Baptism — Sprinkling vs. Immersion


Dear Catholic Exchange:

My niece is taking me to task over sprinkling baptism as opposed to the biblical baptism which to her is "immersion." Please show me some scripture which backs up sprinkling baptism. Thank you!


Merryl Garley


Dear Merryl,

Peace in Christ!

In John 3:3, Jesus tells the Rabbi Nicodemus that in order to enter ("see") the Kingdom of God, one must be "born again" (regenerated) or "born from above" (the Greek, in which John's Gospel is written, may mean either). Being born again is the condition on which men may be saved. Naturally, Nicodemus asks "How can a man be born again?" Jesus answers, "Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God."

The Church has always believed that Jesus' answer in verse 5 is a reference to water baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit, as He commanded (Matthew 28:19). Through the baptism of Jesus the sinner is forgiven his sins and receives the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38-29) — according to the promise and action of God. 

Ezekiel prophesied that this baptism would come: "I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new Spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes, and be careful to observe My ordinances," (Ezekiel 36:25-27).

This baptism in water, according to Ezekiel, is most appropriately understood as an act of God, not merely an act of men.  This is why Peter said "baptism now saves you" (1 Peter 3:21) and Paul calls baptism the "washing of regeneration [rebirth] and renewal in the Holy Spirit" (Titus 3:5-7). Baptism is for the forgiveness of sins and reception of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38-39). Baptism is the entry into the Church, the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13, Galatians 3:27), and how men participate in the death and Resurrection of Christ (Romans 6:3-4, Colossians 2:12).

Bible-believers can take into consideration Ezekiel's teaching on the cleansing power of Baptism and his use of the word "sprinkle." Better yet, your niece might agree that Baptism is cleansing with water, an outward sign that signifies an interior reality. If so, then she can agree that sprinkling is sufficient (although, like your niece, the Church prefers the better sign value of immersion (or pouring; cf. Canon 854).

United in the Faith,

Eric Stoutz
Information Specialist
Catholics United for the Faith
827 North Fourth Street
Steubenville, OH 43952
800-MY-FAITH (800-693-2484)

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage