Baptism: What, Who, When, Where, and Why

So I’ve scrapped the post I said I was working on and decided to do something a little more simple. I think this format will provide the opportunity for the best discussion, if in fact, anyone happens to want to discuss Baptism after I’ve said my piece.

What is Baptism?

Baptism is properly defined as the immersion of a person into water. Before John the Baptist had baptized anyone, the Jews had developed the rite of Baptism which could serve one of two purposes. The first was for a ritual cleansing for a Jew before a feast, while the second, and more common purpose, would be as a rite of passage for Gentile converts to Judaism. Deep pools were dug with steps going down into and up out of the pool. The symbolism for new converts was that of crossing through the water into the promised land, just as Israel had crossed the Jordan upon their arrival in Canaan.

When John began to baptize, he was immersing people in the Jordan river, and calling Jews, not to a ritual cleansing, but to a rite of conversion to true ‘Judaism’. When Jesus came to be baptized by John, the symbolism of His act was the same to a larger degree. Jesus is true Israel, and He shows this from the very beginning of His ministry by passing through the Jordan river upon His official arrival in Canaan.

Now we jump ahead three or four years to the death and resurrection of Jesus. Before Jesus ascends to the Father, He leaves his disciples with some final instructions.

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mat 28:18-20 ESV)

Among the last instructions that Jesus gives His disciples is the command to baptize their disciples. But notice also that they are told to baptize them into (‘in’ from the Greek ‘eis’= to or into) the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. When Christian converts are baptized, they are being baptized into Jesus Christ, the True Israel. Jesus assumes identification with the Ark of the Covenant which entered the Jordan before the nation of Israel passed through, He assumes identification with Israel passing through the Jordan, He assumes identification with the Promised Land they were crossing into, and He assumes identification with the Jordan. And when we are baptized we are being baptized into Him.

There is a greater reality than even this identification with Christ. We are further identified with Christ by our baptism by the mode of baptism (immersion).

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. (Rom 6:3-10 ESV)

This is the greater aspect of baptism, it is a testimony that when Christ died, we died with Him, and that when He arose, we arose with Him (and when He ascended we ascended with Him, Eph. 2:4-6).

In short, Baptism is by immersion (Acts 8:38) and is symbolic of our union with Christ (Gal 3:27).

I’ll have to get to the Who, When, Where, and Why in another post.

In the meantime I’m also going to repost an old answer to a question about how I interpret 1 Peter 3:21.

UPDATE:  I would also like to point out for Prodigal that I’m going to interact with some of his points in the upcoming post(s), and that I do see a very close link between Baptism and salvation, as is obvious in this post, although I haven’t directly addressed it yet.  Also, I would like to point out to Pilgrim that immersion is a very important part of Baptism, for the reasons I have given in this post.



Filed under Baptism, baptist

16 responses to “Baptism: What, Who, When, Where, and Why

  1. I would say you are reading too much into sosme of the words & ideas–these same words and ideas can be expressed without immersion. By themselves they don’t demand immersion, but neither do they disprove immersion. But to say they demand, prove, or require immersion is going beyond the text.

    Just because we are baptized into the name of the father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit doesn’t require that we are literally baptized into water as well. The text never makes that comparison.

  2. Pilgrim,
    Good point, but…
    since the practice of John and the Apostles was immersion (it was), the practice of the early church was immersion (it was), and the symbolism attached to baptism is only seen by immersion (it is), then I think I have a point better than your point.

  3. I agree with Jeremy. The proofs for immersion are much better than those against it, although Hebrews 10:22 cetainly alludes to sprinkling. However it also mentions our bodies washed with pure water, which means, IMHO, the sprinkling has more to do with Hebrews 12:24 (ESV) “and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.”

    Again, it could be argued that since the sprinkling in Hebrews 10:22 addresses the same benefit (clean from an evil conscience) as baptism in 1 Peter 3:21, it could represent an alternate method, but I just don’t see it.

  4. Well, I don’t see that it’s definitive–I can see how you interpret those passages for immersion, but it isn’t definitive that it is–I do see verses that involve getting wet (because water is used.) But some of the passages don’t even have to have anything to do with water (such as I noted above.) Therefore how do we know the practice of the Apostles was immersion? Or John the Baptist? (And for that matter since John’s baptism was not the same baptism his model is irrelevant to Christian practice.)

    Now we can look at historical writings and see different times & places where it is expicit whether it is immersion, sprinkling, pouring or all allowed. But as for the NewTestament period I don’t see it as explicit.

    I also disagree the symbolism is only seen by immersion. I have heard Presbyterians explain the symbolism in terms of sprinkling–and they’re referring to Baptist symbolism as well. Some of that symbolism is reading into the text as well.

    But here’s an important difference in this whole “you dunk, we sprinkle” business. We would accept your baptisms as valid–(possibly as unecessary), but you would not see ours as valid. This impacts fellowship, church membership (and also ecclesiology), and communion. Yet you consider us brothers and sisters–as we consider you. Yet this is not an essential to the gosepl and Baptists sometimes treat it as such in practice, even if they do not consider it as such in word.

    (For the record I consider my infant baptism as not valid –it was R.C.–and I was rebaptized as an adult–I was dunked. So as far as I can tell I have had what you consider a valid baptism.)

  5. pilgrim,

    I certainly applaud you for it, but am curious what, if you can be specific, compelled you to be baptized again? And that by full immersion?

    You seem to be asking “Can we immersion types accept someone as a brother/sister who hasn’t been immersed?” That is a very tough question. If we say “Yes”, then we abrogate our own conviction, but if we say “No”, then we make ourselves someone’s judge. I prefer to just quote Christ who said “Whosoever believes and is baptized shall be saved”. Are there exceptions? Yes, I’m sure there are, but who can make the exception besides God Himself?

    I agree it is a sad thing for this to divide believers, but I also believe it’s not God’s doing, but man’s fallen nature that inclines him to doing things his own way rather than doing it in a way that removes any doubt. Which method is more disposed to giving one a clear conscience in this matter?

  6. But the division is happening because conditions are being added.
    In the past paedobaptists did persecute anabaptists, but those dyas are over, and those were primarily people and groups whose doctrines were not orthodox by any standard but that person or group’s own standards. And they were different times.

    Today such things don’t seem to happen, but it still grieves me to see the exclusion of paedobaptists when the gospel is the same–and those on both sides are orthodox in their beliefs on the essentials.

    As for my own baptism–I was baptized as a RC as a baby. I didn’t immediatley get rebaptized when I became a Christian as I had to work through some issues on that, and also some of it was due to procastination-(I will admit that) -that was a result of a backslifding period. When I dealt with all of that I felt a conviction to be baptized because the baptism I had as an infant was not into the same convenant I now believed in. It was a different gospel. It was by immersion because the church I attended at the time was an independant church that was sort of associated with one that practiced immersion–and they came to us and asked if we had anybody that wanted to be baptized. So immersion it was.

    So how would this affect me if I were to live somewhere that didn’t have a Prsbyterian or Reformed church nearby, but only a Baptist church? I was immersed as an adult (So that would be acceptable to them), but I hold to paedobaptism (which wouldn’t.)

    By the way–these comments are tough to write because they could give the impression of a deeper disagreement than it is. I like this blog, and I have respect for the men who contribute to it. I do consider them brothers in Christ. ANd full brothers, not separated or slightly distant or anything like that.

  7. pilgrim,

    I completely agree that these are difficult matters. But doctrine is very important to both of us, and I’m sure, to those who bother to lucidly address issues here. The real questions are: Why are there divisions in the church at all? And….what are the essentials?

    Unfortunately, most of us can’t be satisfied to accept Paul’s rather concise version of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.” This is because Paul also states “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”(Romans 6:3-5)


    “In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.” (Colossians 2:11-12)

    If Paul and Peter never included baptism in their expoundings on the gospel, perhaps we could be less emphatic about it’s significance and merit. But, they didn’t, so we must believe that baptsim was critically doctrinal to them. And so it must be to us.

    Like I said earlier, the easiest path to obey the commandment fully is to leave human reasoning out of it and just do it the way that leaves no room for doubt – total immersion. But, men must wrangle everything to conform to their tastes and preferences, so Peter says “There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures” (1 Peter 3:16)

    God gave you both the desire and the opportunity to obey, and you did. God will not require something of any of us that we cannot do. I commend you for obeying what is patently part of the gospel.

  8. Hmm, just wondering–but how does immersion leave no room for doubt?
    And isn’t that still adding your own reasoning to it to say that’s the best way?
    Thus contradicting your own point?

    I fully believe the passages you cite. While they speak of baptism, they do not speak about mode of baptism. To make those verses about mode of baptism is to read something in the scripture.

  9. NWProdigal

    Sorry, pilgrim (I feel like John Wayne just now:)

    I did not address the proofs of immersion because, as you say, there aren’t any that clearly advocate it. But, it seems to be implied that it’s immersing, because of the allusion to burial. One would hardly call a cup or even tub of dirt sufficient to bury someone, so apply that same analogy to water.

    Philip’s eunuch convert stops at a river, Jesus is baptized in a river. Not by the river, but in it. The implication is that there was a need for enough water to dunk, if you will, an entire body.

    As for immersion leaving no room for doubt, I will just say, if sprinkling is sufficient, or pouring, then immersion covers those. On the other hand sprinkling and pouring don’t even approach the act of immersion. Is that reasoning? Absolutely, it is! But, God expects us to reason through self examination, study of His Word and exhortation towards each other.

  10. “It seems to be implied”

    Hmm, that’s real firm. I hope that doesn’t come across as sarcasm–because it’s not.

    Yes there is a mention of burial, but burial and immersion in water are hardly the same thing. I understand the Baptist parallel-butit’s still reading the idea into the scripture.

    One can be baptized in a river without being immersed. And again you deal with implications. Yes the implications are there if you look for them.

    While I am not one of the people who hold to the view–there are those who hold that immersion is not legitimate baptism–it has to be sprinkling or pouring. Again–I would say they are reading things into the scripture that are not there. ( i don’t recall at this time which verses they use.

    But all the verses I have ever seen used to show immersion don’t address mode, and some aren’t really about baptism. I realize the same accusation could be made about paedobaptism as well in some cases.

    Now becuase no clear verse exists on mode, does that mean we can’t hold to a particular view? Of course not, but it is going beyond what the scripture says if we make it a standard in the way many Baptists often do.

  11. Here’s an interesting real life case involving some of what we’ve been discussing–written by a Baptist-

  12. pilgrim,

    I left a short opinion on that site.

    As for my use of the words implied and inferred, they are what I have to go by because there isn’t any black or white scripture that says something like “you must immerse or there is no re-birth”. I guess this is really of matter of conscience and as I proffered on the link, if you, as a believer, were given the choice of modes and each was available immediately, which would you feel most comfortable choosing?

    For myself, I wouldn’t hesitate to choose immersion.

  13. Jeremy,

    How are you doing? It’s been a while and I’m wondering about you brother. I trust you are okay, but will keep you in prayer. God bless.

  14. DJ Cimino

    I was just thinking the same thing Prodigal… where ya at Jeremy?

  15. Sorry. I can’t find time for the blog right now. I’ll be back shortly.

  16. Well, I hope to see you back soon.
    I should be udpating my blog soon as well.

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