The Greek word baptismos, which we have transliterated into English letters in our Bibles (rather than translated) as “baptism,” is the subject of much controversy in Christian circles. This word actually only appears in the Bible 23 times, once in plural. Related words, such as Baptist or baptize, occur a total of 93 times, making a total of only 116 occurrences in the New Testament, which should make the topic a relatively easy one for the diligent student to study from a Biblical standpoint. However, for sake of time, I will confine these next few paragraphs to the study of ONLY those occurrences of baptism in which water is specifically mentioned as having been used. In looking at these occurrences, I will examine the question of baptism and authority, and how the men who baptized in Biblical times received the authority to perform this ceremony.
WATER BAPTISM IN THE GOSPELS
The first and, I think all must admit, the PRIMARY baptizer in the Bible is John. He is called “John the Baptist” in our Bibles, but, lest we mix him up with the common denomination of our day with the same name, let us note that the Greek word “baptistes” (pronounced “bap-tis-tace”) merely means “a baptizer.” So we have John the Baptizer. Matthew 3 presents his ministry of water baptism to us thusly: “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!’ …Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, ‘Brood of vipers! Who has warned you to flee from the wrath to come?’” (Matthew 3:1-2,5-7) We notice here that baptism by John was dependent upon the one being baptized having repented and confessed his sins. We also notice that John did not allow the Pharisees and Sadducees who came and yet were not right in their hearts (i.e., were not repentant) to partake of his baptism.
Why did John baptize, one must ask? We need look no farther than John’s own words in John 1:31, where he says, speaking of Christ, “’I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water.’” So we see that John’s ministry was to Israel, and was for the purpose of revealing Christ to them. Moreover, this work of John’s was not without effect. For we note in Luke 7:29, “And when all the people heard Him, even the tax collectors justified God, having been baptized with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.” So we see that John’s baptism had an extremely great impact on the ministry of Christ, for those who were not baptized with his baptism were the ones who ended up rejecting Christ, and those who were baptized by his baptism ended up accepting Him! Surely the importance then of this water baptism cannot be overestimated. Jesus Himself exalts John, saying in Matthew 11:11: “Assuredly I say unto you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
We know that John was called “The Baptizer,” but there were indeed others who baptized with water during this time. Specifically, there was a water baptism performed by the disciples of Christ. We read in John 3:22-23: “After these things Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He remained with them and baptized. Now John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there. And they came and were baptized.” This would seem to indicate that Jesus Himself was baptizing people, however, we read in John 4:2, “Though Jesus Himself did not baptize, but His disciples.” Therefore, we know that these men who were His disciples were baptizing. There is no doubt, however, that they did this with the Lord’s approval, as He Himself was evidently present.
WATER BAPTISM IN THE BOOK OF ACTS
Baptism in the book of Acts is a more tricky business. However, do we have any reason to believe that its purpose ever changed from that stated by John, that it was for the purpose of revealing Christ to Israel? Let us look, for the sake of time, only at those passages in Acts where water is specifically mentioned. Although water may or may not have been used in other passages, I believe that these should be sufficient to give us a sample of what water baptism in the book of Acts was like. The first occurrence where water is specifically mentioned is in the case of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. In Acts 8:26 we read, “Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, ‘Arise, and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ This is desert.” We read how Philip went to the desert and came upon the eunuch reading Isaiah in his chariot. After this we read in verse 29, “Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go near and overtake this chariot.’” So Philip by the Spirit’s leading comes to the eunuch’s chariot and explains the Scriptures to him and tells him the message of Christ. Then, when he was finished, we read in verse 36, “Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, ‘See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?’ Then Philip said, ‘If you believe with all your heart, you may.’ And he answered and said, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’ So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing.” So we see that this action of Philip’s was one attested to and confirmed by the Spirit of God. Moreover, Philip was only willing to baptize this eunuch once he was certain he believed “with all your heart.”
The next occurrence where water is specifically mentioned is in Acts 10. There, we see a Roman centurion receiving a message from God, as is stated in verse 3, “About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, ‘Cornelius!’” This angel tells him to call for Peter. Peter, meanwhile, receives a vision as well, as we read in verse 17, “Now while Peter wondered within himself what this vision which he had seen meant, behold, the men who had been sent from Cornelius had made inquiry for Simon’s house, and stood before the gate.” So there could be no doubt as to the Lord having a direct hand in setting up the situation in which Peter found himself later in the chapter. Peter has just finished preaching the gospel to Cornelius and his household, and, in verse 44 we read, “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God. Then Peter answered, ‘Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit, just as we have?’ And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord.” So these men were baptized at Peter’s command, but only after the manifest miracles of the Holy Spirit had been shown forth by them.
WATER BAPTISM IN THE GOSPELS AND THE BOOK OF ACTS COMPARED
So we see a distinct difference between water baptism in the gospels and water baptism in the book of Acts. I might sum up the differences thus:
1. Water baptism in the gospels was performed by John or Christ’s disciples. Water baptism in the book of Acts was performed by men called by God to preach the gospel of Christ to certain people
2. Water baptism in the gospels was administered dependent upon a person’s repentance, whereas water baptism in the book of Acts was administered dependent upon a person’s belief in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God.
3. Water baptism in the gospels was performed under the direction of Christ or John as to who should and should not be baptized. Water baptism in the book of Acts was performed under the direction of the Spirit as to who should and should not be baptized.
4. Water baptism in the gospels was not accompanied by miraculous signs. Water baptism in the book of Acts was always accompanied by miraculous signs.
5. Water baptism in the gospels was for the purpose of revealing Christ to Israel. Water baptism in the book of Acts was for the purpose of identifying believers.
As we have seen, then, baptism in the gospels was very different from that in the book of Acts. So, one must ask, what caused the change? What command did Christ give the disciples that told them to baptize people even after they had already had Christ revealed to them? For, if the baptism of John was so that Christ should be revealed to Israel, then it would make no sense to baptize anyone with that sort of baptism once that person had already had Christ revealed to him! Therefore there must be some new commission different from that which John received which outlined this water baptism. And we find such a commission in the book of Mark chapter 16.
In Mark 16 we read what some call the “Great Commission.” Christ says in verse 15, “’Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.’” This is an interesting statement. Christ says that “he who believes and is baptized will be saved.” However, he says in the next breath, “he who does not believe will be condemned.” So belief and baptism are intricately linked in the first clause, but baptism is not even mentioned in the next clause. This seems to indicate the attitude of Christ that anyone and everyone who believed WOULD BE BAPTIZED! As far as Christ is concerned, that anyone could believe and yet not be baptized is not even possible!
Now remember, these men whom He is talking to are the ones who will be baptizing in the book of Acts. These men must therefore clearly know when someone has truly believed so that they can baptize those people and ONLY those people who believe. Therefore, Christ goes on to tell them, “’And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.’” Therefore Christ did not leave these men in the dark about whom they should baptize and whom they should not. He gave them a list of signs that would follow all them that truly believed. Moreover, we read in verse 20 that these signs did follow them everywhere they preached: “And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs. Amen.” So we see that the signs did follow them. So that these men would never have to doubt as to who should be baptized and who should not. So we can safely say that everyone who believed during the book of Acts ministry of these apostles was subsequently baptized, and whoever did not believe was not baptized. This word of Christ set it up so that it must be so.
So do we see these words of Christ acted out in the book of Acts? Indeed we do. Remember Peter’s words at the house of Cornelius? “For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God. Then Peter answered, ‘Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit, just as we have?’” (Acts 10:46-47) Peter uttered this upon hearing them “speak with tongues and magnify God.” He therefore recognized in them the signs that Christ said should follow them that believe. Then, following Christ’s commands to the letter, he baptizes these people. “And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord.” (Acts 10:48) Why in the name of the Lord? Because it was the Lord whose command they were following by baptizing them! These men had demonstrated the signs that Christ had predicted, and now they were baptized according to His command!
WATER BAPTISM TODAY
But now we must consider water baptism today. Many churches practice baptism with water. Therefore, as there are only two water baptisms known to Scripture, we must try to associate this modern baptism with one of the two of them if we are to say that modern water baptism is commanded by God. Let us ask, then, is the modern-day water baptism the baptism of John? To discover the answer to this we must consider the facts about this baptism that we have learned from Scripture. Let us ask, then, is it done by John the Baptizer or the disciples of Christ? The answer, of course, is no. Is it administered dependent upon a person’s repentance? Perhaps in some cases, but in others most certainly not, as it is done many times for infants and many times for those who merely want to join a church and have had no real repentance in their hearts. Is it done with either John the Baptizer or Christ confirming those who should be baptized? The answer again is no. Is it done without the accompaniment of miraculous signs? Yes, it most certainly is. Is it done for the purpose of revealing Christ to Israel? In this final point we must answer with a resounding “No,” as this is most clearly not its purpose or function today. Therefore, if we should ask the question, “Is modern water baptism the same as the baptism of John?” we would have to answer, “No, it is clearly not.”
So then is modern water baptism the baptism of the book of Acts? Well, we might ask if modern water baptism is done by men called by God to preach to certain people? We might say yes and we might say no to this. For although it is most certainly done (in some cases at least) by those who preach the gospel to people, these people nevertheless are by no means called by God to do this preaching in any manner similar to the calling of Philip to preach to the Ethiopian eunuch or the calling of Peter to preach to Cornelius. Is modern water baptism administered upon a person’s true belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God? Here we must say in some cases yes and in some cases no. Modern baptizers have various beliefs and practices regarding this, some of which involve baptizing infants, who most certainly cannot believe this, or baptizing those who want to join their church, which is definitely not synonymous with believing in Christ. Is modern water baptism administered under the direction of the Spirit as to who should be baptized and who should not be baptized by the giving of sign miracles to point to those who believe? The answer to this is a most definite “No,” regardless of some self-deluded believers who may claim otherwise. Is baptism today always accompanied by miraculous signs? Most certainly not. Is baptism today done for the purpose of identifying believers? Again we must say in some cases yes and in some cases no. Therefore, if we should ask the question, “Is modern water baptism the same as the baptism in the book of Acts?” we would have to answer, “No, it is clearly not.”
So what is modern water baptism then? Are there any other water baptisms in the Scriptures from which this modern water baptism might get its origins? The answer is “No, there are not.” So the question we must then ask ourselves is, “Do the modern water baptizers have any Scriptural right to be baptizing with water?” And again I am afraid that our answer would have to be, “No, they do not.”
AUTHORITY, SALVATION, AND WATER BAPTISM
The fact is that modern water baptism is not done under the authority of Scripture. It carries with it neither the authority of the baptism of John nor the authority of the baptism of the Great Commission. This is not the case with the modern preaching of the gospel. If anyone should ask me, “What right do you have to preach to others the gospel?” I would point him straight to the book of Acts chapter 28 verse 28, which reads, “Therefore let it be known unto you that the salvation (that is, the salvation-bringing message) of God has been sent (that is, authorized) to the Gentiles (that is, nations), and they will hear it.” I am a member of the nations or Gentiles. Therefore, I know that the salvation of God has been sent to me. That word “sent” is the Greek “apostello,” which is the verb form of the word “apostle.” This verse, then, tells me that God’s salvation has become apostled (or authorized) to all nations, and anyone who wishes to hear it may! Therefore anyone, whether he be a believer or an unbeliever, whether he be male or female, whether he be slave or free, whether he be rich or poor, whether he be young or old, ANYONE can accept the salvation of God, and ANYONE can preach it. BUT this is NEVER said of baptism with water! The FINAL COMMAND we have concerning baptism is that of Christ. And this command is vitally dependent upon SIGNS. Without these signs NO ONE has the right to water baptize. For anyone to attempt to water baptize in our day is for him to do it under his own power and authority, not under the authority of God.
BAPTIZING IN VAIN
One of the things I have been considering recently is the commandment found in the Scriptures, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” This commandment is actually not speaking so much of swearing with the name of the Lord as it is speaking of claiming to say or do something IN THE NAME OF THE LORD when you have no right or authority to do so. Now modern baptizers almost without exception make a certain claim whenever they water baptize someone. They say either, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” or, “I baptize you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ,” or some variant upon these two. Now, if these were to baptize anyone in the name of a church of men they could most certainly do it. There is nothing stopping anyone from baptizing anyone else in the name of the Lutheran church, or of the Baptist church, or of the Methodist church, or of any other church that exists out there. But to baptize someone in the name of GOD…this is a VERY SERIOUS MATTER INDEED! For if people are indeed baptizing others in HIS name and yet have no authority to do so, they are in fact taking the name of the Lord in vain! Therefore, if they indeed have no authority from God for the baptism they are administering, they are not only performing a useless and un-Biblical act, but are also actually sinning by taking the name of the Lord our God in vain! This is a very serious matter, and not one to be considered lightly by any believer in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, I would challenge anyone who claims to believe that water baptism is meant for us today with the following questions. Which Biblical baptism is it that your church is performing? Upon what authority is your church performing this baptism? Is water baptism in your church performed only after the advent of certain miraculous signs so that no one who is an unbeliever is accidentally baptized? Do the baptizers in your church actually have the authority from God to baptize in His name, or are they merely taking the name of the Lord our God in vain? These questions should give us all pause to reconsider our practice and ourbeliefs. If we do not, it may be that we will end up not only being baptized by an empty baptism, but also of taking the very name of our Lord Jesus Christ in vain!