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July 26, 2005

Baptism Originally Was A Near-Death Experience

Although the technique of baptism is never fully explained in the New Testament and in later commentaries, baptism, death and drowning frequently intermingle in various religious writings in a manner that I find intriguing. Let's also remember that over time, ceremonies tend to become less actual and more symbolic. However, to me it's obvious that the early Christians underwent some sort of experience that was at least as strong as whatever the mystery religions of the time offered. When the Christians walked into the Coliseum to face ferocious beasts, they were 'already dead' or could not possibly have undergone such a trial of their faith so bravely. Baptism had to be seriously consciousness-altering, and I would presume it involved being ''dunked' and held under until you stopped struggling, with the celebrant's hand over your mouth and nostrils so you would not inhale water into your lungs. So in actual fact, it was a 'smothering' ceremony with the underwater aspect an additional incentive so that the person being baptized would not attempt to breathe.

(I recently ran this theory by the pastor of our local Presbyterian church, and to my amazement she agreed with my theory that baptism, now symbolic, had its origins in a Near-Death Experience [NDE])
Also see the following quotes:

Near-Death Experiences, Shamanism, and the Scientific Method
by J. Timothy Green, Ph.D.
This article was originally published in the IANDS "Journal of Near Death Studies" vol.16 #3 Spring 1998.
NDEs have been linked to a number of ancient traditions (Becker, 1984; Collins and Fishbane, 1991; Couliano, 1991; Greyson, 1993; Grosso, 1985; Moody, 1993, Moody and Perry, 1993; Platthy, 1993; Ring, 1984; Rinpoche, 1992; Zaleski, 1987), many of which were not only religious or philosophical systems, but actual methods of inducing direct spiritual experience. For example, Grosso (1985) has argued that the ancient Greek and Egyptian initiation rituals were actually highly developed methods of inducing NDEs in young priests-in-training. John White (1995) has discussed the belief that the original form of baptism, full body immersion, was one in which the initiate was held under water until near drowning, thereby inducing an NDE.


The Healing Breath Journal
Some Critical Issues in Stan & Christina Grof’s Holotropic Breathwork:
A discussion between Wilfried Ehrmann, Ph.D. & Stan Grof M.D., Ph.D.
It has been known for centuries that it is possible to influence consciousness by techniques that involve breathing. The procedures that have been used for this purpose by various ancient and non-Western cultures cover a very wide range from drastic interferences with breathing to subtle and sophisticated exercises of various spiritual traditions. Thus the original form of baptism practiced by the Essenes involved forced submersion of the initiate under water for an extended period of time. This resulted in a powerful experience of death and rebirth.

Madison IANDS Near Death Experiecnes
Ingrid Dilley's NDE Story
Hello, I’m Ingrid Dilley…..
In 1974, seven years after my near death experience, I met Dr. Stanislav Grof, a famous psychiatrist, who has now studied human consciousness for over 50 years. He was doing a grand rounds here in Madison and talking about his research and he compared near death experiences to spiritual awakening experiences and ceremonies that are available in every culture in the world…. He also talked about in Christianity about how Baptism was originally a near death experience which people had a near drowning experience and were held under water until they were reborn into the light. Obviously they weren’t very good at resuscitation back then so the ceremony evolved into what it is now, where water is simply dripped over the head.

Light on Life's Cycles & Initiations
By Ann K Elliott ©2002
"Even Christian baptism was initially a near-drowning experience."
1. Romans 6:3-6 - Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 4 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.

Water Baptism by Mitch Cervinka
Although, therefore, Dr. Conant may find a very few cases in which the baptism was for a limited period, he can find no case in which a baptism can be converted into a dipping; therefore, he can find no case of the use of this Greek word by which the ritual practice of dipping a man into water, as a baptism, can be justified.
But it is said that "if a man is not taken out of the water he will be drowned, and that was never intended by Christian baptism."
But why was the man put into the water? "Why, to be baptized." Well, baptize will put a man into water, but it never did and never will take him out. This Dr. Conant admits; but, he adds, as the man is not intended to be drowned, he must be taken out of the hands of baptize, which otherwise would drown him. In other words, the Holy Spirit has employed a word which requires, absolutely, disciples to be put under water without making any provision for their withdrawal; and Dr. Conant has to find some way to remedy the defect , on the ground of an inference that they are not to be drowned! And all this when baptizw (baptizo) would have done just what Dr. Conant thinks necessary to volunteer to do, namely, to put in momentarily and withdraw; which word the Holy Spirit never once uses. ...
For example, Josephus describes a game played by young men while bathing in which they would seek to hold another's head under the water as if to drown him.
"Continually pressing down and IMMERSING (BAPTIZING) him while swimming, as if in sport, they did not desist till they had entirely suffocated him."
— Josephus ,Jewish Antiquities , Book XV, Chapter 3,3.
It should be noted that the "baptism" here is strictly an immersion into the water. It was understood that the immersed person would, on his own , emerge from the water once his head was released (although in this instance, their purpose was actually to drown him). Even when the participants did not have murderous intent, baptizw (baptizo) would put the youth's head in the water, but would not take it out. If he came back up, it was by his own strength and initiative, and not because of his "baptism". This, then, is no justification of Immersionist "baptism", whereby the one who puts a person in the water also lifts him out.

Charles F. Baker, A Dispensational Theology (Grand Rapids: Grace Bible College Publications, 1972), p. 547.
The inconsistency of equating dipping with immersing should be pointed out. The primary meaning of bapto is to dip and dip means not only to submerge an object in a liquid, but to immediately remove the object. Immerse, on the other hand, means to submerge an object with no thought whatsoever of removing it. The primary idea of baptizo is this latter idea, and it should be evident to baptize a person into water in the primary sense of the word would be to drown the person, and, in fact, that is exactly the frequent usage of the word in classical Greek.

Where I grew up in South Africa there were a lot of splinter Christian groups, many of them exuberant in their worship. Some of them came from a “Baptist” tradition and met at least once a year at a river or dam to conduct baptism services by full immersion. These were always colourful affairs – and there would inevitably be some entertainment and some drama involved. On occasion it was difficult to tell the difference between the Ministers baptizing and the baptized, and the occasional drowning probably added something to the ritual as well.

The State of African Independent Churches in Botswana
Typical (since it reflects a standard insistence, on the part of the Registrar’s office, with regard to unhealthy conditions of baptism which ought to be avoided) [5] is the Cabinet Minister’s praise of the church’s baptism pools:
‘On realizing the number of reported deaths due to drowning during baptism, and also I presume as a response to health campaigns, the church decided to build baptism pools’ in Mochudi, Mahalapye and Mmadinare.

Radical Reformation Movement
In the month following the drafting of the Schleitheim Confession, Sattler and his wife were arrested, tried, and convicted of heresy. As a result of his conviction, on May 20, 1527, Sattler was taken to the town marketplace in Rottenburg and tortured. … Two days after his execution, Margaretha Sattler was executed by drowning, often called "the third baptism" by authorities.
Above, I mentioned the dual persecution of Anabaptists by both Protestant Reformers and Catholics. With rare exception, the Anabaptists submitted to martyrdom in the spirit of the early Christians. A popular method for killing anabaptists was to attach them to a heavy object and drown them. This was because the Anabaptists believed that a baptism which was not entered into by the will of the one being baptized was no baptism at all. The Protestants and Catholics chose to give them one last baptism, drowning.

Baptism is therefore a graphic picture of death by drowning and the putting of the dead out of sight. The old order is finished with. It has passed away. Then after a momentary pause—more evident when the believer bows forward or is baptised forward from a kneeling position—there is the emergence from the grave by the Lord’s enabling risen power and in His company. In this way there is the showing forth of newness of life in Christ. Baptism is the happiest burial service a person can have—and a quick resurrection follows it.
Recall that we are saved through Christ, crucified and risen. But this can occur only when we are united with Him in His death and resurrection. He brings us down by the death of the old self-centred nature, but He raises us up by His resurrection power. Our baptism proclaims this.
In describing NT baptism, one man writes: “The one under instruction prior to baptism now strips himself of his old clothes and goes down into the depths of the water as if to lose his life by drowning, and then rises up out of the water to live again, washed and cleansed, and puts on fresh clothes. What a rich and unforgettable symbolism of putting off the old man (with his clothes and wrappings and self) and putting on the new” (Baillie).

For example, some Greek texts say that a person is baptized to indicate that he is drowned; similarly, a ship that has been baptized has in fact been sunk or otherwise disabled. Many uses of the verb 'baptizo' are of a still more metaphorical nature. In classical Greek texts, one baptizes a cup when he dips it into a krater to draw out wine (e.g., Aristopho 14.5). From this, to say that a person is baptized in wine means simply that he is drunk (e.g., Plato, Symp. 176b). So too, a person or thing can be said to be baptized when faced with some sort of trouble or difficulty (e.g., Plato, Euthd, 277d).
We may gain a fuller appreciation of the polysemous nature of the verb 'baptizo' by briefly reviewing its occurrences in the writings of Flavius Josephus. Most often, Josephus employs 'baptizo' to indicate the drowning of a person or the wrecking of a ship. However, he also describes a person drunk to the point of insensibility as having been "baptized" (AJ, 10.169). So too, a group of young men who are all but lost owing to the intrigues of Salome are described as "baptized" (BJ 1.535), and Jerusalem is "baptized" when it faces destruction by the Romans and Jewish treason (BJ 4.137).

39. What does "baptism" (baptizo) evidently mean as used in Mk 10:35-40 (Cp Mt 20:20-23)? See Mk 10:32-32. It carries the idea of being overwhelmed with calamity. Also, since baptizo was also a form of execution (by drowning), it could be that Jesus used it here as a reference to martyrdom. Either way, its use here suggests intensive imagery…
Our English word "baptize" is merely a letter for letter transliteration of the original Greek. Outside the Bible, baptizo was used in reference to sunken ships (Thayer) or with reference to men who perished by drowning (Brown, NIDNTT, I, p. 144). BAGD thus defines it as meaning to "dip, immerse, plunge, sink, drench, over-whelm."

Baptism's Practice by Steven Atkerson
Nearly every church "baptizes" its converts, either by pouring, immersing, or sprinkling. The Greek behind our English word "baptize" is baptizo. According to Thayer’s lexicon, one use of this word outside the Bible was with reference to sunken ships. G. R. Beasley-Murray, in his article on baptism in The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Colin Brown, editor), stated that in Classical Greek it meant "to cause to perish (as by drowning a man)." BAGD defines baptizo as "dip, immerse" and points out that even in non-Christian literature it meant "plunge, sink, drench, overwhelm." J. D. G. Dunn wrote in the New Bible Dictionary (J. D. Douglas, editor) that New Testament baptism was "probably by immersion." Even Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary , in giving the Greek root for "baptize," defines baptizein as "to dip." Those proficient in Koine Greek are fairly well agreed that baptizo generally means immerse: "Despite assertions to the contrary, its seems that baptizo , both in Jewish and Christian contexts, normally meant ‘immerse,’ and that even when it became a technical term for baptism, the thought of immersion remains. The use of term for cleansing vessels (as in Le 6:28) does not prove the contrary, since vessels were normally cleansed by immersing them in water" (Brown, NIDNTT , I, p. 144).
Liddel and Scott point out in their Greek-English Lexicon that baptizo means "to dip repeatedly, to dip under." J.L Dagg noted, "The Greek language continued to be spoken for many years after the times of the apostles. During all this period they, to whom the word baptizo was vernacular, understood it to signify immerse ; and immersion has always been the practice of the Greek church to the present day. The Greeks must have understood the meaning of their own word. The Latin fathers also understood the word in the same way; and immersion prevailed in the western as well as in the eastern churches, until near the time of the reformation. Effusion was allowed instead of immersion, in case of sickness; but it was accounted an imperfect baptism" (J.L. Dagg, Manual of Church Order, p 36).


Elsewhere, Luther calls for submersion-completely covering the body with water; immersion is dipping part of the body in the water but not completely covering it. (13) LBW suggests pouring, but the Notes on the Liturgy in LBW-ME make immersion permissive. Both OSB and TLA speak of "applying water." RW3 suggests immersion as the preferred mode while also making pouring permissive. If a parish does not have a font large enough for submersion or immersion, a larger temporary font can be constructed easily. (14) Such abundant use of water clearly speaks the "drowning" and incorporation into the death and resurrection of Christ that are essential aspects of the sacrament of Holy Baptism.

Martin Luther's Writings
1. Baptism [Die Taufe] is baptismos in Greek, and mersio in Latin, and means to plunge something completely into the water, so that the water covers it. Although in many places it is no longer customary to thrust and dip infants into the font, but only with the hand to pour the baptismal water upon them out of the font, nevertheless the former is what should be done. It would be proper, according to the meaning of the word Taufe, that the infant, or whoever is to be baptized, should be put in and sunk completely into the water and then drawn out again. For even in the German tongue the word Taufe comes undoubtedly from the word tier [deep] and means that what is baptized is sunk deeply into the water….
3. The significance of baptism is a blessed dying unto sin and a resurrection in the grace of God, so that the old man, conceived and born in sin, is there drowned, and a new man, born in grace, comes forth and rises. Thus St. Paul, in Titus 3[:5], calls baptism a "washing of regeneration,"….
4. This significance of baptism—the dying or drowning ofsin—is not fulfilled completely in this life. Indeed this does not happen until man passes through bodily death and completely decays to dust. As we can plainly see, the sacrament or sign of baptism is quickly over. But the spiritual baptism, the drowning of sin, which it signifies, lasts as long as we live and is completed only in death. Then it is that a person is completely sunk in baptism, and that which baptism signifies comes to pass. Therefore this whole life is nothing else than a spiritual baptism which does not cease till death, and he who is baptized is condemned to die. It is as if the priest, when he baptizes, were to say, "Lo, you are sinful flesh. Therefore I drown you in God's name and in his name condemn you to death, so that with you all your sins" may die and be destroyed."
Secondly, baptism was a way of identifying with Christ's death and resurrection. To be immersed in water was a symbol of "drowning" -- dying to sin, to the past, to the old life -- and “coming out of the water" was a symbol of resurrection – of being raised to new ways of living (see Romans 6: 3-4).

But it will be a baptism, and baptism means a death, a drowning. It means going down into the water and literally drowning. It is a death to self.

Baptism is a desperate measure. It’s one step off drowning yourself - only in another sense it’s a million miles away from that.

For a desert people the most fearful form of death is the one they know least about – drowning. Yet Baptism, a ritual initiated by the desert people of Biblical times, is a rehearsal or symbolic enactment of a person going "under water" – drowning – and rising up again in new life.

09.07.99 Houston TX
A teenaged boy drowned during a baptism in the Houston river yesterday. The boy slipped away from the minister while he was under.

Down into the water Jesus went at his Baptism in the River; down into the water completely, as the waters closed over his head: Baptism is drowning, literally drowning that Old Adam putting that sinful self to death.


Martin Luther called baptism “death by drowning,” and old-time Baptists spoke of it as a “watery grave,” reminding us that Christian life is meant to be a call out of our old life and into a new one. As descendants of believers with such arresting language, we might fidget in discomfort to hear it repeated when we prefer to think of baptism as a cozy little sacrament in a softly-lit sanctuary. But when it comes to the subject of baptism, the Bible really means business —

How well Luther understood how much like Saul we are by birth! We don't choose to come to Christ; Christ chooses us and comes to us. He causes the death of our Old Adam in the waters of Holy Baptism, drowning the Old Man. And then he brings us out of our watery tomb, resurrected with Christ, the New Adam. Every Christian Baptism is an act of God's grace no less than it was for the Apostle Paul. In Holy Baptism you and I were converted and brought to the true knowledge of Christ.


The merit of Christ's saving death on Calvary comes to us and is applied to us in Holy Absolution, just as it was in our Baptism. Holy Absolution is the on-going work of Holy Baptism, drowning our old, sinful nature in Adam and raising our new, sinless nature in Christ. "The free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 6:23).

The Crossings Community, Inc . is the corporate name of an international ecumenical group begun in St. Louis, Missouri, USA in the 1970s to engage in theological study and to relate that study to Christians' secular callings.
Step 5--Advanced Prognosis: The Rightness of Drowning and Rising
Because we are in solidarity with our Lord, we too share in his baptism--his drowning into death and his rising again to new life. All the secret imaginations our hearts get to be crucified through repentance, to be washed away in the waters. And yet this letting go of vain imaginations is all in order to grasp the truly secure and certain hopes that come from the Messiah Jesus through whom the divine blessing becomes our own. We become the children of God, the beloved of God with whom the Father is pleased, by staking all of our trust in his Beloved One, Jesus.

Ordinary Girl by Dona Summer (autobiography?)
I was only four feet eight inches at the time, and, sure enough, as I got nearer to the middle of the pool I found myself in well over my head. I kept jumping as Ricky had instructed; however, each time I hit the bottom of the pool, I had more and more difficulty coming back to the surface. I realized I was drowning and I started to panic. Just then I saw a couple of young boys dive into the pool right over my head. I thought they would know I was drowning if I could only grab one of their legs. With all the strength I had left in me, I grabbed, but water filled my lungs and I blacked out.
I have no idea how long I was unconscious, but somehow I came to and found myself walking along the bottom of the pool toward the shallow end. I kept walking across the bottom of the pool, no longer in a state of panic, but rather in a state of peace. I walked until the water receded across my face. Looking up, I opened my eyes and saw the beautiful blue sky. My first thought was "Heaven is so beautiful. Why was I so afraid to die?" The emergency bell rang, jerking me back into reality. My sisters and brother jumped into the pool and pulled me out.
To this day I think of my near drowning as a baptism. Although I had no idea how I miraculously survived, I knew God was watching over me. From that moment on, it was a matter of faith to me that He would continue to watch over me and that He must have something special in mind for me. I had no idea what the future would be, but somehow I knew it would be something wonderful.

Mom said she wouldn't worry or take me seriously as long as I wasn't baptized. On October 5, 1958, Herb Munce baptized me by immersion (and near drowning) in the little Hebrew Christian Church. It was not a pleasant experience. In fact, it was somewhat frightening. I felt as if I was going into a den of lions. I fully expected to die, which in a spiritual sense was what had happened.
Now my mother believed me - that I did believe in Jesus and she was not happy about it. She also sensed that I had met with a kind of death, and that I was more distanced from her. She wanted to know if I had become a Protestant or a Catholic - or what? I, too, wanted to know what I was now. I searched myself thoroughly inside and discovered I had become neither Protestant nor Catholic nor Gentile. Happily, I was still Jewish, and if anything - more so!

Deeper Secrets of Human History by Rudolf Steiner
In the Light of the Gospel of St. Matthew
Published by Rudolf Steiner Press, London in 1985
Book Review by Bobby Matherne ©2002
In the desert the Nazarene John was baptizing all comers in water. Steiner points out that with near drowning, the etheric body is loosened from the physical body, where it has been confined since the advent of rational thinking in the person of Abraham. Thus the cry of John the Baptist, "Repent Ye!" may be understood as "Change the tenor of your minds!" That admonition, followed by a loosening of the etheric body, produced a powerful change in the lives of those baptized. John attacked the Pharisees, descendants of Ishmael, and warned them that in a true baptism, they will experience their etheric body as the "Lamb of God" and not as the "Serpent," as their ancestors had always done.


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