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The Word Baptize

The word baptize comes from the Greek word baptizo[1] and literally means, "to dip, to immerse, to submerge."   The word is not translated from Greek to English, it is transliterated which means “to represent or spell in the characters of another alphabet”.  In other words, the Greek word “baptizo” was transliterated to “baptize” instead of being translated to the English word “immersion”.   In addition to the literal meaning of the word, immersion is practiced because it was the practice of the church in apostolic times.  Still further, only immersion conforms to the description of baptisms as given by the apostle Paul in Romans 6: 3-5 where he speaks of baptism as a burial and resurrection and to other baptisms which show them going down into the water, coming up out of the water at the River Jordan and baptizing where there was a lot of water present.

The subject of baptism stirs up controversy, which is interesting as there was no controversy with Jesus or the Apostles, the controversy is a modern development of men’s opinions.   Some think it’s necessary for salvation, while others say no.   Some baptize infants, while others baptize only people old enough to believe.   Some immerse, while others only sprinkle.   Some think that they are saved before baptism by faith only, while others say that salvation comes only after baptism. Well, what does the Bible say?  Should we be baptized?  Many years ago I was studying the Bible with a group of people, and the subject of baptism came up. One man who denied the need of baptism for salvation said, “Oh, if I never see another drop of water in my life, I know I’m saved.” You see he believed a person was saved at the point of faith.  He thought baptism wasn’t necessary for salvation.

The Purpose of Baptism

The Bible is God’s revelation to man to teach him what he needs to know; and if baptism is necessary for salvation, and my salvation affects where I spend eternity, I don’t want any doubts. I want to know!  I want to know what God instructs me to do in response to the cross of Christ.  I don’t want to have any surprises on the Day of Judgment by following some belief or practice that I can’t read about in the New Testament.

Our Scripture comes from the Word of God, Matthew chapter 3: 13-17:

“Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. And John tried to prevent Him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?’ But Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he allowed Him. When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’”

The New Testament speaks of baptism more than 80 times; it mentions baptism in every example of conversion.  The Eunuch rejoiced after his baptism; he didn’t wait but asked to be baptized.  The Philippians jailer considered baptism so important that he was baptized in the middle of the night.  When the Samaritans believed the preaching of Philip about Jesus and His kingdom, they were baptized both men and women.  The 3,000 who obeyed at Pentecost were baptized that very day.  If baptism was not necessary, why do we find this urgency in the New Testament to submit to it?

Christian baptism is an immersion in water.   The New Testament never considers the idea of a Christian who has not been immersed.  When the risen Lord Jesus gave the Great Commission in Matthew and Mark, he put baptism right in the middle of it.   You remember that the Lord Jesus said in Matthew 28: 18-20:

“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.”

In the book of Mark chapter 16: 15-16, the Lord said:

“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.”

You see, from the very beginning of the New Testament baptism was an act of faith and repentance.   Jesus walked to the Jordan River to be baptized by John the Baptist.

“John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’

And then, of course, John consented.  When Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’”

Think with me!  Jesus walked for two or three days from Galilee to Judea to be baptized in the Jordan River.  It must have been important to Jesus.  In his baptism, he came up out of the water, which indicates that he was immersed in the water of the river.  The Bible says in John 3: 23 that John

“was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there.”

Again, from the very beginning baptism required much water; it wasn’t a sprinkling but an immersion.    Colossians 2: 12-13 speaks of the Christian burial:


“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.  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.”

It’s obvious that when we are baptized we are buried and raised with Christ.  Burial, of course, is a specific act.  Now in the burial of the earthly body it is completely covered under the ground.   Well, in baptism one is completely covered in water, buried with Christ and raised with Christ.   A person before baptism is dead in his sins, but God makes him alive with Christ in baptism and completely forgives all our sins.    Notice again what Colossians 2:12-13 says:

“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.”

Baptism on our part is an act of faith, a response of faith, in the working of God.  The working of God?  Yes!  God is the one who raised Jesus from the dead, and He is the one who makes us alive with Christ and forgives our sins.  Baptism is not some work of merit on our part to earn salvation. No, no, no!  Baptism is God’s work!  We respond in faith and obedience to baptism, but God works on us in baptism.

Baptism is never an act by itself on our part.  It is always the response of faith, a response of repentance and love.  Some people baptize infants, but this is really a departure from the practice of the New Testament.  In Acts 8:12, the Bible says:

“But when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike.”

Men and women; no children!  Peter commanded the people on the day of Pentecost to repent and be baptized.  You see, faith and repentance are activities of people who are old enough to act on their own, to understand their condition and a desire to do something about it.   An infant cannot do that.  The preachers in the New Testament didn’t force baptism on nonbelievers with a sword in their hands. They baptized the people who knew what they were doing and wanted to be baptized. They baptized the willing, those who believed their preaching and repented.

Now if you think about it, infant baptism denies the child an opportunity to make up his own mind about whether he will follow Jesus as Lord.  No one can make that decision for anyone else.   Would we regard an unbelieving adult who was forced to be baptized against his will as Biblically baptized?   Well, of course not!    Why then do we believe it is all right to baptize an infant who does not know what is happening and often dislikes the experience?  

Many ask about the household baptisms in Acts.   Weren’t there infants in those households?” Yes, I know about the households of Lydia, the Jailer, and Crispus and Stephanus.  Acts 18:8 says:

“Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, believed in the Lord with all of his household, and many of the Corinthians when they heard were believing and being baptized.”

You see, the language there means that they believed first and then were baptized.  In Acts 16:32-34 it makes it clear that the jailer at Philippi together with all of his family heard the teaching and believed in God. You see, if you study the accounts of household baptism closely, you will see they were made up of people who were old enough to believe and act on their own.  Some people think that one is saved by faith alone before they are baptized. Actually this is a very recent belief.   Not until the sixteenth century and the Reformation movement did anybody widely teach that you could be saved without being baptized.  Before that time people understood that God’s grace worked through baptism. Now, although it’s popular today to say that one is saved by faith alone apart from baptism, the apostles never taught a gospel of faith alone without baptism.

In fact, according to the New Testament there is no gift or power available to man in the consequence of Christ’s redemption that’s not available to him in baptism.  Now, that may sound like a bold statement, but one who looks closely at the Scriptures sees that God is active in blessing mankind through baptism. Let’s look at some examples.

God’s Word says in the book of Romans chapter 6: 3-7:

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 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. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.”

You see, baptism is the time that God unites us with Christ.   We are baptized into his death.  Of course, Christ gave Himself as a sacrifice and shed his blood in his death.  We’re not merely baptized in water; we are also baptized into the death of Christ, coming into contact with His cleansing blood.   Christ’s blood is what washes away our sins and frees us from the guilt and consequences of sin.  In baptism we die with Christ, so that we may die to sin.

On the day of Pentecost a great multitude of Jews assembled at the temple, and Peter preached about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.   Peter ended his sermon by proclaiming in Acts 2: 36:

“Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

Those Jews remembered how Jesus suffered just fifty days before. They cried out for his blood. But when they find out that He has risen from the dead and the promised Son of David, the Messiah!  Verse 37 says:

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and they said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

They wanted to know what they could do; and since they had committed such a great sin, they were cut to the heart and needed forgiveness.   Well, Peter didn’t ignore their question.   In Acts 2:38-41 Peter said to them:

“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 your children and for all who are far off, even everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.’ And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this crooked generation.’ So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.”

You see, they wanted to know what to do to respond to this terrible guilt that they felt.   And Peter’s answer was simple, “repent and be baptized!”   They did this for the forgiveness of their sins.   Some confused people say they were baptized because their sins were already forgiven.   But you have to read that into the text, and that statement misleads people.  The Jews asked what to do, because they wanted to know what to do to be forgiven.   Peter said "repent and be baptized."

Look in your New Testament to Matthew 26: 28.  Jesus is giving instructions about the Lord’s Supper and speaking of the cup, He said,

“Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

Now, no one doubts Jesus shed His blood so that we might have forgiveness of sins.  Well, Peter just fifty-one days later uses the same phrase “for the forgiveness of sins” about being baptized.   Surely he knew what that phrase meant.   Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins.  Now, some recent versions clear up this question of Acts 2:38.   God’s Word translation says:

“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins will be forgiven.”  

The New Revised Standard Version says,

“Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven.”

Another version, the International English Version makes the same point that we ought to be immersed by the authority of Jesus, the Messiah, so that your sins may be forgiven.  In fact, there are more than a dozen new versions that make it clear that repentance and baptism are the required response that Peter gave to the Jews so that their sins might be forgiven.   The gospel Peter taught is the same gospel I’m writing about today.   If you wish to be saved, believe in Jesus Christ, repent, and be baptized so that your sins will be forgiven.   

Some claim that Saul of Tarsus, who became the Apostle Paul, was saved on the road to Damascus?   I know the Biblical account, but are you sure that he was saved at that point?  Just because he had a conversation with Jesus doesn’t mean he was forgiven.  Yes, Saul found out who Jesus was, but there is no Scriptural indication that Saul was saved that day. In fact, the Bible makes it clear he was not yet saved.   Jesus told Saul to go into Damascus, and there it would be told him what he was to do (Acts 9:6).    Saul or Paul after being struck blind and talking to Jesus went into Damascus and Acts 9: 9 says that “for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.”    We find out in verse 11 that he was praying.   Now, Saul’s prayers were serious and fervent.   You can imagine how guilty he felt for all of his violent sins, persecuting people, and imprisoning them, stoning Stephen, and blaspheming Christ.  He probably prayed like he had never prayed before.

Then in Acts 22 the Bible reveals that God sent Ananias to Paul.  Ananias laid his hands on Saul, and Saul regained his sight.   Then the Scripture tells us in verse 16 that, when exactly Saul or Paul was saved.  Ananias said,

“And now why do you wait?  Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.”      Be baptized and wash away your sins?  

Saul still had sins?  Now, if Saul had been saved on the road, why does he still have sins?  If Saul was saved by prayer, why does he still have sins?   Saul wasn’t saved on the road or by prayer.   God saved him when he rose and was baptized.  That’s when his sins were washed away and that’s when your sins will be washed away, too.  

I wash dirty clothes, not clean ones, to make them clean and God washes our souls in baptism to make us clean.  Baptism is when we come into contact with the death of Christ; and that’s when we become free from sin. 


[1]   Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible:  to make overwhelmed, i.e. fully wet

Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament:  to dip, to immerge, submerge, to wash

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