2. REVIEW OF BAPTISM
But when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike. Even Solomon himself believed; and after being baptized, he continued on with Philip. (Acts 8:12, 13).
John preached a baptism of repentance (Matthew 3:2) for the forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3). Even though the Gospels do not report that his converts believed or repented, they do report that they were baptized (Matthew 3:6; Mark 1:5; Luke 3:21; John 3:23; 4:1). From the fact that they were baptized, we must conclude that they believed his message and repented. Nowhere is it stated that John told people to confess their sins, but they did (Matthew 3:6).
Jesus submitted to the baptism John taught (Matthew 3:13-17). John gave his witness that through baptism Jesus made known (John 1:31). The apostle John was probably alluding to Jesus’ baptism in these statements: “This is the One who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood;” “For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood” (1 John 5:6a, 7, 8a).
Jesus may have brought more people to baptism than did John (John 3:22, 26; 4:1). The Gospels state that these people were baptized, but we find no record that they believed, repented, or confessed. Shall we conclude that they did none of these things simply because they are not specifically mentioned? How can we diminish the importance of baptism when it is mentioned and the others are not mentioned?
BAPTISM IN ACTS
In some cases in the Book of Acts people are reported to have believed and to have been baptized, while nothing is said about their having repented or confessed (unless the confession of the Ethiopian eunuch is authentic). Believing is mentioned along with baptism (Acts 8:12; 18:8); but repenting is mentioned with baptism only once (Acts 2:38), and confessing is not mentioned along with it. The Book of Acts makes no statement that people were told to confess. Surely, repentance and confession are implied when believing alone or baptism alone is mentioned. This should indicate that baptism is also implied when the word “believe” appears–or that believing may be implied when baptism alone is mentioned.
If a person cannot be saved without repentance and confession, then why are these acts not mentioned instead of baptism almost every time people responded to preaching about Jesus? If baptism is not essential to salvation, why is it mentioned so frequently, while repentance and confession (which most religious groups consider necessary for salvation) are not mentioned?
The following comparisons can be made in the Book of Acts:
A. Number of times non-Christians were told to do the following:
1. Believe–three (Acts 8:37; 10:43; 16:31).
2. Repent–three (Acts 3:19; 17:30; 26:20).
Repent and believe–zero.
Repent and be baptized–one (Acts 2:38).
3. Be baptized–three (Acts 2:38; 10:48; 22:16).
Be baptized and repent–one (Acts 2:38).
Be baptized and confess–zero.
B. Number of times these immediate responses were reported by Luke:
1. Believed–twelve (Acts 4:4; 8:12,13; 9:42; 11:17, 21; 13:12; 13:48; 14:1; 17:12, 34; 18:8).
2. Baptized–nine (Acts 2:41; 8:12, 13, 38; 9:18; 16:15, 33; 18:8; 19:5).
4. Confessed–one (if Acts 8:37 is authentic; other wise, zero).
5. Believed and were baptized–three (Acts 8:12, 13; 18:8).
6. Repented and were baptized–zero.
7. Repented and confessed–zero.
C. Number of times Luke reported these responses by people who had obeyed the gospel:
1. Believed–thirteen (Acts 2:44; 4:32; 11:17; 14:23; 15:5; 16:1, 34; 18:27; 19:2, 18; 21:20, 25; 22:19).
2. Were baptized–one (Acts 8:16).
From these comparisons, it is evident that believing and being baptized are mentioned many more times in the Book of Acts than repenting and confessing. In telling about those who became Christians, the Book of Acts usually states that they believed and/or were baptized; but no passage stated that they repented or confessed.
BAPTISM IN PAUL’ LETTERS
Paul mentioned new covenant baptism in most of his books to the churches (Romans 6:3, 4; 1 Corinthians 1:13-17; 12:13; Galatians 3:27; Ephesians 4:5; Colossians 2:12). He encouraged members to continue in their dedication to Jesus as the natural result of baptism. Paul associated baptism with the beginning of a new life (Romans 6:4;Colossians 2:12, 13), forgiveness of transgressions (Colossians 2:13), being clothed with Jesus (Galatians 3:27), and the oneness of believers (1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:27, 28; Ephesians 4:1-6). Paul mentioned baptism but did not say anything about belief, repentance, or confession in relationship with these. He may have alluded to baptism in other passages (Ephesians 5:26; Titus 3:5).
BAPTISM IN PETER’S WRITINGS
Peter mentioned belief four times (1 Peter 1:8, 21; 2:6, 7) and faith seven times (1 Peter 1:5, 7,9, 21; 5:9; 2 Peter 1:1, 5) but only once in relationship with salvation (1 Peter 1:9). Once he spoke of repentance (2 Peter 3:9), which he said God desires from all people. He never mentioned confession.
He compared the deliverance of Noah and his family with our salvation:
…the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water. 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 3:20, 21).
WATER IN GOD’S PLAN OF SALVATION
Water is important for life. Scientists believe that life as we know it on earth could not exist without water. God has selected water in many cases to accomplish His purposes. In the beginning, when God created everything, “the earth was formed out of water and by water” (2 Peter 3:5). Life was made possible on earth after it had been formed out of water. Water sustained (Genesis 2:6) and continues to sustain all forms of physical life on earth.
Noah was brought to safety through water (1 Peter 3:20). After Noah had built the ark, water was necessary to carry Noah and his family to safety and to deliver them from destruction. Had God sent fire instead, they would have been cremated. Water was necessary for the preservation of human life in the ark when God sent the flood.
The children of Israel passed through water to safety when they escaped from the army of the Egyptians. Pharaoh’s army was destroyed by the water (Exodus 14:26-29). We read in Exodus 14:30a, “Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians.” Paul later wrote, “All were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Corinthians 10:2). Some have argued from this verse that baptism is sprinkling. They assume that the cloud sprinkled water on the Israelites as they passed through the sea. If this were true, then Israel did not pass “on the dry land” (Exodus 14:22). In truth, the cloud that God provided for Israel was not a water cloud but a cloud of smoke. It was “a cloud by day, even smoke, and the brightness of a flaming fire by night” (Isaiah 4:5).
Later Israel passed through water in order to enter the Promised Land (Joshua 3:14:17). By passing through water, the people came to the blessings which God had promised to them.
Water stood between Naaman and his cleansing from leprosy (2 Kings 5:1-14). Water was used in healing the blind man who came to Jesus (John 9:6,7).
Even the sustenance of heavenly life is symbolized by a river of water flowing from the throne of God (Revelation 22:1). Many of God’s blessings, including life itself, come through water. It may be no coincidence that God chose water as necessary for those who seek salvation through Jesus (1 Peter 3:21). In the comparative sense that physical life is dependent on blood (Genesis 9:4) and spiritual life is dependent on the blood of Jesus (Hebrews 9:22), so also water is required for physical life and also for the new spiritual life (Romans 6:4) in Christ.
LANGUAGE IMAGERY ASSOCIATED WITH BAPTISM
The terminology used in reference to baptism is illustrative and meaningful, filled with graphic figures and rich imagery. These words and phrases are both vivid and lucid; they help us to understand various aspects of baptism. Closely examine the following terms which are used with baptism.
In the Gospels
1. “Saved” (Mark 16:16; see also 1 Peter 3:21). “Saved” comes from the Greek word sozo, which contains the idea of deliverance, either in the physical sense or in the spiritual sense.
In the New Testament sozo sometimes refers to salvation from acute danger (Matthew 8:25; 14:30; 27:40; Mark 15:30; John 12:27; see also Acts 7:25 [“deliverance”]; “made well,” referring to the healing of those who are sick “Acts 4:9; 14:9; James 5:15 [“restore”]). It is also used of salvation from spiritual transgressions for those lost in sin (Matthew 1:21; Mark 16:16; Luke 19:10; Acts 2:40; 1 Timothy 1:15).
2. “Born again” (John 3:3-5). To be born again means to be “brought forth” (Gk.: genno) in the sense of being brought forth to life. The New Testament sense is probably the same as that contained in Jewish thought: “Proselytes come from mere existence to true life by conversion. They do so by coming into the [body of] holy people;…Old relations are dissolved’ a new relationship begins.” 1
In the Book of Acts
3. “Forgiveness” (Acts 2:38; see also Colossians 2:12, 13). “Forgiveness” comes from the Greek word aphiemi, meaning “send off,” “release,” “hurl away,” or “pardon.” When referring to release from sin, it takes on the meaning of “remittance.”
4. Sins “wash away” (Acts 22:16; see also Ephesians 5:26; Titus 3:5). “Wash away” (Gk.: apolouo), a combination of apo (meaning “away from”) and louo (“to wash”), appears only here in the New Testament. As dirt is removed when we bathe, sin is washed away in baptism through the blood of Jesus.
In the Letters
5. “Dead to sin,” “baptized into His death,” and “into death” (Romans 6:1-4). The words “dead” (Gk.: nekros) and “death” (Gk.: thanatos) are used to express cessation of life. When we are baptized, we are to cease living in sin–for in baptism we enter death to sin. By entering into Jesus’ death, we are to become dead with Him in the spiritual sense of becoming dead to a past life of sin.
6. “Baptized into Christ” (Romans 6:3). entering “into” (Gk.: eis) Christ implies becoming spiritually a part of Jesus. When we are baptized, we become united with Him, joined with Him in His purity, purpose, and the way of life.
7. “Buried” and “raised with Him” (Romans 6:4; Colossians 2:12). In baptism we physically reenact Jesus’ burial and resurrection. At the same time, we must be spiritually involved so as to be raised to a spiritually new life. By being buried and raised with Him in baptism, we express our faith in His burial and resurrection. Our faith is rewarded with salvation (Romans 10:9; 1 Peter 3:21). When we are spiritually involved with the physical action of immersion, the result is a life changed into the likeness of the One with whom we have been buried and raised (Romans 6:17, 18).
8. “Walk in newness of life” and “made alive” (Romans 6:4; Colossians 2:12, 13). “Walk” implies action and movement. Through baptism we are to begin a new spiritual lifestyle which should be the result of being made spiritually alive.
9. “United with Him in the likeness of His death and resurrection” (Romans 6:5). “United with” (Gk.: sunphutos) comes from a root meaning of “grow together.” In baptism we are to conquer our past and grow into a new life, never to re-enter the life to which we died. jesus was holy and pure, and He served God and others. We are to become united with Him in a similar kind of living; we are to walk as He walked ( 1 John 2:6).
10. “Old self crucified with Him” (Romans 6:6). “Crucified with” (Gk.: sunstauroo) is a compound word: The ideas of sun (meaning “with”) and stauroo (meaning “crucify”) suggest that in baptism we share Jesus’ crucifixion with Him. The physical crucifixion is to be shared in our baptism, except in a spiritual sense. He died physically, but we are to die spiritually by putting to death the sinful passions of our old selves.
11. “Body of sin done away” (Romans 6:6). “Done away” comes from the Greek word katargeo, meaning “to make powerless, to abolish, to do away with.” If we are spiritually involved in baptism, then the sins that were once master over us through bodily temptations are moved.
12. “No longer be slaves to sin” (Romans 6:6). “Slaves” comes from douleuo, which refers to service performed by a slave. By doing away with the sinfulness which we formerly allowed in our bodies, we are no longer to serve as slaves to sin.
13. “Freed from sin” (Romans 6:7, 17, 18). The result of our death to sin will be our freedom from the domination of sin.
14. “Slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:18). We can never leave slavery. we are either slaves to sin or to righteousness. After leaving slavery to sin, we are to become slaves (Gk.: douloo, meaning “enslaved”) to righteousness.
15. “Sons of God” (Galatians 3:26). The word “sons” comes from huios, which does not mean “children” (KJV) in the sense of infants, but literally “sons” or “descendants.” This word is used in the New Testament not only to show relationship, but also to indicate nature. (See the discussion of “Sons of God”.) Spiritual involvement in baptism takes us through a new birth, causing us to be like the one who gave us birth. The saying, “Like father, like son,” should become for us “Like Jesus, like the saved.” The new nature can come to those who are not only physically involved but who are also spiritually involved in the act of baptism.
16. “Clothed with Christ” (Galatians 3:27). In the process of becoming God’s children, we become clothed with the nature of Jesus. When we put on garments, we take on the appearance of those garments. In a similar way, when we put on Jesus, we should have the spiritual appearance of Jesus. Baptism is the moment when we are “clothed” with Jesus (Gk.: enduo–en, meaning “in,” plus duo, meaning “sink,” which together mean “enter into,” or “be clothed” in the sense of sinking into a garment).
17. “Become one in Christ” (Galatians 3:28). All of us who are clothed with Jesus will have the same spiritual nature. Having the same nature will make us all alike, which should unite us as one.
18. “Circumcised” (Colossians 2:11, 12). Just as circumcision removes physical skin from the body, so also the body contaminated by sin is to be removed in baptism.
19. Noah as a “type” (1 Peter 3:20, 21). The NJKV correctly translates 1 Peter 3:21, “There is also an antitype which now saves us–baptism…” A type is a figure, while an antitype is the reality. The water that floated Noah’s ark to safety is a shadow (the type) of the reality of the water of “baptism” (the antitype), which now saves us. In order for the ark to be of any benefit to Noah, water was necessary. Had God sent fire, germs, or some other means of destruction, Noah and his family would have been destroyed along with the evil world. Instead, God sent water, which brought Noah and his family to safety. The ark bringing Noah’s family to safety, salvation, from physical destruction is a type of our salvation; the antitype is the water of baptism, through which we come to our salvation.
20. “A good conscience” (1 Peter 3:21). Until one is baptized, he still has his sins; therefore, he should also have a troubled conscience. By being baptized, we can realize the cleansing by the blood of Jesus and His resurrection. This results in a conscience that is no longer troubled because of sins.
Baptism has been summarized in this way: “One of the most dramatic rituals observed by the earliest Christians was baptism. Its aim was to wash away all uncleanliness resulting from sin, thus preparing the initiate for his or her new life. In its most basic form, the ceremony called for a confession of faith by the candidate, followed by complete immersion in water in the name of Jesus Christ.”2
Baptism was first taught by John, then by Jesus, followed by the apostles and the early church. The New Covenant taught that in order to be saved we need to believe in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, repent of sins, confess faith in Jesus, and be baptized to be forgiven. Baptism was considered the point at which a wrong relationship with God was made right and a new life was mad possible through the blood of Jesus.
Many expressive figures associated with baptism reveal this truth. These images help us to understand the results and blessings associated with baptism.
1K. H. Rengstorf, “gennao,” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich, trans. and abr. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1985). 115.
2Gayla Visalli, ed., After Jesus: The Triumph of Christianity, (New York: Reader’s Digest, 1998), 36.