Baptism - A Study

To many, the subject of baptism is one that is controversial. Does one submit to it because one must obey God, but it is not for remission of sins? Do I really have to be baptized to be saved? At what age should I be baptized? These are just a few of the many questions that will come up when the subject of baptism arises.

Water baptism will be the subject of these articles. (The other baptisms in the Bible will require separate articles at another time.) Water baptism has been diluted by the doctrines and confusion of men for nearly two millennia. Thus, a study such as this is vital to our understanding of this very important biblical subject.

Aside from the New Testament's teaching on baptism, there are numerous records of baptism in the first few centuries after the establishment of the church. During this time nearly all the Christian teachings of the first three centuries was that baptism was by immersion and for the remission of sins. It was, however, during these years that baptism also became very liturgical.

Some of the leading teachers in the Christian community taught that one must be baptized naked. This arose from a belief that since the New Testament said baptism was a resurrection from the dead, they also believed it symbolized the resurrection of the dead at the Judgment, the candidate to be unashamed (of his or her faith?), Adam and Eve's pre- sin innocence, putting off the Old Man of sin, and becoming like little children. Some even baptized the candidate three times: one for each person of the Godhead.

Baptism quickly became a liturgical, tradition oriented matter. It eventually became a ceremony that only could be performed by an approved official, and only on Pentecost and Easter. The candidates were required to go through a period of training before baptism was permitted. The act itself became an elaborate ceremony where the candidate would renounce the devil, have salt sprinkled on his or her head, and, after immersion, receive milk and honey as a token of entering the spiritual Promised Land. Those who had been baptized were then dressed in white robes and paraded home wearing crowns of victory.

The common view of baptism changed yet again by the time of the Roman emperor Constantine. Sometimes known as the savior of Christianity, Constantine's so-called conversion to what was erroneously called Christianity changed the tide for persecuted Christians.

Constantine was marching on one of Rome's armies when he supposedly prayed to God and received a vision of the cross, admonishing him to conquer his foes by that symbol. Constantine subsequently wins the battle and assumes total control of the Western Empire of Rome's control. Even though he claimed it was God who gave him the victory, he postponed baptism for another twenty-five yearson his death bed. His supposed conversion to Christianity was more politically motivated than spiritually motivated. Those who catered to him (the hierarchy of the apostate church) were also more politically motivated as well.

Over the centuries theories on baptism have changed in many ways. A man by the name of Novatian was the first on record to be sprinkled with water instead of being immersed because of an illness. This later became a common practice for those who were "too sick" to be immersed; which was later termed "clinical baptism."

Another man, Augustine, decided that infants were tainted with Adam's original sin; thus they needed to baptized immediately to cleanse their souls. Many others have concluded various ways in which baptism can be administered, none of them in accordance with the New Testament.

It seems appropriate to spend a little ink on various questions people have regarding baptism.

What word formula is to be spoken? Some will argue that a certain word formula must be said when one is baptized. There are those who contend that all three persons of the Godhead must be pronounced, based on their belief on the Lord's commission to the apostles (Matthew 28:19). However, to do something in the name of the Godhead is to do something in the authority of the Godhead. When someone baptized a person in the name of the Godhead three, they did so according to their authority.

What about John's baptism? John's baptism was for the remission of sins (Mark 1:4; Matthew 3:5, 6). The antecedent qualifier to John's baptism was for one to repent. Remember, John would not baptize the Pharisee and Sadducee spies who came to him because they were not willing to repent (Matthew 3:8, 9).

Why was Jesus baptized? John declared that it was so He could be manifest to the nation of Israel (John 1:31). Jesus was not baptized for the forgiveness of sins, for He was without any sin (Hebrews 4:15; 1 Peter 2:22). Jesus told John the baptizer exactly why He was being baptized: "to fulfill all righteousness" (Matthew 3:15).

What about rebaptism? This topic comes up quite often. Generally, it is concerning those who were very young when they were first immersed, or they were baptized originally for the wrong reasons. Paul dealt with the issue of rebaptism with the twelve disciples of John while at Ephesus (Acts 19:1-7). These twelve men had been baptized by John's baptism, but it had taken place after the Great Commission baptism was instated. Thus, they had received a baptism that was no longer in effect.

Who can baptize someone? One may be surprised at how often this actually comes up in conversations. Some believe that only those who are "ordained" a minister can baptize someone. However, this has no basis in the New Testament. Others believe that it has to be a Christian who baptizes a person. One's salvation does not depend upon the one administering the baptism. It is the obedience to God's command to be baptized that save one's soul (1 Peter 3:21).

Within what the world generally terms "Christendom" there are a great many disagreements regarding various doctrines. Generally, when one disagrees with what the Bible teaches on their particular false view, they will have reasons (?) as to why they are right, and the Bible, apparently, is wrong. These quibbles of men always turn into a quandary for them when put to the acid test of Holy Writ.

Baptism is no exception to these various and sundry quibbles. A number of so-called arguments have been offered over the years, and are still being proffered upon the table of self righteousness and pride. In this article we will examine some of the most common quibbles of men against the necessity of baptism for the remission of sins.

Baptismal Regeneration is a pernicious doctrine that has been introduced over the years; possibly dating back to a few centuries after the church. For years now (nearly two centuries) the church of Christ has been accused of believing in this unbiblical doctrine. It should be stated here and now: The churches of Christ, which practice baptism by immersion for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38), DO NOT believe in the doctrine of baptismal regeneration.

Baptismal regeneration means that one is saved by the water itself, rather than being saved by obedience to the Gospel and contacting the blood of Christ. This slanderous term has been pummeled against the Lord's church for many a year now in order to castigate her for doing what the Bible teaches. Baptismal regeneration came about from those outside the Lord's body who could not bend when it came to their own man-made credos. Many were defeated in public debate and sought nothing more than to slander the bride of Christ with their denigrating speech. The Lord's church has never practiced such a heresy.

Common Arguments made by many against the necessity of baptism are legion. One of the more prominent among denominationalists is that Cornelius and his household were saved before they were baptized in water. This averment comes from the fact that Cornelius and his household received the Holy Spirit before they were baptized (Acts 10:44-48), but only the child of God receives the Holy Spirit; thus, they were saved before they were baptized in water.

First of all, the conversion of Cornelius was anything but typical. So, the texts in which this conversion took place and in which the account was related require some ink.

The supernatural work of the Holy Spirit in this instance has nothing to do with the salvation of Cornelius' house; but it rather has to do with Peter's need to comprehend that the Gentiles were ready for the Gospel, too (Acts 10:45; compare with 11:17 & 15:8, 9). When Peter relayed the account to the Jews at Jerusalem he said: "And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us; And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith" (Acts 15:8, 9). God bore witness to "them" (the Gentiles of Cornelius' house) when they were immersed in the Holy Spirit and were enabled to speak with other tongues. Note that Peter said "even as he did unto us," which refers back to the when the apostles received the same thing on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-12). This incident (the empowering to speak with tongues) "jarred" Peter's memory and allowed him to freely speak to them the Gospel. [An important note to remember: The first century gift of tongues was for a sign to the unbeliever, which Peter was at the time concerning the Gentiles need for the Gospel (1 Corinthians 14:22).]

When Peter gave witness of the account at Cornelius' house to the Jews at Jerusalem, he also said: "Who shall tell thee words, whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved. And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning. Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost. Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God? When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life" (Acts 11:14- 18).

Notice, please, when the Holy Spirit fell on Cornelius' householdwhen he began to speak. If the Holy Spirit coming upon Cornelius and his household was a sign that they were already saved, then they were saved without faith; for Paul said faith only comes through hearing the Word (Romans 10:17) and one can only be saved by faith (Ephesians 2:8). Very few, if any, would postulate such insolence and ignorance of the Word of God. The gift of the Holy Spirit (in the form of enabling them to speak in tongues) was poured out on Cornelius' house to prove to Peter and his company that God wanted the Gentiles to hear the Gospel. Cornelius and his household were saved when they were baptized in water to wash away their sins (Acts 10:48; cf. 22:16).

Thieves are generally some of the most despicable persons in society. They take what is not theirs and usually could care less that what they take meant a great deal to the victim. Most people have, at one time or another, had something stolen from them. All of this said; the next character in this study of baptism is somewhat of an anomaly in religious circles.

When someone is presented the facts about the final step in God's plan of salvation (baptism), they will often times turn to the penitent thief on the cross as corroboration that one does not have to be baptized to be saved. One should wonder why anyone would turn to this man as an example of salvation. Of all the examples of salvation found in the book of Acts, this man is turned to more than any other. The conversion of this man and the import of the argument made by many must be examined in light of the biblical evidence.

To argue that the thief on the cross is an example of what one should (or should not) do for salvation today involves at least two things: (1) and unwarranted assumption, and (2) it is grounded in a faulty view of the chronology of the events.

While Christ was hanging on the cross He was positioned between two thieves, both of whom at one time had reviled Him (Matthew 27:44; Mark 15:32). Somewhere within the span of the six hours Jesus was on the cross, one of the thieves had a change of mind (Luke 23:39-43). The penitent thief was now a defender of the Christ and His teachings and reviles the other thief for his insolence and blasphemy.

Where the argument comes in is that some will aver that the penitent thief was told by Jesus he would join Him in Paradise, that very day (Luke 23:43). Thus, there is no record of the penitent thief having been baptized. And, since the penitent thief was never baptized, one does not have to be baptized today to be saved.

What do the facts of the account say? This argument assumes far more than is available in the New Testament.

First, Jesus said: "...the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins" (Matthew 9:6). When Jesus granted entry into the Paradise Realm to the penitent thief, He did so with full authority given to Him by the Father (Matthew 28:18).

Second, the salvation of the penitent was under the Old Economy of Moses. Thus, when this account took place it was during that system, not Christianity. When Christ died He nailed that system to the cross for all time (Colossians 2:14; Ephesians 2:15). However, one may argue that Jesus died before the thief, thus the thief was under the New Testament since Jesus' death was where the Old Law ended. True, but the blood of Jesus, which brought the New Covenant into existence, was carried to the Father when He ascended to Heaven (Hebrews 9:22-24). Furthermore, Jesus did not give the command to be baptized for the remission of sins until after His resurrection and just before His ascension (Mark 16:16; Matthew 28:18-20). At this time the New Covenant was in force. God would never require someone to do something He has not yet commanded (cf. 1 Timothy 2:4).

To say the penitent thief was not baptized, therefore saved without baptism, makes an assumption that is unwarranted by the evidence. First of all, he knew a great deal about Jesus and the coming kingdom. Second, John preached baptism for the remission of sins and baptized many people living in Jerusalem, Judea, and the entire Jordan region (Matthew 3:5, 6; Mark 1:4). The probability of the thief being baptized under John's baptism was just as probable as that he was not. Nevertheless, what matters is that he was saved because Jesus said he was. Baptism, in his instance, does not matter. One's salvation is based on what Jesus and the apostles said by Inspiration, not on what they did not say.

Some will conclude from the Greek grammar of Peter's statement to the Pentecostians (Acts 2:38) that those who were told to be baptized for the remission of sins were told this because their sins were already forgiven. This is based on the meaning of the Greek preposition translated "for" in the King James Bible. It is supposed that the meaning of the preposition means "as a result or because of," thus making the act of baptism something someone does because their sins are already forgiven.

There has yet to be a translation of the New Testament that so translates the preposition in question that way. All of the English translations translated the meaning as something that must be done to achieve remission of sins. One would think that if it really meant what so many contend that it does that someone would have translated it that way by now.

As a note of interest; the same word is used by Matthew: "For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins" (Matthew 26:28). If, as some contend, the word translated "for" in the Greek language means as a result of or because of, then it would mean that Jesus shed His blood because sins were already forgiven. Who would contend such?

This final argument presented against the validity of the New Testament's claim for the essentiality of baptism for salvation is yet another straw-grasping attempt to deny what the Bible teaches. Critics will contend that the last twelve verses of Mark's Gospel account should not be in the New Testament because they are not in most of the Greek manuscripts. This attempt to minimize, if not do away with, the Gospel's command of baptism for the remission of sins is based, yet again, on something for which the evidence has not been produced.

There are only two of the ancient manuscripts of the New Testament that do not include these verses, not most of them. There are literally thousands of manuscripts of the New Testament today, and all of them include these verses. Some are as much as two hundred years older than the two that leave it out. The attempt to remove a part of Holy Writ in order to push one's own agenda is shameful behavior indeed.

In this final installment of articles we will be dealing with the truth of the matter regarding baptism. A number of the quibbles of men have been examined and have all fallen to the double edged sword of the Word of God. As long as the world stands and men rebel against God's authority, there will be a great many more quibbles and excuses to refuse to obey God. Nevertheless, the Scriptures will always reveal the truth on any matter.

The truth of the matter is that baptism is by immersion. The practice of pouring and sprinkling does not have its origin in the New Testament. The first recorded case of one having water poured on them rather than being immersed was Novatian. He was supposedly too sick to be immersed, so an exception to the rule was made. This practice was later referred to as "clinical baptism."

The very definition of baptism gives no credence to the doctrine of sprinkling or pouring as a means of New Testament baptism. The definition of baptism as given by men is far from the New Testament's teaching. A modern dictionary defines baptism thus: "The application of water to a person, as a sacrament or religious ceremony, by which he is initiated into the visible church of Christ. This is usually performed by sprinkling or immersion" (Webster's Dictionary).

The New Testament meaning of baptism is defined thus by Greek Lexicons: "to dip repeatedly, to immerse, to submerge (of vessels sunk) to cleanse by dipping or submerging, to wash, to make clean with water..." (Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon). The modern dictionary only gives the contemporary usage of the word, not the biblical usage of it. And, even though the Greek dictionaries and lexicons are usually correct, the New Testament is still its own best dictionary.

After Philip preached Jesus to the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:35), they "went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him" (v. 38). If sprinkling or pouring were all that were needed, why go down into the water? In like manner, John the Baptizer was baptizing in Aenon "...because there was much water there" (John 3:23). Jesus told Nicodemus that one must " born of water" (John 3:5) if one wishes to see Heaven. Paul told the Romans and the Colossians that baptism was a burial (Romans 6:4; Colossians 2:12). After Jesus was baptized He went "...up straightway out of the water" (Matthew 3:16). The Scriptures are clear on the matter of baptismit is by immersion only.

Who should be baptized? First of all, only taught persons are eligible for baptism. Jesus made this clear when He gave the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19). Second, only those who have heard the Gospel message and then are obedient to it are candidates (Mark 16:15, 16). Third, only penitent persons are eligible (Acts 2:38). Fourth, only those who have confessed the name of Jesus are qualified for baptism (Romans 10:9, 10).

All of the above should clear up the misconception of infant baptism. This abominable doctrine was concocted by a fifth century "scholar" named Augustine. His teachings are still prominent today in many of the denominations. It was propagated by him that all persons are born totally depraved in "original sin." Thus, the only way to remove this stain was to be washed in the waters of baptism. He also taught that when one came of age he or she must be "sanctified" by the Holy Spirit. This was/is a type of dualism salvation. There are no infants, however, that meet the above mentioned criteria for baptism.

The act of baptism completes ones obedience to God in that one has obeyed all He has said to do. Some will contend that the churches of Christ put too much emphasis on baptism. This is simply not so. The churches of Christ only put emphasis where God had already put it. Observe the following spiritual things baptism does:

  • Saves the soul (Mark 16:16)
  • Brings about the New Birth (John 3:5)
  • Removes sin (Acts 2:38)
  • Puts one in a saved state (1 Peter 3:21)
  • It is a command (Acts 10:48)
  • Reenactment of death, burial, resurrection (Romans 6:1-4)
  • Puts one into Christ (Galatians 3:27)
  • Washes away sins (Acts 22:16)

Baptism is not pushed more than any other part of God's wonderful plan of salvation for man. Every part of His plan is important; it is just that some seek to change what He has clearly mandated.

All of the arguments of men will never avail. Judgment Day will see only the faithful to enter His rest, not those who argue with Him (see Matthew 7:21-23). The New Testament is clear on baptism; thus it behooves every soul on the face of the earth to relinquish his or her own preconceived idea and notions and obey God before time is no more. If the reader has never submitted to baptism for the remission of sins, why not do so immediately?


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