Baptism in Water

Water Baptism

Water Baptism is a long-standing tradition in the Christian Church that is considered by most conservative churches as an ‘ordinance‘ or ‘sacrament(although there is also some disagreement with this). Although Baptism is a ‘sacrament’, the ‘method’ of Baptism I consider a “Conviction”, not a “Cardinal” nor even “Secondary” Doctrine.   Traditionally, ‘water’ baptism is to be performed upon the new believer ‘in obedience’ following repentance & conversion just as Jesus himself was baptized in water by John the Baptist  Mat 3:11-17.   In fact,  Jesus himself commanded in the Great Commission to his Disciples to “Baptize” Mat 28:19.   What “Baptism” did he mean?

In the New Testament, (Jewish) believers were baptized in water (or ‘with’ water) almost immediately upon their repentance and faith, as narrated in the book of Acts.  Traditionally, this has been interpreted as water baptism, as a rite for all believers (evidently both male and female), and is almost assumed in some narratives of many saved in the book of Acts.   A prime example is the proselyte Jewish Ethiopian Eunuch, who even asked to be ‘baptized’ since water was immediately available, and he was told by Deacon Phillip that he could be “if he truly believed with all of his heart”.  Act 8:26-39.     In Peter’s first sermon on the Day of Pentecost, when Jewish hearers asked what must we do to be saved?, he replied, “Repent, and be baptized in (or ‘into’) the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit“.  Soon afterward, over 3 thousand believers seemed to have been ‘water’ baptized.   (see Acts 10 for an example of water baptism for several Gentile “proselyte Jewish” believers after receiving remission of sins and after receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit).

And so, water baptism was clearly a Jewish tradition, that John the Baptist said would be replaced by Jesus who would ‘baptize with the Holy Spirit and with Fire’.  In fact, Jesus didn’t baptize with water at all, and Paul baptized only a few (any Gentiles he baptized is unknown?).  Cornelius and his household in Acts 10 were already “God-fearers” that were referred to in those days as “Proselyte Jews”.  It could be argued that any reference to actual ‘water’ baptism is only related to Jews, Proselyte Jews, or in Paul’s missionary journeys in connection to a Jewish synagogue.

After the book of Acts, there are very few if any references that can be exclusively applied to ‘water’ baptism. All can be applied to the fuller, “Spirit Baptism” meaning as prophesied by John the Baptist.   Today, most churches have irregular Baptismal services, and only consider that Water Baptism is an ‘outward expression of an already existing inward change’ of salvation.

The actual Greek meaning of the word is that of being ‘washed’, or ‘overwhelmed’ and ‘completely changed in characteristics’, and is not necessarily used of just physical applications of this word (water).  Sometimes it is spiritual or emotional, or is physical, and all could be applied all together.  This is just as the word “Salvation” has multitudes of facets, and can apply to all meanings together or to individual aspects of salvation.    For instance,   Saved from  1)  the Penalty of Sin (once and for all Eternal Salvation), 2) the Power of Sin (ongoing Sanctification)  and 3) the Presence of Sin (in Heaven).  In the same way, the Greek words translated as “baptism” have many aspects, and these must be either distinguished or included according to the scripture ‘context’.       Don’t fall into the trap of  ‘tradition’, or   ‘easy answers’,   or    ‘easy, one-word translations.

In interpreting passages about “Baptism” consider that:

1) there can be no contradictions in scripture,
2) interpretations of all passages of scripture must be consistent, 
scripture is to interpret scripture, 
difficult or unclear passages are to be interpreted in light of clear passages, 
God has dealt differently in different ages using different methods, different “Covenants”, or different “Dispensations” (this will rile some readers),
John the Baptist clearly said that water baptism would pass to “Holy Spirit” baptism,
any argument of ,”Oh, that’s a special exception…” is hard to justify,    and of course
Salvation is by Grace, through Faith, and that, not of yourselves, it is the Gift of God, not of works (Eph 2:9); and Rom 11:6  And if by grace, then [is it] no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if [it be] of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.


Bapto, Baptismo(Gk) –  to wash, to dip, to immerse, to overwhelm. to completely change the characteristic of the thing ‘baptized’, i.e. cloth “baptized” in a dye has its color completely, and internally changed in its characteristics.   The Greek word does not necessarily imply water since the same word is used of Baptism in (or ‘of’) the Spirit.


Uses of the complex word “Baptism” in scripture  – 

Mechanical –  the meaning and use of ‘to wash” or “to dip’ into something in its mechanical sense. To change characteristics.

Ceremonial – the O.T. rite of washing, and of “water baptism”.  John the Baptist “Baptism of Repentance”; and also may be applied to Christian water Baptism.

Metaphorical, or ‘theological’  –  ‘baptism’ of Jesus’ suffering & death (Matt 20:22 ; Luke 12:50 ; Mark 10:39 ), ‘baptism’ of suffering by James & John,  (Mat 20:22);   ‘baptism’ of Noah in the Flood (1 Pe 3:20 ,21), ‘baptized’ unto Moses in the cloud and the sea (1 Cor 10:2); baptism with the Holy Spirit and with Fire, Matt 3:11.  None of these actually involved really immersing in physical water.The very important point to this, is that one must not automatically assume the word “Water” when the English word “Baptism” or “Baptize” is used in our English Bible – they are merely “Transliterations” of the Greek letters, and not actual “Translations” of the Greek words.  The context, and the full meaning of “Bapto” must be taken into consideration for a proper interpretation or application of the passage under examination.  Sometimes, “water baptism” has been assumed, when “spiritual baptism” is much more likely and applicable.  For instance, “we are buried with Him by baptism into death” Rom 6:4;  where water baptism is clearly not in view, but rather our spiritual placement “into Christ” and his death since we are “dead with Christ” when we are not really dead ‘physically’.  In fact, it is Christ who actually “baptizes” us with the H.S., and we are “crucified with Christ”, but we were not physically crucified, but rather spiritually crucified “with Him”.  In the same way, water baptism does not kill us, nor physically change us, nor place us into Christ.  It is spiritual baptism (the Baptism of the Spirit) that places us into Christ – water doesn’t do it.

In fact, Paul said that there is but “one baptism”, Eph 4:5One Lord, one faith, one baptism,”  Was Paul speaking of physical water baptism?  Did Paul consider physical, water Baptism as of great importance? Remember that he told the Corinthians that he wasn’t sent to ‘baptize’ 1Cr 1:17.   Remember also, that Jesus said “the words that I speak unto you, [they] are spirit, and [they] are life.”  Jhn 6:63. Jesus repudiated the purely physical interpretation of scripture.

Further,  [we are] Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with [him] through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead   Col 2:12

Further, even the Apostle Peter shows that the whole of baptism is a “figure”, not physical or literal.  “The like figure whereunto [even] baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”    1Pe 3:21.  It is the resurrection of Christ that is the important aspect, and we are resurrected with Him!   How?  by faith!


Salvation  –  These verses all demonstrate that “Baptism” is, in fact, essential for Salvation. But which Baptism?   The believer who turns in repentance & faith to Christ for the forgiveness of sins is ‘baptized’ (washed, immersed, changed) into Christ, with the “Baptism of the Holy Spirit”, by Christ, and he is transformed from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light.  Col 1:13.  That’s a tall order for water.


Some consider that Water Baptism is the N.T. equivalent of the O.T. Circumcision, where the O.T. Israelite was placed into the national Covenant, but that was at 8 days old, (and of course was for male babies only); and there is no scripture in the N.T. that directly or indirectly teaches such a connection. (see Exod 12:48 ; Rom 4:11 ; Gal 5:2-6).    In fact, the N.T. specifically excludes such a physical analogy for salvation.  Paul, in Galatians, said, “having begun in the spirit, are you made perfect by the flesh?”.  He and other scripture writers exclude the physical circumcision as the meaning applying to the true “children of Abraham”, but rather those who have the “circumcision of the heart“.   The same could be said for water baptism  –  having begun in the spirit (and spiritually baptized into Christ), are you later made perfect by ‘water’ baptism?    Is the one that is water baptized only then placed into the kingdom by water?  Is the one who is physically circumcised a true child of Abraham.  Both answers are “no” from reading Jesus and Paul.


One denomination, the Church of Christ, considers ‘water’ baptism as essential for eternal salvation.  Specifically, that is to require that, even after repentance and faith in Christ & conversion, and having received remission of sins and the Holy Spirit by Christ himself, the believer must receive the rite of water baptism in order to be truly “saved” and delivered from the future punishment of Hell & Damnation.  Water Baptism is not technically considered a ‘work’ by that church, but rather is a required point of ‘obedience‘ for salvation along with repentance and faith.   The Church of Christ applies an interpretation as purely physical (with water) in Acts 2:38 what encompasses the spiritual and emotional of the entire meaning of the Greek word for “Baptism” and the salvation of the one who has trusted Christ for the forgiveness of their sins.  In the same way, the Roman Catholic Church makes the same physical limitation of meaning where they teach that the bread of the Communion wafer  is  the physical body of Christ.  Such physical applications are rejected by Jesus himself, to those who thought they had to physically eat the flesh of Jesus  – “It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, [they] are spirit, and [they] are life.” Jhn 6:53-63.    If the physical water or flesh was required, then the Thief on the Cross was not saved.  If the water is required, then anyone who doesn’t hurry to get dipped, and dies dry, is lost.  The Church of Christ says ‘yes’.  The Catholic Church says ‘yes’.


Immersion or Sprinkling  –  many churches consider that the believer is “immersed” into Christ fully at the moment of salvation, and that the ‘symbology’ of water baptism doesn’t have to be complete, but that sprinkling with water is sufficient for the water baptism ceremony.  These churches refer to the O.T. parallel (or “type”) of the sprinkling of the blood of the sacrifice.  Other churches (including almost all “Baptist” denominations) teach that the only true ‘method’ of water baptism is total immersion.  However, archaeology shows that the 2nd and 3rd century church practiced both immersion and sprinkling for baptismal ceremonies.    {This part of the ‘Doctrine of Baptism’ I consider as “Conviction” or even just “Opinion” since many godly Christians disagree on the ‘mode’ of Baptism}Exd 24:8 And Moses took the blood, and sprinkled [it] on the people, and said, Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD hath made with you concerning all these words.

Hebrews chapter 9 shows the historical “type” of the Blood of Christ as it sanctifies the people, the tabernacle, the altar, the instruments of the ministry, and all that is associated with God.

Hbr 10:22 Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.

Clearly, the word “Baptism” pictures and implies total immersion into Christ as a believer who is a “new creature” 2Cr 5:17 Therefore if any man [be] in Christ, [he is] a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.

Just as Clearly, the blood of Christ is “spiritually” ‘sprinkled’ upon believers, cleansing them from sin, and actual water is only a symbol, just as the wine of the sacrament of Holy Communion is a symbol of the blood of Christ “shed for many”.


Scriptural passages where ‘Water’ Baptism doesn’t seem connected to SalvationMatt 3:11    baptism with the Holy Spirit, and with Fire  contrasted to  “water” baptism

Acts 10: 1-48    new ‘gentile’ believers are converted upon hearing the message, are immediately filled with the Holy Spirit, and speak with Tongues;    and THEN, are later baptized with water.   In this passage, Peter has stated “”he that feareth [God] and worketh righteousness, is accepted of Him”, v.35; and “that whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins” (before water baptism)  v.43.  Notice also that these believers received the gift of the Holy Spirit without the “laying on of hands” which sometimes is done in other narratives.

The logical question is that if these people have believed, have remission of sins, have been baptized by the Holy Spirit, have spoken in Tongues, and magnify God; how can they not be considered as truly “saved” just because they hadn’t yet been water baptized?  This passage teaches directly opposite to the ‘doctrine’ of water baptism being required as a necessary condition for eternal salvation.

The Thief on the Cross, Luke 23:39 -43   –  The repentant thief is told by Jesus himself, “Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise .”

Jesus did not Baptize with Water  Jhn 4:2   –  cp. Mat 3:11

Paul did not Baptize many at all, but rather, he was ordained to “preach the gospel” –  1Cr 1:17 For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.

We are baptized into the body of Christ by Christ himself, with the Holy Spirit, not water  –  1Cr 12:13

Water Baptism is not a part of the “Gospel”  –  1 Cor 15:1-4.


If Water Baptism is not a part of the “Gospel”, and neither Jesus nor Paul considered it as especially important for their ministry, then how can it be an essential element in Eternal Salvation?



Is Water Baptism a true “Ordinance” or “Sacrament” for the Church Age?    Well, it’s one of those beliefs or “doctrines” that I would place as a “Conviction” for many Godly believers, and not as a “Cardinal” or even “Secondary Doctrine“.  Except for the ‘Church of Christ’ & the ‘Roman Catholic Church’, water baptism is not essential for Salvation. Nor is it a matter essential for Faith and Godliness.  There are no clear “proof texts”, Tradition seems to play a large part in this belief, and any belief either way does not affect my fellowship with you.  Finally, a belief either way hasn’t seemed to affect the important mission of the church for Peter or Paul, or through the centuries since our Lord Jesus began Baptizing with the Holy Spirit and with Fire.


So, in such matters, “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind”, Rom 14:5.

of course, all of this is moot for “Liberal” churches that don’t accept the authority of scripture.  For them “Water Baptism” is a nice, traditional, “religious” thing to do to new members for them to feel a part.  Getting baptized, coming to church on Christmas and Easter, and “being good” is NICE, and feels good too.


Other References for Baptism    This is a very thought-provoking article.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>