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I have a question...what exactly does the Bible say about baptism? Some denominations believe it is neccessary for salvation while others believe it is only an outward expression of the commitment made with God. What does the Bible say?
Good Question! Here is what I believe the New Testament teaches about baptism:
There are many beliefs about baptism. Religions and Christian denominations have been formed because of different teachings about baptism. My aim, as always, is to look at what the Bible actually says.
Underneath the English word "baptize" in the New Testament, are forms of the Greek word "baptizo", from the root word "bapto", meaning "to dip". The English word "baptism" is not a "translation" of the Greek word "baptizo", but is a "transliteration", or bringing the "spelling" of the Greek word "baptizo" into the English language with a comparable English spelling. This means that the English word "baptize" has no meaning of its own, but we must look at the uses of the Greek word "baptizo" in the Bible and in Greek literature to find it’s true meaning. What we want to know is, what did "baptizo" mean to the New Testament writers who used it in the Greek text.
In my studies, I find that "baptizo" was used in two ways in the classical Greek literature:
1. The "literal" use, to "place in", as a physical immersion. In the Ninth Book of the Odyssey, "baptizo" is used concerning a blacksmith plunging a piece of hot iron in water to temper it. Also, the classical Greek writer Euripedes used "baptizo" concerning a ship which sinks beneath the water.
2. The "figurative" use, to "identify with", a ceremonial use of "baptizo". In the classical Greek writing "Anabasis" written by Xenophon, Greek soldiers were said to have ceremonially "baptized", or "dipped" spears and arrow tips in blood, to "identity" them as weapons of war.
"Baptizo" became the common Greek word for "dipping", "submerging", and "washing" by the time of Christ and the writing of books of the New Testament. The Greek word "baptizo", is translated "washing" in Mark 7:4 & 8 and in Heb 9:10, where it speaks of the ceremonial "washing" of the temple utensils in the Old Testament temple sacrifice system.
I find no possibility that "baptizo", in any of its forms, could have a connotation of "pouring" or "sprinkling". "Proschusis", Strong's number <4378> is the Greek word for "pouring", as in Heb. 11:28, where it is translated "sprinkling" in the KJV, and "Rhantismos", Strong's number <4472> is the Greek word for "sprinkling", as in Heb. 9:13, 19, and 21, in Heb.10:22, Heb. 12:24, and in 1 Pet. 1:2, where it is also translated "sprinkling" in the KJV. I believe the Bible authors were inspired to use the correct Greek word for what they were stating. They used "Baptizo" for literal "dipping", "submerging", and "washing" and they used "Baptizo" figuratively meaning "to place in", or to be "identified with". When they meant "pouring", they used "Proschusis", and when they meant "sprinkling", they used "Rhantismos".
When we study all the passages in the New Testament where we find the word "baptism", we find that there are actually SEVEN "baptisms" in the New Testament; four "waterless" "figurative baptisms", and three "literal" "water baptisms" that have a symbolic meaning.
The four "waterless" "figurative baptisms" have the second meaning above, an actual "identification" of one thing with another. God himself being the sole agent for these four baptisms:
1. 1 Cor.10:2, the "Baptism of Moses": The word baptism in 1 Cor.10:2, refers specifically to the children of Israel as they were leaving Egypt. All the people who left Egypt with Moses and went with him through the Red Sea are said to have been baptized (identified) with Moses in the cloud (Christ was in the cloud), and in the sea. This "identified" them with Moses and the plan of God to free the children of Israel, and re-establish them in their homeland. Notice this is a baptism where no one got wet except the Egyptians! This was a unique, one-time "waterless baptism".
2. Mat.20:22: "Baptism of the Cross", in which Christ was "identified" with our sins, called here the "Baptism of the Cup". He who knew no sin was made to be a sin offering for us. This was also a unique, one-time "waterless baptism".
3. Matt. 3:11-12, Luke 3:16: The Baptism of Fire, which will occur at the end of the Seven Year Tribulation, is the removal of all unbelievers from the earth at the end of the Tribulation, to begin the 1000 year Millennial Reign of Christ on earth with believers only. ("Wheat" in this passage refers to the people of God who physically live through the Tribulation, and "chaff", in the Scripture, always refers to unbelievers). In this "baptism", every human being that is left on the earth to live into the Millennium is "identified" with the Millennial reign of Christ, where the world is started over with believers only, just like the Great Flood of Noah’s time swept away all the unbelievers..
4. 1 Cor.12:13, Gal 3:27; Baptism by the Holy Spirit. These passages teach an instantaneous, permanent, one-time "waterless baptism" of every child of God, by the Holy Spirit. This is the point in time that the child of God is "born again", 1 Pet 1:23, transferred from the kingdom of Satan into the Kingdom of God, Col. 1:13, sealed into union with Christ by the Holy Spirit, Eph. 1:13&14, and therefore permanently "identified" as "in Christ".
The three "literal" "water baptisms":
1. The baptism of John, Matt. 3:1-10, John 1:25-33: This was a Jewish, not a Christian baptism. Water in this baptism represents the coming Kingdom of God that was the subject of John's preaching. The new believer would go under the water "because of repentance", to indicate his identification with the Kingdom of God. In Matt 3:11, John said "I indeed baptize you with water unto (eis = because of) repentance". John himself, in Matt 3:7&8 told the unbelieving Pharisees and Sadducees that came to see his baptism, that they needed to produce works that demonstrated repentance. He did not tell them that his baptism would produce repentance and good works. Repentance first, then baptism. This was a unique and temporary baptism for people who lived just prior to and during the early ministry of Jesus. These believers would later be baptized by the Holy Spirit, on, or after the day of Pentecost and the beginning of the Church Age, in Acts Chapter two. Later on, they most likely received ritual believers "water baptism" to represent what had already happened to them, identifying them with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Interestingly, believers who lived during the Apostolic Era, during the life of the 12 Apostles, may have received THREE different "baptisms", the baptism of John, baptism of the Holy Spirit, and ritual water baptism!
2. Mat.3:13-17, The baptism of the Lord Jesus Christ by John the Baptist (actually John the "Baptizer"). The water in this case represented the will of the Father. Jesus willingly went under the water to represent His "identification" with the Father's will - He would go to the Cross. Another unique, one-time "water baptism".
3. Acts 2:38, 8:36 & 38, and 16:33. Ritual water baptism for the Church Age believer. This is a beautiful picture of something that has already happened. When a person has become a child of God by being instantaneously "born again", 1 Pet 1:23, transferred from the kingdom of Satan into the Kingdom of God, Col. 1:13, and sealed into union with Christ, Eph. 1:13&14, ritual water baptism pictures all of this as well as being "dead with Christ", and "raised in newness of life", Rom. 6:3 & 4.
Water Baptism is not necessary for "salvation":
Becoming a child of God is a sovereign act of God Himself. He alone is responsible for the New Birth, for transferring us from the kingdom of Satan into the Kingdom of God, and for sealing us into permanent union with Christ.
In Luke 23:39-43, Jesus told the repentant thief who was crucified on the Cross with him that "today thou shalt be with me in paradise". There was no time for him to be water baptized.
Some religious denominations teach "baptismal regeneration", that the "ACT" of water baptism itself regenerates or makes a person a born again child of God.
Those who believe in "baptismal regeneration", and that water baptism is necessary for salvation, use Acts 2:38, 22:16, and 1 Pet 3:21 to prove their belief, but, I find that the Greek text in these verses, and the teaching of the rest of the Word of God on baptism, shows that this is incorrect:
----- In Acts 2:38, Peter said unto them, "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". Some denominations see the word "for" in this verse as meaning that water baptism itself washes away sins. But, the English word "for" in this verse is the Greek word "eis", which has, as one of it's meanings, "because of", the remission of sins. The New Testament teaches that their sins were forgiven already, and that their public baptism was a RITUAL to publicly acknowledge what God had already done.
This was also during the "Apostolic Era", during the ministry of the twelve Apostles, when people who were already born again believers received the baptism of the Holy Spirit as a separate experience, as in Acts. 8:15-17. In the New Testament Epistles to the CHURCHES, from Roman letter to the first 3 chapters of the Book of Revelation, "baptism by the Holy Spirit" is no longer a separate experience, but a person is born again, transferred from the kingdom of Satan into the Kingdom of God, and sealed into union with Christ, at one point in time, by a sovereign act of God.
----- In 1 Pet 3:21, for example, the Greek word translated "baptism" is the Greek word "baptisma", which is a NOUN, meaning the "THINGS" SIGNIFIED BY BAPTISM, it is NOT A VERB as the English reader would naturally assume! Peter is saying that "baptism doth save us (is presently saving us) ", meaning that the "things", or "Bible teachings", or "doctrines" CONCERNING baptism are now saving us. What are those things, or teachings that baptism signifies? We are buried with Christ, sins washed away, raised in newness of life, the great doctrines of soteriology, or salvation, these are the "things" now saving us, not the verb, the ACT of baptism!
I believe the bottom line, for us today, is that the New Testament teaches that the ACT of water baptism outwardly PORTRAYS what God HAS ALREADY DONE for us. The REALITY is what God does. The RITUAL is what we do to publicly acknowledge what God has done.
As far as the issue of "sprinkling" versus "immersion" is concerned, the Greek language has a word for "sprinkle", and that is "rantizo", which is used in Heb. 9:13, 19, and 21, in Heb.10:22, Heb. 12:24, and in 1 Pet. 1:2. "Rantizo", or "sprinkling" is never used concerning a ritual for New Testament believers. Substituting "sprinkling" for "baptism" by immersion has no Biblical basis.
Some denominations also place great stress on Acts 2:38, adamantly believing that you cannot be "saved" until you are water baptized specifically "in the name of Jesus Christ". But, if we read further on, we read in Acts 10:48 that new believers were told to be baptized "in the name of the Lord". Most Baptists, that I know of, baptize in "the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit". The New Testament teaches that all our prayer should be addressed to the Father, in the name of Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit, so being baptized in "the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" makes good sense to me.
1 John 5:1 states in the Greek, "Anyone who is presently believing that Jesus is the Christ, has already been permanently born out from the source of God". So, personally, I believe that in the Church Age, we should teach new believers the full meaning of ritual water baptism before they are baptized. When properly understood, the believer is already a new person "in Christ" 2 Cor. 5:17, with all sins permanently forgiven 1 John 2:12, so water baptism by emersion is a beautiful ritual that signifies that our old life has already been buried with Christ, and we are raised with Him in newness of life.
If you would like more information about the wonderful "salvation package" that is ours when we are born anew, please go to Page 3 on the Home Page, titled "What does being saved mean?"
Written in Christian love,