The Syriac Words For Baptism -- By: James Murdock

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 007:28 (Oct 1850)
Article: The Syriac Words For Baptism
Author: James Murdock


The Syriac Words For Baptism

James Murdock

With what propriety and for what reasons did the early Syrian Christians designate Baptism, uniformly and exclusively, by the verb and its derivatives, words which convey no idea whatever of the form of the Baptismal act, or of its physical effects?

Statement of the facts in the case:

This Syriac use of the verb and its derivatives can be traced back to the ancient Peschito Version of the New Testament. That version was probably made in the very next age after the apostles, by apostolic men, and in a language almost identical with the vernacular tongue of Jesus Christ and his disciples. And it may be supposed that the apostles themselves, and all the first preachers of the gospel among the Syrians, adopted this phraseology; and of course, that the translators of the Peschito had apostolic authority for their mode of designating baptism.

On looking into this version we find, that it uniformly renders the Greek verb βαπτίζω by the Syriac verb , in all the 73 places in which βαπτίζω occurs. The Greek noun βάπτισμα occurs in the New Testament 17 times, and in 16 of them it is rendered by , and once by , the Infinitive of . The Greek noun βαπτισμὸς occurs 4 times, and is always rendered by . And βαπτιστὴς, the appellative of John the Precursor, occurs 13 times, and is always rendered by . Thus, wherever the Greek uses βαπτίζω or any derivative from it, the Peschito Version uses or some derivative from it.

And the Peschito New Testament never uses the verb or any derivative from it, with reference to anything besides baptism; with this one exception, that the Greek word στύλος, a pillar, in all the 4 places in which it occurs in the New Testament, is rendered by . And therefore the only ideas which the Peschito New

Testament ever connects with the root and its derivatives, are those of baptism and of pillar.

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