THE APOSTLES' PATTERN IS
FOLLOWED IN THE PRACTICE OF BAPTISM
by Dub McClish
Perhaps there is no teaching of
the New Testament over which more controversy has raged than the subject of
baptism. This is not the case because the New Testament is ambiguous on the
subject, nor because men are incapable of understanding its teaching. As we
explore this subject it shall be our premise that God is the author of baptism
through the teachings of the Bible. In the final analysis, it makes little
difference what any man says on the subject, but it makes all of the difference
what God says. If the teaching of the New Testament on the subject of baptism is
unimportant, then how can anyone logically contend that the teaching of the New
Testament on any subject is important? The Lord, through his word, must be
allowed to tell us what both the action and purpose of baptism are.
THE "WHAT' OF BAPTISM
In the minds of most people,
baptism is an act that may be administered in either of three ways: sprinkling
water on the candidate, pouring water on the candidate or immersing the
candidate in water. Some English dictionaries state that baptism is administered
by either of these three actions.1 However, it must be remembered that modern
English dictionaries reflect the current usage of words, rather than their
Consider the following evidence
in the New Testament, apart from the original meaning of the word "baptism." The
baptism of John, which involved the same action as the baptism commanded by
Christ and preached by the apostles, required "much water" (John 3:23). A case
of baptism is described in Acts 8:38-39: "And they both went down into the
water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. And when they came up
out of the water. . . " The apostle Paul twice uses the term "burial" to
describe what takes place when one is baptized (Romans 6:4; Colossians 2:12).
This evidence obviously points to only one action -- immersion.
A study of the Greek word for
"baptism" yields the same conclusion. "Baptize" and its related forms was not an
English word, originally. It was transferred into English directly from the New
Testament Greek word, baptidzo. One may consult any standard lexicon of the
Greek New Testament and learn that baptidzo means to dip, plunge, submerge or
immerse when used literally.2 When used figuratively (e.g., Mark 10:38), it
means to overwhelm. If this Greek word were translated, rather than merely
transliterated, the New testament would read "immerse" everywhere it presently
For those who truly believe the
Bible to be the inspired word of God, the description of baptism in the New
Testament is sufficient, regardless of what mere men may say on the subject.
However, it is worthwhile to notice a sampling of what religious leaders have
said on the subject. The reader is asked to please understand that these are not
cited for the purpose of embarrassing anyone or to "prove" some right and others
wrong. Our only purpose is to exalt the truth of God's word. Consider the
Martin Luther ("Father of the
16th century Reformation," founder of the Lutheran Church): "The term 'baptism'
is a Greek word; it may be rendered into Latin by mersio -- when we immerse
anything in water, that it may be entirely covered with water."3
John Calvin (16th century
reformer, a founder of the Presbyterian Church): "The word 'baptize' signifies
to immerse and the rite of immersion was practiced by the ancient church."4
John Wesley (founder of the
Methodist Church): "Buried with him -- alluding to the ancient manner of
baptizing by immersion."5
Catholic Dictionary: "In
Apostolic Times the body of the baptized person was immersed, for St. Paul looks
on the immersion as typifying the burial with Christ, and speaks of baptism as a
All of the above quotations
have two things in common: (1) They are unanimous in their definition of baptism
as immersion; (2) They all come from members of churches that have substituted
sprinkling and/or pouring for immersion. Their scholarship and honor require
them to refute their own practice, however. It cannot be rationally argued that
New Testament baptism was and is anything less than immersion. To adopt any
other view requires a denial of New Testament authority.
THE 'WAY' OF BAPTISM
There are two basic schools of
thought on the purpose of the baptism commanded by Jesus Christ: One says that
baptism is an act of obedience of one who has already been saved, providing
access to denominational membership after salvation has been granted through
faith alone. In this view, baptism is part of one's obedience to Christ because
he is already a Christian. The other view contends that baptism is the final act
of obedience one submits to in order to be saved or forgiven of his past sins.
In this view a person is not saved until he is baptized, at which time he is
also added to the church because he is saved. What does the Bible say?
Jesus told the apostles that as
they preached the gospel, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved"
(Mark 16:16). Note the order: (1) believe; (2) baptized; (3) saved. The order in
not (1) believe; (2) saved; (3) baptized if one wished to join a church. In this
verse baptism is made a condition of salvation, as plainly as is faith.
When the apostles began to
fulfill the command to "go preach," they told people, "Repent ye, and be
baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your
sins. . . " (Acts 2:38). What relation does repentance sustain to remission
(forgiveness) of sins? (Notice that baptism is on the same relation to
forgiveness of sins as repentance.) Those who argue that baptism follows
forgiveness instead of preceding it, must also place repentance after
forgiveness to be consistent. However, there is not a single instance of
forgiveness granted apart from repentance in all of the Bible. "Remission of
sins" is placed after baptism in this passage, even as "salvation" is in the
previous passage. Saul of Tarsus was commanded to ". . . be baptized and wash
away thy sins. . . " (Acts 22:16). This statement makes no sense at all if one's
sins are forgiven before one is baptized.
The objection is sometimes
raised that to insist that immersion in water is a scriptural condition of
salvation equals a doctrine of "water salvation." If that is the case, then it
is such scriptures as Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16, etc., that should be blamed
for the teaching, rather than those who believe it. However, such verses
attribute no merit to water as a spiritual cleansing agent whatsoever. These
verses do not say what the cleansing agent is. They only tell us when the
cleansing occurs. It is plain from other scriptures that the blood of Christ is
the agent of cleansing or forgiveness (1 Peter 1:18-19; Revelation 1:5, etc.).
The old song is absolutely correct: "What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the
blood of Jesus."
When does this washing occur or
how does one gain access to the precious cleansing blood of Christ? Besides the
references already cited, consider also Romans 6:3: "Or are ye ignorant that all
we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?" It was in
the act of his death that Jesus' cleansing blood was offered for the sins of
mankind (Hebrews 9:26-28). By what means is the sinner able to participate in
the death of Christ, where he offered his precious blood? The inspired apostle
answers conclusively: "we are baptized into his death" (Rom. 6:3). This is in
perfect harmony with every other scripture on baptism. The purpose God has
revealed in his word for baptism is not that of Christian obedience, done
because one has already been saved. Rather, it, along with a confessed faith in
Christ and repentance of sins, is the act in which one comes to participate in
the death of Christ. It is therefore the act from which one comes forth to live
a new life (Rom. 6:4). It is the act upon which one is added to the church of
Christ, because he has been saved and the church is God's depository of saved
people (Acts 2:41, 47; Ephesians 5:23). Only when one understands that salvation
is not bestowed until one is scripturally baptized, can one appreciate the
apostle Peter's pronouncement that baptism saves us (1 Peter 3:21).
The Scriptures teach that the
baptism, which Christ ordered to be preached to all men, is a burial in water.
It brings one into salvation, or forgiveness of sins, through the blood of
Christ. It is our earnest plea that all men return to what the Bible teaches on
this subject, both in their teaching and practice.
1 William Allen Neilson
(Ed.-in-Chief), et. al., Webster's New International Dictionary
of the English Language
(Springfield, Mass.:G. and C. Merriam Company, 1957). p. 216.
2 The Analytical Greek Lexicon
(New York: Harper and Brothers,n.d.), p. 65; and Joseph
Henry Thayer, A Greek-English
Lexicon of the New Testament (New York: American
Book Company, 1889), p. 94; and
Walter Bauer, William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur
Gingrich, A Greek-English
Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian
Literature (Chicago: University
of Chicago Press, 1957), p.131; etc.
3 T. W. Brents, The Gospel Plan
of Salvation (Nashville, Tenn.: Gospel Advocate
Company, 1957). p. 280.
4 Ibid., pp. 280-281.
5 Ibid., p. 334.
6 O. C. Lambert, Roman
Catholicism Against Itself (Winfield, Ala.: O. C. Lambert, 1954), vol. I, p.
Who alone has the right to
determine both the action and purpose of baptism?
From what source alone can men
learn God's will on the subject?
What does the Greek word for
"baptism" literally mean?
Where did God ever give any man
the right to change this practice?
Is salvation or forgiveness of
sins placed before or after baptism in such scriptures as Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38,
Acts 22:16 and I Peter 3:21?
What is the perfect and only
cleansing agent for our sins?
According to Romans 6:3, how
does one become a participant in that cleansing agent, which Christ offered in