On Eagles Wings Ministries
New Testament Baptisms
New Testament Baptisms
For John truly baptised with water, but you shall be baptised with the Holy Spirit.
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Matthew 28:19
The Verb “Baptise”
We are working our way systematically through the six great foundation doctrines of the Christians faith as stated in Hebrews 6:1-2. The six doctrines listed are the foundation of the doctrine of Jesus:
1. Repentance from dead works
2. Faith toward God
3. The doctrine of baptisms
4. Laying on of hands
5. Resurrection of the dead
6. Eternal judgement
In previous sessions, we examined the first two of these six doctrines, repentance from dead works and faith toward God – or, more simply, repentance and faith. Now we shall move on to the third of these great foundation doctrines, the doctrine of baptisms.
The logical way to begin this study is to discover, if possible, the correct, original meaning of the word baptism – or, more accurately, of the verb phrase “to baptise,” from which the noun baptism is formed.
Upon examination, this word baptise proves to be a most unusual word. Actually it is not an English word at all. It is a Greek word, transliterated into letters of the English alphabet. If we write out the original Greek word in English letters, as accurately as it is possible to do, this gives us baptizo. Then, with the change of the final o to an e, we have the word in the form which has now become familiar – baptize– though we will use the British form baptise.
At this point someone may reasonably ask: Why was this particular word never translated? Why was it simply written over from Greek to English letters? Was it because the correct meaning of the original Greek word was not known, and therefore the translators did not know by what English word to translate it?
No, this is definitely not the explanation. As we shall see in due course, the Greek word baptizo has a definite and well-established meaning.
By far the best known and most influential of all the English translations of the Bible is the King James Version – the version which was translated and published through the authority of King James of Britain in the early years of the seventeenth century. It is through this translation that the word baptise has gained a place in the English language. Through this King James Version the word baptise has been carried over into the majority of all subsequent English versions of the Bible, as well as into a great many translations of the Bible into the languages of the world. Yet this word baptise, both in its origin and in its form, is in fact completely alien to almost all those languages.
How did this unusual and unnatural form first find its way into the King James Version of the Bible?
The answer lies in the fact that King James, though holding political power as an absolute monarch, was answerable in matters of religion to the bishops of the established Church of England. Now the relationship between James and his bishops was not always too cordial, and James did not wish the new translation of the Bible, published in his name and with his authority, to make his relationship with his bishops any worse.
For this reason he allowed it to be understood that, so far as possible, nothing was to be introduced into the translation which would cause unnecessary offence to the bishops or which would be too obviously contrary to the practices of the established church. Hence, the Greek word baptizo, which could easily have become, in translation, a source of controversy, was never translated at all, but was simply written over directly into the English language.
In this connection, it is interesting to remark that the very word bishop is another example of precisely the same influences at work. The word bishop is no more an English word than the word baptise.
Bishop is just another Greek word that has been taken over, without translation, into the English language; but in this case it has come by a slightly less direct route, by way of Latin. If the Greek original of the word bishop had been translated everywhere it occurs in the New Testament by its correct translation – which is “overseer” – the resulting version could have been interpreted as a challenge to the hierarchical order of government that existed in the established Church of England. Therefore, in various places, the translators avoided the issue and simply left the Greek word to stand in its anglicised form – bishop.
However, let us now return to the Greek word baptizo and its English equivalent, “baptise.” This Greek verb baptizo is of a special, characteristic form of which there are a good many other examples in the Greek language. The characteristic feature of this verbal form is the insertion of the two letters –iz into a more simple, basic root. Thus, the basic root is bapto. The insertion into this root of the two extra letters iz produces the compound form – baptizo.
The insertion of the additional syllable -iz into any Greek verb produces a verb that has a special, causative meaning. That is to say, the compound verb thus formed always has the sense of causing something to be or to happen. The precise nature of that which is thus caused to be or to happen is decided by the meaning of the simple root verb, out of which the compound, causative form has been built up.
With this in mind, we can now form a clear and accurate picture of the Greek verb baptizo. This is a compound, causative form, built up out of the simple root form bapto. Obviously, therefore, to get a proper understanding of baptizo, we need to ascertain the meaning of bapto.
This simple root form bapto occurs three times in the Greek text of the New Testament which formed the basis of the English King James Version. In every one of these three instances the original Greek verb bapto is translated by the same English verb “to dip.”
The three New Testament passages in which bapto occurs are as follows.
First, Luke 16:24. Here the rich man, in the torments of hell fire, cries out to Abraham:
Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue.
Second, John 13:26. Here, at the Last Supper, Jesus identifies the traitor who is to betray Him by giving His disciples a distinguishing mark.
It is he to whom I shall give a piece of bread when I have dipped it.
Third, Revelation 19:13. Here John describes the Lord Jesus Jesus as he sees Him coming in glory, leading the avenging armies of heaven.
He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood.
In all three passages both the English word used by the translators and also the context of each passage make it clear that the Greek verb bapto means “to dip something into a fluid and then take it out again.”
In that standard work of biblical reference – Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible – the author gives the following as the primary meaning of the verb bapto: “to cover wholly with fluid,” hence, “to dip.” We also find in the New Testament a compound version of the verb bapto, formed by prefixing the Greek preposition en-, or em-, meaning “in.” This gives the compound form embapto. This compound form, embapto, also occurs three times in the Greek text of the New Testament. The three passages are Matthew 26:23, Mark 14:20 and John 13:26. Any student who cares to check for himself will quickly discover that in all three passages this compound form embapto is translated (just like the simple form bapto) by the English verb “to dip.”
We thus arrive at the following conclusion. The Greek verb bapto – either in its simple form or with the prefix em– meaning “in” – occurs six times in the Greek text of the New Testament, and in every instance in the King James Version it is translated “to dip.” In every instance, also, the context plainly indicates that the action described by this verb is that of dipping something into a fluid and then taking it out again.
Having arrived at the correct meaning of the simple verb bapto, there is no difficulty whatever in discovering the correct meaning of the causative compound form baptizo.
If bapto means “to dip something into a fluid and then take it out again,” then baptizo can have only one possible literal meaning. Logically, it must mean “to cause something to be dipped into a fluid and then taken out again.” More briefly, baptizo – from which we get the English word baptise – means “to cause something to be dipped.”
This conclusion can be confirmed by tracing the word baptizo back into the earlier history of the Greek language.
In the third century before the Christians era, the extensive conquests of Alexander the Great had spread the use of the Greek language far beyond the geographical confines of Greece herself, or even of the Greek cities and communities of Asia Minor. In this way, by the time of the New Testament, the Greek language had become the generally accepted medium of communication for most of the peoples in the lands bordering on the Mediterranean Sea.
It is this form of the Greek language which is found in the New Testament and which traces its origin, linguistically, back to the purer form of classical Greek originally used by the Greek cities and states in the preceding centuries. Thus, most of the words used in New Testament Greek trace their origin and meaning back to the earlier forms of classical Greek.
This is true of the verb baptizo. This word can be traced back into the earlier, classical form of the Greek language as far as the fifth century B.C. From then on it has a continuous history in the Greek language right down into the first and second centuries A.D. (that is, throughout the whole period of the New Testament writings). Throughout this period of six or seven centuries, the word retains one unchanging basic meaning, “to dip,” “to plunge,” “to submerge.” In this sense it may be used either literally or metaphorically.
The following are some examples of its use throughout this period.
1. In the fifth or fourth century B.C. baptizo is used by Plato of a young man being “overwhelmed” by clever philosophical arguments.
2. In the writings of Hippocrates (attributed to the fourth century B.C.) baptizo is used of people being “submerged” in water and of sponges being “dipped” in water.
3. In the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Old Testament attributed to the second or first century B.C.) baptizo is used to translate the passage in 2 Kings 5:14 where Naaman went down and “dipped himself” seven times in the Jordan. In this passage baptizo is used in verse 14, but a different Greek word is used in verse 10, where the King James Version used “wash.” In other words, baptizo means specifically to “dip oneself,” not merely to “wash,” without dipping.
4. Somewhere between 100 B.C. and 100 A.D., baptizo is used by Strabo to describe people who cannot swim being “submerged” beneath the surface of water (in contrast to logs of wood, which float on the surface).
5. In the first century A.D. baptizo is used metaphorically by Josephus to describe a man “plunging” a sword into his own neck and of the city of Jerusalem being “overwhelmed” or “plunged” to irremediable destruction by internal strife. It is obvious that such metaphorical uses as these would not be possible unless the literal meaning of the word was already clearly established.
6. In the first or second century A.D. baptizo is used twice by Plutarch to describe either the body of a person or the figure of an idol being “immersed” in the sea.
From this brief linguistic study it will be seen that the Greek word baptizo has always had one clear, definite meaning which has never changed. From classical Greek right down into New Testament Greek it has always retained the same basic meaning: “to cause something to be dipped,” “to immerse something beneath the surface of water or some other fluid.” In most cases this act of immersion is temporary, not permanent.
This brief analysis of the meaning of the word baptism brings out two distinctive features which are found everywhere that this word is used in the New Testament. Every baptism, considered as an experience, is both total and transitional.
It is total in the sense that it involves the whole person and the whole personality of the one being baptised; it is transitional in the sense that, for the person being baptised, it marks a transition – a passing out of one stage or realm of experience into a new stage or realm of experience never previously entered into.
The act of baptism may thus be compared to the opening and closing of a door. The person being baptised passes through a door opened up to him by the act of baptism, out of something old and familiar, into something new and unfamiliar. Thereafter the door is closed behind him, and there is no way of returning back through that closed door into the old ways and the old experiences.
Four Different Baptisms
Bearing in mind this picture of the nature of baptism, let us turn back once again to the passage where baptism is specified as one of the foundation doctrines of the Christians faith – that is, Hebrews 6:2. We observe that the word baptism is here used in the plural, not in the singular. It is “the doctrine of baptisms” (plural), not “the doctrine of baptism” (singular). This indicates plainly that the complete doctrine of the Christians faith includes more than one type of baptism.
Following this conclusion through the pages of the New Testament, we discover that there are actually four distinct types of baptism referred to at different points. If we set out these four types of baptism in chronological order, conforming to the order in which they are revealed in the New Testament, we arrive at the following outline.
First, the baptism preached and practised by John the Baptist – a baptism in water – is directly connected with the message and experience of repentance.
John came baptising in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins (Mark 1:4).
Second, there is a type of baptism which is not precisely described by any one word in the New Testament, but which we may call “the baptism of suffering.” Jesus says:
But I have a baptism to be baptised with, and how distressed I am till it is accomplished! (Luke 12:50).
It is also referred to in Mark 10:38. This passage records a request made by the sons of Zebedee to have the privilege of sitting with Jesus on His right hand and on His left hand in His glory. To this request Jesus replied with the following question:
You do not know what you ask. Can you drink the cup that I drink, and be baptised with the baptism that I am baptised with?
It is plain that Jesus here refers to the spiritual and physical surrender that lay ahead of Him as He trod the path to the cross – the surrender of His whole being, spirit, soul and body – to the appointed will of the Father that He might take upon Himself the guilt of the world’s sin and then pay by His vicarious sufferings the price required to expiate that sin. By these words Jesus indicated to His disciples that the fulfilment of His plan for their lives would in due course demand of them also a like total surrender of their whole being into the hands of God – even, if need be, for the suffering of death.
The third type of baptism revealed in the New Testament is Christians baptism in water. Jesus told His disciples:
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19).
The primary feature which thus distinguishes Christians baptism from the baptism of John the Baptist is that Christians baptism is to be carried out in the full name and authority of the triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This was not so with John’s baptism.
The fourth type of baptism revealed in the New Testament is the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Jesus speaks about this baptism in Acts 1:5 and carefully distinguishes it from baptism in water. He says to His disciples:
For John truly baptised with water, but you shall be baptised with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.
Although in the New King James Version the preposition used is “with” – baptised “with” the Holy Spirit – in the actual Greek text the preposition used is “in” – baptised “in” the Holy Spirit. Throughout the entire Greek text of the New Testament there are only two prepositions used with the verb phrase “to baptise.” These are in and into. This is in full accord with our conclusion as to the literal meaning of the word baptise: “to cause to be dipped or immersed.”
Jesus also reveals the basic purpose of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. He says:
But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me (Acts 1:8).
Primarily, therefore, the baptism in the Holy Spirit is a supernatural enduement with power from on high to be a witness for Jesus.
Of the four types of baptism which we have discussed, there is one – the baptism of suffering – which belongs to a more advanced level of spiritual experience than the rest and therefore does not come within the scope of this series of studies, which is deliberately limited to the basic doctrines and experiences of the Christians faith. For this reason we shall say nothing more about this baptism of suffering, but we shall confine our attention to the other three types of baptism. We shall deal with these in the order in which they are unfolded in the record of the New Testament:
- the baptism of John the Baptist,
- Christians baptism in water,
- the baptism in the Holy Spirit.
John’s Baptism Compared to Christians Baptism
Many professing Christians may not be clear as to the difference between the baptism of John the Baptist and Christians baptism. Therefore it is helpful to begin the study of these two forms of baptism by turning to Acts 19:1-5, where these two types of baptism are set side by side and the important difference between them is clearly brought out.
And it happened, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus. And finding some disciples he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said to him, “We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said to them, “Into what then were you baptised?” So they said, “Into John’s baptism.” Then Paul said, “John indeed baptised with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Jesus Jesus.” When they heard this, they were baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus.
Here in Ephesus Paul encountered a group of people who called themselves “disciples.” At first Paul took them to be disciples of Jesus – that is, professing Christians – but on closer examination he discovered they were only disciples of John the Baptist.
They had heard and accepted John’s message of repentance and the form of baptism that went with it, but they had heard nothing of the gospel message of Jesus Jesus, or of the Christians form of baptism directly connected with the acceptance of the gospel message.
After Paul had explained the message of the gospel to them, these people accepted it and were once again baptised – this time, the Scripture states, in the name of the Lord Jesus.
This incident shows clearly that the baptism of John and Christians baptism are distinct in their nature and their significance and that once John’s ministry had closed and the gospel dispensation had been inaugurated, John’s baptism was no longer accepted as being equivalent to, or a substitute for, Christians baptism. On the contrary, those who had only received John’s baptism were required to be baptised again with full Christians baptism.
John’s Baptism – Repentance and Confession
Mark 1:3-5 provides a summary of John’s message and ministry with its accompanying form of baptism.
The voice of one crying in the wilderness: prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.
John came baptising in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. And all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to him and were all baptised by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins.
In the providence of God, John’s message and ministry served two special purposes: 1) They prepared the hearts of the people of Israel for the advent and revelation of their long-awaited Messiah, Jesus Jesus. 2) They provided a link between the dispensation of the law and the prophets, which was closed by John’s ministry, and the dispensation of the gospel, which was initiated about three years later as a result of the death and resurrection of Jesus Jesus.
In fulfilling both these purposes of God, John’s ministry was of necessity brief and temporary. It did not constitute in itself a dispensation but merely a period of transition.
In his message and ministry, John made two main demands upon the people:
- public confession of sins.
Those who were willing to meet these two conditions were baptised by John in the river Jordan as a public testimony that they had repented of their past sins and were committing themselves henceforward to lead better lives.
John came baptising in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins (Mark 1:4).
More literally, John preached a baptism of repentance into the remission of sins. This agrees with a similarly literal rendering of Matthew 3:11, where John himself uses the two prepositions in and into.
I indeed baptise you in water into repentance.
We see, then, that John’s baptism was into repentance and into remission of sins. It is therefore important to establish the meaning of the preposition into when used after the verb phrase “to baptise.”
Obviously it does not mean that those who were baptised by John only entered into the experience of repentance and forgiveness after they had been baptised. On the contrary, when many of the Pharisees and Sadducees came to John to be baptised, John refused to accept them and demanded that they produce evidence of a real change in their lives before he would baptise them.
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? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance” (Matt. 3:7-8).
In other words John demanded of them: “Prove first by your actions that there has been a real change in your lives before you ask me to baptise you.”
John demanded that those who came to him for baptism should produce evidence in their lives of repentance and remission of sins before he would baptise them. Plainly, therefore, the phrase “baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” should not be taken as indicating that these two inward experiences of repentance and forgiveness only followed after the outward act of being baptised. Rather it indicates – as the context makes plain – that the outward act of being baptised served as a visible confirmation that those being baptised had already passed through the experiences of repentance and forgiveness.
Thus the act of baptism served as an outward seal, giving assurance of an inward transformation which had already taken place.
Understanding this point is of great importance because the phrase “to baptise into (or unto)” occurs in two subsequent passages of the New Testament, once in connection with Christians baptism in water and once in connection with the baptism in the Holy Spirit. In each case we must follow the same principle of interpretation as that already established in regard to John’s baptism. However, we shall leave until later the detailed examination of these two subsequent passages.
To return to John’s baptism, we may sum up its effects as follows. Those who sincerely met John’s conditions enjoyed a real experience of repentance and forgiveness which was expressed in lives changed for the better. However, these experiences were similar in character to the ministry of John – they were essentially transitional.
Those whom John baptised did not receive abiding, inward peace and victory over sin, made possible only through the full gospel message of Jesus Jesus; but their hearts were prepared to receive and respond to the gospel message when it should be proclaimed.
Christians Baptism – Fulfilling All Righteousness
Let us now turn from the transitional to the permanent – from the baptism of John to full Christians baptism ordained by Jesus Himself as an integral part of the complete gospel message. The best introduction to Christians baptism is the baptism of Jesus Himself.
Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptised by him. And John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I have need to be baptised by You, and are You coming to me?” But Jesus answered and said to him, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him. Then Jesus, when He had been baptised, came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:13-17).
Although Jesus was baptised by John the Baptist, the form of baptism through which He passed was not at all on the same level as that of all the other people whom John baptised. As we have already pointed out, John’s baptism made two main demands upon the people: repentance and confession of sins.
However, Jesus had never committed any sins which He needed to confess or repent of. Hence, He did not need to be baptised by John in the same way as all the other people who came to John for baptism.
John himself clearly recognised this fact, for he says:
I have need to be baptised by You, and are You coming to me? (Matt. 3:14).
However, Jesus answers in the next verse: Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness (Matt. 3:15).
In Jesus’ answer we find both the reason why Jesus Himself was baptised and also the true significance of full Christians baptism, as distinct from the temporary form of baptism administered by John. Jesus was not baptised by John as the outward evidence that He had repented of His sins because He had no sins to repent of. On the contrary, as Jesus Himself explained, He was baptised in order that He might fulfil (or complete) all righteousness.
In this – as in many other aspects of His life and ministry – Jesus was deliberately and consciously establishing a standard of behaviour. By being baptised by John, He was setting an example and pattern of the baptism in which He desired Christians believers to follow Him.
This is in full accord with Peter’s description of Jesus’s actions.
For to this you were called, because Jesus also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps:
“Who committed no sin, nor was guile found in His mouth” (1 Pet. 2:21-22).
This confirms what we have already said: Jesus was not baptised by John because He had repented of His sins. On the contrary, as Peter states, Jesus “committed no sin, nor was guile found in His mouth.” But in being thus baptised, He left an example for all professing Christians, that they should follow His steps.
With this in mind, let us turn back to the reason which Jesus Himself gave for being baptised and examine His words in greater detail: “thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15).
We may divide this reason into three sections:
- the word thus,
- the phrase “it is fitting,”
- the concluding section, “to fulfil all righteousness.”
First, the word thus, or more plainly, “in this manner”: By His example Jesus established a pattern for the method of baptism. Jesus was not baptised as an infant. While Jesus was still an infant, His parents “brought Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord,” but there is no thought or suggestion here of baptism (see Luke 2:22). Jesus was not baptised until He had come to years of understanding, so that He knew at that time both what He was doing and why He was doing it.
We read in the next verse, Matthew 3:16:
Then Jesus, when He had been baptised, came up immediately from the water.
By simple logic we deduce from this that in being baptised, Jesus first went down into, and then came up out of, the water. Taken in conjunction with the literal meaning of the verb phrase “to baptise” (which we have already discussed), this leaves no reasonable room to doubt that Jesus permitted Himself to be wholly immersed beneath the waters of the Jordan.
Let us move on now to the second section of the reason given by Jesus for being baptised: “it is fitting.” This phrase suggests that, for those who would follow Jesus, being baptised is something ordained by God. It is not exactly a legal commandment, such as those imposed upon Israel by the Law of Moses, but it is for professing Christians a natural expression of sincere and wholehearted discipleship.
By using the plural form “us” – “it is fitting for us” – Jesus by anticipation identified Himself with all those who would subsequently follow Him through this appointed act of faith and obedience.
Finally we come to the concluding section: “to fulfil [or complete] all righteousness.” As we have already pointed out, Jesus was not baptised as evidence that He had confessed and repented of His sins. He had never committed any sins; He was always perfectly righteous. This righteousness was, in the first instance, an inward condition of heart which Jesus had always possessed.
However, in allowing Himself to be baptised, Jesus fulfilled – or completed – this inward righteousness by an outward act of obedience to the will of His heavenly Father. It was through this outward act of obedience and dedication to God that He actually entered into the active life of ministry by which He fulfilled the plan of God the Father.
So it is with all true, believing professing Christians who are baptised. Such believers are not baptised merely because they are sinners who have confessed and repented of their sins. This would place Christians baptism right back on the same level as John’s baptism. It is true that professing Christians have confessed and repented of their sins. Without this, they could not be professing Christians at all. But they have passed beyond this into something much fuller and greater than was ever possible for those who knew only the message and baptism of John.
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Jesus (Rom. 5:1).
True professing Christians have not merely confessed and repented of their sins. They have done this and more. By faith in the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus Jesus, they have been justified; God has imputed to them the righteousness of Jesus Himself on the basis of their faith.
This is why they are baptised – not simply as evidence that they have confessed and repented of their sins, but “to fulfil [or complete] all righteousness.” By this outward act of obedience they complete the inward righteousness which they have already received in their hearts by faith. This explanation shows us how totally different Christians baptism is from the baptism which John preached. We can now understand why Paul would not accept John’s baptism for those who desired to be true professing Christians. Instead, he first instructed them in the full truth of the gospel centering in Jesus’s death and resurrection and then insisted on their being baptised once again with full Christians baptism.
In conclusion, Christians baptism is an outward act of obedience by which the believer fulfils, or completes, the inward righteousness he already enjoys in his heart through faith in Jesus’s atoning death and resurrection.