Glossary of Terms



Harper’s Bible Dictionary

edited by Paul J. Achtemier (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985)

You are strongly recommended to add to your library the excellent revised edition of Harper's Bible Dictionary titled, The Harper Collins Bible Dictionary, Revised Edition [book review], edited by Paul J. Achtemeier, with the Society of Biblical Literature (NY: Harper Collins, 1996). It is currently the best one-volume Bible dictionary in English, and it is available at Border's Books, Christian Science Reading Rooms,, or

baptism, rite involving water. The term is derived from a Greek word meaning ‘to immerse in or wash with water’ (Mark 7:4). Washing rites characterize priestly preparation for offering sacrifice in the OT (Exod. 40:12-15). On the Day of Atonement, the high priest bathes both before and after his offering (Lev. 16:4, 24). Visitors to the Temple should not enter the inner courts without washing hands and feet (t. Kelim I.6). Water washings are linked not only with religious purity but also with concern for sinfulness and moral purity (see Isa. 1:16-17; Jer. 4:14; Ezek. 36:25). More domestic versions of these concerns are found in Jewish ablutions in Jesus’ time. John 2:6 speaks of large stone jars that hold water ‘for purification’ (see Mark 7:2-4). John’s baptism and the ablutions of the Qumran covenanters belong to this tradition of cultic and moral ablutions. Jews also apparently performed baptisms of proselytes as part of the purification of new covenant members (m. Pesahim VIII.7; Eduyyot V.2).

Baptism in the NT begins with John’s baptism, which was a prophetic call to repentance and forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:4). When Jesus is baptised, however, it is understood quite differently: it is not for sin (Matt. 3:13-15); rather it is a theophany (i.e. a self-revealing of God) in which Jesus is identified as ‘Beloved Son’ and commissioned as the herald of God’s kingdom (Mark 1:10-11; see Isa. 42:1-9). Christian baptism of converts retained the sense of rites of purification (1 Peter 3:21) as well as adoption as God’s children. Paul speaks of God pouring his Holy Spirit into converts’ hearts, enabling them to say ‘Abba, Father’ (Gal. 4:6; Rom. 8:15-17). This baptism was in some sense to Christianity what circumcision was to Judaism. John 3:3-5, in fact, makes baptism — not circumcision — the formal entrance rite into the covenant community (see Col. 2:11-12).

The interpretation of Christian baptism was fluid in the first century. At Corinth it was compared to Israel’s exodus through the sea and its eating of the manna in the desert (1 Cor. 10:1-4). In other places it was compared with Noah’s escape from God’s wrath on sinners (1 Pet. 3:21). It was also compared with Jesus’ death and resurrection; Christians symbolically die to their sins and former lives, a death they share with Christ, and are buried with him; as they rise from baptism in purity, they share the new life brought by Jesus’ resurrection (Rom. 6:1-4). Hence baptism may be compared to a new birth (John 3:4-5).

Although adults were generally baptized, there is a suggestion in Mark 10:13-16 that infants were also baptized. The argument rests on the term ‘hinder’ (Gk. kolyo), which may have been part of the technical terminology of baptism: Jesus tells his disciples not to ‘hinder’ the children from coming to him; compare the language of the eunuch in Acts 8:36 who asks, ‘what is to prevent (Gk. kolyo) my being baptized?’


All glossary terms
Edited for by Robert Nguyen Cramer
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