Traditionally, baptism has been administered in three different ways: sprinkling, pouring and immersion. All 3 have biblical merit to them.
Sprinkling. In Hebrews 9:13-14, we are told that our consciences have been cleansed with Christ’s blood, the image being one of sprinkling. This image goes back to certain OT sacrifices where the blood of the sacrifice would be sprinkled on the worshipper to symbolize they were cleansed of their sin (Hebrews 9:19-21). In Hebrews 10:22 the writer urges Christians to draw near to God without fear for their hearts/consciences have been cleansed by sprinkling, their bodies having been washed with water. He is calling them to recall their baptism and to remember it represents the sprinkling of the blood of Christ. It is reasonable to assume these particular Christians had been sprinkled in their baptism
Pouring. The Apostles were told they would be baptized in the Spirit (Acts 1:5) When this happens, it is described as the Spirit being poured out (2:17). Baptism then can be applied in the pouring out of water on a person representing the pouring out of the Spirit.
Immersion. The word baptize can literally mean to dip or to immerse. Baptism can then be administered by immersion which can be said to represent our union with Christ in his death and resurrection (Romans 6:1-4), the going under the water representing burial, the emerging from the water representing resurrection.
Thus all 3 modes of baptism have biblical precedent, representing different aspects of Christ’s work for us (cleansing, giving of the Spirit, union in death/ressurection). What is most interesting is that all three of these modes of baptism in the Bible are also images of God’s wrath. This provides a unity in their meaning as images of God’s salvation, that he himself bore God’s wrath for our sin upon the cross. Let us look at how these 3 images can represent the wrath of God.
The Plague of Sprinkling. In one of God’s plagues on Egypt in the Book of Exodus, ashes were sprinkled in front of Pharaoh which produced boils on the people of Egypt (9:8). Your Bible might use another word in that verse, but the Hebrew word is literally “sprinkle.” Sprinkling can therefore be an image of God’s wrath.
Pouring Out of God Wrath. God’s judgment in the Bible is often pictured as God pouring out his wrath as if he were pouring it out of a flask in heaven. (2 Chronicles 34:21, 25, Jer 7:20) Pouring can represent wrath.
Immersed in the Flood of God’s Wrath. The Old Testament often speaks of God’s wrath as a flood that drowns or overwhelms its victim (Isaiah 8:6-8, Hosea 5:10), This, of course, would be an image of immersion.
We have just established that the 3 modes of baptism can also be used as images of God’s wrath. Is there a connection with the wrath of God and baptism. Jesus asked his disciples, “Can you be baptized with the baptism I must be baptized with?” (Mark 10:38) Jesus was referring to the cross as his baptism. On the cross, the wrath of God was poured out on Jesus, God’s wrath was sprinkled on Jesus, Jesus was immersed in God’s wrath. All of this was his bearing the wrath of God that our sins deserved. To save us from wrath, He paid the debt that our sins owed the justice of God.
The images of baptism are used for the death of Christ as our salvation. At the Lord’s Supper, Jesus said that his blood was going to be poured out for the forgiveness of sin (Matt 26:28). Christians have been sprinkled by the blood of Christ (2 Peter 1:2, Hebrews 12:24). Both these images go back to the OT sacrificial system and speak of the application of the substitutionary sacrifice to the worshipper, atoning for their sin. While Christ’s death was a baptism for him in God’s wrath, it provides a baptism for us that cleanses us so that we do not have to endure the wrath of God. When we are baptized, we are baptized into Jesus, united to him and his baptism on the cross, so that our sins are united to his cross and thus paid for by his sacrifice for us.
To be baptized then is to have the seal of Christ placed upon us, the seal that says that Jesus has endured the wrath of God in our place and thus we are free from God’s wrath. Baptism is the receipt that says this debt has already been paid and that we are no longer liable for it. Jesus was baptized in God’s wrath that we might be baptized in God’s grace.
Thus the three traditional images of baptism can represent different aspects of Christ’s work for us, but they are united in representing Christ’s work of propitiation, his saving us from God’s wrath by bearing it himself.