A STUDY OF THE MEANING OF THE VARIOUS BAPTISMS OF THE BIBLE
BAPTISM IN THE OLD TESTAMENT AND GOSPEL PERIOD
The New Testament opens with John the Baptist calling on Israel to “Repent … for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:2). Then we read in Matt. 3:5-6 that those who went out to John “were baptized of him in Jordan confessing their sins”. No one seemed to need an explanation as to why they needed to be baptized, or what water baptism signified. How did they know those things? They knew from the Old Testament, and those who preached the message knew the source from which their audience knew the meaning of baptism. That source was, of course, the Old Testament. My point is that the New Testament did not come out of a vacuum, so if we are to understand the purpose and meaning of water baptism we must understand it as the first century Jews understood it, i.e. from the Old Testament..
Before we address the question of baptism I believe that a word about repentance is called for because repentance is often called for in the same message as is baptism. The paper on this web-site called “Repent! Is Not A Message Of Salvation” will prove, that in the Old Testament repentance was always for the purpose of avoiding punishment or laying hold of earthly blessings. And as that paper will also show, the New Testament calls for repentance were for the same purpose. So first century Israelites would understand from the Old Testament that repentance was not for salvation, per se.
THE CONNECTION BETWEEN THE OLD AND NEW TESTAMENTS IN REGARDS TO BAPTISM
In the section above I tried to make the point that first century Israelites did not need to be told what water baptism signified because they understood what it signified from the Old Testament. What is in the Old Testament about water baptism that would help them understand those things? We know that water baptism is a ceremonial washing. There are two such washings spoken of in the Old Testament that would have informed first century Israel of what baptism (washings) was, and more importantly, what those washings signified. Let us consider those two passages.
We read in Numbers 8:5-7, “And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, ‘Take the Levites from among the children of Israel, and cleanse them, and thus shalt thou do unto them to cleanse them: Sprinkle water of purifying upon them, and let them shave all their flesh and let them wash their clothes, and so make themselves clean'”. But what was the purpose of being washed, what did the washing signify? Surely it was not only to be outwardly clean.
We read in verses 10-11 of that chapter, “and thou shalt bring the Levites before the Lord: and the children of Israel shall put their hands upon the Levites: and Aaron shall offer the Levites before the Lord for an offering of the children of Israel, that they may execute the service of the Lord“. What was the significance of the children of Israel putting their hands on the Levites at this ceremony? Let us consider another passage in the Old Testament in which we read of the laying on of hands.
We read in Numbers 27:18-23, “And the Lord said unto Moses, ‘Take thee Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit, and lay thine hands upon him; and set him before Eleazar the priest, and before all the congregation; and give him a charge in their sight. And thou shalt put some of thine honour upon him, that all the congregation of the children of Israel may be obedient……….and he laid his hands upon him, and gave him a charge as the Lord commanded by the hand of Moses”. By the laying on of hands Moses identified Joshua as the servant of God. Just as the laying on of hands identified Joshua for service unto God, so too, in my opinion, did the laying hands on the Levites signify the Levites being identified as God’s servants. This conclusion is supported by Numbers 8:11, “and Aaron shall offer the Levites before the Lord for an offering of the children of Israel, that they may execute the service of the Lord“.
Because the laying on of hands was part of the same ceremony as was the washing, I believe we may conclude that both had the same purpose, i.e. to be identified as God’s servants. But we should note that the ceremonial washing of the Levites had nothing to do with salvation.
The other ceremonial washing recorded in the Old Testament that we will consider describes the scene that took place just weeks after God led Israel out of Egypt. That scene is recorded in Ex. 19. We read in Ex. 19:3-6, “……Thus shalt thou say to the children of Israel; ‘Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto Myself. 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……'” . Then in verse 10 we read, “And the Lord said unto Moses, ‘Go unto the People, and sanctify them to day and to morrow, and let them wash their clothes'”.
The reader will note that Moses commanded Israel to wash their clothes, not themselves. We read in Numbers 8 in the passage that described the ceremony that separated the Levites unto God that they were also told to wash their clothes. God also told Moses that Israel was to be sanctified for two days. To be sanctified is to be separated unto God. Therefore, I believe the washing of their clothes on the third day was not just for the purpose of having clean clothes but had a reason of greater profundity. What was that reason?
Note that God, through Moses, told Israel that they would be “a peculiar treasure unto Me”. One of the definitions of the word “peculiar” is, “a characteristic of one only“. In other words, Israel would be like no other nation in God’s sight, i.e. they would be “peculiar”. The fact that Israel was a “peculiar treasure” meant that She was separated from all other nations as being the only nation belonging to God. My point is that just as the Levites were identified as God’s servants in the washing described in Numbers 8, so too the nation of Israel was separated and identified as God’s servants in the washing of their clothes described in Ex. 19.
I would like to say a word about the concepts of identification and separation. In Numbers 8 it is clear that identification was the primary concept in the ceremony recorded in that chapter. And in Ex. 19 it is separation (i.e. sanctification) that is the primary concept. I believe if we consider a tragic example from modern history, the reader will see that the two concepts of identification and separation are intrinsically connected. In Nazi Germany Jews were required to wear gold stars of David identifying them as Jews. That identification also separated them from non-Jews for persecution. My point is that identification and separation are inexorably connected.
We are now ready to consider the significance of water baptism in the New Testament. First century Jews knew from the Old Testament that washing was part of the ceremony ordained by God signifying an identification with Him as His servants. So when John the Baptist baptized (washed), the mind set of those Jews would have been to be baptized for the purpose of identification. In the case of the message to be baptized “for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand” the identification was with the message, thus identifying themselves as believers of that message.
WATER BAPTISM IN THE ACTS PERIOD
Acts 1:5, “For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence”. What was the baptism with the Holy Ghost? The baptism with the Holy Ghost was the baptism whereupon the one being baptized received the spiritual gifts from the Holy Ghost (or Spirit, same word in the Greek). These gifts not only enabled the truth of the gospel to be spread throughout the world through, for example, tongues, but it also identified those with the spiritual gifts as God’s servants. This identification is, of course the same purpose as was in evidence in the ceremonial washing of the Old Testament.
We read in Mark 1:4, “John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. And we read in Acts 2:38, “Then 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'”. The Greek word translated “remission” in this verse is “aphesis”. It is translated “remission”, and “forgiveness” and one time “deliverance”.
The reason for repentance and for being baptized is given, i.e. “for the remission of sins”. Many take this as the formula for salvation. That is to say, many believe that if one repents and is baptized they are saved. But let us not jump to conclusions just because something is widely accepted. Let us examine this view carefully.
When we consider I Cor. 1:12-17 discussed below, we will see that Paul did not baptize but just a few. And our Lord Himself baptized only His disciples (see Jn. 4:2). My point is that if baptism was required for salvation then Paul, and even our Lord, had left off a crucial aspect of their ministry in regards to salvation. Of course, neither Paul or Christ left off anything in regards to salvation because baptism, per se, is not part of God’s plan of salvation.
With that in mind let us also consider Acts 16:25-34 which records the incident in which Paul’s jailer asked Paul, “what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30). Paul’s answer was given in verse 31, “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved”. Note that Paul said nothing of baptism in order to be saved. The jailer was baptized after his statement of faith in Christ, but that does not change the fact that Paul does not mention baptism as a requirement of salvation.
Now let us return to Acts 2:38. Peter called for his audience to be baptized “in the name of Jesus Christ”. Was Peter simply telling them what needed to be said at the baptismal ceremony? I do not believe so. I believe that there is something much more crucial to God’s plan of salvation than merely what should be said at the ceremony of water baptism. In order to understand the importance of being baptized “in the name of Jesus Christ” we must understand what is meant by the phrase “in the name of”. “Name” is sometimes used as a figure of speech Metonymy of Adjunct, which is defined in the Companion Bible as, “When something pertaining to the subject is put for the subject itself”. In this verse the word “name” is used as that which pertains to Jesus Christ, Who is the subject. It is used as a figure of speech for Who He is. In other words, by being baptized “in the name of Jesus Christ” one is proving his belief in Who Christ is, i.e. the Son of God.
Salvation is the result of believing in Christ, i.e. Who He is, the Son of God, not of water baptism. The message of salvation is given in John 3:16, “for God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life”. In point of fact that same message is repeated more than ten times in the New Testament. Again, there is nothing of baptism in this oft repeated message of salvation.
What then did Peter’s message of repentance and baptism have to do with the remission of sins? The answer to that question is that when one believes, he is saved, and God then chooses to forgive his sins. But again, one is saved through belief, not through water baptism, and not through repentance. Because one believes and is therefore saved, God forgives him his sins.
I have tried to show that the ceremony of water baptism itself did not save a person. One was baptized because they believed. And one’s sins were forgiven because they believed. The question remains then, what did the ceremonial baptism signify? Certainly it was a ceremony that proved that the one being baptized believed Peter’s message. But I believe it signified more than that. We are told quite specifically in Acts 2:38 that if they were baptized they will receive the Holy Ghost. As mentioned in the section above on Acts 1:5, the receiving of the gifts from the Holy Spirit identified them as having been separated unto God for service. So once again we see that the significance of water baptism is the same as the Old Testament baptism, i.e. identification as God’s servants.
“And he (Paul) said unto them, ‘Unto what then were ye baptized?’ And they said, ‘Unto John’s baptism.’ Then said Paul, ‘John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on Him Which should come after him, that is on Christ Jesus’. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied”.
This is a very interesting passage. Paul met some who had been baptized by John the Baptist before water baptism was accompanied with receiving the gifts from the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. (John had been killed before Christ’s death and burial and of course, before Pentecost.) Again, it is important to bear in mind that this baptism was a baptism of believers. When they were baptized by John they did so because they believed in Christ.
Paul layed hands upon these believers so they would receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit. In other passages we have read that Peter baptized believers in water in order for them to receive the gifts from the Holy Spirit. The reader may recall the section above in which we are told that the Levites were washed (baptized) and hands were layed on them. This was all done as part of the ceremony that identified the priests as God’s servants. So too, in this passage we read of the same baptism and the laying on of hands in order to receive the gifts from the Holy Spirit which would in turn identify believers.
We read in Acts 22:16 Paul’s account of his experience on the road to Damascus when Christ spoke to him and said,”And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord”. Note the things Paul was told to do. He was told to, 1) be baptized and wash away his sins, and 2) call on the name of the Lord. In point of fact the water used in water baptism did not wash away his (or anyone else’s) sins. It may have been a symbol of God forgiving sins, but the sins were forgiven because one believed, not because one was baptized. (I should point out that Paul’s acceptance of the truth of Who Christ is, is not recorded. But in light of Paul’s life and ministry, I believe we may conclude that Paul had indeed accepted Christ as the Son of God.) My point is that by believing, Paul received “life through His name” (see Jn. 20:31).
So what was the purpose of the water baptism? It symbolized God’s forgiving of sins of the one who believed, and it was in keeping with the purpose as described in every baptism from the Old Testament, from the Gospel period, and throughout the entire Acts period, to be identified as God’s servant.
I CORINTHIANS 1:12-17
I Cor. 1:12-17 reads, “Now this I say, that every one of you saith, ‘I am of Paul’; and ‘I of Apollos’; and ‘I of Cephas’; and ‘I of Christ’. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius; Lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name………for Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel…..”.
There are several truths to be gleaned from this passage. Let us begin with what it means to say “I am of Paul” or “I of Apollos”. The “of” is, in my opinion, the Genitive of Possession which is defined in the Companion Bible as, “….. it may be said to answer the question ‘Whose‘? Luke 2:49, ‘The business of My Father’ = My Father’s business’……”. So in I Cor. 1:12-17 the phrase “I am of Paul”, for example, means “I am Paul’s”, i.e. “I belong to Paul”.
Paul explains to the Corinthians that there is a division amongst them that is due, in part, to the fact that they are claiming that they “belong to” the apostle by whom they were baptized. This “belonging to” means to be identified with some one or some thing. We learned from the section above that baptism/washing in the Old Testament signified an identification as God’s servants. The Corinthians mistakenly understood baptism to signify belonging to, or being identified with, the one by whom they were baptized. Even though that is a false notion, it does show that they understood baptism to mean an identification with.
Another important truth to be gleaned from this passage is that Paul wrote that he was sent to preach the gospel, not to baptize. This is absolute proof that baptism is not required for salvation. That is to say, Paul was sent to preach the gospel of salvation, but if baptism was a requirement of being saved, Paul had not finished the work for which he was sent. This would make his ministry flawed and incomplete. I don’t believe that is true of Paul’s ministry.
And there is something else of interest in the fact that Paul did not baptize but just a very few believers. Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles. Baptism/washing was a ceremony associated with Israel. That is to say, in the Old Testament and during the Acts period there were ceremonial washings that signified an identification as God’s servant. Certainly Gentiles were baptized, we read in Acts 10 of Peter baptizing the Gentiles to whom he was sent. But it is interesting that Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, did not come to baptize.
SPIRITUAL (I.E. NOT WATER) BAPTISMS
I CORINTHIANS 10:1-4
“Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and did all eat the same spiritual meat; and did all drink the same spiritual drink……”.
The first thing of note about this passage is that the baptism was not with water. Israel passed through the sea on dry land.
Secondly, what does it mean to be baptized “unto Moses”? I believe that because Paul wrote of Israel eating the same “spiritual meat” and drinking the same “spiritual drink” that being baptized unto Moses was a spiritual experience of being identified with Moses’ faith as Israel crossed through the sea on dry land. That is to say this baptism unto Moses was not a ceremony involving water, it was a spiritual experience of identification with his faith.
Gal. 3:27 reads, “For as many of you as have been baptized into (Gr. “eis”, unto) Christ have put on Christ”. There are several things about this verse that need to be considered if we are to understand it correctly.
We learned from I Cor. 1:12-17 that Paul baptized very few because he was not sent to baptize. Because all believers are baptized unto Christ, we must conclude that the baptism unto Christ is without water, the same as the baptism unto Moses was without water. That is to say, if the baptism unto Christ was a ceremony of water baptism, almost all of those who Paul led to Christ would not be baptized unto Christ because he did not baptize with water. We must conclude therefore, that baptism unto Christ, much like baptism unto Moses is a spiritual experience, and has nothing to do with a ceremonial water baptism.
In this passage it is clear that to be baptized unto Christ is to have put on Christ. What does the phrase “put on Christ” mean? It is obviously a figure of speech as we cannot put on another Person. Figures of speech are used to emphasize a truth. What truth is being enhanced by the phrase, “put on Christ”? In my opinion Paul is saying that one who puts on Christ identifies with Him to such a degree that he becomes one with Christ.
Because to be baptized unto Christ is to put on Christ, we must conclude that to be baptized unto Christ means to identify one’s self with Him. Again, because to be baptized unto Christ means to be identified with Christ, baptism unto Christ carries with it the same significance as does the baptism in the Old Testament and Gospel and Acts periods. i.e to be identified with.
“Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into (Gr. “eis”, unto) Jesus Christ were baptized into (Gr. “eis”, unto) His death? Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into (Gr. “eis”, unto) death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life”. What does the phrase “baptized unto His death” mean? Let us consider the context.
We read in Rom. 6:1, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?” The subject of the context is how the believer should walk, i.e. not in sin, but in newness of life. In verse 2 Paul wrote that believers are “dead to sin”. How does God reckon us to be dead to sin? He reckons us to be dead to sin because He reckons us to be buried with Christ. How are we buried with Christ? We are buried with Christ “in baptism”, i.e. by being identified with His burial to the extent that we walk in newness of life.
The purpose of this baptism is no different than the baptism of the Old Testament, and it is no different than the baptism of the Gospel period. This baptism is an identification with Christ’s death and burial. In other words, because we are (or literally considered to be) buried with Christ, we can no longer walk in sin, but we are to walk in the newness of life. By being identified with His burial we are separated unto Him and unto good works.
I PETER 3:20-21
We read in I Peter 3:20-21, “Which sometimes were disobedient, when once the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah while the ark was a preparing wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), by the resurrection of Jesus Christ”.
Was Noah saved by water? He was not, he was saved from the water of the flood by the fact that he believed God’s message. We read in Heb. 11:7, “By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith”.
The Greek preposition translated “by” in the phrase “were saved by water” is .”dia” which is defined in the Companion Bible Appendix 104 as, “It has the general sense of through, as through dividing a surface into two by an intersecting line”.
Noah was saved through the water of the floods in that he did what God told him to do, i.e. he built an ark. What is the “like figure” that saves us? It is that those who were in the ark identified with Noah’s faith in the same way that we should identify with Christ’s resurrection. That is to say, the eight were saved by their identification with Noah’s faith. And we, as believers, are saved from the grave by our identificaiton with Christ’s resurrection.
BAPTISM IN THE PRISON EPISTLES
I believe that the “one baptism” of Eph. 4:5 is the baptism unto Christ spoken of by Paul in Gal. 3:27, “For as many of you as have been baptized unto Christ have put on Christ”. In this passage it is clear that to be baptized unto Christ is the same as to have put on Christ. What does the phrase “put on Christ” mean? It is obviously a figure of speech as we cannot put on another Person. Figures of speech are used to emphasize a truth. What truth is being enhanced by the phrase, “put on Christ”? In my opinion Paul is saying that one who puts on Christ identifies with Him to such a degree that he becomes one with Christ.
But some would object to that suggestion because Paul wrote of that baptism in an Acts period epistle and therefore would not be applicable to believers of the dispensation of the mystery. Let us examine that thought.
To be baptized unto Christ is to be identified with and separated unto Him. Believers of every dispensation have “put on Christ” and because to put on Christ is to be baptized unto Christ, we must conclude that believers of every dispensation have been baptized unto Christ. In other words, to have put on Christ and therefore to be baptized unto Christ is a universal truth, i.e. it is equally true in every dispensation. Therefore, baptism unto Christ is as much a blessed spiritual experience in the present dispensation as it was in the previous one.
Col. 2:11-13 reads, “In Whom (Christ) also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ: Buried with Him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with Him through the faith of the operation of God Who hath raised Him from the dead. And you being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath He quickened together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses”.
The similarity to Rom. 6:3-4 is undeniable. Let us review that passage. “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized unto Jesus Christ were baptized unto His death? Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism unto death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life”.
The baptism of Col. 2 is the same as the baptism of Rom. 6. It is a baptism that identifies believers with Christ in His burial to such a degree that we walk “in newness of life”.
Again, this is a universal truth. It is equally true in the present dispensation as it was in the previous one.
1) Baptism with water, and baptism with the gifts from the Holy Spirit, and the spiritual baptism of the baptism unto Christ and unto His death serve as an identification. The context will always explain with whom one is identified.
2) Paul, unlike Peter, did not come to baptize with water, although he had baptized a few. When Paul wrote of baptism in I Cor. 10:1-4, in Rom. 6:3-4, in Gal. 3:27, in Eph. 4:4-5 and in Col. 2:11-13 he was not writing of a ceremonial water baptism, he was writing of a spiritual experience that identified one with God. Peter also wrote of a spiritual baptism unto Christ and His death in I Peter 3:20-21.
3) Paul’s message of baptism was no different in the post-Acts period than it was in the Acts period. That is to say the epistles written during the Acts period speak of the baptism unto Christ and unto His death, which are the same baptisms Paul wrote of in his epistles written to the church which is His body.
This paper was written by Joyce Pollard. If you would like to respond please e-mail me at: firstname.lastname@example.org