A sermon by Nate Wilson for Christ the Redeemer Church, Manhattan, KS, 1 April 2007



This sermon will build on the one I delivered last June on “Generational Vision.” If you have not heard that sermon, I encourage you to read or listen to it off the church website because it provides the foundation for what we are covering today.


Just to review briefly, in that sermon, I showed from over 20 passages in the book of Deuteronomy that God has an interest in the children of His people. When God saves someone, He is not intending to pour His grace just into that individual alone – pouring water into a stagnant lagoon, but rather to open up the headwaters of a new river for His love to be poured out on many generations to come.


But Deuteronomy is not the only place where this concept is found, so today I intend to show from the rest of scripture that this is a consistent theme of ALL of scripture.


However, there is so much more to baptism than the issue of whether or not infants should be baptized, so let’s start with a more basic question:


I)      WHY do Christians baptize people?

A)    Jesus Commanded it (Great Commission)

1.      Matthew 28 “Make disciples of all the nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded”

2.      Mark 16 "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved”

3.      Thus, when Peter preached at Pentecost, he said, ‘Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 2:38)

4.      When Phillip preached in Samaria, those who believed “were baptized” (Acts 8:12)

5.      When people came to faith in Paul’s ministry in Corinth, they were baptized (Acts 18:8)

B)    Initiatory Sign

1.      Note that baptism is the first act of obedience for someone who believes in Jesus. “Make disciples baptizing… and teaching...” “Believed and baptized,” said Jesus. And then Peter: “Repent and be baptized.” It is the beginning of a new life in relationship to the one true God.

2.      In the Old Testament, the initial sign of believing in the one true God, of turning away from sin and of discipleship among God’s people was the sign of circumcision, the cutting off of a bit of flesh from every male.

3.      Thus, when Gentiles became Christians at first, the Jewish believers in Christ assumed that these Gentile Christians needed to be circumcised in order to fulfill their initiation into being part of the people of God.

4.      Note Acts 15:5-6 “But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, ‘It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.’ The apostles and the elders gathered together to consider this matter” but they decided not to require circumcision, because God had told Peter not to consider unholy that which God had made clean, and Peter related to the council the experience he had had with Cornelius, which had resulted in the conversion of a houseful of gentiles.

5.      Paul then writes these words about the abrogation of circumcision: “Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God. (1 Corinthians 7:18-19)

6.      The initiatory sign of a covenant relationship with God had been completely changed from circumcision to baptism.

(a)    The sign of circumcision which actually ended up shedding some blood was no longer to be used because Jesus had shed His blood on the cross once for all and there was no need to shed blood anymore. It was now replaced by a bloodless sign – the washing of water.

(b)   Perhaps another reason for this change was so that Jews who already had the first sign of circumcision could take upon themselves the new and different sign of baptism when they believed in the name of Jesus.

7.      In his book, Sacramental Teaching and Practice in the Reformation Churches, Geoffrey Bromiley writes, “Baptism is the initiatory sign, and for that reason alone it should not be repeated. It is the sign of regeneration, and although there may be many restorations, birth can take place only once. Supremely, however, it is the sign of the work of Jesus Christ which emphasized the once-for-all character of this work.”

8.      To re-baptize someone who has already had water applied to them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, destroys the meaning of baptism as an initiatory sign, for Ephesians 4:5 teaches that there is only “one baptism.”

C)    Covenantal continuity
Wait a minute! Is it appropriate to say that there is a continuous way of looking at the covenant relationship with God from the Old Testament to the New Testament? I want to give you 5 reasons why I believe the answer is Yes!

1.      Galatians 3 shows continuity between the covenant with Abraham and the new covenant:

(a)    Paul quotes Genesis 15:6 and Habakkuk 2:4 to prove that neither Abraham nor anyone else in the Old Testament was saved by doing certain works, but that they (as well as we in the New Testament) are saved by faith in Christ:
Galatians 3:5-11 “So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? 6) Even so Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. 7) Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. 8) The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘All the nations will be blessed in you.’ 9) So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer. 10) For as many as are of the works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them.’ 11) Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, the righteous man shall live by faith.”

(b)   The sign of the covenant with Abraham, namely circumcision, is implied in Paul’s discussion of the Abrahamic covenant here in Galatians 3, but note how he ends the passage by talking about baptism instead of circumcision!
Galatians 3:26-29 “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27) For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28) There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; [and Paul adds “neither circumcised nor uncircumcised” in the parallel passage in Colossians 3] for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29) And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's descendants, heirs according to promise.” In the very next verses, Paul goes on to say that an heir can be a child or a mature person.

(c)    So here we have a continuity between the salvation by faith in Christ that Abraham experienced in the OT - the covenantal relationship signified by circumcision, and the salvation by faith in Christ that we experience in the NT signified by baptism.

2.      Colossians 2 shows this same relationship between the covenants:

(a)    Col. 2:11-13 “in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; 12) having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. 13) When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions…”

(b)   Did you hear that Paul called baptism “the circumcision of Christ”?

3.      The covenants God made always had a provision for the children’s participation in the covenant:

(a)    In Genesis 3:15, God speaks to Adam and Eve of their seed, their children in the future: “I will put enmity between you [Satan, the serpent] and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.”

(b)   In the covenant God made with Noah when he stepped off the ark, God promised blessing to Noah’s descendents: Genesis 9:9: “behold, I establish My covenant with you and with your descendants after you.”

(c)    To Abraham, God said: (Genesis 17:7) “I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you.”

(d)   It shows up again in the law-covenant God gave through Moses, which was for adult Jews as well as their little children and their foreign slaves: (Deuteronomy 29:10-13) “All of you stand today before the LORD your God: your leaders and your tribes and your elders and your officers, all the men of Israel, your little ones and your wives - also the stranger who is in your camp, from the one who cuts your wood to the one who draws your water - that you may enter into covenant with the LORD your God, and into His oath, which the LORD your God makes with you today, that He may establish you today as a people for Himself, and that He may be God to you, just as He has spoken to you, and just as He has sworn to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”

(e)    Listen to the same provision for children in the Davidic covenant: (2 Chronicles 21:7) “Yet the LORD would not destroy the house of David, because of the covenant that He had made with David, and since He had promised to give a lamp to him and to his sons forever.”

(f)    Is it any wonder, then that children are included in the New Covenant?

(i)     It was prophesied in Jeremiah 31:31-36 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32) not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. 33) But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34) And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. 35) Thus says the LORD, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar - the LORD of hosts is His name: 36) If this fixed order departs from before me, declares the LORD, then shall the offspring of Israel cease from being a nation before me forever.”

(ii)   When Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, he said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood” (I Cor 11:25 cf Mat 26:28), repeating the statement of Moses in Ex 24:8 when he sprinkled the people of Israel with the blood of an ox, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you.” This prompts the statement in Hebrews 9:13-15 “For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God! Therefore He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.”

(iii) And who are those who are “called?” In Acts 2:38-39 Peter explains, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.”

(iv) The New Covenant, just like all the covenants before it, includes the children of God’s people. (Thanks to Dr. Talbot of Whitfield Seminary for calling my attention to this.)

4.      Another reason to consider the covenants of God as continuous is the fact that they are all called by a common name both in the Old and New Testaments: the “Everlasting Covenant.”

(a)    The Covenant with Noah in Gen 9:16 is called the “everlasting covenant,”

(b)   Throughout Genesis 17 the covenant God made with Abraham is called the “everlasting covenant,”

(c)    Leviticus 24:8 calls the Mosaic covenant with its temple sacrifices and sabbaths the “everlasting covenant,”

(d)   2 Samuel 23:5 calls the Davidic covenant the “everlasting covenant,”

(e)    The prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel then promise a new covenant which they also call the “everlasting covenant” saying it will include the descendents of God’s people in the future and it will be like the covenant with David. See esp. Isaiah 55:3 & 61:8-10 and Ezekiel 37:24-28, “My servant David shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd. They shall walk in my rules and be careful to obey my statutes. They shall dwell in the land that I gave to my servant Jacob, where your fathers lived. They and their children and their children's children shall dwell there forever, and David my servant shall be their prince forever. I will make a covenant of peace with them. It shall be an everlasting covenant with them.”

(f)    Hebrews 13:20-21 Interprets Ezekiel’s prophecy as being fulfilled by Jesus, saying, “Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever.”

5.      Not only is the same name applied to all the different developments of the covenant God made with mankind, but even the names for the different developments of the covenant are not as different as you might think. The word “new” which the Bible uses in the phrase “new testament/new covenant” (Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25; 2 Corinthians 3:6; Hebrews 8:8, 13; 9:15; 12:24) is not the Greek word for “brand-new” or “novel,” but rather a word meaning “unused/ unknown/ refreshed” (Arndt & Gingrich Lexicon). The New Covenant is not something essentially different, but rather a renewed covenant built upon the principles of the Old Testament covenants of our unchanging God.


So WHY do we baptize?

·         Jesus commanded it in the Great Commission,

·         It signifies the beginning of a new life in relationship with God,

·         and it is a symbol of the eternal covenant of God with man in Christ.


II)    WHAT is Baptism and what does it mean?

A)    What it does NOT mean:

1.      Some fear that if you aren’t baptized you won’t go to heaven:

(a)    Police Handbook for emergency childbirth instructs officers to baptize if it looks like the baby won’t make it.

(b)   Romans 4:9-12 teaches that it is faith in Jesus that saves us, not outward signs, for Abraham was considered righteous by God BEFORE he was circumcised.

(c)    Likewise, Jesus promised the thief on the cross that he would “be with [Him] in paradise” even though the thief wasn’t baptized between his confession of faith and his death.

(d)   So you can still get to heaven without being baptized, but since Jesus commanded that we be baptized, it would be wrong to disobey this command if we are able to obey it.

2.      Some believe that everyone who is baptized will go to heaven.

(a)    Getting someone wet is not a ticket to heaven!

(b)   Romans 9:6-8 makes it clear that not everyone who receives the sign of the covenant with God will be saved. Ishmael, although circumcised, was not a son of promise. Not all children will be saved.

(c)    Even Simon the Samaritan who was baptized under Phillip’s ministry received this curse from Peter, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money!”

(d)   Baptism is a sign of the inward regeneration of the Holy Spirit, and if there has been no regeneration, then no amount of water will change the fact that the person is not saved and will therefore go to hell.

B)    What Baptism obviously means: Water, Triune name

1.      Matthew 28 specifically says to baptize “into the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

2.      The Jews were already familiar with ceremonial washings which they called baptisms, including the baptism of John, so the apostles understood this baptism to be done with water. Their use of water is explicitly mentioned in only two places, one where Phillip baptized the Ethiopian eunuch in water, and second where Peter says to the six men who traveled with him from Joppa to Cornelius’ house, “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized.” (Acts 10:47)

3.      Note that the baptism of John was not enough; it had to include the name of Jesus:

(a)    Six times in the Bible the statement is made that the baptism of Jesus would supersede the baptism of John (“I baptized you in water, but he shall baptize you it the Holy Spirit” – Mk 1:8, Luke 3:16, John 1:31-33, Acts 1:5, Acts 11:16)

(b)   (Acts 19:3-4) Paul re-baptized the believers in Ephesus who had only received the baptism of John and not baptism into the triune name.

4.      However, in over ¾ of the 42 instances in the Bible where the phrases “baptize in,” “baptize with,” or “baptize into” occur, it says they were baptized into something else other than water!

C)    Further Biblical Meanings
Baptism is a sacrament filled with much meaning to the believer because it symbolizes all of these things which are promised to us by God when we become followers of Jesus!

1.      FIRST MEANING: Being redeemed by the death and blood of Jesus

(a)    In the Old Testament sacrificial system, blood from each of the animal sacrifices was sprinkled on the altar, and, in certain cases, on the people.

(b)   Hebrews 9 relates this to the work of Christ, referring to the fact that both the Old Testament sacrifices and the death of Jesus involved the shedding of blood and the “sprinkling” of that blood upon people to atone for sin, the former Mosaic sacrifices being a “pattern” and a “figure” for the latter sacrifice of Jesus.

(c)    It should not come as a surprise therefore, that the Bible speaks of Jesus “sprinkling” people with His blood,

(i)     first in Isaiah 52:14-15 “behold my Servant… He shall sprinkle many nations…,” and

(ii)   then in Hebrews 12:24 “and to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling...”

(iii) and 1 Peter 1:2 “chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ

(d)   So, the act of sprinkling in the Bible was used in the context of symbolizing and sealing the blood of the Messiah to atone for the people of God, just as today, baptism is a sign and seal of Jesus’ atonement for believers.

2.      SECOND MEANING: Cleansing from the impurity of sin

(a)    In the Old Testament, sprinkling and washing with water were done whenever a person

(i)     came to present a sacrifice in the temple (Psalm 26:6)

(ii)   was healed of leprosy (Leviticus 14)

(iii) or touched body fluids or a dead animal (Numbers 19) and wanted to become clean.

(b)   People would wash their hands to symbolize their innocence in the case of a murder mystery (Deut. 21:6) (Pontius Pilate also washed his hands to symbolize innocence when Jesus was condemned.)

(c)    but Job made it clear that no amount of washing hands can really make one innocent of sin (Job 9:30). The outer washing symbolized inner cleansing from sin.

(d)   Ezekiel 36:25 implies that these ceremonial washings represented God’s cleansing of His people from their spiritual impurity: “And I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you.”

(e)    The writer of Hebrews supports this: “let us draw near with a true heart in fullness of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience” (Heb. 10:22).

(f)    Paul explains how this works in Titus 3:4-7 “according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, which He poured out upon us richly, through Jesus Christ our Saviour; that, being made righteous by His grace, we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

(g)   John says the same thing more succinctly in Rev. 1:5 “[Jesus] who loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood”

(h)   The fulfillment of all the Old Testament ceremonial washings is in the work of Jesus who cleanses us from all sin.

3.      THIRD MEANING: Changing identity to be associated with the name of Jesus

(a)    MATTHEW 28:19 “baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”

(b)   One out of four times that the bible speaks of baptism, it speaks of baptism into some­one’s name. Baptism means that we have changed our identity to identify with Jesus.

(c)    1 CORINTHIANS 10:2 says that all the Israelites “were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.”
When the Israelites hid behind that cloud and crossed over the Red Sea, they received a new identity. The sea closed back up, sealing any chance of returning to Egypt. This event separated Israel from the nation of Egypt, and from then on, they were followers of Moses in a new nation of God. This is an Old Testament symbol of baptism - an event which signifies a change in identity.

(d)   GALATIANS 3:27 “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ did put on Christ”
In I Cor. 10, it was the nation of Israel being identified with Moses, here it is the church being identified with Christ.

(e)    When is it that Muslims start trying to kill a family member who has come to faith in Christ? It’s when they have been baptized. Non-Christians know that this means a change in identity. Hindus often even change their name when they are baptized as Christians to further signify this change in identity.

4.      FOURTH MEANING: Dying to the old life and forsaking it

(a)    10% of the time that the Bible mentions baptism, it speaks of death.

(b)   Paul speaks of baptism as being like a burial and a resurrection in Romans 6:4 “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

(c)    Baptism symbolizes the fact that we have been crucified with Christ and no longer live for ourselves but all our life is now from God’s Spirit. (We’ll talk about this more next week as we study Col. 3 “If you have been raised with Christ…”)

5.      FIFTH MEANING: Changing social involvement to become a member of the church

(a)    1 CORINTHIANS 12:13 “For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body…”

(i)     Here is the only explicit reference to baptism being a sacrament of membership in the body of Christ - the church.

(ii)   Our primary associations change in baptism from being associated with the world to being associated with God’s people (the church).

6.      SIXTH MEANING: Changing roles to become a priest and king in Jesus’ kingdom

(a)    Priests in the Old Testament were sprinkled with blood, oil, and water to consecrate them for their special ministry (Ex. 29:21, Lev. 8:30,Num. 8:7).

(b)   Kings and prophets were also anointed for their special jobs (See Exodus 29:7, Leviticus 8:12, 1 Samuel 10:1, and 2 Kings 9:2-3). Hear what the Apostle John says in the book of Revelation: “To Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests to God and His Father” (Rev. 1:5-6; cf Rev. 5:9-10 and 20:6)

(c)    The New Testament teaches us that believers nowadays have the status that the priests in the Old Testament did. When we become Christians, we are consecrated in baptism to a new role, that of priests who offer up - not animal sacrifices but - spiritual sacrifices of prayer and praise to God: “You also, as living stones, are built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (I Peter 2:5-9)

(d)   I John 2:27 also mentions an “anointing” from the son of God that believers had received which taught them all things. The context appears to parallel the Great Commission and refer to the baptism they received after they confessed faith in Jesus and received the promise of eternal life and before they had received the teaching of “all things whatsoever I have commanded.” John relates this also to having the Holy Spirit.

7.      SEVENTH MEANING: Receiving the Holy Spirit

(a)    Throughout the Old Testament, we find the phrase, “I will pour out My Spirit upon you.”

(i)     Proverbs 1:23 “I will pour out my Spirit upon you; I will make known my words unto you.”

(ii)   Isaiah 32:15 “until the Spirit be poured upon us from on high”

(iii) Isaiah 44:3 “For I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and streams upon the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your seed, and my blessing upon your offspring.”

(iv) Ezekiel 39:29 “I pour out my Spirit upon the house of Israel, says the Lord Jehovah.”

(v)   Zecheriah 12:10 “I will pour upon the house of David and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace”

(vi) Joel 2:28-29 “your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: and also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my Spirit.”

(b)   Peter said that the prophecy of Joel was fulfilled at Pentecost: Acts 2:33 “having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this, which you see and hear.” and another echo of this fulfillment came in the home of Cornelius in Acts 10:45 where it says, “on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

(c)    But Paul associates this outpouring of the Holy Spirit with the events surrounding every Christian’s salvation in Titus 3:4-7 “He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, which he poured out upon us richly, through Jesus Christ our Saviour; that, being justified by His grace, we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” Salvation, regeneration (being born again), being justified (made righteous), and being made heirs of eternal life are all the beginning of the Christian life, and right along with these things comes a rich outpouring of the Holy Spirit to convict us of sin and guide us toward righteousness (John 16:8).

(d)   The pouring of water over the head in baptism symbolizes the outpouring of the spirit upon God’s people. The Isaiah 32 image of God pouring His blessings over the head of whoever is thirsty and the water flowing off that person’s body to form rivulets in the dry ground as a symbol of the outpouring of God’s Spirit upon the person and that person’s children is a perfect image to use for baptism. So is the Titus passage - speaking of the washing of regeneration and the Spirit being “poured” upon us richly through Jesus Christ.


[For 1-hour format, skip from here to application]


From this we see that:

·         Baptism does not guarantee salvation

·         Baptism is to be done with water in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

·         Baptism carries a rich set of meanings, including:

o       Being redeemed by the death and blood of Jesus

o       Cleansing from the impurity of sin

o       Changing identity to be associated with the name of Jesus

o       Dying to the old life and forsaking it

o       Becoming a member of the church

o       Becoming a priest and king in Jesus’ kingdom

o       The blessing of the Holy Spirit


III) HOW does God instruct us to baptize?

A)    We will begin by looking at synonyms for “Baptize,” first in the OT, then the NT

1.      You won’t find the word “Baptize” in our English OT, but the Greek word translated “Baptize” in the NT is used in the OT, so we must look at the commonly-understood meaning of the word from the time it was in use. There are 20 times when the Septuagint uses the words for “baptize” to translate a Hebrew or Aramaic word in the Old Testament. Here is a brief overview:

(a)    2/3 of the occurrences of the Greek word for “baptize” in the Septuagint are translations of the Hebrew word “tabal,” which generally means “dip.” Over ¾ of the times this word is used, only part of the whole body was dipped in the liquid, and more often than not, this dipping was a prelude to some kind of sprinkling action. (If you want to see the details behind this study, please see my paper entitled “Baptism and the Bible” on my website.)

(b)   I will pass quickly over the next three Hebrew words that the Septuagint translates with a form of the word “baptizw.” They are:

(i)     “ba’at” speaking of being mentally overwhelmed (Isaiah 21:4)

(ii)    “turban” used in Ezekiel 23:15 – possibly referring to the color-dying process of the cloth used for the turban.

(iii)  and “go in” (Lev. 11:32)

(iv)  These three uses have something to do with immersion.

(c)    In 2 Kings 5, the Hebrew word “rakhatz” which is translated “wash” in English, is used as a synonym for the Greek word “baptizw.” Here Elisha told Naaman to “wash” in the Jordan river, following the Old Testament law from Leviticus 14:7-8 which required seven sprinkles of blood from a bird followed by a bath and a clothes washing. Naaman called the seven dips in the Jordan river “washing.”

(i)     Washing was usually done by pouring water over parts of the body, as in foot washing and hand washing. 2 Kings 3:11 describes the handwashing practice of Elisha and Elijah as “pour[ing] water upon the hands.”

(ii)   John 2:6 implies that large amounts of clean water were stored in 20-gallon jars for these washings. The jar was probably narrow enough for a servant to carry from the well, but not wide enough to bathe directly in, so a person would dip a smaller container into the big jar and pour the water upon the parts of the body that they wanted to wash.

(d)   Psalm 68:21-23 translates yet another Hebrew word as “baptize” - In this instance, the image is of the boot of a soldier splashing into a puddle of blood and that blood wetting the tongues of his dogs. It seems to be related to a splattering action.

(e)    Finally, there is a word from the book of Daniel describing Nebuchadnezzar’s punishment of living outdoors like a wild animal and being “baptized” with the dew of heaven. (Daniel 4:33, 4:22, 5:21) This word does not describe a total covering, but more a splotchy wetting.

2.      In the New Testament, there are also a number of synonyms for the word “baptize:”

(a)    Mark 7:3-4 says, “the Pharisees, and all the Jews, if they don’t wash (Greek "nipto") their hands diligently, they won’t eat, holding the tradition of the elders; and when they come from the market-place, if they don’t bathe (baptizo) themselves, they won’t eat” (cf. Mat. 15:2, which uses “nipto” for “wash”). Later on, Jesus is confronted with the same thing by another Pharisee who “marveled that He had not first bathed (baptizo) Himself before dinner” (Luke 11:38).

(i)     From these three passages, it appears that the Greek word “nipto” is a synonym for the Greek word “baptizo” because they are used interchangeably for the traditional washing of the hands before eating.

(ii)   According to 2 Kings 3:11, this may have been done by a servant pouring water over the hands (which is also the way we do it in modern times, pouring water from a sink spigot). It is also used of foot-washing.

(iii)  In another case, Jesus told a blind man to wash in the pool of Siloam (John 9:7) - a pool for drinking water (according to Unger’s Bible Dictionary), so he would not have been allowed to dip himself in and contaminate everyone else’s drinking water, but would rather have drawn water out and poured it on himself.

(b)   Another Greek synonym which is used interchangeably with the word “baptize” is the word “cleanse”

(i)     Mark 7:4 “And many other things there are, which [the Pharisees] have received to keep: the washing (baptizo) of cups…”

(ii)   Compare with Luke 11:39 and Matthew 23:25 “And the Lord said to him, ‘Now you Pharisees make clean (catharizo) the outside of the cup…”

(iii)  Here, the Greek word for “baptize” is used interchangeably with the Greek word “catharizo” which means to “purify” or “cleanse.”

(iv)  It is often used in connection with lepers, who were “cleansed” by sprinkling blood and washing with water.

(v)   This “cleansing” is also spoken of in relation to forgiveness of sin, which was addressed through animal sacrifice (Lev. 16:30) and ultimately through the blood of Christ sprinkled on us, according to Heb. 9:14.

(vi) This word for “cleansing” is also used with other words associated with washing and water such as in Ephesians 5:26 “That He might sanctify and cleanse [the church] with the washing of water by the word.”

(c)    Finally, Hebrews 9:9-11 equates baptism explicitly with the Jewish ceremonial washings: “…gifts and sacrifices that cannot, as touching the conscience, make the worshipper perfect, being only (with meats and drinks and various baptisms) carnal ordinances, imposed until the time of … Christ…”

(i)     This brings us back to the dippings and sprinklings and pourings used for cleansing in the Old Testament.

(ii)   Note that the word “baptism” here is preceded by the word “various” and therefore cannot refer to only one sort of washing but to all of them together. This would indicate that baptism is used here as a generic word without specific connotation of mode.

3.      CONCLUSION: Since there is such a wide variety of use of the Greek word for “baptize,” including plunging, overwhelming, dipping partially, sprinkling, pouring, splashing, washing, cleansing, and uneven wetting, we must conclude that the apostles could not have had only one mode of baptism in mind when they used the word “baptize.”

B)    We can also look to the context of baptisms recorded in the New Testament to see if we can find clues as to how baptism was done.

1.      Circumstantial evidence weighs in that John may well have been a “Baptist.” He baptized Jesus “into the Jordan;” John 3:23 states that “John was also baptizing in Enon [which is near the Jordan River] because there was much water.” Having “much water” would point to the likelihood of immersion. However, when Jesus’ disciples baptized people, they did not do it in the Jordan, but rather in Judea somewhere (John 3:22-4:2).

2.      Acts 8:36 The Ethiopian Eunuch “sees water” and asks to be baptized by Phillip. They go down into the water, then Phillip baptizes the eunuch, then they come up out of the water. The same wording is used in Matthew's account of Jesus' baptism: They went down, then one got baptized, then they came out - in other words, the coming into the water and the going out of the water were not part of the baptism. This could be explained if they stood ankle-deep in the water and the water was lifted up with the hands and dropped over the head.

3.      Acts 10:47 In the baptism of Cornelius, Peter said, “Can any man forbid the water, that these should not be baptized?” Peter's question is interesting. Could a pool or a river be “forbidden”? A servant, however could be forbidden from carrying water in a container before being poured or sprinkled over the head of the new believers!

4.      Acts 9:18-19 “And straightway there fell from [Paul’s] eyes as it were scales, and he received his sight; and he arose and was baptized; and he took food.” Paul apparently did not leave the house between being healed and eating, so how would an indoor baptism be done? You would also expect the verb “he went down” instead of “he went up” to precede baptism if it were done in a body of water. The way this verse is worded, it appears he was standing when he was baptized. Later when Paul recounted his baptism to others in Act 22:16, he quotes Ananias as saying, “Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.” These circumstances would point to Paul standing and having water poured over him rather than being immersed for his baptism.

5.      Paul was “alongside the river” when he met and baptized Lydia and all her household in Acts 16:15-33, so perhaps he used the river then.

6.      The Philippian jailer, however, appears to have been baptized in the jail, “immediately” after the jailer had washed Paul and Silas. If the jailer had been using a basin of water to wash Paul and Silas’s wounds, this might have also provided the water for the baptism.

7.      As you can see, no one mode of baptism, whether immersion or pouring or sprinkling, fits the circumstances of all the Biblical accounts uniformly. It should be concluded then that the way in which water was applied in baptism is not made an issue in the Scriptures.

C)    Can we learn from the history of the early church after the New Testament?

1.      The ancient Greek document known as the “Didache” or the “Teaching of the Twelve” supposedly containing instructions from the 12 apostles themselves, lists both immersion and pouring water over the head as acceptable forms of baptism.

2.      Second-century catacomb drawings in the cemetery of Calixtus show people standing in water and pouring water over the head of the ones being baptized,

3.      The earliest-known church building is a Roman residence near the Syria-Iraq border which was converted into a church meeting place around 240A.D. with a baptistery font into which candidates for baptism would step, water being poured or sprinkled over them (Michael Walsh, Triumph of the Meek, HarperCollins).

4.      Cyprian, also in the third century A.D. wrote, “Whence it appears that the sprinkling also of water prevails equally with the salutary washing, and that when this is done in the church where the faith both of the receiver and the giver is sound, all things hold.”

5.      Later, baptisteries of the Nicene age (4th century) in the southern climates, were built for immersion (Phillip Schaff, History of the Christian Church).

D)    What can we conclude then about how to baptize?

1.      The Bible uses many synonyms for the Greek word for “baptize” including dipping, sprinkling, and pouring.

2.      Also, no one mode of baptism fits perfectly all the accounts of baptisms in the New Testament - some fit better with immersion, some with sprinkling or pouring.

3.      In addition, the early church right from the first three centuries accepted sprinkling, pouring and immersion as valid forms of baptism.

4.      God knows our human tendency to legalism - our inclination to observe outward forms in exact detail and forget about the spiritual realities. I believe God has purposefully left the mode of baptism ambiguous so that we have to grapple with it a bit and make its significance real in our lives.


IV)             WHO does God instruct us to baptize?

A)    Any person who repents and confesses faith in Jesus
The New Testament records specifically the baptisms of the Jews at Pentecost, the Samaritans and Simeon that Philip baptized, the Ethiopian Eunuch, Cornelius, Paul, Lydia, the Philippian jailer, Crispus and Gaius in Corinth, the men at the synagogue in Ephesus, and the folks at Cornelius’ house. In every case, the Gospel was explicitly preached by an apostle and received by the people, and the adults are the only ones mentioned by name. This is because the N.T. focuses on the first generation of Christians – people who heard the gospel as adults for the first time, responded in faith and were baptized. There is another reason, however:

B)    The Household

1.      The Bible records at least five occasions where everybody in an entire house was baptized along with the head of the household: Cornelius (Acts 10), Stephanus (I Cor 1:16), Lydia (Acts 16:15), Crispus (Acts 18:8, I Cor. 1:14), and the Philippian Jailer (Acts 16:31-33) “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved, you and your house… and he was baptized – he and all who belonged to him immediately

2.      The word “household” normally means all adult family, all children, and all slaves in the house. This would corroborate with the practice of the Old Testament where children and slaves were circumcised. But why?

3.      Recent statistics reported by the Baptist Press indicate that when a child is the first person in a household to make a decision for Christ, there is a 3.5 percent probability everyone else in the household will follow. When a mother is the first to become a Christian, there is a 17 percent chance everyone else in the household will follow. But when a father comes under the Lordship of Christ, the impact is dramatically increased to a 93% probability that everyone else in the family will follow and come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ!

There is a sociological reason why household baptism was practiced in the Bible. It is God’s design that when the head of the house becomes a Christian, normally the children follow.

4.      That is why God demands in Titus 1:6 that the elders of the church have children who believe. If the salvation of our children were a matter of random choice, it would seem unreasonable for God to demand that only men who had believing children could be leaders of His church. But, you see, the Bible shows that is a normative thing for children to become believers.

C)    The Bible teaches that God treats the children of believers differently from others.

1.      Children, like the rest of mankind are sinners who must be punished by the fires of hell.

(a)    They are imputed with the original sin of Adam and Eve (“sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all” - Romans 5:12)

(b)   People are “formed in iniquity and conceived in sin” and “go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies” says David in Psalm 51:5 and 58:3

(c)    All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” wrote Paul in Romans 3:23,

(d)   John 3:3 makes it clear that no one [not even a baby] who has not been born again by the spirit can go to heaven.

(e)    If God didn’t treat the children of believers differently from the children of non-believers, we would have to expect every one of our miscarriages and every one of our children who died in infancy to be in hell.

(f)    Yet David prophecied that he would go to heaven to see his son born of Bathsheeba, even though the child died at 7 days old and was neither circumcised nor baptized! (2 Sam. 12:23). What a glorious promise that our children won’t die and go to hell simply because they are too young to express faith in Jesus!

2.      God treats the children of believers differently from non-Christians:

(a)    God told Jeremiah (1:5) “before you were born, I consecrated you”

(b)   David claimed to have trusted God during the first year or so of his life when he was a nursing infant in Psalm 22:9: “You made me trust when upon my mother's breasts.”

(c)    John the Baptizer was “filled with the spirit” “even from his mother’s womb” and leaped in her womb upon his first encounter with Jesus! (Luke 1:15&41)

(d)   Jesus said that the angels of little children are “in heaven always beholding the face of the father” (Matt 18:10). Here are children with special privileges of getting their prayers answered. Jesus did not say “all children” but “these children” – the children of His followers who were gathered around Him! Heb 1:14 informs us that angels are “ministering spirits sent to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation.” Non-christians who have no promise of inheriting salvation don’t get guardian angels and special attention to prayer, but the children of Jesus’ followers do!

(e)    Jesus said, “Let the LITTLE children come to me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” and then He blessed them (Matt 19:14). Does God promise blessings for the wicked? Note, Jesus did not say, “Wait until they are old enough to see whether they will express faith in me or not, and the ones who come to me in faith, I will bless.” No, Jesus assumes that the children of His followers were already in the kingdom of heaven, saying that the kingdom of heaven is composed of little children.

(f)    In 1 Corinthians 7:13-14, the Bible explicitly states that God considers the children of believers to be different – holy, even if only one of their parents if a believer. “And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy.”

3.      God commanded that circumcision be done on the 8th day of a child’s life, if that child was born after the initial covenant-making ceremony with the household was completed. Considering the continuity of the eternal covenant and the assumptions of the Jews of Jesus’ day, it would take an explicit command from God to stop administering the initiatory sign of the covenant to infants, but God never tells people to wait before giving the sign of baptism to children.

D)    I Peter 3:18-21– the request for a clean conscience

1.      “God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being built, wherein few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water: which also after a true likeness doth now save you, even baptism, not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the appeal of a good conscience toward God, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…”

2.      Peter makes clear that it is not the water that saves us - he’s not even talking about water (“not the removal of dirt from the body”), but rather the story of Noah is an example or type of God’s salvation. We are saved, not by baptism, but by asking God to cleanse us from sin on account of Jesus.

3.      The word “appeal” is a better translation than the word “answer” or “pledge” which some translations use. The Greek word (eperotaw) means “request” in every other instance in the Bible. Paul does not teach that the person receiving baptism must give a certain “answer” or “pledge.” Paul doesn’t even teach here that the recipient of baptism has to do the asking; he does not use a definite article, it is just the appeal of “a good conscience.” For this reason we accept the request of parents who are appealing to God to give their child a conscience cleansed from sin by the Lord Jesus.

E)    Note, however, that the baptism of infants is framed in the language of promise and request, not in the language of actual regeneration and salvation.

1.      Children are “heirs” – they have a natural right to the spiritual blessings their parents have just as they have a natural right to the physical blessings of their parents

2.      But an heir does not always get the inheritance in the end. Sometimes the heir refuses his inheritance. Esau sold his inheritance for a pot of soup, and in grievous circumstances, the children of believers sometimes do the same.

3.      I believe that is one reason why the Bible uses the word “promise” so much to refer to salvation:

(a)    “Repent and be baptized, every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off” (Acts 2:38-39) Peter spoke this before a crowd of Jews to whom God had promised salvation, but not all of the people in that crowd received Peter’s message.

(b)   Peter later said in (2 Peter 1:4) “He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” Note the subjunctive “may become partakers.”

(c)    The heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11 didn’t sit back and ignore the promises, they believed the promises and v.33 says “through faith … they obtained promises.”

4.      We baptize our children because these promises and this inheritance is theirs by right, and the Bible teaches us we have a reasonable expectation that they will obtain the inheritance by faith, but we acknowledge that our children need to believe those promises themselves and want to receive that inheritance. That is why parents take the vow at the baptism of their child to look in faith to the Lord Jesus Christ for [the child’s] salvation, as you do for your own… and promise to set before him a godly example… pray with and for (him)… teach (him) the doctrines of our holy faith…, and strive by all the means of God’s appointment to bring (him) up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”

F)     Infant baptism was normal practice in the time of the early church.

1.      The Jewish Mishna teachings show that in Jesus’ time, the Jews baptized converts to Judaism in addition to circumcising them, and if they had children, the children were baptized with them. (Luis Berkoff, Systematic Theology)

2.      In the midst of fierce controversy over such trivial matters as the date of Easter, the early church fathers found no controversy in the baptism of infants:

(a)    Justin Martyr in the mid-100’s mentions that women became disciples of Christ from childhood.

(b)   Tertullian’s writings from the late second century state that infant baptism was a normal practice in the church.

(c)    Irenaeus in the late 100’s A.D. wrote that Jesus “came to save through means of Himself all who through Him are born again unto God, infants, and little children, and boys, and youths, and old men.”

(d)   Origen, in the early third century speaks of infant baptism as a “tradition of the apostles.”

(e)    And the council of Carthage in A.D.253 also takes infant baptism for granted, the only controversy being whether an infant could be baptized before the eighth day!


So WHO should we baptize?

·         Certainly any unbaptized adult who makes a profession of faith in Jesus,

·         And along with them any of their children.


V)  How can we apply all this information?

A)    If you have not trusted Jesus to save you from your sin and make you right with God, this is the first step – even if you have been baptized before.

B)    If you are a believer in Jesus and have not been baptized, that is the next step of obedience to Jesus’ instructions.

C)    If you are a baptized believer, meditate on the meaning of your baptism and live out its significance:

1.      You have been redeemed by the death and blood of Jesus:
Are you acting as though you do not own your body anymore? “You have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:20) Is your body a living sacrifice to praise your Redeemer?

2.      You have been cleansed from the impurity of sin:
Are you living a pure life, seeking to obey all that Christ taught? (2 Corinthians 7:1) “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.”

3.      You have changed identity to be associated with the name of Jesus:
“Put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 13:14) Are you living as a representative of Jesus? Can the world see what Jesus is like when it observes you?

4.      You have died to your old life:
“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” (Galatians 2:20) Are you keeping old sinful habits alive, or are you living already in the first installment of the eternal life you are promised?

5.      You have changed social involvement to become a member of the church:
Is the church the place you look to find friends, mentors, and disciples - to hang out with?
“You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven.” Therefore do not “forsake assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encourage one another…” (Hebrews 12:22-23; 10:25)

6.      You have changed roles to become a priest and king in Jesus’ kingdom:
Are you interceding for other people like a priest, praying for lost souls? Are you taking spiritual leadership in your home as a spiritual king under the authority of King Jesus?

7.      You have received the Holy Spirit:
Do you ask Him to remind you of any sin you need to confess? Do you ask Him for wisdom when you need to make a decision? Do you seek to channel His power through you or do you operate from you own strength?