what the Bible teaches

(Part of the Effective Bible Study web page group.)

"Jesus answered, 'Truly, truly, I say to you,
Unless a man is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God."
(John 3:5)
"Therefore go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit"
(Mat 28:19)

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  These two Gospel verses, both quoting Jesus Christ, form the basis for the Christian practice of Baptism. The ordinance of baptism symbolizes the rebirth of a Christian. It depicts natural man being washed by the Blood of Christ and becoming spiritual man. There is no quicker way to generate controversy among a large gathering of Christians than to start a discussion about baptism. Beliefs on the subject vary among denominations, churches, etc. Yet, we are told in Holy Scripture, Ephesians 4:4-6
- - "There is one body and one Spirit, even as you are called in one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in you all."
These verses of the Bible clearly state, 'one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God.' So why are there different beliefs concerning baptism? Because, there are varying interpretations of what Jesus meant by these verses. They are often interpreted on a stand-alone basis, without considering the complete context of the Holy Bible. Using Effective Bible Study techniques, let's consider what the Bible teaches about baptism.
(Note: This page deals with baptism from a Scriptural perspective, setting aside church & denominational dogma. It is not an anti-baptism site, as you will find by reading through to the end of the study.)

What does the word 'Baptism' mean?
  In the original manuscripts of Scripture, all the various forms of the word baptize are translations from the Greek word 'baptizo', which comes from the root word 'bapto'. The usage of these words according to Greek Scholars is:
-- 'bapto' -- (1) to whelm, i.e. cover wholly with a fluid;
-- (2) in the New Testament only in a qualified or special sense, i.e. (literally) to moisten (a part of one's person).
-- 'baptizo' -- (1) to immerse, submerge; to make whelmed (i.e. fully wet);
-- (2) used only (in the New Testament) of ceremonial ablution.
As you can see, the meaning depends upon the context of the entire passage where the word is used, for it can mean immersion, moistening, or ceremonial washing. This is what fuels the controversy between 'sprinklers' and 'dippers'. (More on that subject as we progress)


What does Baptism do? What is its effect?
  In the matter of salvation, the pure and simple answer is, "It gets you wet, in one way or another!" There are two diverging beliefs among Christians, concerning baptism. One teaches 'baptism before salvation', while the other teaches 'salvation before baptism.' It doesn't matter what your church, denomination, or group teaches; because there is only one Biblical teaching on the subject.

  Because Jesus was baptized and then the Holy Spirit came upon Him and due to His placing water before the Holy Spirit in John 3:5, it is reasoned by some, that salvation is the result of baptism. This is faulty biblical reasoning, since we find verses in the Bible such as:
- - "For by grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. "
(Eph 2:8-9)
- - "-in whom also you, hearing the Word of Truth, the gospel of our salvation, in whom also believing, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise,"
(Eph 1:13)
- - "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek."
(Rom 1:16)
- - "and that from a babe you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. "
(2Ti 3:15)
Scripture proclaims it is 'Faith (belief)' in Jesus Christ, given through God's Grace, that brings salvation.

  Clearly, the Bible teaches that baptism before belief is a useless gesture!
- - "He who believes and is baptized will be saved, but he who does not believe will be condemned."
(Mar 16:16)
If you do not truly believe, or are incapable of belief, in Jesus Christ, baptism means absolutely nothing! The baptism of infants therefore carries no spiritual significance, since they are incapable of belief. Infant baptism is really nothing more than the parents choosing to symbolically dedicate the child to God.


Is there Salvation without baptism?
  Many teach that the answer, in every case, is a resounding, 'NO!' Referring to Scripture verses such as John 3:5 & Mar 16:16, it is maintained that unless a person is baptized they cannot be saved. There are a great deal of biblical contradictions this belief would generate IF it were true.
- We find the following account of one of the thieves crucified with Jesus in the Gospel of Luke (23:42-43),
- - "And he said to Jesus, Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom. And Jesus said to him, 'Truly I say to you, Today you shall be with Me in Paradise."
Without a doubt, the thief received the gift of Salvation. There was no water baptism; but there was an 'immersion' in Jesus Christ through belief.
- The Bible teaches that salvation is an act of God.
- - "For by grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves,
it is the gift of God,
not of works, lest anyone should boast."

(Eph 2:8-9)
- - "So then it is not of the one willing, nor of the one running,
but of God, the One showing mercy."

(Rom 9:16)
This contention would relegate Jesus' sacrifice on the cross to merely being an adjunct to baptism.
The belief that baptism is an absolute necessity for salvation presents a very grave contradiction to Scriptural teaching, which teaches that salvation is by God's Sovereign Grace. It also fails to acknowledge that there are rare, extreme circumstances where a new believer can not be baptized before their death. Since water Baptism is something that man chooses, it is an act of man. To believe, and teach, that 'you must be baptized to obtain salvation' makes salvation an act of man, not of God! This in effect, proclaims that man is more powerful than his Creator!

  We also find the following Biblical verses, in Acts 10:44-45
- - "While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell on all those hearing the Word. And those of the circumcision, who believed (as many as came with Peter), were astonished because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out on the nations also."
And Eph 1:13
- - "-in whom also you, hearing the Word of Truth, the gospel of our salvation, in whom also believing, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise-"
The teaching is clear, 'the Spirit quickens + you hear the Word + you believe the Word = You are sealed with the Holy Spirit. Which according to 1Co 3:16 means,
- - "Do you not know that you are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?"

  To contend that without baptism there is no salvation again raises serious contradictions to the Bible's teaching. As already established, water baptism is an act of man. If there were no salvation without water baptism, it again would make man more powerful than his Creator, Almighty God. It would mean that man has the power to remove the seal placed on him by God and that man has the power to evict the Holy Spirit. For further study on what the Bible teaches about the act of being saved visit The Biblical Process of Salvation and Acts 10, Cornelius & his household.
It would belittle the pain, suffering, death, amp; resurrection of Jesus Christ. IF baptism is necessary for salvation, it would mean that Jesus' sacrifice was not sufficient to grant salvation.


What about John 3:5?
  Jesus states in John 3:5, that a man must be born of water and the Holy Spirit to enter heaven. To understand this verse it is necessary to consider, who Jesus was speaking to. We know from verse 4, that He was speaking to Nicodemus, who was a Pharisee, a member of the Sanhedrin, and a Scriptural Scholar & teacher. The word 'water' was often used in the Scriptures figuratively, and metaphorically, to mean the "Grace of God" see Eze 36:25, for an example. Being a Scriptural authority, this was something that Nicodemus could be expected to understand. Interpreting John 3:5 in the entire context of Scripture shows, that this is the correct interpretation.
- - "For by grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God"
What Jesus said to Nicodemus was, 'a man must be born of God's Grace & the Holy Spirit to see the Kingdom of Heaven (Paradise). To further prove this interpretation, consider the thief in Luke 23:42-43. The thief believed [God's gift of Grace] and calling Jesus 'Lord' asked Him to remember him when Jesus came into His Kingdom [Inspiration of the Holy Spirit]. Jesus told him he would be with Him in Paradise [Salvation].


What is Baptism?
  According to the teachings of Holy Scripture, it is merely an outward sign of our spiritual rebirth by the 'quickening' of, regeneration by, the Holy Spirit, through being washed in the Blood of Jesus Christ. That is the only significance of Baptism. It holds no special power and grants no spiritual gifts, or guarantees.

Then, "Why be Baptized?"
  The answer to this question is the answer to, What is a Christian? By definition, 'a Christian is a follower, and emulator, of Jesus Christ'.
- - "he who does not take up his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me."
(Mat 10:38)
'Follow' is interpreted from the Greek manuscripts word 'akoloutheo', which in this usage means - 'to be in the same way with.' (Figuratively, to walk in someone else's shoes.) A follower of Jesus Christ believes what He believes & teaches, and emulates His life. We are told in the Bible (Mat 3:13, Mar 1:9, Luke 3:21), that Jesus sought out John, the Baptist, and was baptized.
Why was the Son, God incarnate, baptized?
- - "And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things which please Him."
Being Christian, means following the Christ's example. That baptism has a part in the Church founded by Jesus Christ, is evidenced by,
- - "After these things Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea. And He stayed there with them and baptized."
(John 3:22)
- - "Therefore go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."
(Mat 28:19)
A true follower of Jesus Christ will be baptized with water, unless circumstances completely beyond their control prevent it. Our Lord & Savior set the example and established water baptism as an ordinance of His Church.
- - "He who believes and is baptized will be saved, but he who does not believe will be condemned."
(Mark 16:16)
Jesus places the major emphasis on 'belief' in this verse. He also showed us that, 'true belief leads to baptism'.


"Dipping" vs. "Sprinkling"
  One group will tell you that 'believer's baptism' is only accomplished by immersion. The other says that moistening the forehead is acceptable. We have seen previously in this study that 'baptize' can mean immersion, moistening, or ritual washing. Personally, I wanted baptism by immersion; because that's the way I believe the Bible teaches it should be done. The disagreement between 'dippers' and 'sprinklers' is reminiscent of the Pharisee's of Jesus' time. Being more interested in the form of the law, than in its meaning, they claimed spiritual superiority over everyone else, maintaining that their method was the only one acceptable. Any reader of the Bible knows what Jesus said about them and their actions. The important thing about baptism is, 'what it is symbolic of, not if it is done by immersion in water or sprinkling with water.'

  Baptism was symbolized in Levitical Law by ablution, ritual washing. Scripture tells us that Jesus was in the river Jordan.
- - "And Jesus, when He had been baptized, went up immediately out of the water."
(Mat 3:16)
The implication is clearly that He was most probably completely immersed, 'whelmed', in the river. Yet, depending upon how you interpret the verse, it could simply mean that Jesus was standing in the river for ritual ablution, or to have water poured over Him.

  That baptism is to be by water is clearly established in the Bible. The method can be interpreted either way. Shouldn't we be more concerned with its symbolic meaning, than with a legalistic dispute over the method.

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page updated 12/02/2011.