Martin Luther on Immersion
by Jack Cottrell (Notes) on Wednesday, September 30, 2009 at 8:43am
A RECENT QUESTION: Was Martin Luther himself immersed? The question came up at church yesterday in a discussion about Martin Luther’s high view of baptism.
MY REPLY: I do not know the answer to your question. I do know that Luther strongly defended the practice of immersion. E.g., in his treatise, “The Babylonian Captivity of the Church,” printed in “Three Treatises” (Fortress 1960), he says, “The second part of baptism is the sign, or sacrament, which is that immersion in water from which it derives its name, for the Greek ‘baptizo’ means ‘I immerse,’ and ‘baptisma’ means, ‘immersion'” (186). “It is therefore indeed correct to say that baptism is a washing away of sins, but the expression is too mild and weak to bring out the full significance of baptism, which is rather a symbol of death and resurrection. For this reason I would have those who are to be baptized completely immersed in the water, as the word says and as the mystery indicates. Not because I deem this necessary, [!!!] but because it would be well to give to a thing so perfect and complete a sign that is also complete and perfect. And this is doubtless the way in which it was instituted by Christ. The sinner does not so much need to be washed as he needs to die, in order to be wholly renewed and made another creature, and to be conformed to the death and resurrection of Christ, with whom he dies and rises again through baptism” (191). “Baptism swallowed up your whole body and gave it forth again” (192). Here he gives three reasons for immersion: 1) This is what the Greek word means. 2) Only immersion truly portrays physically what is happening spiritually at that time. 3) This is what Jesus himself instituted. In the face of these overwhelmingly convincing reasons, how he can in the same breath say that this is not necessary is completely infathomable. It is an example of how irrational we can become at the temptation of Satan and his demons (1 Tim. 4:1).