water02I received the following question:

Nathan, will you please explain to me your views on water baptism? Thanks.

Thanks for the question regarding water baptism. I will try to answer as briefly as I can, and as clearly as I can. Yet this is a complicated issue, and the answer is not simple.

The fact is that the word “baptism” is basically a Greek word that has not been translated when bringing it into English. Whatever our English ideas about baptism might be, the real question is what the idea of baptism was to one who spoke Greek? To answer this, we would need to consider the use of the Greek word baptisma, and its related verb baptizo.

These words come from a basic Greek root bapto, which means “to dip.” This word occurs three times in the Bible, once in Luke 16:24 (“dip” his finger in water), once in John 13:26 (when I have “dipped” it), and Revelation 19:13 (a vesture “dipped” in blood). Yet an alternative translation is “to dye” (see Strong’s Concordance), and I believe that should be the translation of Revelation 19:13. Christ was wearing a robe dyed in blood, not dipped in it and still wet. Blood was a very common dye back then.

The reason the word went from “dip” to “dye” is that it was taken up and used by the dyeing industry. Of course, when you dye cloth, you dip it into the dye. This results in the cloth being colored whatever the dye is colored. There is now an identification between the dye and the cloth, so that it is no longer a white or off-white cloth, but now is a red cloth or blue cloth or green cloth, or whatever color dye you dipped it in. This identification between the cloth and the dye has resulted in a merger of the two. Therefore, I believe that the word “baptism,” coming as it did from the word “bapto,” carried the meaning of an identification of two things that results in a merger.

One great example of this “baptism” type identification is a marriage. Two people, formerly independent individuals, are identified with one another and merged into a single family. By the Greek definition of the word, a marriage could be called a “baptism” of two people with each other.

Most people who teach on water baptism act like it is THE baptism, and all other baptisms are figurative. There is no particular reason for this, other than that water baptism is the first one mentioned in the New Testament. I would suspect the real reason people think that way is that they have learned to think that way about baptism because of how it is taught in churches. Yet there are plenty of other baptisms in Scripture. For example, we read of three different baptisms in Matthew 3:11.

11. I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

Here, we see three different baptisms. First is water baptism, second is Holy Spirit baptism, and third is fire baptism. Some have argued that baptism means “to immerse.” Yet that would make Holy Spirit baptism to mean immersion in the Holy Spirit, which makes little sense, and fire baptism to mean immersion in fire, which seems like something you would not want at all! Yet to be “identified” with the Holy Spirit is exactly what happened to His disciples when they received the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit. No one could doubt they were identified with Him then! And to be identified with fire is probably to be identified with either judgment or purification, although there is a literal identification with fire in Isaiah 4:5.

When we examine baptisms that CLEARLY are water baptisms in Scripture, we see that John was the main baptizer, and the purpose of his baptism was to present Christ to Israel, not to “save” anyone, as people try to make out today. Other than him, the only ones we can confirm as baptizers are the disciples/apostles of the Lord, men who had great authority from God. There is no reason to think that anyone today has such authority, just because these men did. I talk about this in my article on baptism.

Christ’s death was also a baptism. He calls it that in Matthew 20:22-23, Mark 10:38-39, and Luke 12:50. All three of these passages are long after His water baptism, and speak of His identification with sin and death that bought our salvation. James and John could only be identified with this kind of baptism by dying a martyr’s death, which they both did eventually.

One important thing to notice is that there are no instructions anywhere in Scripture TO baptizers, that is, telling them how to do it, or giving anyone permission to do it. I believe that this is because the people who were given the power to baptize were God-commissioned people, and so God communicated to them exactly how they were supposed to baptize. When God stopped commissioning people, that ended the authority of any human being to baptize. No one ever received the power to baptize on behalf of God by going to a Bible college or seminary or by being ordained. Those who baptize for these reasons can only baptize in the name of their particular human organizations. These baptisms have nothing to do with God.

Many people get hung up on the occurrence of “baptism” in Mark 16:14-20.

14. Later He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen. 15. And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. 16. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. 17. And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; 18. 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.”
19. So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. 20. And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs. Amen.

Many people use this passage for many different reasons. For example, missionaries and missions movements love to use verse 15 to say that we must send out missionaries. Those who insist one must be water baptized to be saved use verse 16. Those who insist we must speak in tongues and manifest charismatic gifts in order to be saved use verses 17 and 18. Yet there are many who, while they love using one or two of these verses, refuse to use all three. This is just silliness, and is not treating the Bible right. It is treating it like a buffet, where you just take what you want and leave what you don’t. This is not right handling of the Word of God.

Though many use this passage for the above reasons, few, it seems, keep reading right down to verse 20. In verse 15, Christ commands them to go into all the world to preach the gospel to every creature. Verse 20 says, “they went out and preached everywhere.” They had already accomplished what Christ sent them to do before Mark even wrote his gospel. Colossians 1:23b says the same thing, “…the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven…” In Greek, this is the same phrase as in Mark 16:15. This commission was already completed. That means we don’t have to expect God to still be sending signs to follow our preaching.

Leaving that part of it aside, I would also point out that there is no hint of water in this passage. As I explained above, baptism means “identification,” not “a water ritual.” I believe that the baptism Christ is speaking of here is identification with Himself, not through a water ritual, but through faith. Romans 6:3-4 speaks of this.

3. Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 4. Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

When we believe in Jesus Christ, we are identified with Him and His death, so that when He died, we died also by identification. When He was buried, we were buried too by identification. When He was raised from the dead, we too were raised from the dead by identification, so now we can live a new life for Him. This is the baptism that happens, not by water, but by faith in Jesus Christ. This is the real, important baptism, not baptism in water. This is also clear in Galatians 3:26-27.

26. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

We are sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. As many of us as were identified in respect to Christ have put on Christ. This is because we are identified with Him by faith. This has nothing to do with a water ritual. We are identified with Christ when we believe in Him. Colossians 2:11-12 speaks of this same thing.

11. In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12. buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.

This speaks of a circumcision that is not physical circumcision, but rather a putting off of sins by the circumcision of Christ. “Circumcision” means “cutting around,” and this says that it is our sins that Christ has cut around us and cut off. Then, it goes on to say that we are buried with Him in baptism. But that is to say that we are buried with Him in identification, in which we also were raised with Him through our faith in the working of God Who raised Him from the dead. There is not a drop of water here. We died, were buried, and were raised with Him when we were identified with Him. This identification took place when we believed the record God gave of His Son, not when someone did a water ritual over us.

I fully acknowledge that we are “saved” by baptism. I Peter 3:21 says so.

21. There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

Yet I also believe we are saved by grace apart from works, as Ephesians 2:8-9 says.

8. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9. not of works, lest anyone should boast.

How can these two both be true, when “water baptism” clearly is a work? I believe that the obvious answer is that Peter is not talking about water baptism in I Peter 3:21. What he means is that identification now saves us. That is, we are saved when God graciously identifies us with Jesus Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection, so that when He died we died, and the penalty for our sins was paid. When He was buried, we were buried, and so we are hidden away from any penalty for sin that anyone would try to bring upon us. When He was raised, we were raised, and we now live a new life in Him. This all happened by baptism, that is, identification, into Jesus Christ. It was by grace and through faith, as Ephesians 2:8-9 says. This baptism, this identification, took place when we believed.

Ultimately, Jesus Christ is our Savior. He is the only One Who can save us, and He did save us when He died on the cross. When we are identified with Him by grace through faith, we are saved. To turn to water baptism to be saved is to turn to something apart from Jesus Christ for salvation. It is putting something else in the place of Jesus Christ. It is trusting in a work we can do, instead of in Christ’s finished work on the cross. I do not believe water baptism is necessary for salvation. I do not believe water baptism is necessary at all. All we really need is Jesus Christ. He is our Savior, and He is the only Savior we need.

I pray this helps.