The Baptisms in the Bible-A Short Study
Pr. Shinu Varghese John
Baptism for a Christian is an extremely important event. It is the first public act a new Christian participates in, an act in which he testifies to the world that he now belongs to Jesus Christ. In the ceremony of baptism, water is applied to the believer, and by this means his/ her sins are, in a spiritual sense washed away. This short study on the baptisms in the Bible attempted to review terms, and different dimensions of water baptism in the Bible briefly.
The Term ‘Baptism’ in the Bible
The Greek verb for ‘baptise’ is formed from baptein, – which means ‘dip’ (dip frequently or intensively, plunge, immerse). The noun baptisma is only used in the Bible, where it refers to the baptism of John or to Christian baptism. The word baptismos is used in a wider sense for dipping, washing (of dishes Mark 7:4), of ritual washings (Heb. 9:10; John’s baptism). A synonymous noun is loutron - meaning ‘bath’ - used of both ordinary and ceremonial baths, but in the New Testament only with reference to baptism. The corresponding verb louein means ‘wash,’ ‘bathe’ - is encountered in its everyday use (2 Pet. 2:22 and John 13:10). It refers to ceremonial baths in Leviticus 15:11 and to Christian baptism (probably) in the compound form apolouein in 1 Corinthians 6:11. In New Testament, the words ‘baptise’ and ‘baptism’ are simply Greek words transferred into English.
The understanding of baptism can be seen six different ways in the Bible. Firstly, it can be referred to water baptism. In the Old Testament, this is suggested by the use of the verb rachats, means ‘to wash,’ ‘wash off’ or away,’ ‘bathe’ (Exo. 40:12–15,Lev 16: 4, 24, Isa. 1:16–17). In the New Testament, mainly Christian baptism is referred (Matt. 28:19–20; Mark 16:16). Secondly, it is referred in relation with the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Mark 1:8, John 1:33, Luke 3:16, 1 Cor. 12:13, Eph. 4:5). Thirdly, the baptism of fire (Matt. 3: 11–12, Luke 3:16–17). Fourthly, the baptism has an understanding of rebirth (Titus 3:5–6, John 3:5). Fifthly, there is suggestion of the baptism by the Word (Eph. 5:26; John 15:3; 17:17). Lastly, there is reference of baptism that is suffering (Luke 12:50, Mark 10:38–40). The following section of the article reviews major biblical notions of the water baptism.
Water Baptism in Old Testament
The ritual cleansings in the water were practiced from primitive society. The belief of bathing in certain waters, especially of sacred springs and streams for healing or for purification was prevalent even in Ancient West Asia. The ritual ablutions in the Old Testament are related to the sacrifice worship in Israel. However, the Hebrew of the Old Testament does not sharply distinguish between bathing and partial washing – both are expressed by rahats.
The washing acts in the cleansing ceremonies in the Hebrew Bible represent cleaning of the individual members. It was a prerequisite to enjoy the presence of a Holy God. In this sense, washing brought cleanliness to the individual (eg., Lev. 16:4, 24 [the high priest before and after the rites of atonement]; Lev. 15 [on menstruating women]. Such cleansings can take place when one stands on the verge of a new state in life or is entering into a new community or upon a new phase of life, etc. Thus they can function as rites of initiation or as rites of passage.
The ultimate purpose of ritual purification is to protect God’s sanctuary, the tabernacle, from contamination (Lev. 15:31). Thus, for example, the necessity for the High Priest to bathe himself before appearing before the LORD is part of the conditions (Lev. 16:4). The origin of rites of lustration of the uncleanness was a physical act to prevent contamination by physical things, but it served a sacred function: through ritual bathing, Israelites marked off God’s space as holy and showed reverence for the divine presence.
Water Baptism in New Testament
In the New Testament, baptism is an ordinance instituted by Christ (Matt. 28:19). It is designed to be observed in the church. The mode and subjects of baptism being much-controverted subjects, each one can best study them in the works devoted to those questions. This short survey attempts to view briefly New Testament viewpoints on the water baptism.
The Baptism of John the Baptist
The baptism of John the Baptist was closely bound to his preaching, which looked forward to God’s coming for judgment. He summoned his audience to repentance from this perspective, and in view of the coming judgment one underwent the baptism - unto the remission of sins.
In the New Testament, John the Baptist’s baptism was a call for repentance and forgiveness (Mark 1:4). John’s baptism took place in view of the coming one, who was to baptise with the Holy Spirit and fire (Matt. 3:11-12; Luke 3:16-17).
Jesus Himself was baptised by John in the Jordan River (Matt. 3:13-17). The Baptism of Jesus was not for sin. It was a self-revelation of Son. (Matt. 3:17). And also Jesus baptised to fulfil all righteousness (Matt. 3:15). He was commissioned through his baptism for the ministry. After His water baptism, the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus, empowering Him for service and ministry (Mark 1:10).
However John’s baptism was not Christian baptism. After Jesus’s death and resurrection, John’s baptism was not considered adequate for Christians (Acts 18:25). The Ephesians who had previously received John’s baptism were rebaptised into the name of the Lord Jesus (Acts 19:1–7).
The Baptizing Ministry of Jesus
In John 3:22–24 alone (also, 4:1–2) do one read of Jesus baptizing during his ministry. Moreover he is said to have done this at the same time as John was preaching and baptizing, and with even greater success (4:1). One shall not attempt to identify such a baptism with later Christian baptism. It is also oriented to the coming of the kingdom, like John’s baptism it gained special significance as obedient response to him who was in the process of bringing the saving sovereignty.
Jesus’ Teaching on Baptism
Jesus instituted New Testament baptism in the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19–20). He gave the instruction to the disciples that to make disciples of all nations. Their responsibility involved two things: Firstly, baptize in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and secondly, teach those who are baptized to obey all his commandments. It is also instructed to baptise new disciples in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19). And to be baptised in His name means to belong to him. In Mark 16:16 also instructed to baptise those who are believed. Human being is saved through faith (Eph. 2:8). It is also necessary to be baptised in order to demonstrate publicly that we have believed.
From the very beginning, the church has followed Jesus’ command and baptised new believers. Significant examples of Christian baptism in the New Testament are found in Acts 2:41, 8:12, 38, 10:48, 16:15, 33, 19:1-5. In many of these verses, water baptism followed immediately after profession of faith in Christ.
The Water Baptism in the Epistles
To some extent, the Christian understanding of baptism was fluid in the first century. Paul affirms that the baptism symbolizes the death and the resurrection of Jesus. The individuals symbolically die to their sins and former lives. They share their death with Jesus. As they rise from baptism in purity, they share the new life brought by Jesus’ resurrection (Rom 6:1-4). In Colossians 2:12, Paul also mentions that believers buried with Christ in baptism. Thus, here to be baptised into Christ means to die with Christ, to be buried with Christ, and then to rise to new life with Christ.
Paul compared it with Israel’s exodus through the sea (1 Cor. 10:1-4). Paul states that all the Jews were baptised into Moses. Paul is using the experiences of Jews to illustrate the meaning of Christian baptism. The cloud and the sea are symbols of God’s presence, protection, and blessings which believers receive through Christian baptism. Just as the Jews were brought under the leadership and authority of Moses, Christians are brought under the leadership and authority of Christ.
The reference of ‘washing’ in Titus 3:4-5 refers to baptism. Paul observes that Christ saved the believers through the washing of rebirth. The washing away of sins and being reborn by the Spirit always go together.
Peter compared it with the escape Noah’s escape from the flood (1 Pet. 3:21). The water of the flood is an illustration of the water baptism into Christ. Just as those eight people who entered the boat were saved from judgement and death, so those who enter into Christ through faith are saved. The ceremony of baptism in itself does not save us, but it is Christ who saves them.
Here Peter attempted to retain the notion of purification in the baptism. True baptism is not an outer washing. It is an inner spiritual washing. In baptism one’s sins are washed away, our consciences are cleansed, and he/ she raised with Christ (Rom. 6:5). Two important aspect of the baptism is explored further in the following sections.
Baptism as Sign
In the New Testament, the baptism is a sign of the believer’s repentance, of his/ her forgiveness from sin, and of his/her cleansing from sin (Acts 2:38). Baptism also signifies of the believer’s union with Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:26-27). When a believer is baptized, he or she partakes in the death of Christ. He dies to sin and to his old sinful nature. It leads the believer to partake in Jesus’ resurrection. Through faith he receives new spiritual life. Lastly, baptism is a sign that one has become member of the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13).
Baptism and Salvation
It is not necessary to be baptised in order to be saved (Luke 23:39-43). Salvation comes only through faith. But if a person refuses to be baptised, it depicts that his/ her faith is not real. A true faith in Christ is always necessary to receive any of the blessings of baptism.
Jesus connected the promise of salvation to baptism (Mark 16:16). In other words, the baptism is one of the initial steps in the process of salvation (Acts 2:38). In baptism, God offers and gives His grace, but this grace must be received by faith.
In Conclusion, one finds that the Great Commission of Lord Jesus ‘to make disciples of all nations’ ( Matt. 28:19–20) includes within it both baptism and teaching. Baptism is a sign of a person being joined to the Church on earth and the Body of Christ. The baptised person must, by faith, realize that he/she has died to sin but is raised alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore, such a person ought to strive for a holy life and the fulfilment of God’s will in one’s life. (Col. 2:11–12, Rom. 6: 9-11, Gal. 3:27–28).