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Romans 6:4 (ESV),

4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

Colossians 2:12 (ESV),

12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.

These two verses seem to contain essentially the same phrase:

  • "...buried therefore with him by baptism..."
  • "...buried with him in baptism..."

Apart from the use of "therefore", each verse contains a different preposition:

  • "...by baptism..." (from διά)
  • "...in baptism..." (from ἐν)

Additionally, they each contain a slightly different Greek word for baptism:

Romans 6:4 uses βαπτίσματος while Colossians 2:12 uses βαπτισμῷ.

Superficially, especially in English translation, it would appear both verses are indicating the same thing.

However, is a difference in meaning according to the Greek text indicated by the use of the different prepositions and nouns?

Why or why not? And if so, what is the difference in meaning?

3 Answers 3

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First, both nouns have the same meaning because they both the same noun but in different grammatical cases:

  • Rom 6:4 - βαπτίσματος = genitive neuter singular = "of baptism"
  • Col 2:12 - βαπτισμῷ = dative masculine singular = "to/for baptism" (NA28/UBS5). However, the Byzantine text has βαπτίσματι = dative neuter singular = "to/for baptism". [That is, the difference in text makes no difference to the translation.]

The difference in meaning between these two texts is very slight, despite the efforts of some professional exegetes to wring fine shades to differentiate them. To be absolutely technical we could say that:

  • Rom 6:4 - "we were buried with Him through baptism" = we were symbolically buried as was Christ via the symbolism of baptism (because διὰ τοῦ βαπτίσματος)
  • Col 2:12 - "having been buried with Him in baptism" = we were symbolically buried with Christ in(or through) the institution/rite of baptism (because ἐν τῷ βαπτίσματι)

However, I would not press the point too far - both say essentially the same thing. Most commentaries either have the same comments, or, refer to the other to save repeating themselves.

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  • Not to be picky but the two words are different case not of different declensions.
    – Nigel J
    Dec 21, 2021 at 20:02
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    @NigelJ - sorry - you are absolutely correct. I will correct this.
    – Dottard
    Dec 21, 2021 at 20:03
  • Is there a difference to you between the words "symbolically" and "spiritually." It seems that Paul is speaking more here of a spiritual burial and not merely a symbolic burial given the context since, for example, the purpose of baptism in Rom 6:4 is in order that we may walk in the (spiritual - at least -) newness of life.
    – Austin
    Dec 22, 2021 at 1:57
  • @Austin - agreed - that is part of the very fine shade of meaning. But that is the point - they are almost indistinguishable.
    – Dottard
    Dec 22, 2021 at 3:14
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    @Dottard, that is super interesting. My experience is when people use the word symbolic, they do so to downplay any real spiritual significance to the physical rite of baptism. Thanks for the response.
    – Austin
    Dec 22, 2021 at 6:02
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Two things to consider the difference in context and the symbolism that is more vivid considering the original meaning of immerse for baptism.

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized [/immersed] into [εἰς] Christ Jesus were baptized [/immersed] into [εἰς] his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by [/through] baptism [being immersed] into [εἰς] death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by [/through] the glory of the Father, we too might walk in [ἐν] newness of life. (Rom. 6:3–4, ESV)

 In him [ἐν] also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by [ἐν] putting off the body of the flesh, by [ἐν] the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in [ἐν] baptism [immersion], in [ἐν] which you were also raised with him through [διὰ] faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. (Col. 2:11–12, ESV)

The question isn't whether the symbolism is there, as in a previously asked question, because it is. That question should be how much more than symbolism is here.

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    I think the question with respect to symbolism within this verse isn't whether there is symbolism involved but rather is baptism a mere symbol with no spiritual effect. It's like the symbol of two becoming one flesh in marriage. Clearly there is symbolism involved, but its point is to describe a literal spiritual union. Similarly with baptism, there is certainly symbolism, but the symbolism marks a literal spiritual union with Christ & his death which is why like marriage it only (ideally) happens once as opposed to communion which is done repeatedly & explicitly for the sake of remembrance.
    – Austin
    Dec 22, 2021 at 2:13
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I agree with Dottard that

"both nouns have the same meaning because they [are] both the same noun but in different grammatical cases:

  • Rom 6:4 - βαπτίσματος = genitive neuter singular = "of baptism"
  • Col 2:12 - βαπτισμῷ = dative masculine singular = "to/for baptism" (NA28/UBS5).
    However, the Byzantine text has βαπτίσματι = dative neuter singular = "to/for baptism". [That is, the difference in text makes no difference to the translation.]

I believe the reason that Paul in Romans 6:4 uses the phrase, "through the baptism" (διὰ τοῦ βαπτίσματος) is to illustrate that Christians, including himself, passed through baptism into the death of Christ (proximate objective) in order that we have the potential to live in the newness of life (ultimate objective).

I believe that Paul used the phrase, "in the baptism" (ἐν τῷ βαπτισμῷ), in Colossians 2:12 to locate when we underwent the circumcision that was made without hands (proximate objective) as discussed in Colossians 2:11. It happened as we were buried with Christ in baptism.

(NOTE: I don't believe Paul is equating the circumcision that is made without hands with the baptism that is normally done with hands. Again baptism is where/when this special hand-less circumcision happens)

In summary it seems that:

  • Paul uses the "through" (διὰ) language, in Romans 6:4, to show that baptism was the functional means through which an objective event, stated within the same verse, occurs.
  • In Colossians 2:12, he uses the "in" (ἐν) language to identify the rite of baptism as the location within which a past event, discussed in the previous verse, occurred.
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    This is also a fine answer Dec 23, 2021 at 12:31
  • Just a note: ἐν + the dative (reflecting the Hebrew/Biblical "b" as a "means") can be so close to διά + the genitive that the two are almost synonymous. BDF §219 and §223,3. Jan 15 at 8:31
  • @Daniel what do mean by reflecting the Hebrew/Biblical "b"? And how do you know if ἐν + the dative reflects the Hebrew/Biblical "b"?
    – Austin
    Jan 15 at 15:22
  • @Austin, I can't write Hebrew on this machine, but "b" is the Hebrew preposition for, among other things, "in", but it is used for much more than "in". It can be instrumental, among other things Many, many cases of the Greek prepostion "en" in the NT reflect semitic language, maybe only via the LXX (Greek bible) and not just because someone has a semitic language as their first language (probably rarely because of that). I was citing the reference grammar for NT Greek when I wrote it reflects Hebrew/Biblical prepostion "b". Jan 15 at 16:15
  • @DanielRidings, Thanks. That makes sense. I understand that is often how "en" is translated, however, I wonder if its primary meaning even in those contexts where that may be appropriate is still primarily one of location (in terms of time/space/category/group identify etc.) and that only by implication "means" is meant, for it seems to me there must be some nuanced and intuitive justification for using "en" instead of "dia." Potentially, just translating "en" as "through" or "by" can reduce some of the depth of meaning.
    – Austin
    Jan 15 at 18:01

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