). By the 1150's the language of England had sufficiently changed from Old English that it was given a new designation: Middle English.) (24) This form of English was used up until the late fifteenth century. (25) During that era the word for "baptism" was bapteme.)26 The earliest known work in which this word is used is a Northumbrian poem on biblical subjects entitled Cursor Mundi, written about the year 1300. (27)

       The earliest recorded usage of the Middle English equivalent of the verb 'to baptize" is in Robert of Gloucester's Metrical Chronicle (1297), a history of England written in rhymed couplets. (28 29) An even earlier date can be ascribed to the first known occurrence of the Middle English equivalent of the noun 'baptist." When referring to Christ's forerunner, the Trinity College Homilies includes a sermon written about the year 1200 that uses the word Baptiste. (30)

       After the late fifteenth century, Middle English started to change into what is now called Early Modern English. By the early 1500's, the exact English words "baptism" and "to baptize" began to appear in both English ecclesiastical writings and Bible translations, some of which were consulted by the KJV translators as they did their work one hundred years later. (31)

       Although the etymological evidence does show that the KJV's translators could not have invented the words "baptism" and "to baptize," the advocates of the viewpoint under examination could still maintain that the translators chose to use them to conceal their usage of baptismal modes other than immersion---that is, if other modes were in fact used either by them or their ecclesiastical superiors.

       To find out what baptismal mode was used by these people, one must investigate the history of baptismal modes in England up to the early 1600's. The results of such a study do not produce much evidence to support the claim that British Christians living in the early 1600's did not use immersion for their baptism


History of Immersion for Baptism in England

       The history of Christianity in England is divided into various time periods. Most historians sub-divide the history of Christianity prior to the Norman Invasion of 1066 into two major periods. The first period is the Era of Briton Christianity (c. A.D. 100‑c. 600) (32), and the second period is the Era of Anglo-Saxon Christianity (C. 600 - C. 1100),(33)

     Briton Christianity (c. 100 - c. 600). Today it is impossible for anyone to know either who it was that first brought the Christian Gospel to the shores of Great Britain or when that event occurred. Almost a dozen legends exist about who that person was or when it was that he first brought the Gospel to England. All of these legends claim to be authoritative, all of them are in conflict with each other, and none of them can be conclusively verified. However, it can be safely asserted that Christianity was known in Britain by the early second century. The baptismal mode used by the Christians of that era was immersion.

       Christianity flourished on that island for about 300 years, so long as its society was afforded both internal and external protection by the Roman military that was garrisoned there. However, when the Western Roman Empire withdrew its soldiers from England in the early 400's, the bulk of the remaining native Britons (most of which lived on that island's eastern coastal region) were quickly subjected to a series of invasions by various barbaric Anglo-Saxon tribes. Those Britons who wished to escape the ravages of these barbarians were forced to flee to that island's remote, mountainous regions along its western coastal areas.:

      During the latter part of this era lived a man whose name is still remembered today, Saint Patrick (c. 390 - C. 460). His ministry included not only the Irish natives, but it extended to what is now known as Scotland and even to those Briton refuges. The mode he used to baptize his converts was immersion. (37)

      Not only did the Anglo-Saxons raid the eastern and southern parts of the island, but also many of them actually began to move to the island to live since it apparently afforded them a better way of life than what they had experienced in their native areas along the shores of northern continental Europe.

     AngIo Saxon Era (c. 600 - c. 1100). The year 597 marks the beginning of the Era of Anglo-Saxon Christianity, an era that was ushered in by Augustine, the so-called "Apostle to the English" and personal envoy of Pope Gregory I ("the Great," c. 590-604).(38) Augustine's labors among the Anglo-Saxon residents became very successful. When he baptized his Anglo-Saxon converts, he sought the use of rivers in order to perform total immersion. (39)

      All throughout the Anglo-Saxon Era there are references that point to the fact that immersion was the only mode for baptism. Venerable Bede (c. 700), the "father of English theology and church history," held to a dipping in water as necessary for baptism. (40 41) The Council of Calichyth (816), held under the auspices of King Kenwold of Mercia, strictly forbade any other baptismal mode than immersion. (42) The Constitutions of the Synod of Amesbury in 977 recounted the widespread use of immersion in the island.

     Norman through Tudor England (C. 1100 - 1603). A series of six church councils held in various English cities from 1200-1296 all recommended baptism to be performed by immersion. William Tyndale (1484-1586), the famous Bible translator, considered baptism as being a plunging in water.

      The era of Tudor England (1485-1603) saw many changes in the nation's religious life. During Henry VIII's reign (1509-1547) the Church of England was founded (1534).  That baptism by immersion was still practiced is evident in that what records of the Tudor royal family that mention the mode, all of them refer to immersion.  Henry VIII, his older brother Arthur, his sister Margaret, his son Edward VI (r. 15471553), and his daughter Queen Elizabeth I (r. 1558-1603) were all immersed. (47)  The turbulent era of Catholic Queen Mary (1553-1558) was one in which only immersion was permitted.  John T. Christian states that "immersion was almost the universal rule in Elizabeth's reign" (49). He refers to an important book written in Latin by high Anglican officials entitled Reformation Legum Ecclesiasticarum (1571) which required immersion for the Church of England's baptism. (50)

     Stuart England (1603 - 1714). Although other modes for baptism did start to make their way into England about the time of the beginning of the Stuart family's reign, King James I (r. 1603-1625), the one for whom the KJV was named, was not an advocate of these other modes. (51) Anglican officials consistently fought attempts to introduce sprinkling and pouring as baptismal modes during the reign of Charles I (1625-1649). (52) It was not until at least 1644, some thirty years after the KJV was first published, that the British Parliament, then under the control of Scottish Presbyterians, decreed immersion as illegal in English churches. 53)

       It is evident, therefore, that the history of the mode of baptism used in England confirms the fact that immersion had always been the predominant baptismal mode throughout all the years prior to and during the period that produced the KJV.

       The advocates of the viewpoint under examination have neither the findings of etymology nor history as a basis upon which their contentions may be proven. Not only does the evidence from these two studies invalidate their claim, but also, when they are coupled with the application of the discipline of semantics, there are other factors that make their assertions quite illogical.


Semantical Relationship of "Baptism" to the KJV Translators

       In semantics, which is the study of the significance of words and the concepts to which they refer, there is a basic principle that what a word means to its users is determined by what its users do with that word. (55) For the purpose of this study, this principle may be formulated as a question: 'Did the words 'baptism' and "to baptize' mean" "immersion" and "to immerse" to the KJV's translators, that is, were they synonymous with each other?" There are three key sources of evidence which practically demand an affirmative answer to this question.

     English Bibles. The first of these decisive factors is that every Bible, from the very first English Bible written by John Wycliffe (c. 1384) to the last Bible in English prior to the KJV, the Rheims New Testament (1582), uses either the exact words "baptism" and "to baptize" or their contemporary English equivalents in their original texts. (56, 57, 58)  What did the users of these Bibles take those words to mean? The study of the baptismal mode in England indicates that they understood those words to mean "immersion" and 'to immerse."

     English Baptists. Secondly, facsimile reproductions of original editions of Baptist confessions of faith in English, from before and on up to the very year the KJV was first produced (1611), all employ either those exact words or their contemporary English equivalents in their original texts when referring to this ordinance. Historically Baptists have been immersionists, and most Baptists of England at that time were no exception to this Baptist distinctive. (59)

     KJV Translators. Finally, perhaps the most important evidence of all to disprove the allegations of the viewpoint being examined is the testimony of the KJV translators themselves. As was indicated in the study of the history of English baptismal modes, other modes for baptism did begin to creep into England by the turn of the seventeenth century. However, the people who practiced these other modes were not primarily those of the old-line Anglican High Church persuasion. Rather, they tended to be those of the dissident Puritan faction.

       These Puritans most likely picked up the usage of these modes from the influence of Continental European reformers such as John Calvin (1509-1564) with which they had come into contact when the majority of the English Puritan leaders were forced into exile from Great Britain to the European mainland (and most notably to the Swiss city of Geneva, then under the direct control of Calvin) during the reign of Queen Mary (1553-1558).) While the English Puritan faction did play an important role in promoting the idea for a new English Bible (the result of which was the KJV), the forty-seven men who translated the KJV were mostly all high Church of England scholars and officials. (61)

       In "The Translators to the Reader" preface (which is seldom included in modern KJV editions), they have this to say about the words "baptism" and "to baptize" in their work:

(d) We have on the one side avoided the scrupulosity of the Puritans who leave the old ecclesiastical words,
as when they put washing for baptism... (62)

       From this statement by the translators themselves, it is obvious that, were they inclined to agree with the Puritan faction on the baptismal mode while translating the KJV, they would not have used the words "baptism" or "to baptize" at all. Instead, they would have used "washing" or "to wash." They did not use the latter two words, because they wanted to employ the words that to them aptly expressed the old-line high Anglican church concept of the mode of immersion: "baptism" and 'to baptize."


Conclusions to be Drawn

       The evidence from etymology, from history, and from semantic reasoning, shows that the KJV translators did not coin the English words "baptism" and "to baptize" as a deceptive front to hide the practice of either sprinkling or pouring as baptismal modes. To say that they did is a totally unsubstantiated charge because:

(1) These words already existed in the English language.

(2) The high church faction of the Church of England, of which practically all the translators were high officials, still practiced immersion when the KJV was translated.

(3) If the translators had intended to convey the idea of other baptismal modes, they would not have used "baptism" and "to baptize" when they translated the references to this ordinance anyway.

       It is hoped that this work will help to show that the KJV translators are innocent of this charge that has been leveled at them, and, therefore, give its users confidence that its translators had no intention of confusing the issue of the mode of baptism when they performed their scholarly work.



I A representative sampling of this viewpoint, in whole or in part, may be found in (but is not limited to) these sources: Milburn Cockrell, "The Proper Mode of Baptism, The Baptist Examiner, XLI (January 5, 1974), 1; E. G. Cook, Let's Study Revelation (Ashland, Ky.: Economy Printers, 1970), p. 167; William Manlius Nevins, Alien Baptism and the Baptists (Ashland, Ky.: Press of Economy Printers, 1962), p. 17, J. M. Pendleton, Baptist Church Manual (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1966), pp. 65-69; and Kenneth S. Wuest, "Romans in the New Testament," Wuest's Word Studies in the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1966), 1,96.

2 Ernest A. Klein, A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the English Language (New York: Elsevier Publishing Co., 1966), I, 147.

3 Joseph Henry Thayer, Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Marshailton, Del.: National Foundation for Christian Education, n. d.), p. 94. An excellent overview of both the secular and scriptural usages of these Greek words can be found in Charles F. Stanley, Charles Stanley's Handbook for Christian Living (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1996), pp. 3-4.

4 Klein: and C. T. Onions, et. al., The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology (New York: Oxford University Press, 1966), p.74.

5 J. Gresham Machen, New Testament Greek for Beginners (New York: Macmillan Co., 1951), p. 584. Both of these two words are merely different conjugational forms of the same Greek verb stem.

6 Thayer.

7 Klein and Onions.

 8 Ibid. See also Charton T. Lewis and Charles Short, Harper's Latin Dictionary (New York: American Book Co., 1907), p.221.

 9 Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church (n. p.: Associated Publishers & Authors, n. d.), I, 378.

10 James H. Martinbrand, Dictionary of Latin Literature (New York: Philosophical Library, 1956), p. 274.

11 Lewis.

12 Schaff. See also Augustus H. Strong, Systematic Theology (Valley Forge, Pa.; Judson Press, 1907), pp. 936-937.

13 Onions.

14 Mario A. Pei and Frank Gaynor, Dictionary of Linguistics (New York; Philosophical Library, 1954), P. 153.

15 Onions.

16 Oscar Bloch and W. von Wartburg, Dictionnaire Etymologique de la Langue Francaise (Paris; Presses Universitaries de France, 1950), p. 55; and Albert Dauzat, Dict/onnaire Etymologique de la Langue Franca/se (Paris: Librarie Larousse, 1938), p. 73.

17 H. Stanley Schwartz, An Outline History of French Literature (New York: Knopf, 1929), p. 14.

18 Edward Dowden, A History of French Literature (New York: Appleton Co., 1929), p.4.

19 Albert C. Baugh, A History of the English Language, (New York: AppletonCentury-Crofts, Inc., 1963), p. 127.

20 Ibid., P. 201.

21 Ibid., p. 203; and Lincoln Barnett, The Treasury of Our Tongue (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1966), p. 123.

22 Klein.

23 Baugh, p. 159.

24 Ibid., pp. 200 if.

25 Ibid., p. 59.

26 Klein and Onions.

27 James Murray et. al., The Oxford English Dictionary (London: Oxford University Press, 1933) I, pp. 659-660; and Baugh, p. 164.

28 Walter W. Skeat, An Etymological Dictionary of the English Language (London: Oxford University Press, 1963), p. 47.

29 "Robert of Gloucester," Encyclopedia Americana, International Ed., 1973, XXIII, 567.

30 Murray. The Trinity College Homilies is a collection of sermon manuscripts maintained by Trinity College of Cambridge University, Cambridge, England.

31 Klein and Onions.

32 John Henry Kurtz, Text-book of Church History (Philadelphia: Smith, English & Co., 1880), I, 297.

33 Baugh, p. 133. The Norman Conquest had little doctrinal effect on the English Church, but a majority of church offices changed hands as native English leaders were replaced by men from the Continent,

34 John F. Hurst, History of the Christian Church, (New York: Eaton & Mains, 1900), I, 575ff.

35 Ibid., p. 583.

36 Kurtz.

37 John T. Christian, A History of the Baptists, (Texarkana, Tex.-Ark.: Sunday School Committee of the American Baptist Assn., 1922), p. 178.

38 Ibid., p. 179. This Augustine (also called Austin) should not be confused with the better known St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo in North Africa, who lived some 200 years earlier. Schaff, II, 399-403, 14-16.

39 John Godfrey, The Church in Anglo-Saxon England (London: Cambridge University Press, 1962), p. 372.

40 Schaff, II, 19.

41 Thomas Armitage, A History of the Baptists, (New York: Bryan, Taylor & Co., 1887), p.426.

 42 Ibid. Mercia was a region in central England. During the Anglo-Saxon era, England was at various times sub-divided into 4-7 smaller 'kingdoms."

43 Thomas Collier, Ecclesiastical History of Great Britain, I, 471, cited in Christian, p. 182.

44 Armitage, p. 427.

45 Christian, p. 188.

46 Roy Mason, The Church that Jesus Built (Tampa: Central Avenue Baptist Church, n. d.), p. 53.

47 Christian, p. 194; and Armitage, pp. 427-428.

48 Christian, p. 204.

49 Ibid., p. 213.

50 Ibid., pp. 296-297.

51 Pendleton, p. 69.

52 Christian, pp. 287-288.

53 Ibid., 297-297, The Scottish Presbyterians were temporarily able to wrest political control of the English Parliament from the Anglicans as a result of the series of English Civil Wars that began in 1642.

54 Pei and Gaynor, p. 193.

55 Louis B. Salomon, Semantics and Common Sense (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1966), p.51.

56 Francis Henry Stratmann, A Middle English Dictionary (London: Oxford University Press, 1963), p. 43.

57 Schaff, Ill, 157.

58 Luther A. Weigle, ed., The New Testament Octapla (New York: Nelson-National, 1962), passim; and Eugene Cumminskey, ed., The Holy Bible Translated from the Latin Vu/gate (Boston: P. Dunahue, 1852), passim.

59 William Lumpkin, Baptist Confessions of Faith (Philadelphia: Judson Press, 1959), Pp. 93, 111, 119-120.

60 Pendleton.

61 Terence H. Brown, 'The Learned Men," Which Bible?, David Otis Fuller, ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Grand Rapids International Publications, 1971), pp. 14-22.

62 Henry Barker, English Bible Versions (New York: Edwin S. Graham, 1907), pp. 171-172.




bottom of page