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Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Doctrine of Baptisms


Hebrews 6:1,2 - The elementary principles of God's word include "the doctrine of baptisms."

The Bible mentions several different baptisms. Some that are mentioned several times are: John's baptism, water baptism of the gospel, Holy Spirit baptism. Others are mentioned, but only very rarely.

The purpose of this lesson is to study the three major baptisms of the Bible and determine which of them we should practice today.

There are many conflicting claims regarding baptism.

* Some people claiming to be "Christian" practice no baptism.

* Most groups that claim to be "Christian" practice some form of water baptism.

* Some claim they have received John's baptism.

* Many claim some variation of "Holy Spirit baptism." Some claim Holy Spirit baptism gave them tongue-speaking, miracles or direct guidance. Others claim the Spirit "sanctified" them so they cannot sin. Others (to avoid the force of Romans 6:3, etc.) claim they were saved by some spiritual baptism separate from water baptism.

In virtually all cases, those who claim to have Holy Spirit baptism also believe in some form of water baptism.

The Bible teaches that today there is only ONE baptism - Ephesians 4:3-6.

To have Biblical unity, we must recognize there is only one of each of the seven things God lists here. We can no more be true Christians and believe there is more than one baptism, than we can be true Christians and believe there is more than one true God and Father. Men have invented many false gods, false faiths, false bodies, and false baptisms. But there is only one true one of each in God's will for our service to Him.

Obviously there have been several baptisms in the Bible; but by the time Paul wrote Ephesians only one was being practiced with God's approval. The others had ceased. The question is: Which one is for today, and which have ceased? By comparing the characteristics of various baptisms, we can learn much about them.

We want to study several characteristics of three major baptisms:

* What element was used? (What was the person baptized in?)

* What action was involved? (What was done when the person was baptized?)

* Who was the administrator? (Who was responsible to perform the baptism? Was it administered by some people in the name or authority of someone else?)

* Who were proper subjects to receive it?

* Was it a command or a promise? (Was it something man was required to do to obey God, or was it something God promised to do for people?)

* What conditions must a person meet first in order to receive the baptism?

* Whose choice determined whether or not a particular person would receive the baptism and under what circumstances it would be received? (Was it offered to everybody so anyone could decide for himself, or did God just choose who would receive it without the people having any control?)

* What purpose(s) was the baptism intended to accomplish?

* How long was its duration? (When did it begin and cease to be practiced? Should we still practice it today)?

I. John's Baptism

Consider these main passages:

Matthew 3:1-17 (Read vv 5,6,11)

* Element - water (vv 11,16) [cf. Mark 1:5,8,9; etc.]

* Action - immersion. This is implied because John baptized in the Jordan (v6), and Jesus came "up out of the water" (Mark 1:10). The word "baptize" means immerse, never sprinkle or pour.

* Administrator - John (vv 6,13,11) baptized people by the authority of God (John was sent to baptize in water - John 1:33). [Cf. Mark 1:4,5,8,9; Luke 7:29,30; Matthew 21:23-32.]

* Subjects - all Israel. All Judea came (v5), all the people of Israel (Acts 13:24). Note that John's baptism was for people of just one nation, not for people of all nations. [Mark 1:5; Luke 3:21]

* A command -People were taught to do it, rather than God promising to do it to them. Those who refused to obey rejected the counsel of God (Luke 7:29,30). [Mark 1:4; Luke 3:13; Matthew 21:23-32]

* Conditions - People had to:

Hear John's preaching (vv 1,2) [Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3,8-14]

Believe on Him who would come after (Acts 19:4). [Matthew 21:23-32]

Repent (v2) [v3; cf. other accounts]

Confess sins (v6). Note that they confessed their sins, not Jesus. [Mark 1:5]

* Choice - subjects. All were invited to participate, and each had to decide if and when he would obey. Some chose to obey, others chose not to obey (Matthew 21:23-32; Luke 7:29,30).

* Purposes:

Preparation for Jesus' work (vv 2,3) [John 1:31, cf. v29-34; Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:3,7; Luke 3:4-7,16; John 1:7,8,15,19-28]

Remission of sins (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3). [Jesus was an exception, not needing forgiveness, yet He was baptized to fulfill righteousness - Matthew 3:13-15].

Acts 19:1-7

After Jesus' death and resurrection, Paul found certain men who had received John's baptism, knowing nothing else. We learn this additional information:

* Purpose - preparation for Jesus (v4).

* Duration - it ceased when Jesus died or soon afterward. It looked forward to Jesus' coming and prepared the way for Him. But by the time of Acts 19, John's baptism was invalid because Jesus had already accomplished His work. These men had to be baptized again.

It follows that, if someone today claims to have received John's baptism, his baptism is not valid, and he needs to be baptized Scripturally even as these men did.

[Other passages: Mark 1:1-11; Luke 3:1-22; John 1:6-8,15,19-36; Acts 1:5; 11:16; Matthew 21:23-32; Luke 7:29,30; John 3:23; Acts 13:24; 1:22; 10:37; John 10:40]

II. Water Baptism of the Gospel

Great Commission - Mark 16:15,16 (Matthew 28:18-20; Luke 24:46,47)

From these verses we learn the following about the baptism of the Great Commission:

* Administrator - men. Jesus told the apostles to do it in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).

* Subject - all men: all the world (Mark 16:15), all nations (Matthew 28:19).

* A command - men were required to do it to please God.

* Conditions:

Hear (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:47)

Believe (Mark 16:16) - This includes believing that Jesus has been raised from the dead (Romans 10:9,10).

Repent (Luke 24:47)

* Choice - subject. The command was addressed to all people, and each one had to decide for himself whether or not to obey.

* Purpose - salvation (Mark 16:16) [cf. Luke 24:47]. Note that this baptism began after Jesus' death and resurrection and looks backward to His death and resurrection as accomplished facts (Romans 6:3,4).

* Duration - as long as men need salvation (till Jesus returns).

Acts 2:37-42

In obedience to the Great Commission, Peter preached the gospel on Pentecost. Note what else he said about baptism:

* Subjects - People in sin (vv 23,36,37), needing to be saved (vv 37,38,40). Blessings from baptism were promised to all, as many as God calls (v39) [cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:14].

* A command (v38).

* Conditions: hear (vv 14-40); believe (v36); repent (v38).

* Choice - subjects. They asked what to do (v37), were told what to do (vv 38,40), and those who were receptive were baptized (v41).

Note that the baptism was immediate: the same day (v41). When people had believed and repented, they obeyed. In Acts 22:16, Saul was urged not to wait, but he arose immediately and was baptized.

* Purpose - remission of sins (v38).

* Duration - Future generations, as long as God calls men to be saved (v39).

Acts 8:35-39

Here a man chose to be baptized. We learn:

* Element - water (vv 35,38,39).

* Action - immersion. They went down into the water, he baptized him, and they came up out of the water. This fits immersion, but not sprinkling or pouring. The word "baptize" means to immerse.

* Administrator - man (v38).

* Subject - sinner in need of salvation.

* Conditions: heard (v35), believed (v37), and confessed (v37).

* Choice - subject. He wanted to obey, asked if he could, and was told he could if he met the conditions. When he met them, he was baptized immediately with no waiting.

III. Holy Spirit Baptism

Matthew 3:11 [Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33]

* Element - Holy Spirit

* Action - An immersion. This is implied by the meaning of the word "baptize," which means to immerse, overwhelm, engulf. Surely this is not a physical baptism, since no one can be immersed in a person. This is a spiritual baptism, in which the subjects were to be overwhelmed by the (power of the) Holy Spirit.

* Administrator - Jesus Himself. This required someone greater than John. Only Jesus is great enough.

* A promise - It was something God promised to do for the people, not something they were required to do for Him. There was no command.

Note that John here contrasts water baptism and Holy Spirit baptism, showing them to be two separate and distinct baptisms. But remember that only one of them is in effect today (Ephesians 4:3ff). Most people who claim Holy Spirit baptism today also practice water baptism. According to this passage, that would be two baptisms, not one.

Acts 1:3-8

* Subjects - apostles (vv 4,5, cf. v2). These were all Galileans - v11.

* A promise (vv 4,5) - They were told to wait in Jerusalem. It was not a command they should obey as soon as possible, but a promise they had to wait for.

* Choice - God decided who would receive it (the apostles), when (not many days hence) and where (Jerusalem). It was not a blessing offered to all so that anyone could have it if they chose.

* Purpose - To give the apostles power to bear witness throughout the world (v8).

Acts 2:1-21,33 (read vv 1-4,33)

This passage does not use the expression "Holy Spirit baptism," but we will see that the event here fulfills all the predictions of Holy Spirit baptism [cf. 11:15-18 below].

* Element - The Holy Spirit came on the apostles (vv 4,17,33).

* Action - The Holy Spirit engulfed, overwhelmed them, accompanied by a sound like wind and tongues as fire (vv 1-4). [Note they were "sitting" (v2), in contrast to the baptism for salvation which one must "arise" to receive - 22:16.]

* Administrator -It came directly (vv 1-4) with no apparent or human agent. It was sent from Jesus in Heaven (vv 32,33).

* Subjects - apostles. "They" who received it refers to the nearest antecedent - the apostles (1:26). They were all Galileans (v7; cf. 1:11; 13:31). The apostles then taught and bore witness of Jesus' resurrection by the power of the Spirit, as Jesus promised they would do (vv 14,37, note v32; cf. 1:8).

* A promise from the Father (v33) [cf. v17].

* Choice - made by God. He decided who would receive it, when, etc. It was not offered to people in general so that anyone could receive it.

* Purpose - It gave them power to speak in tongues (languages they had not studied - vv 1-11) [cf. v17-20], and power to bear witness (vv 14-36, esp. v32). [Cf. Luke 24:49]

This is a clear fulfillment of the promise to send Holy Spirit baptism.

Acts 10:44-49; 11:1-4,15-18

This case involved two separate baptisms. We already discussed the water baptism that Peter commanded these people to obey.

The converts were Gentiles. No Gentile is recorded as having been converted before. Since the Jews thought the gospel would be just for them, like the Law of Moses had been, several miracles were necessary to get Peter to preach to Gentiles (Acts 10&11). One of these miracles involved Holy Spirit baptism.

* Element - Holy Spirit (10:44; 11:15,16) [10:47]. Note again that this passage distinguishes water baptism from Holy Spirit baptism, though the same people received both (10:47f). They are two separate baptisms.

* Action - Overwhelmed by the Holy Spirit. Peter recognized that this was the same thing "as on us at the beginning" (11:1,15). [It was the "like gift" (v17). This confirms that what happened on Pentecost, the "beginning," was Holy Spirit baptism.]

* Administrator - No human agent, but it came directly (10:44; 11:15). God gave it (11:17).

* Subjects - First Gentiles to be converted.

* Not a command - It just happened fulfilling the promise of Holy Spirit baptism.

* Choice - God (11:17). There is no evidence it was offered to all, nor that the Gentiles expected it, wanted it, or even knew about it ahead of time.

* Purpose - It gave miraculous power of tongues (10:46). It was necessary to convince the Jews that God was willing to receive Gentiles as His children (10:45; 11:17,18), so Peter would baptize them in water (10:47,48). [Cf. Acts 15:1-11]

From these characteristics of Holy Spirit baptism, note how it differs from the other two (see chart). Note there were only two recorded instances of Holy Spirit baptism - the apostles when the first Jews were converted, and Cornelius' household when the first Gentiles were converted. No other event in the Bible is described as Holy Spirit baptism.

[There are other instances of baptism, and other references to the Holy Spirit. But no others are called Holy Spirit baptism.]


John's baptism, New Testament water baptism, and Holy Spirit baptism are three separate and distinct baptisms. But only one is for today (Ephesians 4:3-6). The other two ceased. Which is for today?

John's baptism ceased. The only subjects to receive it were the Israelites, but gospel baptism is for all. Its purpose looked forward to Jesus' first coming and His death. He has now come and gone. This baptism is no longer valid (Acts 19:1-7).

Holy Spirit baptism ceased. The subjects to receive it were just a few - two cases. It was never for all men.

It guided men to reveal the gospel, but the gospel has now been fully delivered and recorded; it is not to be repeated (John 14:26; 16:13; 2 Timothy 3:16,17; Jude 3; cf. 1 Peter 1:22f). Miracles confirmed the new revelation as it was delivered (Mark 16:20; Acts 14:3; Hebrews 2:3f). Since revelation is no longer needed, miracles are no longer needed to confirm it (John 20:30f; 1 Corinthians 13:8-13). The written word gives all the evidence we need that Gentiles may be saved by the gospel, so this also needs no further confirmation.

Every purpose of Holy Spirit baptism was fulfilled in the first century; it is no longer needed.

The baptism that continues is water baptism of the gospel. It is for all people of all ages (since all need salvation). Its purpose is to give men remission of sins by Jesus' blood. This is a universal need for all ages.

Ephesians 4, together with the characteristics of these baptisms, show that John's baptism and Holy Spirit baptism have ceased. Only one baptism continues today, and that one is water baptism of the gospel for remission of sins. Have you received that baptism? Have you done it the right way for the right purpose?

(C) Copyright 2012, David E. Pratte

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