What Baptism Will God Accept?
aptism is taught among all who proclaim
to believe in Jesus. Yet many teach different things about its method, purpose
and significance. In this study we will consider what the Bible teaches about
this very important subject.
Baptism Before the New Testament
Baptism as a religious ordinance
is taught only in the New Testament. While ceremonial washings were a part of
the Law of Moses, there is nothing exactly like baptism within it
requirements. A type of baptism developed during the period between the Old
and New Testament as an initiation for Gentile converts to Judaism. The Babylonian
Talmud indicates that
in addition to circumcision and temple sacrifice a convert was baptized. The
text claimed- “He
immerses himself and when he comes up he
in all respects an Israelite” (Yebamoth 47a, 30).
One sect of the Jews who lived
outside of Jerusalem in the Dead Sea settlement at Qumran practiced a baptismal
ritual to initiate members into their community (Manual of Discipline ii,
25-iii 12). The Jewish historian Josephus (ca. 38-100 A.D.) tells of a sect
known as the Essenes who practiced
purifying cold-water baths as a regular ritual (War of the Jews II, xii
5). Josephus himself early in his life followed a teacher named Bannus and
practiced similar cold-water rituals (Life ii).
The Baptism of John
Similar to these customs of
baptismal initiation and cleansing the first time the Bible refers to
baptism as a religious ordinance is that which was taught by the prophet John.
Mark 1:4 teaches -
“John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance
for the remission of sins.” (NKJV). The purpose of John’s message
was preparation. John came in fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy - “...Behold, I
send My messenger before Your face, who will prepare Your way before You. The
voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the LORD; Make His
3:1 from Mark 1:2,3).
Although it is commonly taught in
the religious world that John’s baptism was the same as the baptism which
Christ taught, the Bible indicates that they are quite different. In Acts
19:1-6, years after Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension the Apostle Paul
met some Jews who had followed John. They had received John’s baptism but had
not been baptized into Christ. Paul taught them - “...John indeed
baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should
believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.” (19:4). The
next verse of the text then tells us - “When they heard this, they were
baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus..”
Some important points can be seen
1) The two baptisms were different, or
there would have been no need for them to be baptized into Christ. 2) It was
imperative that they receive the right baptism. Sincere intentions were
not enough. Nor was any type of baptism enough. The authority had to be
correct (i.e. “in the name of the Lord Jesus”) and the purpose had to be right
(i.e. not simply a baptism of repentance). John’s baptism called upon people
who were Jews to return in repentance back to God. It was, as Mark 1:4 tells
us “for the remission of sins” in the same sense that under the Law of Moses
repentance always gave to the Israelite forgiveness of sins (cf. Ezekiel
The Baptism of Christ
John’s message was one of preparation Jesus’ message was one of radical
change. He taught - “...I
am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through
Me.” (John 14:6).
Jesus brought a message of a new faith and a new birth.
He told Nicodemus, a
member of the Jewish council - “...Most assuredly, I say to you, unless
one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3). This
grand vision was more than a call to prepare and modify one’s life, but a
demand to die spiritually and live again.
Every Reference to Baptism
Baptism: Matthew 3:7; 20:22,23; 21:25;
Mark 1:4; 10:38, 39; 11:30; Luke 3:3; 7:29; 12:50; 20:4; Acts 1:22; 10:37;
13:24; 18:25; 19:3,4; Romans 6:4; Ephesians 4:5; Colossians 2:12; I Peter 3:21.
Baptisms: Hebrews 6:2.
Baptist: Matthew 3:1; 11:11,12; 14:2; 16:14; 17:13; Mark 6:14; 6:24, 25; 8:28; Luke 7:20, 28, 33; 9:19.
Baptist’s: Matthew 14:8.
Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:4, 8; Luke
3:16; John 1:26, 33; I Corinthians 1:17.
Baptized: Matthew 3:6, 13-16; 20:22,23;
Mark 1:5, 8-9; 10:38,39; 16:16; Luke 3:7, 12, 21; 7:29,30; 12:50; John 3:22,
23; 4:1,2; 10:40; Acts 1:5; 2:38, 41; 8:12, 13, 16, 36, 38; 9:18; 10:47,48;
11:16; 16:15, 33; 18:8; 19:3-5; 22:16; Romans 6:3; I Corinthians 1:13-16; 10:2;
12:13; 15:29; Galatians 3:27.
Baptizest: John 1:25.
Baptizeth: John 1:33; 3:26.
Baptizing: Matthew 28:19; John 1:28, 31;
Let us consider a few points about
the baptism which Christ taught. In Matthew 28:16-20 the Holy Spirit records
for us Jesus’ final words while on earth. In what is referred to as the “Great
Commission” Jesus commands - “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy
Spirit,teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I
am with you always, even to the end of the age. Amen.” (28:19-20). We
see in this text that baptism was commanded and connected with making
In Acts chapter two we can see
how, only a few days later, the Apostles fulfilled the commission they had been
given. As they had been promised, the Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles in
power and allowed them to speak in other languages. This enabled them to teach
people from many other nations who had come to Jerusalem to worship in their
native tongue. The Apostle Peter standing up in the midst of the Apostles,
preached the first sermon of the Christian age. After teaching them about
Jesus’ death and resurrection, at the conclusion of the lesson the people who heard
the sermon asked - “What shall we
We should note the answer they are given. The text reads - “Then Peter said
to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus
Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy
2:38, NKJV). In teaching this Peter was obedient to the charge he had been
given to make disciples baptizing them into Christ.
False Doctrines Regarding Acts
There are a
number of false doctrines that are taught about Peter’s teaching. First, it is
sometimes suggested that Peter’s instructions regarding baptism were to the
Jews alone. We should note however, that Peter declares in the next verse- “For the promise is to you and
to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will
2:39). With these words Peter includes all mankind in his instructions.
Further, it is
sometimes taught that baptism is something which simply joins a person to a
local congregation. The text says - “Then those who gladly received his
word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to
2:41). A few verses later the text adds - “...the Lord
added to the church daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). This
shows that it is the Lord, not baptism that adds people to His church. In
addition to this, we know from the text that many of those who heard this
lesson were from other nations who had come to Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost
(see Acts 2:5-11). Those who responded were added to the Lord’s church
universally, not simply the church in Jerusalem.
The Purpose of Baptism
question regarding the baptism that is taught in the New Testament is what was
its purpose? Some argue that after a person is already a Christian they are
baptized as “an outward sign of an inward grace.” The Bible teaches something
In Acts chapter twenty-two the
Apostle Paul recounts his own conversion. While traveling on the road to
Damascus the Lord spoke to him in a blinding light. The text tells us that
Jesus identified Himself to Paul (v. 8), Paul refers to Jesus as Lord, asks
what he should do and is told to go into Damascus where he will be told what to
do (v. 10). Many have falsely concluded that Paul was saved on the road to
Damascus. That is not what the Bible teaches. The text tells us that Paul
went into the city and waited (three days - Acts 9:9). After this a Christian
named Ananias came to him and taught him (vss. 12-15). At the conclusion of
his lesson he said to Paul - “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized,
and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” (Acts 22:16).
Paul could not have been saved on the road to Damascus if three days later he
was told to be baptized in order to “wash away” his sins calling on the Lord.
Descriptions of Baptism
Much can be
discerned about the purpose of baptism by an examination of the descriptions of
it that are given in the New Testament. Consider three descriptions:
Burial with Christ. In Romans 6:4 it is referred to a burial
into the death of Christ. This indicates that it is the way in which we die to
our old life and are united with the death of Jesus.
Putting on Christ. Galatians
3:27 teaches that in baptism one puts on Christ. If baptism clothes one in
Christ, it is clear that before baptism one has not put on Christ.
An Appeal to God for a Good Conscience. I Peter 3:21
draws a comparison between the salvation of Noah through the waters of the
flood and baptism. Peter writes - “And corresponding to that, 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” (1 Peter 3:21,
NASB). One does not appeal for something which they already possess. That
means that one cannot have a good conscience before baptism. This text shows
clearly that baptism is necessary for salvation by stating emphatically
“baptism now saves you.”
The Method of Baptism
The word baptism
has been transliterated from the Greek language into English. A literal
translation of the word would be “immersion.” Bauer, Arnt & Gingrich in
their Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian
Literature define the word - “dip, immerse, wash, plunge, sink, drench,
overwhelm or soak” (p. 131).
The Septuagint (a Greek translation of
the Old Testament used in the time of Christ) uses the word which we translate
“baptize” in II Kings 5:14. This text tells of a Syrian commander who was
healed of leprosy when he “dipped” (i.e. was baptized) seven times in the
Jordan river. It is clear that baptism is a complete submerging in water.
in the Book of Acts
Pentecost: Act 2:36-41.
Samaritans: Acts 8:5-13.
Ethiopian Eunuch: Acts 8:26-39.
Paul: Acts 9:1-18; 22:4-16; 26:12-20.
Cornelius: Acts 10:1-48; 11:1-18.
Lydia: Acts 16:11-15.
Philippian Jailer: Acts 16:25-34.
Disciples of John: Acts 19:1-7.
An accurate definition of baptism
is significant for a number of reasons. First, baptism is symbolic of a burial
(see Romans 6:1-6). Any method which may be called baptism, yet fails to
symbolize a burial is not baptism. Second, when the Bible gives us an example
of a person being baptized it says that they “went down into the water” (Acts 8:38) and
up out of the water” (Acts
8:39). Only if immersion is going to be administered would it be necessary for
one to go down into water and then come up out of the water. Third, “baptism”
refers to a specific action - immersion. To be obedient to an instruction to
perform a specific action a person must perform that action. Doing a different
action is not obeying the instruction.
have abandoned immersion and substituted other methods which are, by definition
not baptism. Sprinkling or pouring water over a person’s head has been called
baptism. The problem is that there is not a single command, example or
inference which teaches this method of baptism.
Sprinkling has its origins in the
imagination of men. The first known reference to sprinkling comes in the
century after the New Testament was written. A work known as the Didache (or
Teachings) outlines procedures for baptism. The text reads - “Having first
recited all these things, baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and
of the Holy Spirit in living (running) water. But if thou hast not living
water, then baptize in other water; and if thou art not able in cold, then in
Lightfoot). We note that the first and most preferable method is immersion,
although the writer expresses some preferences about the type of water and
temperature. The next line in the text continues - “But if thou hast
neither, then pour water on the head thrice in the name of the Father and of
the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (7.3). Here we see an uninspired writer
offering a substitution which was never authorized in the New Testament. From
this kind of thinking began the man-made tradition of sprinkling instead of
What Difference Does It Make?
and division that exists in the religious world has lead many people to
conclude that one method is as good as another, or one purpose is as good as
any other. This is not true. If the word “baptism” means immersion, when the
Lord commands baptism He is commanding to be immersed. It is always important
to follow the Lord’s instructions specifically.
In addition to this, the Bible
condemns following human traditions instead of the Word of God. Jesus rebuked
the “vain worship” of the Pharisees claiming they taught - “as doctrines the
commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9). Sadly this is done in
the world around us everyday.
tradition, upon which many risk their souls, is the sprinkling of infants.
This practice is taught nowhere in Scripture and finds its origin even later in
history than sprinkling.
A major error of infant sprinkling
is the fact that the Bible teaches who is and is not a candidate for baptism.
Mark 16:16 teaches - “He
who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be
Romans 10:10 teaches -
the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is
made unto salvation.” An infant can neither believe nor
disbelieve. An infant can neither confess nor deny.
In this, traditions of men are
again in conflict with Scripture. Man says - “...not only those that do
actually profess faith and obedience unto Christ, but also infants of one or
both believing parents are to be baptized...” (Westminster Confession of Faith, 28 “Of
Baptism,” written 1643). The Bible says that belief precedes baptism.
Baptism in the Second Century
Although we have
seen that false doctrines about baptism were introduced in the second century,
it is clear from the witness of history that Christians in the second century thought that
baptism was immersion in water for the remission of sins. The Didache
taught immersion (see above). A text known as the Epistle of Barnabas claims
“We go down into the water laden with sins and filth and rise up from it
bearing fruit in the heart resting our fear and hope on Jesus in the spirit” (11.11,
Lightfoot). This shows that the writer saw baptism as immersion and necessary
for the forgiveness of sins. Finally, an early apologist named Justin in his First
Apology wrote a great deal about baptism. It is very clear that Justin
believed in the necessity of baptism. He calls it “the bath for the
remission of sins and regeneration” (66). Justin applies John 3:3,4 to
baptism which he teaches is in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy
Spirit. This was clearly more than sprinkling or pouring. He claims that
those to be baptized “are
led by us where there is water and are born again” (61). These men were not
inspired writers, but they do show what early Christians thought about the
What About Your Baptism?
Reconstruction of a house used by Christians
from ca. 200 AD in Dura Europus,
Syria with a baptistry.
If you are reading this study, it may be
that you believe in Jesus and have even been baptized. What you must ask
yourself is whether you have followed the word of God or the traditions of
men? Early disciples concluded - “...we ought to obey God rather than
5:29). The Bible promised that not long after the establishment of the church,
false doctrines would begin to creep in that would turn people away from the
truth. The Bible teaches that those who introduce such things - “Do not endure
sound doctrine” and
thus “they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to
Timothy 4:3,4). The only way to guard against this is by looking to God’s
word. Paul told Timothy that Scripture could make him - “complete,
thoroughly equipped for every good work” (II Timothy 3:17).
Were you sprinkled as a child?
Were you sprinkled as an adult? Does the Bible teach that sprinkling is an
acceptable substitute for immersion? No.
Were you immersed, but as an
“outward sign of an inward grace” or to join a local congregation? If so we
have seen that this is not an acceptable baptism.
If this is your condition why not
do as the disciples of John did in Acts 19:5 - “be baptized in
the name of the Lord Jesus.” When you do the Lord will add you to
His universal body of believers. Then as you continue a life of worship to God “in spirit
and truth” (John
4:24), you have the hope of everlasting life with God in the age to come. From
this study you now know what the Lord has commanded regarding baptism. The
question is -
“why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized and wash away your sins,
calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16).
The Babylonian Talmud is
a collection of rabbinical teachings that was written down in the centuries
after the destruction of Jerusalem. Although it was written after the New
Testament it records some traditions which predate it.
When Qumran was first excavated
in the 1940’s and 50’s it was assumed that the Essenes lived there. Many
scholars currently question this initial identification.