Water Baptism through Scripture

A article by the Beacon of Grace church


     Many Christians fail to realize that there are a number of different kinds of baptisms taught in scripture. Not every baptism talks of water. Hence, we need to consider the following verse.


    Eph 4:4 - 6 There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling, One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.   We see from these verses that there is only one faith - that being the faith of the Son of God (Gal.2: 20). How far we err when we talk of a Catholic faith and a Protestant faith! There is but one faith. It is not a Baptist faith, a Methodist faith, or a Presbyterian faith. It is not an Independent faith, an undenominational faith, or an interdenominational faith. It is the faith once for all delivered unto the saints. God never distinguished believers into different camps, and when people do separate themselves into separate groups, God rebukes them! (Read carefully 1 Corinthians 1:11-13). I, myself, am blessed to be a Christian, with no allegiance to any man-made organizations. In this way, I can allow the Word of God to be my authority not some man -- made denomination.

    Eph.4:5 states there is only "One Baptism". It is on this point that most Christians often break the Unity of the Spirit and fail most miserably in keeping that unity in the bond of peace. Believers, for centuries, have been hopelessly divided on the question of Baptism; there are differences as to the proper mode, the proper purpose, the proper subject, and the proper authority. Some immerse, some sprinkle, and some practice effusion. Most denominations use some adaptation of the formula of Matthew 28:19, "in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost" (which none of the apostles ever used as far as the Acts record is concerned); others use the formula of Acts 2:38, "in the name of Jesus Christ." Some immersionists are satisfied to place the candidate under water but once; others practice "trine immersion," once for each member of the Godhead.

   Many groups insist that the purpose of baptism with or in water is the remission of sins (just like Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost, and Jesus commanded in Mark 16). Of these groups, some such as Roman Catholics believe that sins are remitted when the water is sprinkled upon the candidate- whether he is an infant or adult. Others, such as the churches of Christ, believe the sins are forgiven only if the candidate is an accountable believer who has repented of his sins and confessed his faith in Christ. The baptism, in order to be valid, must, according to them, be complete immersion with both the baptizer and the baptized in the water. The Greek Orthodox church practices immersion, but they immerse babies as well as adults. Baptists, on the other hand, insist that water baptism has nothing to do with salvation. To them, it is a witness to the world, or a door to church membership. Mark 16, which is used so frequently as a proof text by members of the Church of Christ, "he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved," is interpreted by Baptists and others to mean, "he that believeth and is saved should be baptized" (even though the verse is clear that baptism is for salvation). It is interesting to note that the remainder of Mark 16 promises miraculous healings, speaking in tongues, and other signs as proof of salvation. If our marching orders for today are in Mark 16, where are the signs? Views are just as diversified on the proper subject and the proper authority for water baptism as they are on the proper mode and proper purpose. The examples of our differences, cited above, are given objectively, not to criticize or to stress our divisions, but to call attention to the great need that we face --- a need to go back to the Bible and reevaluate its message on baptism. We have seen from Eph.4:4-6 that God would have us recognize only one body, the church; only one Spirit, the holy Spirit; only one hope, the blessed hope of His appearing, only one Lord; our Lord Jesus Christ; one faith; the faith of the Son of God. There is just as surely one baptism. Since there are so many differences on this subject, we must approach it with humility and reverence, trying in a spirit of love to find Gods truth for His church of this dispensation, the Body of Christ. Let us note some of the baptisms recognized in the scriptures at different times. The Bible very clearly talks of twelve various baptisms. They are as follows:


1.) Christ baptizing with the holy Spirit (Mat.3:11; Acts 1:4-5; Acts 11:15-16)

2.) The holy Spirit baptizing into the Body of Christ (Col.2:11-12; Rom.6:3-4; 1 Cor.12:13)

3.) Death Baptism (Luke 12:50; Mat.20:22-23; Mark 10:38)

4.) Fire Baptism (Mat.3:11; Luke 3:16)

5.) the typical baptism of Noahs Ark (1 Peter 3:13-21). Note that the occupants of the ark did not get wet.

6.) Baptism for the dead (1 Corinthians 15:29). Note this is the verse Mormons use to support their view on baptism for the dead.

7.) Baptism unto Moses (1 Cor. 10:2). Note again, these who were baptized "in the cloud and in the sea" went across on "dry ground" according to the Exodus account; their baptism was apart from water. This is obviously not a "water baptism" for Israel crossed the Red Sea on "dry ground" (Exodus 14:22). Pharaoh and his army, were the ones dipped into the water as it crashed down on them in divine judgment. However, it was Israel who was said to have been baptized. Hence, this was a dry baptism!

8.) Divers baptisms of the law (Heb.9:10; John 1:25)

9.) Traditional Jewish baptisms (not part of the law, but became man made law) (Mark 7:1-9)

10.) Johns baptism of Israel for the remission of sins (Mat.3:6-16; Mark 1:4-9; Luke 3:3-21, John 1:23-28; etc.)

11.) Christs baptism by John to fulfill all righteousness (Mat.3:14; etc.). Note, the Lord states it was necessary, not that it was for a testimony.

12.) Pentecostal baptism for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38; etc.)
This list should help to clarify the true meaning of the term "baptism". The word itself is simply an Anglicized form of the Greek word, "baptizo". Regrettably, denominationally influenced lexicons have defined "baptizo" as "to dip", or "immerse." That this cannot be an adequate definition is easily seen from the above list. Consider number 4 on our list, "fire baptism". In Matthew 3:11, John the Baptist said Christ would "baptize with the Holy Ghost and with fire." Was He to dip people in the Holy Ghost, and fire? In Luke 12:50, Christ called His death, a baptism. Was He dipped into death? In 1 Corinthians 12:13 we read, "For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body." Are believers dipped into one body? The answer to these questions, is a resounding no. Hence, the traditional denominational definition is a totally inappropriate definition. Therefore, it is from this unsound definition that the whole idea of baptism as a burial with Christ in water has evolved. But the fact remains that Christ was not buried in water. No one buries people in water, except perhaps at sea as an expedient. While it is beyond the scope of this paper, it is interesting to note how few of these twelve baptisms could possibly be water. If you are honest with yourself, it is clear that baptism is not always synonymous with water. In fact, only numbers 8-12 have water, and one of these is a man-made baptism! Out of those that do contain water, it is accepted by almost all Christians that numbers 8-10 do not apply to anyone but Old Testament Saints, or those who made the Word of God of no effect. Therefore, we need to trace the doctrine of Water Baptism in scripture.  

The Basis for Water Baptism            

     Water Baptism was not a New Testament innovation. This fact will be something new to many people, and may even shock some. Many baptismal ceremonies were prescribed in the Mosaic Law. The following verses should be enough to show this irrefutable fact: Exodus 29:4, Exodus 30:17-21, Numbers 8:5-7, Numbers 19:1-22 (pay close attention to verses 7-9, 13, 20-21), and Numbers 31:23. Our King James Bibles do not use the word "baptism" in any of these passages because that word is a transliteration of a Greek word and not an English translation, as we have already seen.  In John 1:25 John the Baptist was asked, "Why baptizeth thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet?" Visibly these inquirers were not shocked by Johns practice of water baptism as though it were something innovative to them. Rather they anticipated the practice of water baptism in connection with the coming of Messiah. Where could this expectation have come from except the prophecies found in Old Testament Scriptures? Furthermore, we need to keep in mind the Mosaic economy was still in force during the ministries of both John and Jesus. Hebrews 9:17 declares, "A testament is of force after men are dead." Thus the new covenant could not possibly replace the old until after the death of Christ. Hence, Johns baptism was not something new, rather it was a ceremony thoroughly understood by those to whom he ministered. Therefore, water baptism did not begin with John the Baptist. When we permit scriptures to be our authority rather than a denominational bias we quickly learn that water baptism is a ceremonial cleansing that pertains to the kingdom promised to the nation Israel.

A Kingdom Of Priests

    In Exodus 19:5-6 at the very giving of the Mosaic Covenant, God tells us what His intention in giving birth to the nation of Israel was. Exodus 19:5-6 Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine. And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel. Gods avowed purpose regarding the nation Israel is that she is to be a "kingdom of priests and an holy nation," through whom the Gentile nations will draw nigh to God. Think about the words of Isaiah: Isaiah 61:6    But ye shall be named the priests of the Lord: men shall call you the ministers of our God.  In due course this will be accomplished during the kingdom reign of Christ when Israel is dwelling in her land and the nations find salvation and blessing through her instrumentality.  All of this awaits Israels redemption. The "If ye will obey then ye shall be" principle of the law assured that the knowledge of sin would abound. Because of Israels failure, she soon found herself in need of a Redeemer. Thus while the hope of Israel looked to the promised coming kingdom, the need of the nation for cleansing must first be faced. With this in mind it is imperative to remember that of all the people or things to be baptized it was the priest who stood foremost. Exodus 29 sets forth the formula for induction into the priests office. Two very important steps of consecration are incorporated: First must come cleansing or purifying, done by a washing with water. Exodus 29:4 And Aaron and his sons thou shalt bring unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and shalt wash them with water.  Second there was the anointing with oil: Exodus 29:7 Then shalt thou take the anointing oil, and pour it upon his head, and anoint him. Exactly as the sons of Aaron were the priests through whom the people of Israel could draw near to God, so the nation Israel itself will one day be " a kingdom of priests and an holy nation," through whom the Gentiles will draw near to God (Gen.12:1-3; 22:17-18; Isa.60:1-3, Zech.8:20-23). It is in this light that John the Baptist appears on the landscape preaching his "baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel" (Acts 13:24). To state it another way, Johns "baptism of repentance for the remission of sins" (Mark 1:4) was a mechanism of national repentance and readiness to be the kingdom of priests God intended that favored nation to be. Matthew 3:1-2 In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, [2] And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. How were they to prepare for the arriving of the kingdom? Matthew 3:5-6 Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan, [6] And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins. Johns baptism was the means of fleeing from "the wrath to come" (v.7). We have no doubt as to what this "wrath to come" involved: Matthew 3:8-12 Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: [9] And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. [10] And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. [11] I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire: [12] Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire. Pay attention to the choice set before Israel: there was a judgment coming and if they wanted to be the "wheat" that is safely carried into the barn and not the "chaff" that is to burn with the fire of judgment they must be identified as the believing remnant through the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.  Exactly as in Numbers 31:21-24, if they wanted to avoid the fire they must "go through the water." Thus they would be "purified with the water of separation" and recognized collectively as the believing remnant in Israel set apart as "an holy nation." 

The little flock

         Johns baptism became a break through issue for Israel. Luke 7:29-30. And all the people that heard him, and the publicans, justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him.  This is the underlying principle involving water baptism, and how it was associated with salvation and the remission of sins. Salvation was by faith, but the only way they could articulate their faith was by doing what God required. What God mandated, was the nation of Israel to prepare itself to function as a "royal priesthood. First must come the purification; then the service.  Ezekiel 36:25 promises Israel that they would be cleansed by the sprinkling of water. This was the necessary first step of faith in forming the nucleus of the coming kingdom, the group of Jewish believers, which our Lord called His "little flock." Luke 12:32 Fear not little flock; for it is your Fathers good pleasure to give you the kingdom.  The next stage in preparing this believing remnant was Matthew 3:11s baptism with the Spirit. This baptism would correspond with the second rite of consecration to the priesthood (the anointing). The baptism with the Holy Ghost would impart the needed empowering for the nations impending service. Hence, this explains why Jesus post-resurrection ministry ties these two things the baptism of repentance and the anointing of the Holy Ghost so intimately together. One need only to read Mark 16:15-17, Luke 24:47, Acts 1:4-8, etc. to see this. Following the coming of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost, Peters plea to Israel is unmistakably a further development of Johns call to repentance (Acts 2:38). Those who think the role of water baptism somehow changed after Pentecost should notice that the pre and post resurrection baptisms were identically the same. "Repent, and be baptized for the remission of sins" is exactly what John proclaimed in Mark 1:4. Nothing had changed. More exactly there had simply been the historical development of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, followed by the outpouring of the Holy Ghost. The kingdom was no longer merely "at hand" as it had been with John; now the time had come to in fact offer it to Israel. Furthermore, even after Pentecost those who refused to be baptized stood as condemned before God as did those in Luke 7:30, for Peter declares such in Acts 2:39-40.             This indispensable issue of assembling collectively the believing remnant of Israel the "little flock" of Luke 12:32 runs all the way through the ministries of John, Jesus, and the twelve in early Acts. This "little flock" represented the core of the governmental authority for the approaching kingdom. Those in Israel who refused to "repent and be baptized" to identify themselves as those who had changed their minds about Jesus being their Messiah through the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins were to be "destroyed from among the people." (Acts 3:23). Hence, it is very clear in scripture, water baptism is a ceremonial cleansing that pertained to the kingdom promised the nation Israel. Gentile Baptism Since water baptism is associated with cleansing the nation of Israel for its ministry in her kingdom, where does the baptism of Gentiles under the commission of Matthew 28:19 fit in? Once more, water baptism is again demonstrated to symbolize cleansing and again clearly associated with Israels kingdom. Remember that the priests were not the only people to be baptized. In connection with the cleansing of lepers, Leviticus 14:9 instructs: "Also he shall wash his flesh in water, and he shall be clean." The "nations" of Matthew 28:19 were of course considered "unclean" by Israel and thus must be baptized be cleansed in order to gain access to Israels kingdom and acceptance into Gods favor. Both Israel and the Gentiles needed to be acknowledging their need of cleansing; the former in order to be worthy to minister the things of God; the latter to be the recipient of those things. The Time Of Two Baptisms (The early Acts period; Peters ministry to Israel) When Peter preached his Pentecostal sermon as recorded in Acts 2, he addressed it to Israelites (2:36). When these men of Israel were convicted of their sins and asked what they could do to be saved, Peters reply was, "repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." (Acts 2:38). If language means anything, this was a baptism with water that was required for the remission of their sins. This was in perfect harmony with the commission given to Peter and the eleven in Mark 16:16. Upon receipt of this water baptism, they experienced the baptism of the Holy Ghost promised by John the Baptist: "I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance... He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost." (Mat.3:11). Christ was the baptizer; the Holy Ghost was the "element." The signs promised in Mark 16:17-18 followed! Read any chapter in Acts to see these signs. This pattern of two baptisms characterized the ministry of the twelve to the Jews. In fact, when the believers were scattered after the stoning of Stephen, they went everywhere preaching the Word "to none but unto the Jews only." (Acts 11:19) Two Baptisms Reversed (Later Acts ministry) In Acts 10, we find a most unusual account. The Apostle Peter, who received the commission of Mark 16 to "preach the gospel to every creature," had never preached to anyone but the Jews. God gave a miraculous threefold vision to him to persuade him to go to the house of a God-fearing Gentile, Cornelius, a man who was earnestly seeking the truth. But when Peter went to his house, he did not give him an invitation to salvation. On the contrary, he made apologies for entering a Gentiles house, and rehearsed the blessings of God to Israel. As he was in the midst of this, he said, "To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins." This is the message Cornelius was waiting to hear! As soon as they heard this message, Cornelius and those Gentiles with him believed it and were baptized with the Holy Ghost and began to speak in tongues! Peter then remembered the words of the Lord (see Acts 11:15-16) and identified this experience of Cornelius and his household as the baptism with the Holy Ghost promised by Christ. He then required them to be baptized with water. This was still a time of two baptisms, but this time, the baptism with the Holy Ghost was first, followed by baptism with water! This seems to be the pattern during the remainder of the book of Acts. Two Baptisms Replaced by One (Pauls Post-Acts ministry) As long as God dealt with Israel as a nation, he continued the sign program, for the Jews require a sign" (1 Corinthians 1:22). The very last account of water Baptism in the Bible occurs in Acts 19, and the same believers who were baptized, spoke with tongues. Paul as well as Peter, practiced water baptism during this period, but he baptized only a few and thanked God that he had baptized no more, "for," said he, "Christ sent me not to baptize but to preach the gospel" (1 Corinthians 1:17). Had Israel been willing, as a nation, to accept the Messiah, the commission of Mark 16 would have been used by these believing Jews to reach every creature, beginning at Jerusalem, extending to Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost part of the world. Christ would have returned in the lifetime of that generation, according to the promise made in Acts 3:19-21, a promise conditioned on Israel's conversion. But the Jews rejected the ministry of the Holy Ghost. Just as their fathers rejected God the Father, they rejected the Son in His earthly ministry, and they rejected the holy Spirit. Stephen made this plain in his sermon: " ye do always resist the Holy Ghost;" as your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? And they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now betrayers and murderers." (Acts 7:51-52). In 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16, the Apostle Paul charged his nation with this same threefold sin, but he added another, "forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles, that they might be saved, to fill up their sins alway: for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost." With the close of the book of Acts, the Apostle Paul pronounced this divine judgment upon the nation Israel and turned to the Gentiles (Acts 28; 25-28). From that time forth in his ministry, as a prisoner of God for the Gentiles, he never gave Israel priority; he never performed a miracle or a sign. On the contrary, he left a young fellow worker sick and prescribed medicine for young Timothy. See 2 Timothy 4:20, and 1 Timothy 5:23. He never engaged in external rituals or ordinances; and he preached only One Baptism - the work of the Holy Ghost that identifies or baptizes the believer into the very death of Christ (see Romans 6:3-4 with Galatians 2:20; Colossians 2:11-12). This act of the Holy Ghost (the Baptizer) baptizing the believer into the death of Christ (the "element") and thus so identifying the believer with his Lord as to make him a member of the Body of Christ, takes place the moment one believes the gospel of the Grace of God; this is the One Baptism (and only) for today. (Note Ephesians 4:5 with 1 Corinthians 12:13). It is an operation of God, not of man (Colossians 2:11-12). Thus, we stand complete in Christ, apart from the works of men, either our own or anothers. This one baptism that identifies us with Christ as members of His Body was a part of a revelation received by the Apostle Paul, which he calls "the mystery"-- a secret that had been kept hidden in God before the foundation of the world, never made known to men of other ages. See Ephesians 3:1-10, Colossians 1:25-29. 1 Corinthians itself is, of course, a transitional book, written during the Acts period. It told its readers clearly that the sign program was to cease (1 Corinthians 13:8-11). It told them that while Paul had baptized a few and spoke with tongues (more than all of them), he was not sent to baptize (1 Corinthians 1:17) and tongues would cease (13:8). Peter could never have made this statement, for he was sent to baptize with water, and speak in tongues (Mark 16:16-19). In fact, anyone who labors under the so-called "great commission" could never make that statement with Paul. By his conveying "Christ sent me not to baptize," he is also telling us that the "great commission" is not the commission he, nor we, in the Body of Christ are to follow. While I steadfastly maintain that the Scriptures are our sole authority in this as in other matters, and I do not base any doctrine on church history. We find many Christians who are disturbed because they feel that the doctrine of the one baptism, (a Spirit baptism apart from water), is a 19th or 20th century innovation with none of the earlier believers holding such teaching. I am mindful that not only this truth, but also many other truths of the Scriptures were corrupted and lost, even in the first and second centuries. But my heart rejoices when I find on the pages of church history a group of believers who were very active in Asia Minor and the Mediterranean area some one thousand years before Martin Luthers reformation, who preached and practiced completeness in Christ, and stressed the one baptism of the Spirit, with no water baptism. They preferred to be called "Christians" only, but they emphasized the ministry of Paul so much that their enemies called them "Paulicians." The Quakers, or Society of Friends, have from their beginning preached the one baptism of the Spirit. Roger Williams, who was for a number of years a Baptist evangelist and who may have established the first Baptist Church in America in Rhode Island during colonial times, in his later years left all denominations and became what he called a "seeker" for truth; he gave up water baptism and preached this one baptism. He also called the "great commission" something God never intended for the Body of Christ. These cases are cited only as proof that many of Gods children down through the history of Christianity have maintained this position.

Final Thoughts

     Today there is no priestly nation or class high-ranking above others. God is now reconciling Jews and Gentiles to Himself in one body purely through faith in the completed work of the Lord Jesus Christ at Calvary (1 Corinthians 15:3-4, Ephesians 2:13-18). The very instant a believer trusts the Gospel (1 Cor.15:3-4), he is "by one Spirit baptized into one body" (1 Cor.12:13) and thus "baptized into Christ" (Gal.3:27). There is no opportunity for a water ceremony here. No human rite or ceremony can consign the believer "into Christ." No, the "one baptism" (Eph.4:5) of the "one Body" is performed by "One Spirit" not by preacher or priest. The working of positional truth of being "in Christ" is this Spirit baptism. So absolutely adequate is our position in Christ by virtue of this Spirit performed baptism that we are told: Colossians 2:10  And ye are complete in Him Ephesians 1:3  Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ. In light of such completeness in Christ afforded to even the simplest believer the very moment of salvation it will soon be apparent that not only does water baptism have no place in Gods program today, but to practice it is to cast an insult on the glorious, all sufficient, finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ (Col.2:20). I thank God that "by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body." God forbid that we should add to that "one baptism" which makes us complete in Him.