Baptism, Part 5

This is the last post in a series on water baptism. In Part 1 and Part 2 we explored what water baptism is and how the early church performed it. Part 3 introduced the teaching that water baptism can provide salvation – a teaching that we thoroughly debunked in Parts 4a, 4b, and 4c.

Based on all of that, to finish this series, let’s answer the questions “Who should be baptized and when?”

As usual, we’ll go back to the Scriptures and see the pattern established there:

  • John baptized people “as they confessed their sins” (Matthew 3:6; Mark 1:5) and because of their “repentance” (Matthew 3:11; Luke 3:12-16). Repentance means change of heart, mind, and action.
  • The apostles baptized people “who accepted [Peter’s] message” about Jesus Christ (Acts 2:41)
  • Philip baptized Samaritans “when they believed…as he was proclaiming the good news” (Acts 8:12)
  • Philip baptized the Ethiopian official after he “proclaimed the good news about Jesus to him” (Acts 8:35-38)
  • Ananias baptized Saul after his encounter with Jesus on the way to Damascus (Acts 9:1-18)
  • Peter baptized people in Cornelius’ house after they “received the Holy Spirit…[and] accepted the word of God” (Acts 10:44 – 11:1)
  • Paul baptized Lydia after God “opened her heart to respond to what Paul was saying” (Acts 16:14-15)
  • Paul and Silas baptized their jailer and his family after he asked what he “must do to be saved” and “he had come to believe in God, together with his entire household” (Acts 16:30-34)
  • Paul and his team baptized people in Corinth after they “believed” (Acts 18:8)

In every single recorded case, baptism followed someone’s belief in Jesus Christ. Even if was at the same time they believed, in each case, they believed first and were baptized after.

There is not a single biblical case where a person was baptized first, then believed in Christ or was baptized for salvation without believing in Jesus.

Additionally, it seems that everyone who believed in Jesus Christ for salvation was baptized, most of them as soon as possible afterward.

I don’t think this needs a lot of explanation.

Who should be baptized? Everyone who has already believed in Jesus, turned from their sins, and accepted his salvation.

When should a person be baptized? As soon as possible after their salvation.

At OTCC we’ll baptize anyone who has accepted Christ as long as they understand what baptism is – an outward expression of an inward reality.

The only caveat to this practice for us is in the case of minors. If an under-age person wants to be baptized, and he or she is still living at home, we must have permission from the parents. (The same is true of church membership.) We will not baptize minors against their parents’ wishes.

Have you turned from your sin and believed in Jesus Christ for salvation? If so, have you been baptized in water to express that publicly?

You can read all the posts in this series here.

Baptism, Part 4c

OK, we are looking at passages that people use to support the belief that water baptism is a means by which we can or must receive salvation. We have already studied several in Part 4a and Part 4b, and we’ll see one more here. This last one is the most technical, so hang on.

In the New American Standard Bible, we read

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)

As always, the first order of business is to look at the context. It is foolish to try to make any entire doctrine out of just one verse.

Here is the paragraph in which we find our verse in question:

For who is going to harm you if you are devoted to what is good? But in fact, if you happen to suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. But do not be terrified of them or be shaken. But set Christ apart as Lord in your hearts and always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess. Yet do it with courtesy and respect, keeping a good conscience, so that those who slander your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame when they accuse you. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if God wills it, than for doing evil.

Because Christ also suffered once for sins,
the just for the unjust,
to bring you to God,
by being put to death in the flesh
but by being made alive in the spirit.
In it he went and preached to the spirits in prison,

after they were disobedient long ago when God patiently waited in the days of Noah as an ark was being constructed. In the ark a few, that is eight souls, were delivered through water. And this prefigured baptism, which now saves you – not the washing off of physical dirt but the pledge of a good conscience to God – through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who went into heaven and is at the right hand of God with angels and authorities and powers subject to him. 1 Peter 3:13-22

First of all, the context has to do with how to demostrate to the people around you that you are a Christ-follower, especially during periods of trials and persecution.

According to 1:1-5, Peter’s letter was addressed primarily to Jewish Christians, though much of it applies to Christians in general. The readers were already saved through their faith in Christ and were experiencing a lot of trouble for it. The overall topic of the letter has to do with the suffering that these believers were experiencing.

They were not being saved by water baptism – physically or spiritually. In fact, those who chose to be baptized and identify with Christ were being persecuted all the more because of their public stance.

Secondly, the key here is the Greek word antitupos, translated as “prefigured” (NET) or “corresponding to” (NASB). It is the same as our English word antitype, which means “something that is foreshadowed by a type or symbol” (dictionary.com).

It’s important to understand that an antitype doesn’t actually do anything – it just represents the real thing. The writer of Hebrews uses this word to explain that after his resurrection

Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with hands – the representation of the true sanctuary – but into heaven itself, and he appears now in God’s presence for us. Hebrews 9:24

The old Jewish temples and our modern church buildings are just antitypes, representations, of the real gathering place before God’s throne in heaven. That’s where Jesus went, and one day we’ll worship there, too. But for now we just have places to represent the real one.

In Peter’s example, Noah’s ark and flood were the type or “symbol” to the matching antitype or “representation” of water baptism. In other words, according to Peter’s own words, water baptism represents someone’s deliverance from destruction.

 

OK, so we find that when we insist on taking the Bible for what it actually says – not reading our own meanings into it – there is not one passage that supports the teaching that salvation comes through, or even can come through, water baptism.

In fact, every single writer uses baptism as a physical, visible symbol of the real salvation that comes only through humble and repentant faith in Jesus Christ.

So we have two questions as we wrap up this part of our baptism series:

  1. Have you come to come in humble repentance, asking him to forgive and save you through Jesus’ death in your place?
  2. Have you publicly identified with Jesus’ death and resurrection on your behalf by being baptized in water to illustrate your salvation and new life?

If your answer to either question is “No”, contact me today so you can take these very important steps.

We’ll conclude this series in Part 5 by answering the questions, “So who should be baptized and when”?

Baptism, Part 4b

OK, we’re looking at a couple of passages on baptism and salvation that seem to stump people a lot. In Part 4a, we explored Acts 3:28. Let’s look at the next one.

The one who believes and is baptized will be saved, but the one who does not believe will be condemned. Mark 16:16

I have to say that I was really tempted to roll this verse in with Acts 2:38. It would have been a lot less complicated. There would be less risk that way. Oh well, sometimes you have to take the hard way because it’s the only way the truth will come out.

There are two ways to look at this passage – one is difficult, the other easy. Let’s look at the easy way first. That way, if you don’t like complicated stuff, you can stop reading and think all is well.

Easy Answer

The question is: Does Mark 16:16 support the teaching that baptism is necessary for, or a means of, salvation? The easy answer is “No” for all of the same reasons as Acts 2:28.

First, Jesus was a Jew. Mark was a Jew. The disciples were all Jews. So repentance and baptism went together, even though repentance actually brought salvation.

Secondly, Mark’s gospel is actually Mark’ s re-telling of Peter’s eyewitness account, probably after Peter’s death. History tells us that Mark was very close to Peter and acted as Peter’s interpreter and probably scribe. Had Peter written down these stories instead of Mark, we would be calling it the Gospel of Peter. And as we have seen, in all of Peter’s teaching, salvation comes through repentance.

Hard Answer

The hard answer is hard, because it’s hard  to explain, but because many people find it hard to believe.

Here’s the problem: According to the oldest and best Greek copies of Mark that we have available to us today (called manuscripts), Mark 16 actually ends with verse 8. That is, verses 9-20 were added to the text later, probably to help finish the story.

What’s most interesting to me is that there are controversial (and by “controversial” I mean false) teachings that come from this short section at the end of Mark that stir up a whole lot of heat:

  • verse 16 – Baptism is necessary for salvation
  • verse 17-18 – Genuine believers will be able to do supernatural things: cast out demons, speak in tongues, play with snakes, drink poison, and heal people

The thing is, not a single one of those things is supported ANYWHERE ELSE in Scripture! Just this passage. And yet there are churches, for instance, that risk their members’ lives by bringing rattlesnakes into their services because of one part of one verse that was not even part of the original text!

 

OK, my rant’s done. Anyway, whichever answer you prefer, the easy one or the hard one, when you take this passage and line it up with the teachings in the rest of Scripture – literally, grammatically, and historically – we find one more passage that does not prove that baptism is a means of salvation.

Baptism, Part 4a

We’re working through a study of water baptism. In Part 1 and Part 2 we saw that water baptism in the New Testament was used as a public expression to identify a person as a believer in Jesus Christ. The early Christians baptized people by immersing them in cold, flowing water (like a river or stream). Not until the 2nd century do we find anything suggesting a non-immersion method, like pouring, and that was only when they could not find enough water for immersion. The best and natural method for water baptism is full-body immersion.

In Part 3 we began to explore the passages that people use to prove that water baptism is actually necessary for salvation or at least the means by which a person can be saved. What we found was just the opposite. Water baptism always followed belief in Jesus Christ – never before and never in place of.

But there are three passages that tend to stump people more than others, so we should focus on them in Part 4 (in sub-parts so it doesn’t get too long).

Peter said to them, “Repent, and each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:38

If we try to understand the Bible literally, which we normally do, this seems to say, “Repent…and be baptized…for the forgiveness of your sins…” Sounds pretty straightforward to me.

But, as I taught on Sunday, we also must take into account the historical nature of the Bible text, especially when the account has to do with a specific event. In this case, we have a Jew talking to Jews.

In the Jewish mind set, repentance and baptism went hand-in-hand; that is, the spiritual event and physical expression were closely connected. Baptism was such a natural assumption as the next step after repentance that they often happened at the same time.

John the Baptizer was a perfect example of this. We’re told that he preached “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3:3). That does not mean that he preached that baptism did forgive sins. In fact, Matthew tells us quite the opposite: “He was baptizing them in the Jordan River as they confessed their sins” (Matthew 3:6).

We still see this happen today. There are many churches that baptize people immediately following the worship service where they accept Christ. Do they believe that if the people leave without being baptized, their salvation is in jeopardy? Some, maybe, but not most. They just want the church to be able to celebrate that person’s salvation with him or her.

Peter’s message was not that water baptism forgave sins, but that if a person was not willing to identify with Christ through water baptism, their “repentance” was questionable. You can’t say that you will follow Christ as your God and Lord, yet not be willing to actually follow in public. Water baptism is the first major step in a person’s following Christ after salvation.

Peter’s theology (as seen in his other messages) and the theology of the book of Acts both point to baptism as a follow-up to repentance and salvation, not the other way around. Water baptism as a means of salvation does not fit with Peter’s theology or practice throughout the Scriptures, and this passage does not support that teaching.

Baptism, Part 3

We are looking at the biblical teaching of water baptism. So far we have established:

  1. The word “baptism” means “immersion” or “to dip under” (Baptism, Part 1)
  2. The earliest Christians all baptized people by plunging them fully under water(Baptism, Part 2)
  3. Water baptism is a public symbol that a person has new life through Jesus Christ, and immersion best illustrates Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection (Baptism, Part 2)

However, there is a teaching about baptism that contradicts what we have already seen. It is a well-known teaching, so prevalent, in fact, that the question comes up every time I teach at Hope Ministries. It is a teaching that I have discussed with many people over the years, and one that is hard to convince people who believe it otherwise. This teaching is that a person must be baptized in order to have salvation.

While there are many churches and denominations that hold this to be true, probably the most well-known is the Catholic Church. And its teachings on this are very clear. The following quotes come from the official Catechism of the Catholic Church (Second Edition). The bolding is all mine for emphasis.

Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit, and the door which gives access to the other sacraments. Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission: “Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration through water and in the word.” (p. 312)

The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude [bliss, happiness]… (p. 320)

By Baptism all sins are forgiven, original sin and all personal sins, as well as all punishment for sin. (p. 321)

Baptism is birth into the new life in Christ. In accordance with the Lord’s will, it is necessary for salvation, as is the Church herself, which we enter by Baptism. (p. 324)

There are several footnotes to the above quotes, but they are all from other Catholic documents, not from the Bible. However, there are references to the Scriptures throughout this section of the Catechism. Since the Bible is where we go to center our study, here are the passages most often used to support this teaching (all quotes are from the NET Bible unless otherwise noted).

Do you not know that as many as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him through baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too may live a new life. Romans 6:3-4

Having been buried with him in baptism, you also have been raised with him through your faith in the power of God who raised him from the dead. Colossians 2:12

For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. Galatians 3:27

When the kindness of God our Savior and his love for mankind appeared, he saved us not by works of righteousness that we have done but on the basis of his mercy, through the washing of the new birth and the renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us in full measure through Jesus Christ our Savior. Titus 3:4-6

Jesus answered, “I tell you the solemn truth, unless a person is born of water and spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” John 3:5

Peter said to them, “Repent, and each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Acts 2:38

The one who believes and is baptized will be saved, but the one who does not believe will be condemned. Mark 16:16

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 (New American Standard)

Let’s take these one at a time.

1. We have already seen in the first two passages (Romans 6:3-4 and Colossians 2:12) Paul’s teaching that water baptism symbolizes the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The person being baptized uses public water baptism to identify themselves with Christ and his church and committing to the new life offered by Christ’s salvation. Since this symbolism requires faith in Christ first, these passages do not support baptism as a means of salvation.

2. The answer to Galatians 3:27 (and many other misunderstood Bible teachings) comes from the context immediately surrounding the verse. Paul’s discussion in this chapter centers on the question, “Does salvation come through keeping the law or through faith?” His response is unashamedly “by faith.” In fact, in the previous verse he wrote, “For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith.”

Notice also that he refers to being “baptized into Christ”, not “into water.” Upon faith in Christ, a person is added to the body of Christ, the church. He is “immersed” or “plunged” into new association with Christ and his people. Since this is the only reference to baptism in the whole letter, and since the context is about salvation through faith in Christ, not water baptism, this verse does not support baptism as a means of salvation.

3. In Titus 3:4-6 we find a similar instance to Galatians 3:27. In this letter we find no reference to baptism at all – into water or into Christ. The phrase “washing of the new birth” obviously refers to salvation, but it has no reference to water baptism.

Throughout the Scriptures salvation is referred to as a washing of sin, something that water – even water blessed by a person – cannot do. This is fact according to the writer of Hebrews: “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22).

If baptism in water can wash away sins and give salvation, then traditional Christianity has major problems, including (but not limited to):

  • Hebrews 9:22 is wrong, and the Bible has been discredited.
  • Jesus’ death and bloodshed have no value whatsoever.
  • God is both a murderer and sadist, commanding the deaths of countless animals and Jesus, when water would have been sufficient.

Since the rest of the Bible teaches salvation is available only through Jesus’ death and resurrection, and baptism is not even mentioned here, this passage does not support baptism as a means of salvation.

4. Another verse commonly used to support this teaching is in Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in John 3:5. Once again, a look at the immediate context and the historical context makes the answer plain.

In this account, Jesus, an Old Testament Jew, was talking to Nicodemus, another Old Testament Jews, using Old Testament Jewish references and terminology. Jewish understanding did not (and still does not) allow for a suffering Messiah or a combination Jew-Gentile church. In Jewish teaching, the kingdom of God will be the Messiah’s literal reign on Earth, delivering the Jews from all outside government and oppression. It will be a time of complete peace under God’s headship.

When Nicodemus came to Jesus, he wondered if it was possible that Jesus was the Messiah and if the kingdom would be commencing soon. Jesus answered the (unasked) question by stating that entrance into the kingdom would be based on spiritual, not national or ethnic, criteria. This is why Nicodemus, not understanding, asked about being born – physically – again. His idea of the kingdom was purely physical.

Throughout the Old Testament, the prophets used both wind (translated “spirit” here) and water to describe God’s Spirit. By using both, Jesus was emphasizing the spiritual nature of the kingdom, rather than just the physical (which it will also be). Jesus’ follow-up statement in verse 6 compares physical birth to spiritual birth: “What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit” and emphasizes that entrance into the kingdom will be by spiritual birth.

That part of the conversation concludes with Jesus making reference to his crucifixion, “so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:15), making the case again that salvation comes through faith in Jesus Christ. Since this discussion is primarily about Jews, not Christians, and since baptism was not mentioned, this passage does not support baptism as a means of salvation.

 

The last three passages will take a little more time to explain, and this post is already long, so we’ll push those off to Part 4.

Baptism, Part 2

We are answering questions that come up frequently about baptism. We introduced the word “baptism” in Part 1 and found out that it’s most natural meaning is “to dip, immerse, or plunge” under something, usually water.

Based on that information we should be able to answer these two questions:

  1. Is there a proper method for Christian baptism?
  2. What is the significance of water baptism?

Method

Baptism at Elisha's spring - Jericho.     Picture by Jane DenboAccording to some of the best authorities available today on the old Greek language, baptisma means “to dip in or under water”, “to immerse”, and “to bathe”.

  • Four hundred years before the New Testament was written, Plato used the word to described something being “soaked in wine”.
  • It is used in the Greek Old Testament to described what Namaan did when he “went down and dipped in the Jordan seven times” (2 Kings 5:14).
  • There is a completely different word, rantizo, that means “to sprinkle”, that is never used in the context of baptism.
  • The verb form, baptizo, is used figuratively in Greek literature in phrases like “immersed in cares” and “plunged in grief”. Jesus also used it to describe his upcoming torture (Mark 10:38-39; Luke 12:50)
  • In the New Testament, 13 of its 19 occurrences are John’s baptism in the Jordan River.

These are just a few samples of the wealth of evidence showing that baptizo and baptisma mean full immersion into water. Trying to make it mean any other form of “baptism”, such as sprinkling or pouring, requires a stretch of the natural meaning of the word.

However, in the second century a document was published by the leaders of the church that many people use to allow baptism by a method other than full immersion. Although this is not a book of the Bible, it shows how Jesus’ early followers lived out his teachings. Here is the passage from The Didache, or “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles” (translated by Cyril C. Richardson):

(Chapter 7) 1. Now about baptism: this is how to baptize. Give public instruction on all these points, and then “baptize” in running water, “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” 2. If you do not have running water, baptize in some other. 3. If you cannot in cold, then in warm. If you have neither, then pour water on the head three times “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” 4. Before the baptism, moreover, the one who baptizes and the one being baptized must fast, and any others who can. And you must tell the one being baptized to fast for one or two days beforehand.

(source: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/richardson/fathers.viii.i.iii.html)

From earliest times, baptism was done by immersing the person under cold, flowing water (like John did in the Jordan River). Because baptism was so important, in extreme cases they would be allowed to pour water over the person, but that was not the normal method.

Significance

So if baptism is just dunking a person completely under water, what’s the point? Kids do that in lakes and streams and swimming pools all summer long. What is the significance of a formal, church-celebrated, water baptism?

Therefore we have been buried with him through baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too may live a new life. Romans 6:4

According to Paul, water baptism is symbolic of the new life we have through our faith in Jesus Christ. The person’s submergence into and emergence out of the water symbolize the person’s death and burial to sin and the resurrection to his or her new life in Christ.

Notice that Paul does not say that the water baptism “gives new life,” but rather “so we may live a new life.” Every instance of baptism in Jesus’ name occurred after the person believed in Jesus Christ. Not before. Not in place of.

Consider another passage where Paul uses water baptism to link us symbolically to Christ.

Having been buried with him in baptism, you also have been raised with him through your faith in the power of God who raised him from the dead. Colossians 2:12

Baptism of 95 PeopleSo what does water baptism do? Well, first, it gets you wet. You can’t go under water and come back up dry. There is a physical aspect that shows you have been affected in some way by this. It’s uncomfortable, it’s cold.

But so was Jesus’ death. And when we choose to stand up in front of God’s people and willingly be plunged into a cold, wet, “grave”, we are identifying ourselves with Jesus Christ who did the same for us.

Secondly, it offers a fresh start. Water washes things, but only physical things. Water baptism can’t get to our sin; only Jesus can do that.

By taking the plunge with him into the cold “grave” we symbolically bury our sinful past. By coming back up out of the water we celebrate the new life that God has given us through Jesus’ resurrection and identify with Jesus’ body, the church.

By the way, of all of the different methods of baptism that people use, only complete immersion fits the symbolic identification with Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection.

So, water baptism is for the purpose of publicly identifying with Jesus and his church, and it is to be done by full immersion into water, unless there are extenuating circumstances.

So if that’s what it is, what it baptism not? Well, look at that in Part 3.

Baptism, Part 1

Last week at OTCC, a major part of the message had to do with water baptism as an important part of being a genuine disciple, or follower, of Jesus Christ. I said that if you have not been baptized, then you haven’t really publicly identified yourself as a Christ-follower. (You can listen to the whole message here.)

Because there are so many questions on this topic, I am going to answer the most common questions through a short series of posts. In this series we’ll explore these questions:

  • What is baptism?
  • What is baptism not?
  • Who can / should be baptized?
  • When should a person be baptized?

What is baptism?

Our English word “baptism” is really nothing more than a transliteration (a letter-for-letter exchange) of the Greek word baptisma. Basically, instead of using one of our English words to explain the meaning of their word, we just brought their word into our language.

Unfortunately, that has caused all sorts of problems in understanding what it means. As a result, different churches baptize people of different ages in different ways for different reasons. Can we all be right?

There are three things that we need to know about baptism that we can learn from the word itself and from its usage by Jesus’ followers who spoke the Greek language:

  1. Is there a proper method for Christian baptism?
  2. What is the significance of water baptism?

We will explore the answers to these in Part 2.