Few subjects are immersed in more controversy than baptism. Debates, theological discussions and man-made doctrines swirl around the topic. Despite all the attention, baptism remains a hotly contested and highly misunderstood subject. The amazing feature in all this discussion is the lack of respect toward the Scriptures concerning it. This article, as well as ones to follow, is dedicated to presenting the truth from God’s Holy Word on this ever important subject.
Some of the misunderstanding about baptism centers on a failure to understand Paul’s statement in Ephesians 4:5—“One Lord, one faith, one baptism.” One might exclaim, “But I read of more than one baptism in the Bible!” How can there be multiple types of baptisms mentioned while Paul declares there is only one? It is our intention to answer this and other questions about baptism in this issue.
Baptisms Mentioned in the Bible
As one reads through the New Testament one comes across various types of baptism. They include:
- The Baptism of John (Mk 1:4; Lk 7:29-30)
- The Baptism of the Holy Spirit (Jn. 1:33; Mt. 3:11)
- The Baptism of Suffering (Mk. 10:38-39)
- The Baptism of Fire (Mt. 3:11-12; Lk. 3:16)
- The Baptism of the Dead (1 Cor. 15:29)
- The Baptism unto Moses (1 Cor. 10:1-2)
- The Baptism Commanded by Jesus under the Great Commission (Mt. 28:19; Mk. 16:15-16)
While seven baptisms are detailed above, according to the Scriptures (Eph. 4:5) there is only one. How can this be? A brief look at each will allow us to understand which of the baptisms mentioned is the one Paul speaks of in Ephesians 4:5.
The Baptism of John
As one begins to read the New Testament, the baptism of John is quickly encountered. Mark records at the very beginning of his gospel, “John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (1:4). It is mentioned again in Luke’s account: “And all the people that heard him, and the publicans, justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him” (Lk. 7:29-30, KJV unless otherwise noted).
Making his way through Ephesus, Paul encountered some who had been baptized with John’s baptism. “And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John’s baptism. Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus” (Acts 19:3-4). One concludes John’s baptism was no longer applicable after the death of Christ.
The Baptism of the Holy Spirit
Intense interest and speculation surrounds the baptism of the Holy Spirit; however the Bible is very clear as to its purpose. We read of this baptism on the day of Pentecost:
And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance (Acts 2:1-4).
The only other time we read of this baptism in the New Testament is at the conversion of the Gentiles, specifically, Cornelius’s household. “While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 10:44-45). Peter, explaining the events to the circumcised, said, “And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning. Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost. Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God?” (Acts 11:15-17). At the Jerusalem council Peter boldly declared to the apostles and elders, “And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us;” (Acts 15:8). These are the only two instances we read of Holy Spirit baptism. Peter taught on Pentecost that it was in fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy: “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit” (2:28-29).
The Baptism of Suffering
We encounter this baptism in Jesus’ answer to a request made by James and John.
But Jesus said unto them, Ye know not what ye ask: can ye drink of the cup that I drink of? And be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? And they said unto him, We can. And Jesus said unto them, Ye shall indeed drink of the cup that I drink of; and with the baptism that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized” (Mk. 10:38-39).
The Lord’s suffering was seen in His crucifixion and accomplished in His death (Mt. 27:50). James and John would experience trails as well. James was beheaded by Herod Agrippa (Acts 12:2). John, the only apostle to escape a martyrs death, would experience affliction and be banished to the isle of Patmos. (Rev 1:9)
The Baptism of Fire
John, in a rebuke of the Pharisees and Sadducees, mentions this baptism.
I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire: Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire (Mt. 3:11-12).
The context shows this will be carried out after the judgment: “Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels” (Mt. 25:41).
The Baptism of the Dead
In Paul’s famous treatise on the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15, he uses this as a point to advance his argument. “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? Why are they then baptized for the dead?” (15:29). The context makes clear that this is not a valid baptism under the Gospel dispensation, but a point of logic in Paul’s presentation of the truth for the bodily resurrection.
The Baptism unto Moses
From the Apostle Paul’s pen we read of another baptism in his first letter to the Corinthians. “Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Cor. 10:1-2). Paul uses this to illustrate the importance of turning aside from arrogance and complaining and the need to be humbly obedient. The Israelites experienced an amazing deliverance at the Red Sea, but that alone did not usher them into the Promised Land. Likewise, the Corinthians should take heed lest they fall (1 Cor. 10:12).
The Baptism Commanded by Jesus under the Great Commission
The baptism commanded by Jesus under the Great Commission is found in the closing verses of Matthew’s account: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Mt. 28:19-20).
This baptism, often called “Christian baptism,” serves several purposes according to Scripture:
- For Salvation (Mk. 16:16; 1 Pet. 3:21)
- For the Forgiveness of Sin (Acts 2:38; Acts 22:16)
- To be added to His church (1 Cor. 12:13)
- To be put into Christ (Gal. 3:27; Rom. 6:3)
The baptism commanded by Jesus is the one baptism Paul preached and practiced. It is the one baptism he stresses to the Ephesians. It is the one baptism still valid and practiced by believers to this day.
Article by: Brad Shockley