Gospel Gazette Online
Volume 21 Number 2 February 2019
Page 8

Transliterated or Translated

David R. Kenney

David R. KenneySome may not recognize the difference between translation and transliteration, but it can be a very important matter. To translate a word means to select a word from the other language that has an equivalent meaning. Sometimes translators prefer, for whatever reason, to transliterate a word rather than to translate it. Perhaps there is no equivalent word in English, and so they prefer to bring the word into an English format through transliteration. How does one transliterate a word? One takes the letters of the word in the original language, and then matches, letter-for-letter to the word in the target language. Next, one modifies these transferred letters to fit within the convention of the target language by smoothing the term into a word that appears to be English. For example, if you were transliterating into English, the smoothing process would be called Anglicizing, but if German, the process would be called Germanizing.

An important passage to see that baptism is not a translation but rather a transliteration was pointed out to me by Wayne Jackson.

Then the anointed priest shall take some of the bull’s blood and bring it to the tabernacle of meeting. The priest shall dip his finger in the blood and sprinkle some of the blood seven times before the Lord, in front of the veil of the sanctuary. And the priest shall put some of the blood on the horns of the altar of sweet incense before the Lord, which is in the tabernacle of meeting; and he shall pour the remaining blood of the bull at the base of the altar of the burnt offering, which is at the door of the tabernacle of meeting. (Leviticus 4:5–7 NKJV)

Notice that there are three distinct actions performed; however, the words are not the same! The following chart gives one a comparison.





Hebrew OT




Greek (LXX)




Greek NT








English Translations




Of particular significance are the LXX and the Greek New Testament. Both of these languages are in Koine Greek, but the timespan between these two works is significant. (The LXX for Leviticus dates to approximately 250 B.C.) Still, the words remain distinctly different from one another (sprinkle, pour and immerse). One of the arguments some attempt to make is that baptism refers to the general meaning of a washing which can be accomplished in a plurality of methods (sprinkling, pouring or immersing.) This argument attempts to generalize where the LXX and the Greek NT specify. They try to argue this generalization is a product of time; however, such is not the case. One can find instances of pouring in the New Testament (Matthew 26:7, 12; Mark 14:3; Luke 10:34, et. al.), but these are not translated from baptízō. One can find instances of sprinkling in the Greek New Testament (Hebrews 9:19, 21; 10:22, et. al.), but these are not translated from baptízō either. When one examines a Greek Lexicon where the New Testament uses the term “baptize” or “baptism,” the term is baptízō (or some form of it.) Neither the term “sprinkle” nor “pour” are used in connection with Christian baptism.

The apostle Paul portrayed baptism beautifully as a burial with Christ. “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4). The terms “baptized” and “baptism” here both mean the same thing: “plunging, dipping, washing, water-rite, baptism” (Analytical Greek Lexicon 165).

As to the concept of the usage of the term “washing” in reference to baptism, there is an interesting occurrence where both terms show up in Ananias’ directions to Saul of Tarsus. “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). Here, Saul was told to “wash” (apoloúō) and “be baptized” (baptízō). The general meaning “wash” is given a specific method “immersion.” What Saul was being told was to wash away his sins through the mode of immersion, not sprinkling or pouring. In this instance, the term “wash” was used, but the method was still specified. If baptism meant “to wash” in a general sense, then how does one explain this? One will search in vain to find an instance in the New Testament where the terms for “sprinkling” and “pouring” are used for Christian baptism.

Sadly, many translations have done mankind a disservice by refusing to translate the term baptízō in order to perpetuate the false doctrine of sprinkling and pouring as forms of Christian baptism. In 1611, the translators of the King James Version reversed the Puritans’ error of rendering baptism as “wash,” but they made the unfortunate decision to transliterate the term as “baptism” rather than to translate it. This has been known for centuries, as acknowledged by Martin Luther who stated in his The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, “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.’”

Some will try to minimize or trivialize these matters, but let me ask you a question to ponder. When you stand before Christ, would you rather that you had been sprinkled, poured or immersed into Christ (Galatians 3:27)? If one wants to obey what Christ commanded, there is only one correct answer.

Works Cited or Consulted

Bagster, Samuel. The Analytical Greek Lexicon. London: Samuel Bagster and Sons, n.d.

Jackson, Wayne. Treasures from the Greek New Testament for the English Reader. Stockton: Courier P., 1996.

Luther, Martin. The Babylonian Captivity of the Church. Philadelphia: Fortress P., 1959.

Overton, Basil. Gems From Greek. Abilene, TX: Quality P., 1991.

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