Overview on Baptism

The word ‘baptism’ is derived from the Greek word, bapto, or baptizo, to wash or to immerse. It signifies, therefore, that washing is of the essential idea of the sacrament.

This is a long overview on baptism. I’ve written it to give my readers a good understanding of the many issues to do with baptism and its practice.

In it I give a brief overview of different denominational positions on baptism including some elements from the new perspective on Paul. Then I give an overview of the most of the scriptural data in a semi chronological order. Afterwards I discuss covenantal membership and salvation with respect to baptism. Then I discuss households, children and baptism. Finally I give my own summary position.

Contents

Glossary

Sacraments

A sacrament is a rite or ceremony instituted by Jesus, and observed by the church as a means of or visible sign of grace. The English word sacrament is from the Latin sacramentum, which means to make holy, or to consecrate. Sacraments are ceremonial in nature.

Gospel

The story about Jesus describing his birth, life, ministry, sufferings, death, burial and resurrection. The gospel declares Jesus as the promised Christ and King. The gospel requires a response of repentance and faith. It is the power of salvation for all who believe.

Covenant

Covenants are made between two or more parties. Covenants establish relationships between those parties and define various obligations each party is to abide by.

The covenants God makes in scripture have members, promises, commands, blessings and curses. God as king has made various covenants with people. These covenants establish Father-Son, King-People relationships which we see particularly describing the relationship between God and Israel.

God makes various promises in these covenants. God is faithful to his promises and fulfills them. God’s people, those in covenant with him, are obligated to trust God and keep his commands. Based on whether God’s people keep the commands or not, God is obligated under covenant to bless or curse his people accordingly.

Covenant Membership

In discussions relating to baptism covenant membership and membership of the body of Christ, the church are often synonymous. Covenant membership includes a person within the covenant community. The church. Covenant members are beneficiaries of God’s covenant promises. These include forgiveness of sins and inheritance of the kingdom of God. In Genesis, circumcision is the rite by which people entered the covenant and became a member (Gen 17).

Salvation

Salvation denotes various forms of rescue and deliverance. Salvation is conceived holistically in that it has a past, present and future. Salvation is from sin, death and wrath. Salvation is into new life, that is the kingdom of God and eternal life with God. Salvation is more of a journey rather than a moment in time occurrence. Salvation is closely associated with forgiveness of sins, justification and receiving eternal life.

Regeneration

“Inner cleansing and renewal of the human nature by the Holy Spirit. Mankind’s spiritual condition is transformed from a disposition of sin to one of a new relationship with God (Ti 3:5). Regeneration involves both moral restoration and the reception of new life. The idea of regeneration is expressed as rebirth—being born again (Jn 3:3–7). This new birth suggests the newness of life in Christ.” (Elwell, W.A. & Beitzel, B.J., 1988. Baker encyclopedia of the Bible, p.1830.)

Household

“Persons who live in the same place and compose a family or extended family. In biblical times a household included father, mother(s), children, grandparents, servants, concubines, and sojourners. Jacob’s household included people, not counting the wives of his sons (Gn 46:26). Households were seen as corporately responsible for the honor of the family (2 Sam 3:27 gives an example of revenge by a household). Male members of the entire household were circumcised as a sign of the covenant (Gn 17:23). In the NT some entire households were baptized (Acts 11:14).” (Elwell, W.A. & Beitzel, B.J., 1988. Baker encyclopedia of the Bible, p.1007.)

Historical Overview

First I will give an overview of various historical theories about baptism.

Catholic and Early Church (Remission of Sins)

“Holy Baptism holds the first place among the sacraments, because it is the door of the spiritual life; for by it we are made members of Christ and incorporated with the Church. And since through the first man death entered into all, unless we be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, we can not enter into the kingdom of Heaven, as Truth Himself has told us. … The effect of this sacrament is the remission of all sin, original and actual; likewise of all punishment which is due for sin. As a consequence, no satisfaction for past sins is enjoined upon those who are baptized; and if they die before they commit any sin, they attain immediately to the kingdom of heaven and the vision of God.” (“The Decree for the Armenians”, http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02258b.htm)

Following from this understanding of baptism, I assume the early church baptised their infants because they believed baptism removed original sin from them. Likewise on the other hand some in the early church held off on being baptised before death because they wanted to die clean of any sin.

Catholic position – Baptism brings about Membership and Salvation (wipes away sins)

Luther (Baptismal Regeneration)

Luther has written on Baptism in a few sources. Here are some of them.

“But, in the first place, we take up Baptism, by which we are first received into the Christian Church. (2, Luthers Large Catechism)

Lastly, we must also know what Baptism signifies, and why God has ordained just such external sign and ceremony for the Sacrament by which we are first received into the Christian Church. (64, ibid)

Baptism is essentially a means by which He has chosen to bring us His Spirit and the forgiveness of sins. God often uses things which seem ordinary to do miraculous works. He speaks to us through a book. He came to us in human flesh. He even spoke through an ass! God often hides Himself in ordinary elements as He reveals Himself. This is the same with the water of baptism.

We believe in baptismal regeneration. This means that the Spirit has chosen to work through baptismal water in the same way that He works through His word. Reformed Christians often say that the preached word is a means of regeneration but baptism is not. We believe that both are means which God uses to bring His promise to us. Baptism is the gospel in visible form, thus it gives all of the benefits of the gospel.

We believe in infant baptism. Since infants cannot understand the word, God uses baptism as a means to regenerate them and bring them into the faith. Through it, God gives faith. If faith is truly a gift of God and not a human work, God can certainly do this for an infant. He can also do it through whatever means He has chosen.

We believe that baptism is a form of the gospel, not a form of the law. Baptism is an act performed by Christ, through the hands of the administer of the sacrament. It is His gift of life and salvation. It is not a work we do. It is not something we do to profess our faith, or to profess that we will raise our children in the faith. It is a gift of grace through the promise of the gospel.” (Luther’s Small Catechism, Book of Concord)

Luther’s position – Baptism brings about Membership and Salvation (Regeneration and faith)

Calvin (Covenant sign)

I will quote a bit more from Calvin because I will be mainly dealing with his theory.

BAPTISM is the initiatory sign by which we are admitted to the fellowship of the Church, that being ingrafted into Christ we may be accounted children of God. Moreover, the end for which God has given it (this I have shown to be common to all mysteries) is, first, that it may be conducive to our faith in him; and, secondly, that it may serve the purpose of a confession among men. (Calvin, J. & Beveridge, H., 1845. Institutes of the Christian religion, Edinburgh: The Calvin Translation Society.) (4.15.1)

For he did not mean to intimate that our ablution and salvation are perfected by water, or that water possesses in itself the virtue of purifying, regenerating, and renewing; nor does he mean that it is the cause of salvation, but only that the knowledge and certainty of such gifts are perceived in this sacrament. (4.15.2)

It is now clear, how false the doctrine is which some long ago taught, and others still persist in, that by baptism we are exempted and set free from original sin, and from the corruption which was propagated by Adam to all his posterity, and that we are restored to the same righteousness and purity of nature which Adam would have had if he had maintained the integrity in which he was created. This class of teachers never understand what is meant by original sin, original righteousness, or the grace of baptism. (4.15.10)

Now, since prior to the institution of baptism, the people of God had circumcision in its stead, let us see how far these two signs differ, and how far they resemble each other. In this way it will appear what analogy there is between them. (4.16.3)

And certainly in this matter the truth may almost be felt. For just as circumcision, which was a kind of badge to the Jews, assuring them that they were adopted as the people and family of God, was their first entrance into the Church, while they, in their turn, professed their allegiance to God, so now we are initiated by baptism, so as to be enrolled among his people, and at the same time swear unto his name. Hence it is incontrovertible, that baptism has been substituted for circumcision, and performs the same office. (4.16.4)

Then, since the Lord, immediately after the covenant was made with Abraham, ordered it to be sealed in infants by an outward sacrament, how can it be said that Christians are not to attest it in the present day, and seal it in their children? Let it not be objected, that the only symbol by which the Lord ordered his covenant to be confirmed was that of circumcision, which was long ago abrogated. It is easy to answer, that, in accordance with the form of the old dispensation, he appointed circumcision to confirm his covenant, but that it being abrogated, the same reason for confirmation still continues, a reason which we have in common with the Jews. Hence it is always necessary carefully to consider what is common to both, and wherein they differed from us. The covenant is common, and the reason for confirming it is common. The mode of confirming it is so far different, that they had circumcision, instead of which we now have baptism. (4.16.6)

The key elements of Calvin’s theory are:

  1. baptism is basically the gospel enacted,
  2. in baptism people are reminded of God’s promises,
  3. baptism is equivalent to circumcision.

Calvin is a strong proponent of infant baptism.

Calvin’s position – Baptism brings about Membership, not Salvation (it is a sign).

Anabaptist (Believers Baptism)

Anabaptists (Re-Baptisers) are part of the radical Reformed movement. They are Christians who believe in delaying baptism until the candidate confesses his or her faith in Christ, as opposed to being baptized as an infant. The Amish, Hutterites, and Mennonites are direct descendants of the movement. (Wiki)

The Anabaptists, differ greatly from the other three streams. The Anabaptists believed that a sign should always follow the thing it signifies, not anticipate it. Anabaptist views:

“People are born into the world lost and need to be regenerated. One does not enter the church as a citizen as one enters the state. In the latter one is naturally born into it; in the former one is spiritually born into it. The state is not the church; the church is not the state.”

The earliest confession of the Anabaptists states:

“Baptism shall be given to all those who have learned repentance and amendment of life, and to all those who walk in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and wish to be buried with him in death. . . . This excludes all infant baptism . . . .” (Source Unknown)

New Perspective on Judaism (Sanders)

Sanders doesn’t say much about baptism. However he does say a bit about the relationship between covenant membership and salvation which has some bearing on the topic.

Covenantal Nomism

Sanders argued for a pattern of religion that was common to Palestinian Judaism.

The ‘pattern’ or ‘structure’ of covenantal nomism is this:

  • (1) God has chosen Israel [election] and
  • (2) given the law [of Moses]. The law implies both
  • (3) God’s promise to maintain the election and
  • (4) the requirement to obey.
  • (5) God rewards obedience and punishes transgression.
  • (6) The law provides for means of atonement, and atonement results in
  • (7) maintenance or re-establishment of the covenantal relationship.
  • (8) All those who are maintained in the covenant by obedience, atonement and God’s mercy belong to the group which will be saved. (422, PPJ)

Immediately afterward Sanders says;

An important interpretation of the first and last points is that election and ultimately salvation are considered to be by God’s mercy rather than human achievement. (ibid)

Salvation by Membership in the Covenant

Sanders research described a particular relationship between covenant membership and salvation.

The all-pervasive view is this: all Israelites have a share in the world to come unless they renounce it by renouncing God and his covenant. All sins, no matter of what gravity, which are committed within the covenant, may be forgiven as long as a man indicates his basic intention to keep the covenant by atoning, especially by repenting of transgression.

Moore (Moore, Judaism II, p. 95.) has put it this way: ‘A lot in the World to come’… is ultimately assured to every Israelite on the ground of the original election of the people by the free grace of God … [It] is not wages earned by works, but is bestowed by God in pure goodness upon the members of his chosen people, as ‘eternal life’ in Christianity is bestowed on the individuals whom he has chosen, or on the members of the church. (147, Paul and Palestinian Judaism)

Summary

We are now in a position to see the overall pattern of Rabbinic religion as it applied to Israelites (proselytes and righteous Gentiles will be considered  below). The pattern is this: God has chosen Israel and Israel has accepted the election. In his role as King, God gave Israel commandments which they  are to obey as best they can. Obedience is rewarded and disobedience punished. In case of failure to obey, however, man has recourse to divinely  ordained means of atonement, in all of which repentance is required. As long  as he maintains his desire to stay in the covenant, he has a share in God’s covenantal promises, including life in the world to come. The intention and effort to be obedient constitute the condition for remaining in the covenant, but they do not earn it. (180, ibid) …

To repeat our frequent conclusion, the universal view is that  every individual Israelite who indicates his intention to remain in the covenant by repenting, observing the Day of Atonement and the like, will be forgiven for all his transgressions. The passages on repenting and atoning in  order to return to God, which are ubiquitous in the literature, presuppose the covenantal relationship between God and all the members of Israel. (182, ibid)

In previous historical positions on baptism we can see it bringing about membership and / or salvation. Sanders works shows the Jews of the second century did not readily separate the two. Those who were covenant members were saved, in that they received forgiveness of sins and inheritance in the kingdom to come.

Blessings of Covenant Membership (Mt 26.26-29; Heb 10.12-23, 39-40)

Lets consider what the New Testament describes as the benefits of being in the covenant.

26 Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (Mt 26.26-29)

12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

15 And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying,

16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,”

17 then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”

18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. (Heb 10.12-23)

13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. …

39 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect. (Heb 11.13-16, 39-40)

Forgiveness of sins, having the law written on hearts and entering into the promised kingdom are all forms of salvation. The first two involve salvation from sin and wrath. The last salvation into the promised kingdom of God. These are both covenant blessings and aspects of salvation.

My point here is that covenant membership and salvation are inseparable. One implies the other.

New Perspective on Baptism

Dunn – Baptism in the Spirit

I’ve written a review on Dunn’s book. I found it mixed up the pot of old positions between infant and believer’s baptism.

Dunn argues through the Spirit one is initiated into the covenant community. Therefore through the Spirit one is adopted into God’s family and becomes God’s child.

He gives priority to Baptism of the Spirit, not water baptism.

Water baptism is argued to be an expression of faith and repentance. Both baptism of the Spirit and water baptism are part of the one initiation-conversion event.

Wright – Covenant Membership

Wright has famously argued justification is the declaration of covenant membership. Circumcision is both obligation and sign of the Old Covenant. Faith in Christ, not works of law (circumcision) is the badge of covenant membership.

Keeping the covenant (their covenant obligations, covenant faithfulness) is ‘righteousness’. From Gen 15.6, therefore Abraham’s faith in God and his promise is understood as him keeping the covenant between him and God, his covenant faithfulness.

Removing the obligation for Gentiles to be circumcised, Paul argues Abraham’s covenant keeping was by his faith. Wright pushes this also to say faith is the sign of the new covenant. That is, the way God tells who is in the covenant.

Thus faith in Christ, not baptism is the sign of New Covenant membership.

Historical Summary

What we learn from Sanders work is that for the Jews, covenant membership implies salvation. The two are distinguished from one another, but were not separated.

If we jump to the early church and beyond, as we have seen this clearly aligns with the majority of Christian thought on baptism through history. For the most part, both membership and salvation were bound together and established through the one ceremony. Water baptism.

One of the primary doctrines of the reformation is salvation is by grace through faith and not a result of works. This had consequences for how the reformers viewed the relationship between baptism and salvation.

Luther as we have seen joined baptism and gospel. He argued baptism brought about faith and therefore justification, regeneration, salvation and membership in the body of Christ.

With Calvin that we see membership and salvation are separated with infant baptism. Here baptism brings the infant into covenant membership (as circumcision) but does not save.

The Anabaptists, because they believed in the priority of faith and repentance waited for a profession of faith before requiring baptism. Therefore in their view, baptism was a sign of what was already accomplished by God in the believer.

New Testament Jews

As we have seen Calvin argued circumcision was replaced by baptism as the rite which initiated a person into the covenant community.

From Acts we can see as well the relationship circumcision and covenant membership had with salvation.

15 But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. (Acts 15.1-2)

See also Phil 3; Gal 5,6 for references to circumcision.

Jewish position – Circumcision brings about Covenant Membership which is the basis for Salvation.

Biblical Overview

Now I will walk us through what the scriptures say about baptism and related topics.

General use (Mk 7.1-5; Num 19.20-22)

The verb baptise was typically used for various washing rituals. As we can see with this confrontation Jesus had with the Pharisees.

7 Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, 2 they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. 3 (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders, 4 and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash [Gk. βαπτίζω baptizō; lit. ‘unless they baptise’]. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing [Gk. βαπτισμός baptismos] of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) 5 And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” (Mk 7.1-5)

The word ‘baptism’ is derived from the Greek word, bapto, or baptizo. It means to wash or to immerse. We see here the practice of washing was believed to remove defilement and make a person clean. The practice has its origin in the washing and purification rituals in the law of Moses.

20 “If the man who is unclean does not cleanse himself, that person shall be cut off from the midst of the assembly, since he has defiled the sanctuary of the Lord. Because the water for impurity has not been thrown on him, he is unclean. 21 And it shall be a statute forever for them. The one who sprinkles the water for impurity shall wash his clothes, and the one who touches the water for impurity shall be unclean until evening. 22 And whatever the unclean person touches shall be unclean, and anyone who touches it shall be unclean until evening.” (Num 19.20-22)

The washing ritual maintained the persons standing within the assembly (Num 19.20; cf. Num 19.13 ‘cut off from Israel’).

In Mk 7, while maintaining the same principles, the Pharisees instituted a human tradition going above and beyond what God required of the Hebrews.

John’s baptism of repentance and preparation (Lk 7.18-35; Mt 21.25; Mk 11.30; Lk 3.2-22; Mt 3.5-17; Mk 1.4-11; Jn 1.19-34)

24 When John’s messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? 25 What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who are dressed in splendid clothing and live in luxury are in kings’ courts. 26 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 27 This is he of whom it is written,

“ ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’

28 I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” 29 (When all the people heard this, and the tax collectors too, they declared God just, having been BAPTIZED with the BAPTISM of John, 30 but the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves, not having been BAPTIZED by him.)

31 “To what then shall I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? 32 They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another,

“ ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’

33 For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ 34 The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ 35 Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.” (Lk 7.24-35)

John’s ministry is also one of preparation for the coming Christ. John’s baptism was received by some and rejected by others.

23 And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24 Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 The BAPTISM of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things. (Mt 21.23-27)

John’s baptism was from heaven. Which gives it authority and purpose within the plans of God.

2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a BAPTISM of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 4 As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet,

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:

‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 5 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, 6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’ ”

7 He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be BAPTIZED by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 9 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

10 And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” 11 And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” 12 Tax collectors also came to be BAPTIZED and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” 13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”

15 As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, 16 John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Lk 3.2-17)

John’s baptism was also a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin. The water baptism rite signified the person’s desire to repent of their sins and escape the coming wrath of God (Lk 3.7). The rite itself does not gain forgiveness. Rather it is the inward attitude of repentance, expressed in baptism, that receives forgiveness.

John says in addition they need to bear good fruit in keeping with their repentance to escape God’s wrath (Lk 3.8).

John distinguishes between his water baptism for repentance and Christ’s baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire. The two baptisms are clearly distinct. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is more significant than his water baptism. Baptism with fire suggests cleansing and judgment.

The passage leads into Jesus baptism, which is also expressed in Matthew.

11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be BAPTIZED by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be BAPTIZED by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.

16 And when Jesus was BAPTIZED, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Mt 3.5-17)

Jesus baptism in the water is followed by the Holy Spirit descending on him. Again the two are separate and distinct events. The descent of the Holy Spirit on him is his own baptism in the Holy Spirit. The event is marked by God’s verbal approval of Jesus as his beloved son and the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.

We see the same in John.

19 And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 22 So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”

24 (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) 25 They asked him, “Then why are you BAPTIZING, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, 27 even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” 28 These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was BAPTIZING.

29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came BAPTIZING with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.”

32 And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who BAPTIZES with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” (Jn 1.19-34)

John’s baptism was from heaven. It was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. His baptism was for Israel. Baptism clearly does not replace circumcision. Jews we can assume who were already circumcised came for baptism. The baptism was outside Jerusalem (not in the temple) where people confessed their sins.

John’s baptism anticipated and prepared for the coming of the Christ and baptism by the Holy Spirit. Jesus was baptised by John. Then he was baptised by the Holy Spirit.

Jesus’ disciples baptising (Jn 3.22-30; 4.1-3)

22 After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was BAPTIZING. 23 John also was BAPTIZING at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being BAPTIZED 24 (for John had not yet been put in prison).

25 Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification. 26 And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is BAPTIZING, and all are going to him.”

27 John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. 28 You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ 29 The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.”…

4 Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John 2 (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), 3 he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. (Jn 3.22-30; 4.1-3)

Jesus’ had his disciples baptize as well. We are not told much about this baptism. It’s possible they were baptising these people into the name of Jesus as we will see in Acts. But it also may be a baptism of repentance like John the baptists was. We rightly assume it was with water. Jesus’ baptism is attracting more numbers than John’s baptism. John is happy about this. We can assume a fair majority of those being baptised were circumcised Jews.

Baptism is associated with purification (Jn 3.25), as we have seen previously.

Jesus’ baptism on the Cross (Lk 12.49-53)

35 And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38 Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be BAPTIZED with the BAPTISM with which I am BAPTIZED?” 39 And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the BAPTISM with which I am BAPTIZED, you will be BAPTIZED, 40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” (Mk 10.35-40)

49 “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! 50 I have a BAPTISM to be BAPTIZED with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! 51 Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. 52 For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” (Lk 12.49-53)

When Jesus mentions his baptism, he is referring to his death on the cross. Something he must uniquely face and he is not looking forward to.

Baptised into the name of Jesus Christ (Mt 28.16-20; Mk 16.14-16; Acts 2.36-41; 8.12-17, 35-40; 9.17-19; 10.44-48; 16.11-15, 25-34; 18.5-8)

Before Jesus ascended he commanded his followers to make disciples and then baptise these people in his name.

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

  • 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,
  • BAPTIZING them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
  • 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.

And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mt 28.16-20)

14 Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. 15 And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. 16 Whoever believes and is BAPTIZED will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. (Mk 16.14-16)

The sequence of events baptism in placed in in each account is interesting. Jesus instructs them to go and make disciples (believers), to baptise these disciples into his name and then to teach them all Jesus’ commands. Mark likewise orders belief before baptism.

Matthew’s gospel importantly says people are baptised into the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Baptism is Trinitarian.

In Acts we see people being baptised into the name of Jesus.

36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be BAPTIZED every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were BAPTIZED, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. (Acts 2.36-41)

After the gospel is proclaimed and believed, Peter commands his audience to repent of their sin (in crucifying Jesus) and be baptised. He links these actions to forgiveness of sins and receiving the Holy Spirit. Again the inward attitude of repentance is the chief element for forgiveness, the water baptism is an outward expression of that repentance.

Peter says this promise of forgiveness and the Holy Spirit is

  • for them,
  • for their children,
  • for those far off and
  • everyone the Lord calls.

The reference to ‘their children’ may be important for infant baptism. But the references to ‘those far off’ and ‘everyone the Lord calls’ seem to have in mind those who have yet to believe.

12 But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were BAPTIZED, both men and women. 13 Even Simon himself believed, and after being BAPTIZED he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed.

14 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, 15 who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been BAPTIZED in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. (Acts 8.12-17)

After the gospel is preached and believed, the people receive baptism. The passage highlights that something more is necessary than water baptism. The Holy Spirit. Baptism in itself is insufficient for conversion. The apostles looked for evidence the Spirit had fallen on the believers.

35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. 36 And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being BAPTIZED?” 38 And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he BAPTIZED him. 39 And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. 40 But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he preached the gospel to all the towns until he came to Caesarea. (Acts 8.35-40)

After the gospel is preached and believed, the eunuch received baptism. Philip continues in his gospel ministry.

In the next passage Saul has met the Lord Jesus and realises what he has been doing. He loses his sight and is commanded to see a man named Ananias. Ananias himself is later commanded by the Lord to find Saul and lay his hands on him.

17 So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was BAPTIZED; 19 and taking food, he was strengthened. (Acts 9.17-19; 22.16)

Paul is baptised after he came to believe who Jesus is and receiving the Holy Spirit. The later reference links baptism with washing away of sins. Again baptism is outward expression of a inner repentance which is key for receiving forgiveness of sins.

24 And on the following day they entered Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. 26 But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am a man.” 27 And as he talked with him, he went in and found many persons gathered. …

44 While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. 45 And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, 47 “Can anyone withhold water for BAPTIZING these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be BAPTIZED in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days. (Acts 10.44-48)

Peter preaches the gospel, the Gentiles believe and the Holy Spirit falls on them. Then Peter asks for water to baptise them into the name of Jesus Christ.

11 So, setting sail from Troas, we made a direct voyage to Samothrace, and the following day to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city some days. 13 And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together.

14 One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. 15 And after she was BAPTIZED, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us. (Acts 16.11-15)

Paul preaches the gospel to a group of women in a place of prayer. One woman Lydia believes and is baptised along with her household who were with her at the time. She is an existing worshipper of God and presumably the head of her household.

I will quote some relevant passages about households a little later.

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, 26 and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. 27 When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” 29 And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas.

30 Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house.

33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was BAPTIZED at once, he and all his family. 34 Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God. (Acts 16.25-34)

Paul and Silas are in prison. God sends an earthquake and they are freed. Thinking his prisoners have escaped, in fear the jailor almost suicides, but Paul stops him. The jailor asks what he must do to be saved. Paul responds believe in the name of Jesus and he and his household will be saved. I assume at this point all his household come to faith, because Paul suggests they will all be saved. He shares the gospel with the jailor and his household and they believe. The jailors and his family are afterwards baptised. His entire household rejoiced.

I will quote some relevant passages about households a little later.

5 When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus. 6 And when they opposed and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” 7 And he left there and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. His house was next door to the synagogue. 8 Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were BAPTIZED. (Acts 18.5-8)

Crispus hears the gospel and he and his whole household believed. They and many other Corinthians who believe the gospel were baptised.

Being baptised into the name of Jesus suggests one comes under his identity, authority, and perhaps kingdom. In every case in this section above there is explicit mention of the gospel being preached and people coming to faith. Only then are people baptised (adult believers, families and households).

Baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1.5; 11.16; 8.14-17; 19.1-7)

We’ve already seen John the Baptist predicting Jesus’ baptism in the Holy Spirit (Mt 3.5-17; Jn 1.33). In Acts John’s prophecy becomes reality.

for John BAPTIZED with water, but you will be BAPTIZED with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” (Acts 1:5)

And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John BAPTIZED with water, but you will be BAPTIZED with the Holy Spirit.’ (Acts 11:16)

Clearly this baptism in the Spirit was anticipated by John and predicted by Jesus to happen after he left. It follows then there is more than one baptism. There are two different kinds of water baptism (John’s preparation and Jesus baptism). There is also the baptism in the Holy Spirit which happens when the Holy Spirit falls on people.

14 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, 15 who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been BAPTIZED in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. (Acts 8.14-17)

19 And it happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples.

2 And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 3 And he said, “Into what then were you BAPTIZED?” They said, “Into John’s BAPTISM.”

4 And Paul said, “John BAPTIZED with the BAPTISM of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.”

5 On hearing this, they were BAPTIZED in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. 7 There were about twelve men in all. (Acts 19.1-7)

Water baptism into the name of the Lord Jesus is not enough. What is needed for full acceptance in the eyes of the apostles (and of God) is baptism in the Holy Spirit.

Hopefully its clear at this point of the distinction between water baptism and baptism of the Holy Spirit. What I sometimes will refer to as spiritual baptism.

The above passages suggest receiving and being baptised in the Spirit were quite memorable experiences for many in the early church.

Paul

Paul’s epistles were written to existing churches whom we should assume predominantly believed the gospel and were baptised. Paul says;

4 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one BAPTISM, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Eph 4.1-6)

Paul alludes there is one baptism that is one of many important elements which unifies all God’s people (Eph 4.5). The contexts suggests spiritual baptism affected by the Spirit (Eph 4.3).

Buried with him (Col 2.9-15; Rom 6.3-11)

9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.

11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ,

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.

13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Col 2.9-15)

This is the only passage which has baptism in close proximity to circumcision. Calvin’s theory of baptism argues baptism is the new covenant equivalent of circumcision because of this passage.

I will deal with circumcision a bit later as well. Paul is not referring to physical circumcision. Rather he refers to the ‘circumcision of Christ’ which is made ‘without hands’. He refers to circumcision of the heart by the Spirit. Spiritual circumcision refers to putting off the ‘body of the flesh’.

Paul says the Colossians were buried with Christ in baptism and raised with him through faith. The two events burial and being raised are associated with Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. What happens to the Christ, happens to his people.

Christ was buried after he died. Burial involves covering over the dead body in some form. This could be likened to immersion in water. Both involve some form of covering. Their burial is in parallel with their movement from their former life in sin into a new life with God. In this event they were forgiven their sins, their debts cancelled.

It’s not clear whether Paul is alluding to their water baptism or spiritual baptism which happens to all believers when they first enter into new life. The immediate context, being raised to new life suggests spiritual baptism.

Circumcision and baptism are related in their association with Christ’s death on the cross and subsequent burial. Paul may be equating the two in some way. But he also could be referring to two distinct processes which happen when a person comes to faith. Putting off the ‘body of the flesh’ is different from ‘being buried’.

3 Do you not know that all of us who have been BAPTISED into Christ Jesus were BAPTISED into his death? 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.

5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Rom 6.3-11)

In contrast to Colossians passage above, circumcision is absent from this passage.

Paul says the Romans were buried with Christ by baptism into death. Likewise the event is associated with Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. What happens to the Christ, happens to his people.

Their burial and death with Christ is linked to their movement from their former life in sin into a new life with God.

It’s not clear whether Paul is alluding to their water baptism. He says all of us have been baptised into Christ Jesus assuming they have all been baptised. The spiritual realities Paul refers to suggest he is speaking about spiritual baptism which happens to all believers when they first enter into new life.

Washing by the Spirit (1 Cor 6.9-11; Eph 5.25-27; Tit 3.3-7)

I’ve previously referred to purification ritual involving washing in the law of Moses (Num 19.11-22). Paul refers to washing a few times.

9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Cor 6.9-11)

25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. (Eph 5.25-27)

3 For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Tit 3.3-7)

In each case Paul is referring to spiritual washing and baptism. In 1 Cor 6.11 and Tit 3.5 Paul involves the Holy Spirit in this washing. Thus baptism in the Holy Spirit.

Household Baptised (1 Cor 1.10-17)

10 I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. 12 What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.”

13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you BAPTIZED in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I BAPTIZED none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one may say that you were BAPTIZED in my name. 16 (I did BAPTIZE also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I BAPTIZED anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to BAPTIZE but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. (1 Cor 1.10-17)

The Corinthian church was being divided by different factions. Paul is grateful he baptised only a few of them lest his behaviour be cause for further divisions.

Paul says he baptised the household of Stephanas. I will quote some relevant passages about households a little later.

Other references (1 Cor 10.2; 15.29)

10 For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were BAPTIZED into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. (1 Cor 10.1-5)

Baptism is an initiatory event. Paul depicts Moses and Israel’s journey through the red sea as a kind of baptism. He says they were baptised into Moses, which is similar to being baptised into the name of Jesus Christ.

Otherwise, what do people mean by being BAPTIZED on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people BAPTIZED on their behalf? (1 Cor 15:29)

In context Paul is speaking about resurrection. Presumably, they were being baptised on behalf of other in order to give whatever benefits of baptism to those others in order that they may be raised from the dead. Paul is not validating baptism on the behalf of others or saying it can do anything beneficial like this. The practice shows however that they were thinking water baptism conferred some sort of benefit.

Peter (1 Pet 3.21; 2 Pet 2.22)

13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.

18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit,

19 in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20 because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.

21 BAPTISM, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him. (1 Pet 3.13-22)

This is a tough passage. In context Peter is encouraging his audience to persevere in the good even though they are enduring suffering. His chief example is Christ, who suffered for the benefit of others.

He refers to baptism in the context of people being put to death in the flesh and made alive in the spirit. This could imply he is speaking about spiritual baptism. On the other hand he refers to water and ‘not as a removal of dirt from the body’. These suggest water baptism.

The deciding factor is that Peter says, ‘baptism … now saves you’. Only spiritual baptism can save. Also being ‘made alive in the spirit’ likewise suggests spiritual baptism involving being raised to new life.

Its their spiritual baptism which functions as an appeal to God for a good conscience. A good conscience on their behalf of good things to come. Peter says ‘through the resurrection of Jesus Christ’. I suggest spiritual baptism into new life anticipates their resurrection from the dead.

2 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. …

17 These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved. 18 For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. 19 They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved. 20 For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. 21 For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. 22 What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.” (2 Pet 2.1,17-22)

Some believers fall away from the faith. They deny the master (Jesus Christ) who bought them with his own blood. Apostasy. Thus bringing upon themselves swift destruction. Peter continues his invective against these false teachers and evil doers. The OT reference says they have washed themselves (2 Pet 2.22), hence at one stage they thought they were clean. But afterward they have returned to their former dirt and filth.

Hebrews (Heb 10.19-25)

19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Heb 10.19-25)

The author of Hebrews gives an encouraging account of the washing believers have received in virtue of Christ’s death on the cross. He refers to their ‘hearts sprinkled clean’ probably by their faith. This is a work of the Spirit (cf. Acts 15.8-9). The author is speaking about spiritual washing and baptism.

Covenant Membership and Salvation

In this next section I will address related issues to baptism to do with baptism in the Holy Spirit, covenant membership and salvation.

God’s Covenant Family (Gen 12.1-3; 17.7-8; Rom 9.6-8; 4.11-12)

God’s covenant family are described in scripture as ‘Abraham’s offspring’. His family. They are the beneficiaries of God’s covenant promises.

12 Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen 12.1-3)

7 And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. 8 And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” (Gen 17.7-8)

In the Old Testament God’s people were the physical descendants of Abraham. In the New Testament this changes. In Romans that not all of Abraham’s physical descendants are counted as his offspring.

6 For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. (Rom 9.6-8)

And

11 He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, 12 and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised. (Rom 4.11-12)

Those who have faith in God and his promises, specifically now faith in Jesus as the risen Christ are counted as Abraham’s offspring. This includes believing Gentiles as well as believing Jews as Abraham’s offspring and members of the covenant family.

In the Old Testament the covenant family was known as a biological family descended from Abraham. In the New Testament this changes to those of faith.

Circumcision (Gen 17.9-14; Dt 30.4-8; Rom 2.25-29)

Calvin and others suggest water baptism is the new circumcision. Just as circumcision passed down from generation to generation in Israel. So should water baptism ‘not be withheld’ from children of believing parents.

It would help to have a look at some of the more prominent passages on circumcision.

9 And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. 10 This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, 13 both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. 14 Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.” (Gen 17.9-14)

All of Abraham’s male descendants were required to have their foreskins circumcised. Fathers in the covenant had their sons circumcised. All their newborn boys were required to be circumcised on the eighth day.

Physical circumcision is tied to the biological male descendants of Abraham.

This could also apply to foreign men wanting to enter into the covenant. There was no equivalent for girls and women. All those not circumcised were excluded from the covenant.

Circumcision was an initiatory rite which included a male in the covenant and it also functioned as a sign of covenant membership.

As I’ve already alluded several times, physical circumcision was not the only kind of circumcision.

4 If your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there he will take you. 5 And the Lord your God will bring you into the land that your fathers possessed, that you may possess it. And he will make you more prosperous and numerous than your fathers. 6 And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. 7 And the Lord your God will put all these curses on your foes and enemies who persecuted you. 8 And you shall again obey the voice of the Lord and keep all his commandments that I command you today. (Dt 30.4-8)

Moses also alludes to another kind of circumcision other than of the male foreskin. That of the heart. Here God promises to circumcise people’s hearts (Dt 30.6).

25 For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. 26 So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? 27 Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. 28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God. (Rom 2.25-29)

Here we can see circumcision of the heart was done by the Spirit. Clearly spiritual circumcision of the heart is a work of God, not something a priest does to initiates or human fathers can do to their children.

If we now consider a relevant verse in Colossians again;

11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, (Col 2.11)

I make the point that spiritual circumcision involves cutting off the evil in a person’s life (‘body of the flesh’), so that only good remains. This is a work of the Spirit, is accompanied by forgiveness of sins and new life with God.

Physical circumcision in the old covenant is fulfilled by spiritual circumcision in the new covenant. Both circumcisions involve the removal of some kind of evil from the person and initiate the person into a covenant.

However, outward and physical circumcision is quite distinct from spiritual circumcision effected by the Spirit. Fathers made sure their male sons were physically circumcised. But physical fathers cannot spiritually circumcise their sons hearts. Only God does this through the Spirit.

Thus with circumcision we see a movement:

  • from physical descent and cutting of the foreskin,
  • to spiritual election and regeneration of the heart.

8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. (Rom 9.8)

Becoming members of the New Covenant (1 Cor 12.12-14, 27; Eph 2.13-22; 3.1-6)

So how does Paul say people gain membership into the new covenant? Or membership into the body of Christ?

12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all BAPTIZED into one body — Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. 14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. … 27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. (1 Cor 12.12-14,27)

In short, Paul says people enter into the covenant, becoming members of the body of Christ through the work of the Spirit. Baptism of the Spirit incorporates people into the body of Christ (membership).

The Spirit circumcises the heart and conducts its own baptism. Both are the work of the Spirit, but distinct in the particular work done.

Likewise;

Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. (Rom 8.9)

A Christian is one who has the Spirit of Christ.

13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.

18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.

19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Eph 2.13-22)

3 For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles— 2 assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 show the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. 4 When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. 6 This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. (Eph 3.1-6)

Paul says it is belief in the gospel which establishes membership in the body of the church and partakers of God’s covenant promises.

Boundary marker of God’s Covenant Family (Gal 3.25-29; Rom 4.9-12)

25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were BAPTIZED into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. (Gal 3.25-29)

9 Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. 10 How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. 11 He received the [covenant] sign of circumcision as a seal of the [covenant] righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, 12 and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised. (Rom 4.9-12)

God’s covenant family is marked by faith. Abraham is the father of all who believe. Neither fleshly descent (Rom 4.1) nor circumcision (Rom 4.10) signify covenant membership in Abraham’s family.

From this we know faith, the sign of covenant membership is the work of the Word and Spirit. The Spirit which circumcises the heart which believes Jesus is the risen Christ.

Fleshly descent does not establish Covenant Membership (Rom 4.1; Gal 4.21-31; Rom 9.6-8)

In the Old Covenant fleshly descent (birth, blood ties, race) and circumcision established covenant membership. No longer. In the New Covenant the Spirit and faith in Christ determine covenant membership.

4 What then was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? (Rom 4.1)

Do Christian parents pass on covenant membership and its blessings by birth? Paul argues in two places being physically descended from believing parents does not guarantee being part of the covenant.

21 Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. 23 But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. 24 Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. 25 Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. 27 For it is written,

“Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear; break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor!

For the children of the desolate one will be more than those of the one who has a husband.”

28 Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. 29 But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. 30 But what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” 31 So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman. (Gal 4.21-31)

Abraham had children of slavery and children of promise. Not all his children were beneficiaries of God’s promises.

6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. (Rom 9.6-8)

Ceremonial Works do not establish Covenant Membership (Rom 3.1; Eph 2.8-22; Rom 9.6-16; 11.5-6)

Calvin argued water baptism was the equivalent to circumcision. He said fleshly circumcision of the old covenant is now replaced by water baptism in the new. It is appropriate with Paul’s Jewish interlocutor in Romans to ask:

3 What is the value of circumcision? (Rom 3.1) Should we now replace it with baptism?

Does baptism truly include a person in God’s covenant and a beneficiary of his covenant blessings? In both Ephesians and Romans Paul is clear – works do not establish covenant membership. Only God through His Spirit does.

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.

13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Eph 2.8-22)

Salvation and membership in the household of God is the Spirits work. A gift of God through faith, ‘not a result of works’ (Eph 2.9). This applies equally to water baptism as it does to physical circumcision.

Likewise;

6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. 9 For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” 10 And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of thim who calls— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. (Rom 9.6-16)

Election and therefore covenant membership is not on the basis of works (Rom 9.11). Nor does it depend on human will or exertion, but on God (Rom 9.16).

5 So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. 6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace. (Rom 11.5-6)

The Christian does not say to the Jew, ‘Your rites [circumcision] are ineffective, but ours [water baptism] are effective.’ He points rather to the cross and the resurrection, to faith and the Spirit (Dunn, Baptism of the Spirit).

Households, Children and Baptism

Households (Jn 4.53; Acts 10.2; 11.14; 16.15, 31, 33, 34; 18.8; Rom 16.15; 1 Cor 1.16)

“Persons who live in the same place and compose a family or extended family. In biblical times a household included father, mother(s), children, grandparents, servants, concubines, and sojourners. Jacob’s household included people, not counting the wives of his sons (Gn 46:26). Households were seen as corporately responsible for the honor of the family (2 Sam 3:27 gives an example of revenge by a household). Male members of the entire household were circumcised as a sign of the covenant (Gn 17:23). In the NT some entire households were baptized (Acts 11:14).” (Elwell, W.A. & Beitzel, B.J., 1988. Baker encyclopedia of the Bible, p.1007.)

It’s possible references to ‘whole households’ being baptised could be a simplification or glossing over of a more detailed picture. E.g. Meaning most, but not all were baptised e.g. Mt 21.11 ‘whole city stirred up saying …’. We don’t know.

Either way – Households believed (Jn 4.53; Acts 18.8; Rom 16.15). Households feared God (Acts 10.2). Households were saved (Acts 11.14; 16.31). Households were baptised (Acts 16.15, 33; 1 Cor 1.16). Households rejoiced (Acts 16.34).

The passage below ties together several of these elements.

27 When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” 29 And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. 30 Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was BAPTIZED at once, he and all his family. 34 Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God. (Acts 16.27-43)

Children (1 Tim 3.1-5; Eph 6.1-3)

Paul assumes some households will have children.

3 The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? (1 Tim 3.1-5)

Paul also issues commands to those children and expects them to understand and obey.

6 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), 3 “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land. (Eph 6.1-3)

Unbelievers (1 Cor 7.12-16)

Jesus said he would divide households.

49 “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! 50 I have a BAPTISM to be BAPTIZED with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! 51 Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. 52 For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” (Lk 12.49-53)

Being part of the same household or family does not guarantee they were united in Christ or baptised.

Christian households could also include unbelievers.

12 To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. 13 If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. (1 Cor 7.12-14)

Two issues here consenting and holiness. The unbeliever is made holy because of the believer. What does Paul mean by ‘made holy’? It is contrasted to being ‘unclean’ (1 Cor 7.14). Which suggests some sort of acceptability for God’s presence.

Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. (1 Cor 7.14)

We can see children are included with unbelievers being under the influence of believers in the household and being described as holy. However this does not suggest they are saved.

15 But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace. 16 For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife? (1 Cor 7.15-16)

The same can be said for children. In the case of both unbelievers and children there’s a chance that living with a believer will save them. That is they will come to believe the gospel and be rescued from sin, God’s wrath and eternal death.

Baptism of infants

How does this apply to baptism? Well, would an unbelieving wife be expected to be baptised because she lived in the same household under her believing husband? Would her baptism be allowed by the church leadership? Or would they wait for a confession of faith and consent before someone baptised her? Would a believing husband force his unbelieving servants to be baptised? Should unbelievers in the same household be baptised?

Why would a believing husband baptise his newborn child if he had no sign of the Holy Spirit’s work?

Physical circumcision is fulfilled in spiritual circumcision, not water baptism. New covenant membership is not passed down from physical descent. Rather God is the one who establishes his family, the true offspring of Abraham, through the work of the Spirit. Water baptism does not include children into the new covenant community. This is a work of the Holy Spirit.

 

Points of Interest

The recipient of water baptism (the who)

Who should be baptised and why?

  • Believers? Yes. As we see in Acts, the people preaching the gospel should command them.
  • Unbelievers? No. Scripture is silent on whether unbelievers should be baptised. I assume evidence of the Spirit’s work is necessary to proceed and common courtesy requires consent.
  • Adults who display no evidence of faith and cannot consent? No. Better to continue preaching the gospel and commanding them to be baptised. It is their responsibility to consent and submit.
  • Infants of Christians? Scripture is silent.

“I can’t overstate how important it is to acknowledge this foundational and undeniable truth. And so will repeat it! None of us – infant baptist or believer’s Baptist – have one verse which states what must be done with the children of believers. We are all working with biblical silence seeking to determine from theological inference and principles the best and most godly practice.” (http://evchurch.info/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Infant-Baptism-Paper-EV-Church.pdf)

Scripture is clear and explicit on believers baptism (obedience). Every occasion of baptism comes about because someone repented and believed. But scripture is silent, there remains the possibility of infant baptism.

Infants born with faith (Ps 22.9-10; Jer 1.4-5)

It is not impossible for infants to have faith. Some are even known by God prior to birth.

9 Yet you are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.

10 On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother’s womb you have been my God. (Ps 22.9-10)

4 Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying,

5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (Jer 1.4-5)

Unfortunately most do not believe. They are born sinners under Adam’s headship and remain that way until they hear and believe the gospel.

Evidence of Faith

People cannot deny babies can be believers from birth. Scripture teaches this is possible, however rare. My point is in most cases we have no evidence they believe.

16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. (Mt 7.16-20; cf. Rom 10.9-10; Jas 2.18-26; 1 Jn 3.9-10)

We cannot be sure someone has faith without evidence.

Parents raising children (Dt 6.4-8, 20-24; Mk 10.13-16)

Infants may or may not be believers. But believing parents are responsible to raise their children in the faith. This includes prayer and teaching.

Parents are commanded to teach their children in Deuteronomy.

4 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. … 20 “When your son asks you in time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the LORD our God has commanded you?’ 21 then you shall say to your son, ‘We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt. And the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. 22 And the LORD showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes. 23 And he brought us out from there, that he might bring us in and give us the land that he swore to give to our fathers. 24 And the LORD commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the LORD our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day. (Dt 6.4-8, 20-24)

Parents should bring their children to Jesus.

13 And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. 14 But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 15 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” 16 And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them. (Mk 10.13-16)

This should take the form of praying with them and teaching them about Jesus.

The timing of water baptism (the when)

We have seen Paul commanding children to obey their parents.

6 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), 3 “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.”

4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Eph 6.1-4)

With respect to baptism: What were parents responsibilities with respect to their children. What were children’s responsibilities to God?

Believing Parents responsibility Childrens-Adults responsibility
Teach children to obey Obey
Pray with their children Pray
Command baptism Be baptised

Should children be withheld from baptism when they desire it? No. Children should be baptised when they consent to be baptised displaying sufficient understanding of what it signifies and persistence in desire.

The purpose of water baptism (the why)

Baptism in the Holy Spirit and Water Baptism rightly fit together.

Water baptism in the name of Jesus Christ is a visible expression of inner repentance to God and faith in Jesus brought about through the gospel. Baptism is a sign of God’s grace in Christ’s death and resurrection and thus an enacted gospel. In baptism the water represents dying to sin and then being raised up to new life under the authority of Christ.

The mode of water baptism (the how)

Immersion or Sprinkling?

The meaning of baptise is immerse. Practically every NT example involves immersion. I prefer mimicking NT examples as far as practically possible. However, we must remember the water is purely symbolic of spiritual realities. Therefore, sprinkling is not wrong. It performs the same function.

The witnesses of water baptism (the where)

Does baptism have to be public? Can it be done in private?

37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. (Acts 2.37-41)

34 And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. 36 And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” 38 And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. (Acts 8.34-38)

Scripture seems to allow for public and private water baptisms.

My Summary Position

All of the accounts in Acts are in the context of gospel ministry. The apostles and evangelists preach the gospel. They are urged to repent and believe. In several passages the gospel message is accompanied with a command to be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ.

When the gospel is preached God works through Word and Spirit upon the hearts and minds of those listening to the gospel. They are baptised in the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit washes them of spiritual defilement, presenting them clean before God. Believers have died and been buried with Christ. Now raised to new life with him by the Spirit.

The Holy Spirit makes people Christians. He incorporates them as members into the body of Christ. Covenant members, beneficiaries of God’s covenant promises. Specifically forgiveness of sins and inheritance in the kingdom to come.

Water Baptism signifies the inward change of the Spirit whereby the believer enacts the gospel narrative. Just as Christ died, was buried and raised to new life. So to does water baptism enact the gospel immersion into death, then raised up into new life. Those who have been brought into new life by the Spirit respond in repentance and faith by receiving water baptism into the name of Jesus Christ.

Both spiritual baptism in the Holy Spirit and water baptism into the name of Jesus Christ are necessary elements in conversion initiation.


Copyright © Joshua Washington and thescripturesays, 2017. All Rights Reserved.

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