The Purpose of Baptism
The doctrine of water baptism is one of the most hotly debated topics in Christendom. This is intriguing because it is relatively easy to understand what the Bible has to say about this doctrine – provided we take the Bible for what it says instead of attempting to force our individual doctrines and biases upon the Bible. Consider the following clear statements of Scripture:
…he [Yeshua1] said unto them [His apostles], Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. (Mark 16:15-16)2
Now when they [3,000 Judahites] heard this [the gospel and the fact that they were responsible for Yeshua’s death], they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost…. Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them [the early church comprised of the apostles] about three thousand souls. (Acts 2:37-41)
And now [Saul of Tarsus] why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord. (Acts 22:16)
Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:3-4)
For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. (Galatians 3:26-27)
In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: Buried with him in baptism…. And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses. (Colossians 2:11-13)
…God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein … eight souls were saved by water. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (…the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 3:20-21)
Whether these passages are ignored, explained away, or pitted against other passages, the Bible clearly and unequivocally asserts the following about baptism:
- Baptism is a part of our salvation in Yeshua (Jesus’ given Hebrew name) the Christ.
- Baptism is for the forgiveness of sins.
- Baptism is when the Holy Spirit indwells us.
- Baptism is when we are added to the church of Yeshua the Christ.
- Baptism is when we are born from above to walk a new life.
- Baptism is when we put on Yeshua the Christ.
- Baptism is when our hearts are circumcised with the circumcision of Christ.
Those who reject these biblical statements about baptism usually teach one or a combination of the following doctrines about baptism, none of which can be found in the Bible.
- Baptism has nothing to do with salvation.
- Baptism is an outward sign of inward grace.
- Baptism is a witness to others.
- Baptism is just an act of obedience following salvation.
- Baptism is a work of man.
These unscriptural doctrines about baptism often include the teaching that a person can be saved by “accepting” or “asking Jesus into his heart” or by “praying the sinner’s prayer.” Yet these statements cannot be found in the Bible, nor does the Bible record anyone doing any of these things. In other words, people have replaced what the Bible clearly declares about baptism and its relationship to salvation with man-made traditions, much as the Pharisees and Sadducees did during the ministry of Yeshua:
This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. (Matthew 15:8-9)
The Mode of Baptism
In many instances, the biblical mode of baptism has also been abandoned. The English translators created the word “baptism” through transliteration,3 instead of translating4 the Greek word baptisma, which means to immerse. Consequently, certain denominations have interpreted the English word “baptism” to mean sprinkling or pouring. However, Yeshua and the inspired authors of the New Testament never commanded anyone to have water sprinkled on or poured over them. If they had, they would have used either the Greek word cheo, which means to pour, or the Greek word rhantizo, which means to sprinkle. Instead, Yeshua and the New Testament authors chose the word baptisma, or some form thereof, which means to immerse:
baptisma (bap'-tis-mah); from [baptizo]; immersion … (technically or figuratively). – Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance5
baptize (bap-tid'-zo) … to immerse, submerge; to make overwhelmed (i.e. fully wet); used only (in the N. T.) of ceremonial ablution, especially (technically) of the ordinance of Christian baptism. – Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance5
baptisma … consisting of the processes of immersion, submersion and emergence (from bapto, to dip)…. – Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words6
baptizo --- primarily a frequentative form of bapto, to dip, was used among the Greeks to signify the dyeing of a garment, or the drawing of water by dipping a vessel into another, etc. Plutarchus uses it of the drawing of wine by dipping the cup into the bowl (Alexis, 67) and Plato, metaphorically, of being overwhelmed with questions (Euthydemus, 277 D). – Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words6
These definitions verify that immersion is the only scriptural mode of baptism. Furthermore, the Bible identifies baptisma as a burial:
Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism…. (Romans 6:3-4)
Arguments Against Baptism
In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him. (Colossians 2:11-12)
Many arguments are employed to justify the man-made doctrines about baptism. No matter how good an argument may sound, it can never negate the foregoing passages of Scripture.
Argument #1: “The thief on the cross wasn’t baptized.”
Answer: This is true. However, the thief on the cross was still under the Old Covenant because Yeshua had not died as required for His New Covenant to take effect:
…where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth. (Hebrews 9:16-17)
A testament or covenant is essentially the same as a will. Because Yeshua had not yet died when He granted salvation to the thief on the cross, He could do so under whatever terms He chose. However, after Yeshua’s death, a person can obtain salvation only one way, and that is by the conditions of Yeshua’s last will and testament – faith, repentance, confession of Yeshua, and baptism – as per Mark 16:15-16, Acts 2:36-38, and other New Covenant passages.
Argument #2: “There are many Scriptures, such as John 3:16 and Acts 16:31, that only require faith in Yeshua in order for a person to obtain salvation. They do not mention baptism.”
Answer: This is also true. However, scripture must never be pitted against scripture. Instead, scriptures must be harmonized:
The sum of Thy [Yahweh’s7] word is truth…. (Psalm 119:160, NASB)
If we desire to know Yahweh’s will on anything found in His Word, we must conduct an exhaustive study of the Bible pertaining to the subject in question. Yahweh denounces “smorgasbord-style” Bible study:
But the word of YHWH8 was unto them … here a little, and there a little; that they might go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken. (Isaiah 28:13)
We are not to randomly collect Scriptures that, by themselves, appear to authenticate a particular doctrine or belief. Instead, everything the Bible states on any subject must be considered and harmonized to determine the truth. One scripture never trumps or negates another scripture.
People who argue against baptism as a part of salvation for the reason stated in Argument #2 seldom apply the same standard to other doctrines in the Bible. For example, it is generally understood and accepted that to have our prayers answered, we must ask in the name of the Savior (James 4:2), believing (John 14:13-14), without doubting (Matthew 21:22), according to Yahweh’s will (James 1:6), with pure motives (1 John 5:14), and not for our own pleasures (James 4:3). No one verse or passage of Scripture contains all that is required for our prayers to be answered. A person must search for the sum of Yahweh’s will in many passages in order to ascertain the truth regarding prayer.
The same is true concerning salvation. John 3:16 says nothing about repentance. However, from such scriptures as Luke 13:3, 2 Corinthians 7:9-10, and 2 Peter 3:9-10, we understand that a person must also repent of his sins. John 3:16 also says nothing about confession. However, from such scriptures as Matthew 10:32-33, Romans 10:9-10, and 1 John 4:15, we understand that a person must confess Yeshua as the Son of God and as Lord. And neither does John 3:16 say anything about baptism. However, from such scriptures as Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38, and 1 Peter 3:21, we understand that a person must be baptized for the forgiveness of his sins.
Argument #3: “Baptism is a work of man, and the Apostle Paul informed us in Ephesians 2:8-9 that we are saved by the grace of God through faith, not by works.”
Answer: The works addressed by Paul in Ephesians 2 are works of the law:
But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ…. Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments [the Mosaic Covenant’s requirement of perfect obedience in order to be righteous with Yahweh]…. (Ephesians 2:13-15)
The Bible never identifies baptism as a work of man, but it does associate baptism with salvation, the forgiveness of sins, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, being born from above, being added to the body of Christ, putting on Christ, and the circumcision of Christ. The Bible does not contradict itself. Instead, it repudiates the man-made tradition that baptism is a work of man.
Argument #4: “The Apostle Paul declared in 1 Corinthians 1:17 that he had not been sent to baptize but to preach the gospel. Consequently, baptism cannot be for salvation.”
Answer: 1 Corinthians 1:17 does not negate the teachings of Yeshua, the disciples, or Paul himself regarding the relationship of baptism to salvation and forgiveness of sins. The context of 1 Corinthians 1:17 reveals that Paul was addressing a spiritual problem within the Corinthian church in which certain individuals were promoting themselves based upon who had baptized them. Paul understood that it makes no more difference who does the baptizing than it does who delivers a baby at its natural birth.9
The Necessity of Baptism
Yeshua made it clear that men’s vain doctrine can never bring anyone to salvation:
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. (Matthew 7:21-23)
Feelings, past experiences, answered prayers, righteous acts done in the Savior’s name, or man-made doctrines cannot determine or assure you of salvation. Only the Word of God can confirm whether you are in a saved relationship with Yeshua.
The Word of God requires that, after being convicted by the Holy Spirit, we surrender our lives to Yeshua in faith, repent of our sins, confess Him as the Son of God and as Lord, and be baptized in His name for the forgiveness of our sins. Baptism itself cannot save anyone. However, according to the Scriptures, Yeshua saves us through His blood-atoning sacrifice and resurrection from the grave when all these scriptural conditions are satisfied.
If you are not yet in a saved relationship with Yeshua as described in the Bible, do not delay; submit to Him as your Lord and Savior today:
For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? (Mark 8:36-37)
1. Yeshua is the English transliteration of our Savior’s given Hebrew name. For a more thorough explanation concerning the use of the sacred names of God, “The Third Commandment” may be read online, or the book Thou shalt not take the name of YHWH thy God in vain may be ordered from Mission to Israel Ministries, PO Box 248, Scottsbluff, Nebraska 69363, for a suggested $4 donation.*
2. All Scripture is quoted from the King James Version unless otherwise noted. Portions of Scripture have been omitted for brevity. If you have any questions regarding a passage, please open your Bible and study the text to ensure it has been properly used.
3. Transliteration commutes the letters of a word from one language to another language and should be used exclusively for the names of people, places, etc.
4. Translation commutes the meaning of a word from one language to another and should be used for words other than the names of people, places, etc.
5. James Strong, “Greek Dictionary of the New Testament,” The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1990) p. 18.
6. W. E. Vine, Vine’s Expository Dictionary of the New Testament Words (McLean, VA: MacDonald Publishing Company) pp. 98-99.
7. YHWH (most often pronounced Yahweh) is the English transliteration of the Tetragrammaton, the principal Hebrew name of the God of the Bible. For a more thorough explanation concerning the use of the names of God, “The Third Commandment” may be read online, or the book Thou shalt not take the name of YHWH thy God in vain may be ordered from Mission to Israel Ministries, PO Box 248, Scottsbluff, Nebraska 69363, for a suggested $4 donation.*
8. Where the Tetragrammaton (YHWH) – the four Hebrew characters that represent the personal name of God – has been unlawfully rendered the LORD or GOD in English translations, I have taken the liberty to correct this error by inserting YHWH where appropriate. For a more thorough explanation concerning the use of the names of God, “The Third Commandment” may be read online, or the book Thou shalt not take the name of YHWH thy God in vain may be ordered from Mission to Israel Ministries, PO Box 248, Scottsbluff, Nebraska 69363, for a suggested $4 donation.*
9. The book Baptism: All You Wanted to Know and More scripturally answers forty-six additional objections regarding baptism and its relationship to salvation. It may be ordered from Mission to Israel Ministries, PO Box 248, Scottsbluff, Nebraska 69363, for free.
*We are admonished in Matthew 10:8 “freely ye have received, freely give.” Although there is a suggested price for our books, we do not sell them. In keeping with 2 Corinthians 9:7, this ministry is supported by freewill offerings. If you cannot afford the suggested price, inform us of your situation, and we will be pleased to provide you with whatever you need for whatever you can send.
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