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The Bible Says What About Baptism?!

by Pastor Chris Kumpula

There are lots of ideas about baptism today. Much of it stems from either frustration towards lukewarm "casual Christianity" or fear for people who walk away from the church, their baptism, and Christ Himself. Still, our understanding of baptism must absolutely be a matter of adherence to the teaching of the Bible and an emphasis on the forgiveness of sins won in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Here are six things the Bible has to say about baptism, plus a note on church history.

1. The Bible Says Circumcision Was About God’s Promise .

Genesis 17:6-14 connects the practice of circumcision to God’s promise. God would fulfill His covenant promise through a future messiah yet to be born. The practice of circumcision connected sex to the future promise in an… unforgettable way. To “be fruitful” and multiply was to continue the line of Abraham to a descendant named Jesus. Romans 2:25-29 speaks to the New Covenant in Christ and reminds believers that the outward act of circumcision was meant to be a matter of the heart. In faith, people of the Old Testament complied with God’s covenant, and now in the New Testament, the way of faith continues through baptism. Baptism is not a matter of obeying symbolic rituals for the washing of the flesh, but a matter of faith for spiritual cleansing.

2. The Bible Says Baptism is a New Kind of Circumcision.

Colossians 2:11-14 says that baptism is a new and better kind of circumcision. In the Old Testament, circumcision was meant to mark God’s promise to His people as part of His covenantal system. Boys were circumcised on the eighth day, and so the church has generally recognized the eighth day as a good time to baptize. Paul says the same powerful work of God to raise Jesus from the dead is at work in baptism. Because Jesus suffered once for all on the cross, our burial and resurrection takes full advantage of His suffering, His victory, and His life. Baptism puts to death the sinful nature (Romans 6:6) and resurrects us in faith to a new life in Christ. Baptism is much more than a symbol. It is a washing of regeneration (Titus 3:5–7) that generates the very faith necessary to take hold of Christ and live in Him. Paul says we were dead in sin (see also Ephesians 2:1). A dead man can do nothing. So the operative force for life and salvation must come outside of human beings. Baptism is not a work of man; baptism is the gracious work of God.

3. The Bible Says Baptism Saves Us in Christ from True Death.

"Baptism saves you." 1 Peter 3:18-22 says that baptism corresponds to God’s saving of Noah and his family from imminent destruction in the flood. Peter makes the point that Noah’s flood prefigured the flood of baptism. Noah’s flood washed away the unrighteousness of the world, and now baptism washes away our unrighteousness that we may enjoy a clean conscience. Why? Because we can know we are forgiven and holy because of Christ, and that this forgiveness has been applied to us in baptism. God works salvation so that we either simply “board the boat,” or ignore His warning of judgment. Noah, and his family, were saved by the means of an ark. God desires to save us through the readily available means of water and His Word. So board the boat and be saved by Christ!

4. The Bible Says Baptism is for the Whole Household of God .

Consider when Paul and Silas encounter Lydia. She believed the gospel. She and her household were baptized (Acts 16:13-15). And when Paul and Silas were arrested, an earthquake caused the doors to be opened. Paul preached to the jailer. He and his whole household were baptized (Acts 16:16-34, but especially 16:33). In both cases, the likelihood of children being present in either circumstance is nearly certain. In both cases, there must have been seriousness given to Jesus’s admonition in Matthew 19:14 “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” To belong to God’s kingdom is to belong to the covenant of Christ, and the connective doorway to be maintained by His disciples is baptism. This doorway leaves the way to salvation open to anyone, regardless of gender, age, or mental capacity. “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3-4) Contrary to the opinion of some, the callousness of age only makes us less receptive to the promises of God than we were in the innocence of childhood. Thanks be to God He delivers us through simple faith He provides!

5. The Bible Says Baptism is Central to the Mission of the Church.

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20) This passage instructs the church that our mission for making disciples will be accomplished through a) baptizing precious eternal human souls into Christ and b) teaching them the doctrines of Christ. The point Jesus makes is that baptism and teaching are available to anyone through His church, the visible form of the Kingdom of God on earth. Both endeavors will rest on the power of God’s Word to accomplish salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. To be a disciple in God’s kingdom is to be baptized and taught.

6. The Bible Says Baptism Only Requires God's Word and Some Water.

While it is often asserted “baptize” = “immerse,” the evidence strongly suggests otherwise. The term "baptize" is often synonymous with “wash” (Titus 3:5-6; Heb. 9:19; Eph. 5:26, Acts 22:16) For example in Mark 7:1-4 is a passage in which earlier translators considered the term “baptize” to include the washing of “dining couches.” Furthermore, it is highly likely that baptisms were performed in the early church by methods other than immersion.

Consider the 3,000 who were baptized on Pentecost in Jerusalem. No river existed. There is no mention made for the use of that much water. The shortage of clean (especially drinkable) water in general would most likely have precluded baptism by immersion. Jerusalem, Samaria, Damascus, Philippi, Corinth, Rome, and Asia Minor had particularly meager water supplies. This is why in Acts 8:26-40 is highly likely the Ethiopian eunuch was not immersed by Philip.

The Didache (early Christian writings 100-325 AD) specifically required that one would “pour water three times on the head” (7:3). No mention is made of immersion, which is significant, given the instructional context. Early Christian art depicts baptisms in shallow pools with water poured over the head while standing. This method accords well with the Old Testament model of sprinkling and atonement (see Exodus 24).

Yes, Infant Baptism Was Recognized as the Biblical Understanding in the Early Church

Irenaeus (130-200 AD) writes “Jesus came to save all through means of Himself — all, I say, who through Him are born again to God – infants and children, boys and youth, and old men.” (“Against Heresies” 22:4)

Origen (185-254 AD) repeatedly wrote something very similar. in his Commentary on Romans 5:9: “For this also it was that the Church had from the Apostles a tradition to give baptism even to infants.” Origen also wrote “Infants are to be baptized for the remission of sins.” (Sermon on Luke 14)

Cyprian (215-258 AD) repeatedly wrote something very similar. “Should we wait until the 8th day as did the Jews in the circumcision? No, the child should be baptized as soon as it is born.”

Council of Carthage (254 AD) 66 bishops stated: “We ought not hinder any person from Baptism and the grace of God … especially infants … those newly born.”

Augustine (354-430 AD) wrote “The custom of our mother Church in baptizing infants must not be counted needless, nor believed to be other than a tradition of the Apostles… the whole Church which hastens to baptize infants, because it unhesitatingly believes that otherwise they cannot possibly be vivified in Christ.” (“De Genesi Ad Literam” 10:39)

Council at Girona (517 AD) 10 rules of discipline were framed for the Church in Spain. Rule 5: “… in case infants were ill … if they were offered, to baptize them, even though it were the day that they were born…such was to be done.” (The History of Baptism by Robert Robinson, 1790, p. 251)


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