The Mathematical Improbability of Baptism by Immersion
So the other day, someone asked about the difference between baptism by immersion and baptism by sprinkling. I responded with all of the typical arguments, but something struck me that I had never thought about before, Pentecost. In Luke's account of Pentecost (in Acts 2) we read of Holy Spirit descending in power on Apostles. From this they go out into the city preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ. Peter stands before the crowds and preaches and incredible, bold sermon and then this happens:
So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. (Acts 2:41)
What a sermon! What an outpouring of Holy Spirit! But then it struck me. The Apostles baptized 3,000 people in a day! Unfortunately, many of our translations blunt the sense of the Greek text which makes the “baptizing” and “adding” parallel ideas. So that those who received the word were “baptized and added” on that day.
I have seen a number of megachurch baptisms and the logistics of mass immersions are staggering. I have watched on youtube (of course churches with mass baptisms would put them on youtube!) and been impressed at the administrative architecture that it takes to pull of several hundred baptisms in one day.
But several thousand…
And it got me thinking about the math. Let's assume that the selection of Matthias brought the number of Apostles back up to 12 (remember Judas is already dead). And let's assume that there is a pool of water large enough for 12 men to simultaneously be conducting baptisms, perhaps the Pool of Siloam. And let us also assume that surrounding this water is enough room for 3,000 people to cue up for a baptism. Let's assume all of that as a given.
On top of this, we must account for the time factor. Most immersionist also require a profession of faith prior to a baptism. This ends with the minister saying something like this, “Then on the basis of your profession of faith, I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Even if everyone was brief, it isn't unreasonable to think that getting into the water, giving a credible profession of faith, and then proceeding out of the water would take around 5 minutes per person.
So we have 3,000 people being baptized by 12 Apostles, averaging 5 minutes per baptism. That means that each Apostle would have to baptize 250 people. At 5 minutes a piece, that would take 750 minutes if you were incredibly efficient and didn't take snack or potty breaks.
That's 12.5 hours! Can you imagine being at the end of this line?
Now we also know that the early church often had converts give their profession of faith by reciting a baptismal creed. And despite the name, we know that the Apostles didn't write the Apostles Creed. But even if we conjecture that they were able to repeat a formula, not give an off the cuff testimony, we are still looking at 3 minutes a person, which, at best, cuts our time down to 7.5 hours.
The logistics of a mass immersion at Pentecost push the boundaries of reasonableness. Could Holy Spirit have organized the orchestration of such an event? Sure, He absolutely could have. But is there another possible answer from the pages of scripture?
Yes, there is.
At Sinai when the people renewed the Covenant with God, Moses did something strange. He took the blood of the sacrifices and used half of it to baptize the people of Israel. Check it out in Exodus 24:8,
And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.”
It is certainly not a trump card for baptism by sprinkling, but the scriptural way to make sense of the massive baptism movement at Pentecost is to mirror the Old Covenant's mass baptism at Sinai.
Either that or the Apostles, not UPS, coined the phrase, “It's Logistics.”