The Greek word that is translated baptism in the New Testament is from the verb BAPTIDZO which means to submerge, bury, or plunge.
“Baptize” is a transliteration of the Greek word Baptidzo, meaning to immerse, dip, plunge beneath, or submerge (Thayer, 1958, p. 94).
A transliteration, and not a translation, the word has persisted since the original King James translation of the Bible in 1611. A translation of the word would have no doubt created turmoil for the English and Roman churches which were sprinkling and not immersing.
Some will point to the fact that earlier translations in English also used the transliteration instead of the translating the verb Baptidzo, but this does not change the fact that the Greek word was not being translated. In fact, it appears that by the time of the 1611 King James Bible, the English word “Baptize” did mean to “immerse” and not sprinkle. Note the following comment:
The primary meaning of the English word “baptize” is “to immerse” and the translators used the word in this sense, they were all familiar with the Book of Common Prayer authorised by Queen Elizabeth I in 1559 and the earlier Prayer Books of Edward VI issued in 1549 and 1552. The 1549 book required “trine immersion” and the 1552 and 1559 books merely required that the minister should take the child and … “shal dippe it in the water”. The slight revision of the Prayer Book in 1604 did not affect this requirement, so it is evident that the translators, who were members of the Church of England, understood the word “baptism” to signify “dippe it in the water”, or “to immerse”. (Accessed from http://www.holybible.com/resources/Trinitarian/article_43.htm)
Unlike today’s reader of the Bible, the Bible reader of the 17th century understood the command was to immerse. Any other practice, would require the justification on the grounds of tradition. But should we be respecting traditions that contradict or ignore the original intent of Scripture?
The usage of the word in Colossians 2:12 and Romans 6:3-5 reflects the meaning, showing that in Baptism we are buried with Christ and from Baptism we are raised to walk in newness of life. Also the examples of John the Baptist and the Ethiopian Eunuch have the individuals going down into the water (John 3, Acts 8).
There are some who wish to justify the act of sprinkling or pouring water over the individual in place of an immersion. According to early writers, the church only knew immersion and the first instance of something to the contrary was in the mid-third century with the situation of Novatian who it was believed would soon die and the pouring of water over him in his bed was permitted. But according to the written history, this was not acceptable to most of the Bishops and no laymen accepted it.
Those who wish to justify sprinkling must ignore the almost universal protestations which Novatians “baptism” received, and do so on the theory that the tradition was passed down from the Apostles. However, the Apostles and Prophets didn’t mention it when they were guided by the Holy Spirit, but instead their words and practices were to immerse. There is no evidence that the Apostles were Baptizing by sprinkling. And so it is much better to follow the tradition of the New Testament writers. If they said to be immersed both by command and example, it is not acceptable to be sprinkled with water.
Others who wish to justify sprinkling make an attempt to redefine the Greek word. They use passages like Luke 11:38 where the Pharisees were astonished that Jesus did not Baptidzo (translated ‘wash’) before eating. The translation “to wash” is too general of a term and does not reflect the specific action of the inspired verb. The real intent of the Pharasaic tradition was to wash by immersion. His hands were to be baptized, dipped, according to the Pharisees tradition. Those who turn to such passages for justification of sprinkling do not find it in the inspired text.
When we follow the New Testament command and pattern, we will desire to be fully immersed into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit for the remission of our sins.