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"The study of God's word, for the purpose of discovering God's will, is the discipline which has formed the greatest characters." - James W. Alexander
BIBLE LESSONS QUICK LIST
- The Canon of the Old Testament
- The Canon of the New Testament
- Modern Bible Translations
- Paul's Apostleship and Authority
- Interpreting/Understanding the Bible
- Jesus: Eternal and Divine Son of God
- Jesus: Born, but Not Begotten
- God's Amazing Grace
- What is the Gospel?
- The Passion of the Christ
- A Study of Baptism
- Assurance of Salvation
- Origins of Christian Worship
- A History of Church Divisions
- Introduction to Denominations
- Examining Catholic Doctrines
- False Doctrines of the Early Church
- Three Days and Three Nights
- Predestination and Calvinism
- The Holy Spirit: Our Help and Strength
- What is Speaking in Tongues?
- The Grace of Giving
- The Day Christ Comes Again
- Works and Rewards
- Introduction to the Book of Revelation
- The Divorce Debate
- Genesis, Creation, Dinosaurs, etc.
- Abortion, Stem Cell Research, etc.
A Study of Baptism
Written by Bob Williams
The word baptize is from the Greek word baptizo, and the word baptism is from the Greek word batisma or baptismos. Together they are found 100 times in the New Testament. Thayer's Lexicon lists three primary meanings of the word baptize:
15 Times Figuratively
Of those 100 times, 14 are found in the four Gospel accounts of the one time Jesus uses the word figuratively to refer to the overwhelming sufferings of His life. Matthew's account (20:22) tells of Jesus asking His disciples, "Are you able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" One other time the word is used figuratively in 1 Corinthians 10:2 in reference to Moses and the Israelites. There it says: "And all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea."
6 Times for "Baptism of the Holy Spirit"
Six times the word is used in connection with the Holy Spirit. Four of those are found in the various Gospel accounts (Mt 3:11; Mk 1:8; Lk 3:16; Jn 1:33) where John the Baptist speaks of his baptism in water compared to the time that Christ will baptize "with the Holy Spirit." The other two are found in the book of Acts and clarify what John was talking about. In Acts 1:5, Jesus told His apostles shortly before the day of Pentecost, "John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now." The fulfillment of that takes place in Acts 2:4 when Peter and the others are "filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance." Notice this baptism was not performed by men, but by God Himself from above.
The only other time this occurs is in Acts 10-11. There the Gentiles are also given the gift of speaking in tongues for the purpose of convincing the Jewish brethren that proclaiming the gospel message to the Gentiles was indeed God's will. Peter says in Acts 11:15-16, "The Holy Spirit fell on them, just as He did upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, `John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.'" The phrase "at the beginning" refers to the gift of speaking in other languages that first occurred on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. This too was a baptism performed not by men, but by God. (See also 1 Corinthians 12:13.)
The Remaining 79 Times
"Baptism of the Holy Spirit" should not then be confused with the common practice of baptism in the days of the early church. The remaining 79 times show by context, or lack of anything contrary to it, that the word baptize/baptism refers to being immersed in water (the primary and literal meaning of the word). John the Baptist stated over and over that his baptism was in water. In fact, John 3:23 says he was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim "because there was much water there." In Mark 1:9-10, when Jesus was baptized by John, they both went into the Jordan river and came back up out of the water. In Acts 8:38-39, Philip and the eunich both went down into the water and then both came back up out of the water. Romans 6:4 and Colossians 2:12 speak of being "buried with Him through/in baptism." Note also that Peter, in 1 Peter 3:20-21, compares baptism to the water of the flood.
Notice also that these baptisms are also performed by men's hands, not directly from above. That only occurred two times: once for the Jews in Acts 2, and once for the Gentiles in Acts 10. Also notice that the two occasions of Holy Spirit baptism were fulfillments of promises, while baptism in water is a command.
Which Baptism is the "One Baptism?"
Around 63-64 AD, long after the church began on the day of Pentecost (about 33 AD), Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:4-6, "There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all."
Which baptism is this? Was it Spirit baptism performed by the Lord that was intended then to continue for all ages, or was it water baptism performed by men? It can't be both--only one is now operational. We read about two specific instances of Spirit baptism, but never again is it mentioned. But look at Matthew 28:19-20: "Go therefore and make disciples of ALL THE NATIONS, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you ALWAYS, EVEN TO THE END OF THE AGE." This was baptism in water to be performed by men. To whom was it to be performed? To all nations. For how long? Apparently always, to the end of the age.
Regardless of what people believe about the purpose of baptism, the New Testament, with the exceptions noted above, uses the word to refer to being immersed in water. It is this water baptism that is commanded throughout all of time for all people. Note also that the idea of sprinkling or pouring is foreign to Scripture and to the inherent meaning of the word baptize.
"You Must be Born Again"
John 3:1 tells of Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, coming to Jesus. He professed his belief in Jesus, acknowledging that "no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him (verse 2)." Jesus, apparently seeing his interest in the kingdom, told Nicodemus in verse 3, "Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." Nicodemus takes Jesus' statement literally as he apparently thought of how a fleshly birth introduces one into this fleshly world. But Jesus' kingdom is a spiritual one and is entered by means of a spiritual birth, as Jesus describes in verse 5: "Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God."
Most scholars today believe that Jesus was speaking here of baptism. Perhaps Nicodemus was familiar with the practice of baptizing proselytes. Gentiles who wished to practice the Jewish religion were, in a sense, born again. Lightfoot, in Horae Hebraicae explains: "As soon as he grows whole of the wound of circumcision, they bring him to Baptism, and being placed in the water they again instruct him in some weightier and in some lighter commands of the Law. Which being heard, he plunges himself and comes up, and, behold, he is an Israelite in all things."
Nicodemus was perhaps also familiar with the baptism being administered by John the Baptist. Jesus certainly was and states that one must be born again, not only of water, as John had been doing, but also of the Spirit. On the day of Pentecost in Acts 2:38, Peter said they would receive not only forgiveness of sins when they were baptized, but also the gift of the Holy Spirit. Numerous passages in the NT speak of the Holy Spirit dwelling within a person after he/she has been born again (see 1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19; 12:13).
A related passage is Titus 3:5, where Paul said, "He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit." The word "washing" is from the Greek word loutron, which refers to (according to Thayer's Lexicon) the act of bathing and is used here in the NT and in other writings to refer to baptism. The word "regeneration" is from the Greek word palingenesia, which is taken from two root words "born" and "again."
Paul's statements here indicate a strong connection between washing/water/baptism and being born again, just as Jesus seems to in John 3:5. Paul says that salvation and righteousness comes not by our own good deeds, but that God has ordained that it come, at least in part, through baptism. It is at that point, he says, that we are "renewed by the Holy Spirit."
The NT Teaching on Baptism
There are numerous places in the New Testament that refer to baptism. In Matthew 28:19, Jesus commanded His disciples to go and baptize all nations. In Mark 16:16, Jesus said, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; he that believeth not shall be damned." In Acts 2:38, as already mentioned, after the people asked what they needed to do, Peter said, "Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." Verse 41 says "those who received his word were baptized" and there were about 3000 then added to the church. In Acts 22:16, Ananias told Saul, "Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord."
The Bible teaches that salvation is only through Christ, the Son of God (John 14:6; 1 John 5:11-13). It also teaches that we put Christ on through baptism. In Galatians 3:27, Paul says, "All of you who were baptized into Christ have put on Christ." Paul reminds Christians in Romans 6:3-4 that "all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death." He says that just as Christ died, was buried, and was raised again, so also we "through baptism [are raised to] walk in newness of life." Notice Paul does not say that baptism is symbolic of salvation; it is not our re-enactment of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. It is, in fact, God's re-enacting such in us as He gives to us at that point a brand new of life in Jesus! (See also Colossians 2:12-13.)
1 Corinthians 12:13 teaches the same thing: "By one Spirit we were all baptized into one body." Just as Paul said to the Romans, it is at the point of baptism that we come into the body, or church of Christ. 1 Peter 3:20-21 says, "In [the ark] a few, that is, eight persons, were saved by water. And corresponding to that (the like figure), baptism now saves you-not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience-through the resurrection of Jesus Christ."
The Purpose of Baptism
Some have counted about 60 places in the NT that speak of necessity of faith in salvation and thus conclude that faith is all that is needed. But the NT also speaks of repentance about 40 times and baptism about 30 times. In one place it teaches that faith saves us; in another it says that without repentance there is no salvation; in another it says that baptism saves us. Is it not reasonable to conclude that all three are necessary for salvation?! There are numerous verses about the need for each one of these; why leave any one of them out?
In the book of Acts, when the question was asked, "What must I do to be saved?" some were told they needed to believe because they had not yet done so. Others were told to repent because they had not yet done that. And still others were told to be baptized because that still needed to be done. If the NT and its teachings are taken as a whole, then it is certainly reasonable to conclude that God requires faith, repentance, and baptism for a person to be saved.
When Were They Saved in Acts Chapter 2?
Acts 2 is one of the most fascinating chapters in the Bible. It records the events of the day of Pentecost just a few weeks after the crucifixion of Jesus. As John the Baptist and Jesus had both promised (Matthew 3:11; Acts 1:5), the apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit and were given the miraculous ability to speak in languages they had not previously known.
Peter then proceeds to preach one of the great sermons of all time to the thousands who had gathered there in Jerusalem. Peter concludes his sermon with these words, "Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ--this Jesus whom you crucified (Acts 2:36)."
Peter's sermon accomplished its purpose as we see the people "pierced to the heart" and asking Peter and the other apostles, "Brethren, what shall we do?" They believed what Peter had said in his sermon; they were convinced and convicted of their sin of rejecting and killing Jesus. Peter's response to them was, "Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38)."
At what point were they saved? On the day of Pentecost, Peter preached to them about Jesus and His crucifixion. In Acts 2:37, it says, "When they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, Brethren, what shall we do?" They had listened to Peter and had come to believe that they had, in fact, crucified the Son of God. It was at this point that they believed. But was that belief enough to save them?
Apparently not, or else Peter would have answered their question by saying something like: "There is nothing you need to do now; you're already saved because of your belief. Go and try to live for Christ now." But that is not what Peter said. In verse 38, Peter first told them they needed to repent. To repent means to turn around and change directions. For the people listening to Peter, it meant to turn away from their sin and their fight against Jesus; they needed to turn to Him and accept Him and His way of life. (Repentance is also taught in several other places in the book of Acts as a necessary part of God's plan of salvation: Acts 3:19; 5:31; 17:30.) Would then their faith coupled with repentance be all that was needed for salvation?
No, because Peter also told them to be baptized for the remission of their sins. In fact, it is clear that they were still not saved before baptism because in verse 40 Peter kept preaching, saying "Be saved from this perverse generation."
But then we come to verse 41: "So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and there were added that day about three thousand souls." Verse 47 goes on to say, "And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved." At what point were they saved? It could not be said much clearer than what it says in verse 41. They were baptized and were then added to the Lord's church. The Bible teaches that it was at the point of baptism that they came into a saved relationship with the Lord.
Is Baptism a Work?
Ephesians 2:8-9 says, "For by grace you are saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast." A big problem in the early church was that of Jewish legalism. There were those who were falsely teaching that Christians also had to obey the Old Testament Law in order to be saved (Galatians 4:10, 21; 5:2-6). In Galations 2:16, Paul declared that we are not saved by works of the Law, but through faith in Jesus Christ. We are no longer under the OT law today (Deuteronomy 5:1ff; Hebrews 8:7-13). Paul said in Galations 3:24-25, "The law was our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor." In Romans 1-5, Paul argues that salvation is through faith in Christ, not in the Law. In 4:13, he states that the promise to Abraham or his descendants was "not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith."
Salvation is clearly a gift of God. There is nothing we can do to earn it. But there are some things we must do to receive that gift. Believing in Jesus is something we must do. Repenting is something we must do. And baptism is something that we must do. None of these earn salvation, but all are necessary in order to inherit salvation.
Many oppose baptism, calling it a work. But it is no more a work to earn salvation than is believing or repenting. In fact, faith itself is called a work in John 6:28-29: "They said therefore to Him, `What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?' Jesus answered and said to them, `This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.'" So believing is doing something that God says we must do, but it's not a work that earns our salvation.
And repenting is doing something that God says we must do, and so is baptism. All these are things God says we must do in order to receive His grace. But none of these are meritorious works to earn salvation. Baptism, like faith, is also called a work, but it is the work of God. Colossians 2:12-13 says, "Having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions."
In Titus 3:5, Paul said, "He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit."
Baptism is actually the most passive act (or work) of faith required for salvation. Believing is something we must DO; repenting is something we must DO (and often a very hard thing to do); but baptism is something DONE TO US. It is merely submitting in faith to the working of God in our lives.
The Walls of Jericho Fell by Faith
Joshua 6 tells the story of the Israelites marching around the city once each day for 6 days. Then on the 7th day, they marched around 7 times, blew their horns, and then shouted. The walls of Jericho fell down flat just as God had promised. Was their victory due to their own meritorious works or was it a gift of God?
God Himself said in Joshua 6:2 that it was a gift. But He went on to tell them that they had to do something in order to receive that gift. Hebrews 11:30 says, "By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they had been encircled for seven days." It came by faith, but they did not receive it until they marched and shouted as God had told them to do.
Likewise, salvation for us today is certainly a gift that comes by faith. The NT makes that clear. But the same NT also teaches that there is something further we must do before that salvation is imparted. Numerous passages in the NT teach that baptism is also a part of the salvation process. The Bible teaches that salvation is only through Christ, the Son of God (John 14:6; 1 John 5:11-13). It also teaches that we put Christ on through baptism. In Galations 3:27, Paul says, "All of you who were baptized into Christ have put on Christ." Paul reminds Christians in Romans 6:3-4 that "all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death." He says that just as Christ died, was buried, and was raised again, so also we "through baptism [are raised to] walk in newness of life."
The Bible says that the walls of Jericho fell by faith, but it happened when they marched and shouted just as God said to do. The Bible also says that we today are given salvation by grace through faith, but it happens when we are baptized for the remission of sins just as God says we are to do (see Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Peter 3:20-21).
Meaning of "eis" in Acts 2:38
Some, in wishing to deny the importance and purpose of baptism, claim that the original Greek word eis in Acts 2:38 means "be baptized because you already have remission of sins." But such a translation and interpretation cannot be supported with a responsible study of Scripture and the Greek language.
In Acts 2:38 (KJV), Peter said, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ FOR (Greek eis) the remission of sins." According to one source, eis is translated in this way in the King James Version: Against -- 25 times; Among -- 16 times; At -- 20 times; Concerning -- 5 times; For -- 91 times; In -- 131 times; Into -- 571 times; That -- 30 times; On -- 57 times; To -- 282 times; Toward -- 32 times; Unto -- 208 times; Upon -- 25 times.
According to Thayer's lexicon, eis means "entrance into, or direction and limit: into, to, towards, for, among." The majority of the words listed above are consistent with that meaning. Many wish to believe teach that Peter said repent and be baptized "because of" the remission of sins. There is, however, not a single instance of the Greek word eis in the KJV ever translated as "because of." Nor is there apparently any version of the Bible that translates Acts 2:38, "Repent, and be baptized . . . because of the remission of sins."
To better understand the meaning, consider the entire phrase "for the remission of sins." In the original Greek it reads: eis aphesin ton hamartion humon. That phrase is also found in Mark 1:4 and Luke 3:3 where John preached "the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins." Did John preach and baptize because they already had forgiveness, or was it leading up to that time of forgiveness through Christ?
The real test, though, is found in Matthew 26:28. There Jesus said His blood "is shed for many for the remission of sins." What did He mean by that? Would He shed His blood because people already had forgiveness or in order that they might obtain it?
If Jesus used the word/phrase to mean "in order to receive remission of sins," then is it not reasonable to conclude that Peter, by inspiration of the Spirit sent by Jesus, would mean the exact same thing when he used the exact same phrase? Surely Peter's command to be baptized in Acts 2:38 means what it clearly says: baptism is for/in order to obtain the forgiveness of sins (it is the point at which God grants forgiveness of sins through the blood of Christ).
What About the Thief on the Cross?
The thief on the cross (Luke 23:39-43) lived and died under the old covenant of Law and was subject to its commands and requirements. He was therefore not subject to the new covenant and its commands and requirements for salvation (as we are today). Besides, how could the thief be baptized into Christ's death (as we are commanded to do now under the new covenant) since Christ had not yet died?!
Why did Paul Not Baptize More?
In 1 Corinthians 1:10ff, Paul condemns the Christians at Corinth for their division. Apparently many were holding an improper allegiance to the one who baptized them (verse 12). In verse 14, Paul stated that he was therefore thankful that he had baptized only a few there in Corinth. He did not seek any particular status in the minds of those who were baptized; it made no difference to him who actually did the baptizing. He says in verse 17 and in Acts 9:15 that Jesus had called him to preach. Others could do the baptizing as well as Paul, but not necessarily the preaching. Remember John 4:1-2 says that Jesus made and baptized many disciples, but it was His disciples that actually did the physical act of baptizing.
Was Paul saying that baptism is not important? Certainly not. Remember it was Paul who said that we put on Christ in baptism (Galatians 3:27). Actually, the passage is very consistent in showing that baptism is very important. It is obvious that the Christians in Corinth had been baptized; this is inferred in 1 Corinthians 1:13 and stated in Acts 18:8. And Paul, in this passage, actually indicates that two things are required before a person may call himself after another person. First, Paul would have to die for that person; and second, that person would have to be baptized in the name of Paul. This actually parallels perfectly with Biblical teaching that Christ has died for us, and we rightfully call ourselves by His name (Christians) when we put Christ on in baptism.
Is Baptism a Picture of Salvation?
1 Peter 3:20-21 says, "In [the ark] a few, that is, eight persons, were saved by water. And corresponding to that (the like figure), baptism now saves you-not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience-through the resurrection of Jesus Christ." This verse has erroneously been used to teach that baptism is a picture of salvation. But Peter doesn't say that; he actually says that the water that saved Noah is a picture of how baptism saves us today. The water lifted up the ark and delivered Noah from destruction; it separated those saved from those that were lost. He clearly says that baptism now saves us!
Some try to misuse the phrase about having a good conscience. According to Vine's Expository Dictionary, the KJV use of the word "answer" is incorrect. Vine says, "It was used by the Greeks in a legal sense, as a demand or appeal." In other words, it is an appeal or request to receive something, not a consequence of already having received such. Besides, having a good conscience is not an accurate indication of salvation-Paul in Acts 23:1 said he had a good conscience even before he was saved.
Baptism in the Name of Jesus
In Matthew 28:19, Jesus said, "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit." A few weeks later on the day of Pentecost, as recorded in Acts 2:38, Peter said, "Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."
"Name" is from the Greek word onoma (Strong #3686). Vine's Expository Dictionary gives two primary meanings: 1) in general of the "name" by which a person of thing is called; 2) for all that a "name" implies, of authority, character, rank, majesty, power, excellence, etc. Concerning baptism, Vine says "in the name of" means "in recognition of the authority of." Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon similarly says: "By baptism to bind any one to recognize and publicly acknowledge the dignity and authority of one." Several other passages indicate such a meaning: (Matthew 10:41; Matthew 18:5,20; Mark 16:17; Luke 10:17; John 14:26)
Some have argued that "in the name of" means that an exact formula of words must be spoken at the time of baptism in order for such to be valid. The Bible, however, says absolutely nothing about the one doing the baptizing nor about what is to be said at that time. No specific required oral formula is given. If a person desires for his/her sins to be washed away by the blood of Jesus, if a person realizes that they are dependent on that precious gift of God through Christ, then surely that person has been baptized "in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit" and also "in the name of Jesus," regardless of the words spoken at the time.
Consider Colossians 3:17: "Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus." Surely as Christians all that we do must be in recognition of the authority of Christ; every aspect of our lives ought to be in submission to that authority. All that we do as Christians, whether it be of a spiritual nature or everyday material things, ought to be in recognition of the authority of Christ. As we wear His name, we must strive to be like Him. Every decision we make, every action we take, all must be in accordance with His will. As the song says "Not a step will I take without Jesus."
It would seem absurd to interpret this verse as meaning that with every step we take and every single action we take we must physically and orally state aloud, "This is in the name of Jesus." If "in the name of" means that those words must be said (as some contend), then it would follow that we must say "in the name of Jesus" with every action we take in life. After all, that's what the verse says: "Whatsoever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord." To interpret this verse as some do Acts 2:38, then we would have to continually call out loud the name of Jesus, over and over again for every step we take, every breath we take, etc. Surely the meaning in Colossians 3:17 must be that everything we do as Christians must be done in recognition of the authority of Jesus Christ our Savior. And if so, it is reasonable that the same phrase in Matthew 28:19 and Acts 2:38 means the same thing.
Copyright © 1998-2015. Bible Lessons Worldwide Ministry. Bob Williams. Columbus, Georgia. Permission is granted to any teacher or preacher to use these lessons to the glory of God. Thanks to generous soul-loving partners, there is never a charge for anything offered by this ministry.
Bob Williams is the pulpit minister for the Rose Hill Church of Christ in Columbus, Georgia. He is an alumnus of York College in York, NE (1977-1979), Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, TN (1982-1985), and Harding University Graduate School of Religion in Memphis, TN (1986-1990). Since its inception in 1998, thousands of people throughout the world visit BibleLessons.com every month, and Bob is privileged to conduct in-depth Bible studies with a great many of them.