Ancient Near East
Images & Art
Maps & Geography
Mythology & Beliefs
People in History
Timelines & Charts
Baptisms in the sense of purifications were common in the Old Testament The "divers washings" (Greek "baptisms") are mentioned in Hebrews 9:10, and "the doctrine of baptisms," Hebrews 6:2. The plural" baptisms" is used in the wider sense, all purifications by water; as of the priest's hands and feet in the laver outside before entering the tabernacle, in the daily service (Exodus 30:17-21); of the high priest's flesh in the holy place on the day of atonement (Leviticus 16:23); of persons ceremonially unclean (Leviticus 14; 15; Leviticus 16:26-28; Leviticus 17:15; Leviticus 22:4-6), a leper, one with an issue, one who ate that which died of itself, one who touched a dead body, the one who let go the scape-goat or buried the ashes of the red heifer, of the people before a religious festival (Exodus 19:10; John 11:55). The high priest's consecration was threefold: by baptism, unction, and sacrifice (Exodus 29:4; Exodus 40:12-15; Leviticus 8).
"Baptism" in the singular is used specially of the Christian rite. Jewish believers passed naturally from the Old Testament baptismal purifications, through John's transitional baptism, to Christian baptism and the subsequent laying on of hands, accompanied with the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:12; Acts 8:14-17). The spiritual sense of ceremonial baptisms was recognized in the Old Testament (Psalm 26:6; Psalm 51:2; Psalm 51:7; Psalm 73:13; Isaiah 1:16; Isaiah 4:4; Jeremiah 4:14; Zechariah 13:1.)
Ceremonial washings had been multiplied by tradition, before the Lord's coming (Mark 7:3-4). Even the Gentile Pilate washed his hands to symbolize his innocence of Jesus' blood. The Targum of Jonathan on Exodus 12:44 is the earliest authority for the common notion that the Jews baptized male (besides circumcising them) and female proselytes. No notice of such a custom occurs in Philo, Josephus, or the Targum of Onkelos; the commonness of such ceremonial purifications makes it a probable one. In the 4th century A.D. it certainly prevailed. In the case of Jewish proselytes from Ishmaelites and Egyptians, who were already circumcised, some such rite would be needed. Probably it was at first merely the customary purificatory washing before the sacrifice offered in admitting the proselyte, whence Philo and Josephus would omit mentioning it as being usual at all sacrifices. When sacrifices ceased, after the destruction of the temple, the washing would be retained as a baptism of initiation into Judaism.
John's "baptism of repentance for the remission of sins" (Luke 3:3) was the pledge his followers took of their determination to separate themselves from the prevalent pollutions, as the needful preparation for receiving the coming Messiah, who remits the sins of His believing people. The "remission" was not present but prospective, looked for through Messiah, not through John (Acts 10:43). John's baptism was accompanied with confession (Matthew 3:6), and was an act of obedience to the call to renounce all sin and believe in the coming Redeemer from sin. The universal expectation of the Messianic king "in the whole East" (says Suetonius, a pagan writer, Vespas. 4) made all ready to flock to the forerunner. The Jews hoped to be delivered from Rome's supremacy (Malachi 3:1; Malachi 4:5-6).
The last of the prophets had foretold the coming of Elijah before the great day of the coming of the Lord, the Sun of righteousness, the messenger of the covenant. Elijah was to "turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers," namely, the disobedient children to the faith and fellowship of their pious forefathers, Abraham, Jacob, Levi, Elijah (Luke 1:17), lest Messiah at His coming" should smite the earth with a curse." The scribes accordingly declared, "Elias must first come." Jesus declared that John was this foretold Elias (Matthew 11:13-14; Matthew 17:10-12). John's preaching was "Repent, for the kingdom of the heavens is at hand," the latter phrase referring to Daniel 2:44; Daniel 7:14. The Jews, as a nation, brought the "curse" on their land ("earth") by not repenting, and by rejecting Messiah at His first advent.
Their sin delayed the kingdom's manifestation, just as their unbelief in the wilderness caused the 40 years of delay in entering into their inheritance in Canaan. He brought blessing to those who accepted Him (John was the instrument in turning many to Him: John 1:11; John 1:36), and shall bring blessing to the nation at His second advent, when they shall turn to the Lord (Romans 11:5; Romans 11:26; Luke 13:35). John's baptism began and ended with himself; he alone, too, administered it. But Christ's baptism was performed by His disciples, not Himself, that He might mark His exclusive dignity as baptizer, with the Holy Spirit (John 4:2), and that the validity of baptism might not depend on the worth of the minister but on God's appointment. It continues to the end of this dispensation (Matthew 28:19-20). John's was with water only; Christ's with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Luke 3:16).
The Holy Spirit in full measure was not given until Jesus' glorification at His ascension (John 7:39). Apollos' and John's disciples at Ephesus knew not of the Holy Spirit's baptism, which is the distinctive feature of Christ's (Acts 18:25; Acts 19:2-6; compare Acts 1:5; Acts 11:16). The outward sign of an inward sorrow for sin was in John's baptism; but there was not the inward spiritual grace conferred as in Christian baptism. Those of the twelve who had. been baptized by John probably received no further baptism until the extraordinary one by the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Christian baptism implies grafting into fellowship or union with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; for the Greek expresses this (Matthew 28:19): "Go ye, make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name (the revealed person) of the Father," etc.
John, being among the Old Testament prophets, not in the kingdom of God or New Testament church, preached the law and baptism into legal repentance and reformation of morals, and Messiah's immediate advent. Christian baptism is the seal of gospel doctrine and spiritual renewal. Jesus' own baptism by John was, Christ saith, in order "to fulfill all righteousness" (Matthew 3:15). Others in being baptized confessed their sins; Jesus professed" all righteousness." He submitted, as part of the righteousness He undertook to fulfill, to be consecrated to His ministry in His 30th year, the age at which the Levites began their ministry (Luke 3:23), by the last of the Old Testament prophets and the harbinger of the New Testament, His own forerunner. At the same time that the outward minister set Him apart, the Holy Spirit from heaven gave Him inwardly the unction of His fullness without measure; and the Father declared His acceptance of Him as the sinners' savior, the anointed prophet, priest, and king (John 3:34; John 1:16): "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."
Since God, against whom we have sinned, is satisfied with Him (and God cannot but be so, seeing it was the Father's love and justice which provided Him), so also may we. As the high priest's consecration was threefold, by baptism, unction, and sacrifice, so Jesus' (compare Acts 10:38) baptism began His consecration, the Holy Spirit's unction was the complement of His baptism, and His sacrifice fully perfected His consecration as our priest forevermore (Hebrews 7:28, margin). This is the sense of 1 John 5:6; "this is He that came by water and blood;" by water at His consecration by baptism to His mediatorial ministry for us, when He received the Father's testimony to His Messiahship and His divine Sonship (John 1:33-34). Corresponding to His is our baptism of water and the Spirit, the seal of initiatory incorporation with Him (John 3:5).
Jesus came "by blood" also, namely, "the blood of His cross" (Hebrews 9:12). His coming "by water and blood," as vividly set forth in the issue of water and blood from His pierced side, was seen and solemnly attested by John (John 19:34-35). John Baptist came only baptizing with water; therefore was not Messiah. Jesus came, undergoing Himself the double baptism of water and blood, then baptizing us with the Spirit cleansing, of which water is the sacramental seal, and with His atoning blood once for all shed and of perpetual efficacy; therefore He Messiah. It is His shed blood which gives water baptism its spiritual significancy. We are baptized into His death, the point of union between us and Him, and, through Him, between us and God, not into His birth or incarnation (Romans 6:3-4; Colossians 2:12).
"The Spirit, the water, and the blood agree in one" (Greek: "tend to the one result," "testify to the one truth"), i.e., agree in testifying to Jesus' Sonship and Messiaship by the sacramental grace in water baptism received by the penitent believer through His droning blood and His inwardly witnessing Spirit (1 John 5:5-6; 1 John 5:8; 1 John 5:10), answering to the testimony to Jesus' Sonship and Messiahship by His baptism, by His crucifixion, and by the Spirit's manifestation in Him. By Christ's baptism, by His blood shedding, and by the Spirit's past and present working in Him, the Spirit, the water, and the blood are the threefold witness to His divine Messiahship. On and after the Pentecostal outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the apostles preached, Repent (including faith in Christ), and be baptized, as the sacramental seal to yourselves inwardly of your faith, and the open confession outwardly of it before the world. Compare Romans 10:9-10; Acts 2:38; Acts 8:12-36; Acts 10:47; Acts 16:15; Acts 16:33.
As circumcision was the painful entrance into the yoke of bondage, the law of Sinai, so baptism is the easy entrance into the light yoke of Christ, the law of liberty and love. Circumcision was the badge of Jewish exclusiveness in one aspect; baptism is the badge of God's world-wide mercy in Christ. As He was "the desire of all nations," consciously or unconsciously, so all nations are invited to Him. Any spiritualizing that denies outward baptism with water, in the face of Christ's command and the apostles' practice, must logically lead to rationalistic evasions of Scripture in general. Preaching, no doubt, takes the precedency of baptism with the apostles, whose office was evangelistic rather than pastoral (1 Corinthians 1:14; 1 Corinthians 1:17). The teaching and acceptance of the truth stands first; the sealing of belief in it by baptism comes next not vice versa.
"Go ye, teach (or make disciples), baptizing," etc. "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, but he that believeth not (whether he be baptized or not) shall be damned." There might be salvation without baptism, as the penitent thief on the cross was saved; but not salvation without believing, to those capable of it. As circumcision bound the circumcised to obedience to the law, and also admitted him to the spiritual privileges of Judaism, so baptism binds the baptized to Christ's service, and gives him a share in all the privileges of the Christian covenant. But in stating these privileges Scripture presumes that the baptized person has come in penitence and faith. Thus 1 Peter 3:21, literally "which water, being antitype (to the water of the flood) is now saving (puts in a state of salvation) us also (as well as Noah), to wit, baptism."
It saves us also, not of itself (any more than the water saved Noah of itself; the water saved him only by sustaining the ark, built in faith), but the spiritual thing conjoined with it, repentance and faith, of which it is the seal: as Peter proceeds to explain, "not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God (the instrument whereby it so saves, being) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ" (Colossians 2:12; Ephesians 1:19-20); not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but of the soul. Water baptism can put away that filth, but the Spirit's baptism alone can put away this (Ephesians 2:11). The ark (Christ) and His Spirit-filled true church saves, by living union with Him and it; not the water which only flowed round the ark and buoyed it up, and which so far from saving was the very instrument of destroying the ungodly.
The "good conscience's" ability to give a satisfactory "answer" to the interrogation concerning faith and repentance ensures the really saving baptism of the Spirit into living fellowship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The same union of the sign and the grace signified, repentance and faith being presupposed, occurs (John 3:5; Acts 22:16): "Be baptized, washing away thy sins, calling upon the name of the Lord" (Ephesians 5:26; Titus 3:5; compare 1 Corinthians 10:1-2). The passage through the Red Sea delivered Israel completely from Egyptian bondage, and thenceforward they were, under God's protecting cloud, on their way to the promised land. hence it is written, "they were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea" (the sea, according to some of the fathers, representing the water, the cloud the Spirit). In Colossians 2:11-12, baptism is represented as our Christian "circumcision made without hands," implying that not the minister, but God Himself, confers it; spiritual circumcision ("putting off the body of the sins of the flesh") is realized in union with Christ, whose "circumcision" implies His having undertaken for us to keep the whole law (Luke 2:21).
Baptism, coincident with this spiritual circumcision, is the burial of the old carnal life, to which immersion corresponds. "Buried with Him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with Him by faith IN the operation of God who hath raised Him from the dead" (Colossians 2:12; Ephesians 1:19-20). Here, and in Romans 6:3-4-5-6, baptism is viewed as identifying us with Christ, by our union to His once crucified and now risen body, and as entailing in us also a death unto sin and a new birth unto righteousness, and as involving as the final issue our bodily sharing in the likeness of His resurrection, at the coming first resurrection, that of the saints. Figuratively, death is called a "baptism" (Matthew 20:22; Mark 10:38; Luke 12:50). The Greek word does not necessarily mean immersion of the whole body: compare Mark 7:3-4; Luke 11:38; Hebrews 9:10).
In some cases the palpable descent of the Spirit was before, in others after, the baptism, and. in connection with the laying on of hands (Acts 2:38; Acts 10:47; Acts 19:5-6); proving that the water sign and the Spirit are not inseparably connected. At the same time, there being but one preposition to govern both nouns, "born of water and the Spirit" implies the designed close connection of the two in the case of penitent believers (John 3:5). In Ephesians 5:26 "Christ gave Himself for the church, that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the laver (Greek) of water by the word." The bride, the church, must pass through her purifying bath before being presented to the Bridegroom, Christ. The gospel word of faith, confessed in baptism, carries with it the real, cleansing, regenerating power (John 15:3; John 17:17; 1 Peter 1:23; 1 Peter 3:21).
Baptism being regarded according to its high ideal, Scripture asserts of its efficacy all that is involved in a believing appropriation of the divine truths it symbolizes. In Titus 3:5, "He saved us by the laver (Greek) of regeneration, and (by) the (subsequent, gradually progressive) renewal of the Holy Spirit," Paul in charity assumes that Christian professors are really penitent believers (though some were not so: 1 Corinthians 6:11), in which case baptism with water is the visible laver of regeneration by the Holy Spirit. "Faith then is confirmed, and grace increased, by virtue of prayer to God" (Church of England, Article 27). Infants are charitably presumed to have received a grace in connection with their Christian descent, in answer to the believing prayers of their parents or guardians presenting them for baptism (1 Corinthians 7:14), which grace is visibly sealed and increased by baptism. They are presumed to be regenerated, until years of developed consciousness prove whether they have been actually so or not.
The tests whether it has or has not taken place in the baptized are 1 John 3:9; 1 John 3:14; 1 John 5:1; 1 John 5:4. The infants of pagan parents are not admissible to baptism, because faith is not in the parents. The faith of the beads consecrated the households (1 Corinthians 7:14), as in the case of Lydia and the jailer of Philippi, so that even the young were fit recipients of baptism. Christ's power and willingness to bless infants is proved by Matthew 19:13-15. So that infant unconsciousness is no valid objection to infant baptism. Since the believer's children are "holy" in the Lord's view, why refuse them the seal of consecration? (1 Corinthians 7:14; Acts 16:1; Acts 16:15; Acts 16:33.) Infant baptism tacitly superseded infant circumcision, just as the Lord's day superseded the Jewish sabbath, without our having express command for the transference.
A child may be heir of an estate, though incapable of using or comprehending its advantage; he is not hereafter to acquire the title to it; he will hereafter understand his claim, take his wealth, and be responsible for the use. So the baptized infant. The words which follow Jesus' command, "baptizing them," etc., express the necessary complement of baptism for it to be availing, "teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you." "Illumination," in subsequent writers used for "baptism," is found connected with it in Hebrews 6:4; Hebrews 10:32. The "baptizing with fire" (Matthew 3:11), symbolized by the "tongues of fire" at Pentecost (Acts 2:3), expresses the purifying of the soul by the Spirit, as metal is by fire. In Galatians 3:27, "as many of you as have been baptized into Christ (compare Romans 6:3; Matthew 28:19, Greek: 'into the name') have put on Christ;" ye did, in that act of being baptized into Christ, clothe yourselves in Christ.
Christ is to you the man's robe (the toga virilis assumed by every Roman on reaching manhood). Christ being the Son of God by generation, and ye being one with film, ye also become sons by adoption. Baptism, when it answers to its ideal, is a mean of spiritual transference from legal condemnation to living union with Christ, and sonship to God through Him (Romans 13:14). Christ alone, by baptizing with the Spirit, can make the inward grace correspond to the outward sign. As He promises the blessing in the faithful use of the means, the church rightly presumes in charity that it is so, nothing appearing to the contrary (compare on the other hand Acts 8:13; Acts 8:18-24). In 1 Corinthians 12:13, "by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, ... and were all made to drink into one Spirit" (all the oldest manuscripts omit "into"), the two sacraments are alluded to. Where baptism answers to its ideal, by the Spirit the many members are baptized into the one body (Ephesians 4:4-5), and are all made to drink the one Spirit (symbolized by the drinking of the wine in the Lord's Supper).
Jesus gives the Spirit to him only that is athirst (John 7:37). God (1 John 3:9; 1 John 5:1; 1 John 5:4; 1 John 5:18) gives us crucial tests of regeneration: whosoever lacks these, though, baptized, is not, in the Scripture view, "regenerate" or "born again." "Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin (habitually); for his seed remaineth in him, and he cannot sin (be sinning), because he is born of God"; i.e., his higher nature doth not sin, his normal direction is against sin; the law of God after the inward man is the ruling principle of his true self (Romans 6:14; Romans 7:22), though the old nature, not yet fully deadened, rebels: "whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God"; "whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world"; "whosoever is born of God sinneth not, but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not."
The Nicene Creed has no authority but so far as it can be proved from Scripture; the clause, "one baptism for the remission of sins" was the decision arrived at by its members as to the question, Were those baptized by heretics, or those who having been baptized had lapsed into heresy, to be rebaptized? Basil on the contrary thought they ought to be rebaptized. A questioning at the time of baptism as to the candidate's repentance and faith seems implied as customary in 1 Peter 3:21. A profession of faith in a "form of sound words" is spoken of in 2 Timothy 1:13. Timothy "professed a good profession before many witnesses" (1 Timothy 6:12). Christians derived "sponsors" from the Jewish usage in baptizing proselytes; mention of them occurs first in Tertullian in the 3rd century.
The laying on of hands after baptism is spoken of as among the first principles of the Christian teaching in Hebrews 6:1-2. Though the miraculous gifts imparted thereby at first have long ceased, the permanent gifts and graces of the spirit are in all ages needed. The sevenfold gift is described Isaiah 11:2-3. Our dispensation is that of the Holy Spirit, who is Christ's second Self, His only Vicar in His bodily absence (John 14:16-18). Besides the first sealing by the Spirit in baptism, a further confirmation, unction, or sealing by the Spirit is needed to establish us firmly in the faith, and to be an earnest, or installment, of future blessedness (Acts 8:12-14 (See PETER); 2 Corinthians 1:21-22; Ephesians 1:13; Ephesians 4:30; 1 John 2:20).
The laying on of hands; as a sign of spiritual blessing or strengthening, occurs in Jacob's blessing on Ephraim and Manasseh (Genesis 48:14); Joshua's ordination in Moses' room (Numbers 27:18; Deuteronomy 34:9); in Christ's blessing of children (Matthew 19:13) and healing the blind man (Mark 8:23); in the apostles' healing of the sick (Mark 16:18); in Saul's recovery of sight, and Publius' father's healing of fever (Acts 9:17; Acts 28:8). The laying on of hands, originally following close on baptism as a corollary to it (Acts 19:5-6), became subsequently, and rightly in the case of infants, separated by a long time from it. The Latins made it then a sacrament, though wanting both the material element or sign and the institution of Christ.
Baptism for the dead. 1 Corinthians 15:29; "Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all?" What profit would they get who are baptized to take the place of the dead? (2 Timothy 2:2.) Of what use are fresh witnesses for Christianity, baptized to minister instead of those dead? "Why are they then baptized for" (literally, in behalf of) "the dead? Why then (too) stand we in jeopardy every hour?" "Why are they baptized, filling up the place of the martyred dead, at the risk of sharing the same fate?"
Possibly some symbolical rite of baptism or dedication of themselves to follow the martyred dead even to death, grounded on Matthew 20:22-23, is alluded to. Or, without such rite, "baptized" may be figuratively used, as in 1 Corinthians 10:2 (where "baptized in the cloud," which became FIRE by night, typifies the baptism with water and the Holy Spirit). As the ranks of the faithful are thinned by death (natural or violent), others step forward to be baptized to take their place. This is in behalf of the dead saints, seeing that the consummated glory will not be until the full number of saints shall have been completed.
Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE)
Online Bible (KJV)
Naves Topical Bible
Smith's Bible Dictionary
Easton's Bible Dictionary
Fausset's Bible Dictionary
Matthew Henry Bible Commentary
Hitchcock's Bible Dictionary
Related Bible History