Water Baptism

Water baptism is a Christian tradition, although it is similar to the Jewish purification rites (or mikvah — ritual immersion) in Jewish laws and tradition. Immersion is required for converts to Judaism as part of their conversion. Immersion in the mikvah represents a change in status in regards to purification, restoration, and qualification for full religious participation in the life of the community, ensuring that the cleansed person will not impose uncleanness on property or its owners (Num. 19 and Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Chagigah, p. 12). This change of status by the mikvah could be obtained repeatedly, while Christian baptism is, in the general view of Christians, unique and not repeatable.

Within Christianity, water baptism started with John the Baptist. He began baptizing people for the forgiveness of their sins as a foreshadow of Christ. We read in Mark 1:4-5, "John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. Then all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to him and were all baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins." It's clear from this verse that John was preaching repentance accompanied by baptism, both of which they would have understood because the gentile converts needed to be baptized, but now the Jews needed to be as well. When Jesus came to earth, He told John to baptize him, but John knew Jesus was God and felt unworthy to baptize God, yet He did it in obedience to Christ. When Jesus was water baptized, the Bible says that a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, in whom I am well pleased" and a dove descended on Christ. Jesus taught his disciples that people who are converted Christians need to be baptized and after the disciples were baptized, they began baptizing all converted Christians. Conversion and baptism were viewed as a single event in the early church, so as soon as someone was converted, someone would explain to them about baptism, and they would immediately be baptized. This is why in several verses it sounds like we must be baptized to be saved, for example, "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned" (Mark 16:16). However, the baptism does not save a person, it only accompanies what saves them. Otherwise, it's a work-based salvation which clearly contradicts the Bible. The Catholic church and a few protestant churches incorrectly teach that the forgiveness of sins happens at the time of water baptism but this is clearly unscriptural. Salvation is received by faith alone (John 1:12; John 3:16; Acts 16:31; Romans 3:21-30; Romans 4:5; Romans 10:9-10; Ephesians 2:8-10; Philippians 3:9; Galatians 2:16, Titus 3:5, etc) and works just naturally follow as the "fruit" of a genuine conversion (Matthew 7:16-20). We cannot earn our salvation through any works, "...For if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!" (Galatians 2:21). "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9). Keep in mind also that the thief on the cross next to Christ was not baptized before he died, yet Christ said he would be with Him in paradise. So it's clear that baptism does not save us, it is just something that we are commanded to do in obedience to accompany or follow conversion.

Water Baptism is by immersion

Baptism was never performed in the Bible by sprinkling or pouring water on someone. It was neccesary to baptize where there was "much water" (John 3:23) - enough for burial. When Jesus was baptized, he came up "from the water" (Matthew 3:16) for He could have been baptized without going down into the water. No doubt the Ethiopian eunuch had enough water with him in his chariot for sprinkling -- but it was not until they reached a body of water that he asked for baptism (Acts 8:36). The Greek word for baptism in the Bible is "baptizo" which translates to "immerse, dip, plunge."

Water Baptism is a public expression

Baptism is also a public expression, an outward sign of an inward work. In the early church, a person who converted from one religion to another was often baptized to show conversion. Baptism was the means of making a decision public. Those who refused to be baptized were saying they did not truly believe. So, in the minds of the apostles and early disciples, the idea of an un-baptized believer was unheard of. When people claimed to believe in Christ, yet were ashamed to proclaim their faith in public, it indicated that they did not have genuine faith and experience a genuine conversion. The Bible says, "But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the will of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him" (Luke 7:30).

In addition to being a public expression, water baptism has a lot of symbolism and the Bible is clear on what that is:

1. Baptism is a public expression of an inward work.

2. Going under the water is symbolic of being dead in your sins

3. The water is symbolic of the grave.

4. Rising out of the water is symbolic of Christ raising you up and giving you life.

5. Leaving the water is symbolic of going in your new life in Christ.

Water Baptism is to follow conversion

Water baptism always followed conversion in the Bible. I should also mention that it is not Scriptural to baptize infants (it actually defeats it's purpose), and one should only be baptized when they know they are converted, know what they are doing by being baptized, and sense they are ready to be baptized. This is water baptism as shown and taught in the Bible. Baptism is clearly not required for salvation as it is a work and we are not saved by any works (e.g. Is. 64:6; Eph. 2:8-9; Gal. 2:21; Titus 3:4-7). It should not be taken lightly but it also shouldn't be unneccesarily avoided, postponed or delayed.

Baptismal Regeneration

Baptismal regeneration is the false teaching that "salvation is conferred through baptism (see John 3:5; Titus 3:5). This view has been prominent in Roman Catholicism and Lutheranism.”[1]

Trine Baptism

Trine baptism is "“The practice of sprinkling, pouring, or immersing three times in the act of baptism. This ancient practice emphasized the distinctions of the three members of the Trinity, even as the act of baptism itself was one action that emphasizes the oneness of the Godhead.”[2]

FOOTNOTES: 1. Donald K. McKim. “The Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms, Second Edition: Revised and Expanded.” 2. Ibid

© Todd Tyszka
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