I received the following question:

I know what I believe about baptism but I’ve already had some discussions about it with others from the church and they keep saying “it’s the outward act” to show you’re a believer and that it’s not necessary.  What do you say to that?

I always have a hard problem when they bring up the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8. Any tips for me? There’s also some that will say yes it’s necessary.

I’m afraid they have no Scriptural backing for that statement at all. The assumption in Scripture is always that every true believer is baptized. Of course, you have to separate between water baptism and the reality of baptism with Christ, which takes place when we believe and are placed in Him in God’s sight. The fact that they confound water baptism and being identified with Christ makes their position confused and in many ways indefensible from a Biblical standpoint.

If you are not identified with Christ, then you are not saved. Yet that does not have anything to do with water! Water was used to idenify men in Israel with the company of “repentant” (submissive) ones, the metanoia crew. It was not the same as salvation, certainly, but it was not exactly the outward act to show you were saved either. Being “saved” really wasn’t around yet when John was baptizing, as Christ had not yet been revealed. The very few verifiable water baptisms after John are performed on those who didn’t get a chance to partake of John’s baptism. All these got identified with the submissive company in Israel by doing this.

As far as what to say when they claim this? If you mean what can you say to convince them, you probably can’t. If they are already making statements like that with no Biblical backing, they are showing that they believe what they have been taught, and have not really studied this out in Scripture. Most people are satisfied with what they believe, and do not really want to study it out in Scripture in order to see what It says. They would rather not have to change their minds. Thinking is hard, and changing it hard. About the only thing you can do is appeal to the Bible, and to try to get them to really check what they are saying against the Word.

There is just nowhere in Scripture that says that water baptism is the outward sign of an inward reality or anything like that. If you challenge them to find such a statement, they will be unable to do so.

The Ethiopian eunuch and the household of Cornelius are the two verifiable water baptisms in Acts. Other mentions of baptism are unclear upon whether or not water was used. The Ethiopian eunuch appears to have been a proselyte, or at least a God-fearer among the Jews, since he had gone to Jerusalem to worship at the temple. His baptism identified him with the company of believers, which was exclusively Israelites and proselytes, and showed that he was submissive or metanoia.

Cornelius was the first non-proselyte Gentile to believe. He was identified with the submissive company in Israel when he was water baptised. That was important to show he was accepted in at that time.

Remember John the Identifier’s own stated reason for his baptism: “I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water.” John 1:31.

Remember also that the man who baptized the eunuch disappeared into thin air moments later. The man who baptized Cornelius came to him because he had a vision of an angel. The people who baptize today do so because they got a degree at a Bible college. They are not so good on the disappearing or being sent by an angel criteria.

A few basic questions about baptism today: where in the Bible does it say that it is an outward sign of an inward reality? Where does it say that it is the first sign of obedience? Where does it say it should be done in a church? Where does it say that a pastor (or your favorite religious leader word) should do it? Or where does it give the qualifications of one who is able to baptize another? Where does it give the qualifications for knowing who should or shouldn’t be baptized? Where does it say that it should be done by immersion (or sprinkling)? Where does it say how it should be done at all? (All we have in the Bible is going down into the water…being baptized…coming up out of the water. What happens in the water is never stated. This is the realm of imagination, or tradition.) There is no Biblical backing for many of the popular ideas and preconceptions about Baptism that are common among Christians. Yet that doesn’t stop people from proclaiming that they have “obeyed God” when they do something for which they have little to no Biblical backing at all.

As I said, they probably want to win the argument (and talk you into getting baptized) more than they want to learn, so you probably won’t get very far. You never know, though, who might really be after the truth.