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What you need to understand about Baptism

September 4, 2019 Save Article

What is baptism? And why should we get baptized, anyway? 

What you need to understand about Baptism

Christians have had questions about baptism since the Middle Ages. But long before that, from the time John was baptizing repentant sinners in the Jordan River, the ceremony of baptism was a settled reality. Around the 13th century some changes appeared. Different forms of baptism were introduced into the church then, leaving some present-day Christians asking, “What is true Bible Baptism? How does God want baptism to be done? Should we be immersed, sprinkled, or what?”

I realize this is a topic that can bring an emotional response, because we tend to be committed to the way we were taught in our various churches. But we’re not studying “Baptist baptism” or “Catholic baptism” or Methodist or Church of Christ or Episcopalian baptism. We want to know, what is Bible baptism? What form did it take, and what is the way the Bible prescribed it to be done?

With that in mind, let’s go to the Bible, our first and final authority, and carefully examine baptism from the viewpoint of Scripture, not emotion.

Turn to Matthew 28:19-20. These are the last words Jesus said to His disciples before He ascended back to Heaven. His last words should carry great weight for every Christian. They’ve been called “The Great Commission.” They are a command. They are our marching orders.

Jesus had only a brief public ministry on this earth—a little more than three years. But look at how He began that ministry: at the River Jordan with His baptism.

It ended at the Mt. of Olives with His command to disciple and to baptize. Baptism formed the two “bookends,” if you will, of Jesus’ public ministry. Thus, it’s important.

Read Matthew 28:19-20. The one who said this is also the one who says, “‘All authority is given unto Me.’”

  • The word power in v. 19 is better translated “authority.” All authority has been given to Jesus. As the Second Person of the Trinity, He could authorize His disciples to _____ in His name and on His behalf.
  • How much authority, and how many nations _____?
  • The “end of the world is literally “end of the age.” So when does our commission expire _____?

Jesus is still the head of the church; He has not changed. His word has not changed. He is still saying the same thing. We’re to _____ people to Christ, we’re to _____ them, and to _____ them to observe everything He has _____ us to do. That is our mission—our “commission.”

A Word to the Wise

If we have any denominational doctrine about baptism, we need to get rid of it and come back to Bible doctrine. This isn’t a club. We don’t get to make up our rules as we go along. Jesus has all authority. He is the one who tells us about baptism.

What I ask you to do is to look into the Word of God. I’m only interested in what the Word of God says about baptism. If Jesus has commanded baptism for all believers, it’s important we find out exactly what He meant by baptism.

The Biblical Method of Baptism

What is the biblical method of baptism—the only way baptism was understood and performed until the 13th century after Christ?

Turn to Mark 1:9-10, to find out how the Lord Jesus Christ was baptized. Do you know how far that was? 60 miles! To be baptized in Jordan. Not by Jordan or near Jordan.

Turn to John 3:23. You may wonder, “Why was John baptizing in the River Jordan?”

  • It was so beautiful there?
  • It was so convenient?

No, that wasn’t it. John went out to the River Jordan for the same reason Jesus went all the way to Jordan, not for the scenery, not for the convenience. “Because there was much water there.”

Back to Mark 1:9-10. If He came up out of the water, where was He? He had to be down _____ the water. It is obvious that Jesus was baptized by immersion.

The Bible’s Specific Word for Baptize

It’s interesting, because the word baptize in the original language means “immerse,” “dipped into,” “plunged into.” How do we know that?

  • The word “baptize” is straight out of the Greek. It is the Greek word baptizo, which means to dip, to submerge, to immerse. It’s what you do to tea leaves to brew tea. It’s what you do to fabric when you need to dye it: you submerge it in a vat of dye. It’s not sprinkling or pouring.
  • There’s a perfectly good Greek word for sprinkle:  Rantizo means to sprinkle. Cheo means to pour. But God’s Word says, “Take them and baptizo them.”

Bible baptism is immersion. Why did the translators not use the word “immerse” or “dip”? They could have. It would have been the exact translation of the word. But they didn’t. They just brought the Greek word over into English and used it without translating it. They didn’t do this any place else in the Bible. In other cases, they translated words.

Take the Christian doctrine of “repentance,” for example. In the case of “repentance,” they didn’t use the Greek word metanoia for the act of repentance, like they used the Greek word baptizo for the act of water baptism. They translated metanoia into English, using the English word “repentance.” But they did not translate baptizo into English and use the English word “immerse.”

If repent and repentance had been treated in the same way baptizo was, look at how the following verses would read today in your English translation:

  • for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to metanoia.” Matthew 9:13
  • God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to metanoia.” 2 Peter 3:9
  • Metanoeo: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 4:17
  • “… be zealous therefore, and metanoeo.” Revelation 3:19

But the translators of the English versions of the Bible didn’t do that. They translated metanoeo/metanoia into the English words “repent/repentance.” But they used the Greek word baptizoinstead of the English words “immerse” or “dip.” They didn’t translate baptizo. They transliteratedit (copied it over from the Greek).

You’re very familiar with this in places other than the Bible. For example, Do you like croissants? Would it be fun to have a chauffeur? Have you ever had to speak impromptu? All 3 words are transliterated from French. Are you a sports aficionado? (Spanish) In cool weather, do you like dine al fresco (Italian) sitting on a restaurant’s patio? (Spanish)

So why did the English translators choose to write baptizo when otherwise they would have said “immerse” or “dip”? Because they knew nobody knew what it meant in the original Greek.

If they had used “immerse” everywhere the original manuscripts said baptizo, there could be trouble. Church officials by the late Middle Ages had switched from immersion to sprinkling or pouring water instead. People might have begun questioning why the they were doing that. This way, the English translation avoided that political that ecclesiastical controversy.

Read what two important leaders in the history of the church had to say about the method of baptism:

  • The word “baptize’ signifies to immerse. It is certain that immersion was the practice of the primitive church.”—John Calvin
  • Baptism is a Greek word and may be translate immerse. I would have those who are to be baptized to be altogether dipped.” —Martin Luther.

The Meaning of Baptism

Baptism by immersion is a living picture of the burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ and His saving work. The method, immersion, is inextricably woven into the meaning. It’s important because it’s necessary to the meaning, as we will see in other verses.

Turn now to Romans 6:4The Apostle Paul here is explaining that water baptism is a reenactment of Jesus’ burial and resurrection. We are buried like He was (down into the water we go, and it covers us completely, as the grave covered Jesus) and then “raised to walk in newness of life.” Up from the water we come to live a new life. Baptism signifies a burial. The meaning dictates the method.

Continue to verse 6 and 7: Knowing this, that [now watch this]our old man [the old Adrian, that rascal] is crucified with Him [Jesus], that the body of sin [the old man I used to be], might be destroyed that henceforth we should not serve sin.  For he that is dead is freed from sin.

What does baptism picture? It pictures the Gospel. What is the Gospel? Turn to 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, which tells us the Gospel: the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus! What does baptism picture? Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection.

If you were the devil, you would want that picture removed. God wants it to be clear. That’s the reason water baptism depicts what Jesus did to save us: His death, burial, and resurrection, and we identify ourselves with it.

When I go under the water, I am “in the likeness of death.” I die, the old Adrian dies. When I trust Him, His death has my name on it. He died my death, He took my place upon that cross, so my death with the Lord Jesus Christ is pictured in baptism. Baptism is a picture of your death.

But it also pictures our resurrection with Jesus. Look again at Romans 6:4.

When I went beneath that water, it was a liquid tomb. The old Adrian died with Jesus. The old Adrian is buried. It was a funeral. The only mourner there was the devil. He hated to see me die. I am buried with Jesus. His death had my name on it. He died for me, I died with Him. Baptism says, “I believe that. I, the old man, is dead and this world is crucified to me. I’m dead to this old world.”

Goodbye, old world! Goodbye, old man! Hello, new world. Hello, Jesus. Hello resurrection life. And that’s what it’s about. When Jesus died, I died. When He arose, I arose. He did that for me and I did that with Him. Baptism pictures Calvary because we died with Him. It pictures Easter because we rose with Him. It pictures the Second Coming because one of these days we’ll be raised from the grave to live with the Lord Jesus Christ in a resurrected body. Don't you think the devil would like take that picture out of the church?

The Motive of Baptism

We’ve seen the biblical method and meaning of baptism. Our motive for being baptized is threefold:

  1. We have a Master to confess, the Lord Jesus. Baptism is our way of saying, “I am not ashamed of Jesus Christ. I thank God for what He did for me on that cross.”
  2. We have a message to convey. When we get baptized, we are preaching the Gospel: the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
  3. We have His mandate to complete, our Great Commission: “Go therefore, teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to obey all things whatsoever I have commanded you.”

Our only response to His command is to say “Yes, Lord. Yes.”