Contents

  • Introduction
  • The Process
  • Historical Background
  • In the Gospels
    • Significance of John’s Baptism
    • Jesus and John the Baptist
    • Why did Jesus get baptized?
    • Jesus’ explanation of John’s role
    • Comments about some other references
    • Question of Baptism related to The Great Commission
  • “Acts” and Understanding of the Apostles
  • “Reflection” in the Letters Explaining the Gospel
    • The Corinthian Experience
    • Spirit Baptism
    • Other references
  • Summarizing the “flow” in the New Testament
  • What about Matthew 28:18-20?
  • Conclusions and Applications

Introduction

Our first approach to the issue of Baptism was primarily driven by the questions, struggles and complexities we faced as we desired to take the Gospel into our Hindu mainstreams.  In our context, Baptism (Water Ritual in any form), is understood as a definitive expression of a “serious” conversion - serious because the implications are huge - family/community, cultural, religious, social and legal! Consequently, this issue was perceived as a major stumbling block for the Gospel.

The SRM process provided a good base and the freedom to explore the Scriptures.  We continue to learn and search the Scriptures as we face ongoing issues and questions. Anyone who reads the New Testament will encounter “Baptism” repeatedly, especially in the Gospels and Acts. (In fact in several Indian languages, the word Baptism is translated, not transliterated. The word used to refer to Baptism has been drawn from a Hindu water ritual - which implies a radical decision related to the direction of one’s life - usually the decision to become an ascetic! Contextualized translations?!) Therefore, more importantly, it is a bigger issue of how we help people understand the Scriptures. How does one understand the Gospel and the eternal purposes of God as unfolded in the Scriptures? And, in the light of all this, how do we understand “Baptism” in the various contexts in the Scriptures?

Our present concern and approach to this issue may be illustrated using the early “Galatians Crisis”! In the early Jew/Gentile conflict. Baptism was not a contentious issue. Circumcision was. How did Paul decide against it? Why so much chaos about a cut in the flesh?! It seems that for Paul it was not merely a cultural/religious issue. It was not a mere Jew/Gentile conflict It was much more! It was a serious issue - a “different gospel” (In fact it was not just circumcision - it was all of Moses and the Law and all the regulations!  Everything had to go - for the sake of the Gospel!) The pure gospel was at stake.

Similarly, in our context, we constantly wrestle with our innate desire for “holy rituals” to feel/become more spiritual or to express one’s spirituality. It is an integral part of our make-up (guess it’s the general “fallen” human nature - to spurn the “grace” that brings freedom to love and serve, and exchange it for the “Basic principles / regulations / codes/ and law” that enslaves us in ritualism and legalism. What’s at stake for us today? Is Baptism (the water ritual) merely a cultural / identity / security issue? Is it a command that we must obey as we disciple the lost nations - no matter if it seems to be an unfortunate “stumbling block” in our attempts to advance the Gospel of Jesus into the Nations? Or is the purity of the Gospel at stake? What is our Gospel?

The Process

For our friends from a Christian background, it was necessary to ask some questions - may be quite obvious / oblivious? Worth checking anyway!

What is the “position” on Baptism of my “home church” (if there is a home church or position - and the assumption is that I have grown up with this position/conviction)? Why did I get baptized (assuming I did)? What did it mean to me (assuming it did)?

What are some convictions or theological positions on Baptism of the various churches and denominations? What are the Scripture passages that are used to support and explain the positions? (Sometimes, passages that arc not explicitly referring to Baptism are also used, e.g. John 3:5,13:10, Titus 3:5-7, Heb 10:19-23) Some of our team members may come from varied backgrounds and it is helpful to understand each others’ positions / convictions.

Why is it an issue for us in the “field/mainstreams”? What are the critical factors that are making us reconsider this issue from Scripture?

Whatever will help us understand our “positions” - biases - fears - the way we have been taught on this issue - how are consciences may be sensitized on this issue - the way we tend look at Scriptures — what are we trying to prove?

General Guidelines

  • A key thing is to consider this issue under the “big picture” of God’s eternal purposes - the Gospel… not to look at it in isolation - as a “theological” or “contextual” issue. Therefore, it’s necessary to explore beyond the boundaries of me “word / verse analysis” type of study, and get immersed into the flow of Scripture, especially as the Gospel unfolds in the New Testament. (Wonder how Paul worked through the issue of “circumcision” in the OT - to come up with the conclusion he did!?)

  • Realize that the word “baptism” is fully loaded and the general/default meaning that comes to mind is the “water ritual”. Just like the word “church” - the default meaning is a special place, a congregation, a meeting of believers … all of these! It may be worth exploring the different ways the word baptism and its variants are used in the Scriptures. (What are the ways in which the word “circumcision” (and its variants) is used in Scriptures?)

  • John the Baptist is a key player - need to understand, grasp and “feel” the impact and influence of his personality and ministry on the early apostles, Jews and Gentiles - “John’s baptism” was a well accepted teaching almost everywhere in the NT world!

  • Jesus’ baptism - a “hinge event” - need to grasp the significance of why Jesus did this. 

  • Matthew 28:18-20 is the key passage for our work. The reference to “baptizing” in the “Great Commission” seems to complicate the issue (of the water ritual) as we go into the nations!

  • Tracking the “water ritual” in Acts looking for clues to track the flow and understanding of the early Apostles regarding baptism. Consider their experiences and events that may provide some indications/clues on how they processed and clarified issues related to the gospel as it crossed into the nations.

  • “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” What does this mean? What is “Spirit Baptism/Baptism of the Spirit’”? What is this “baptized in/into the name of Jesus”?

  • Compare and understand how the NT writers used the word “baptism” in various ways. Especially with Paul, it surely had a lot of significance and meaning.

Historical Background

(Randy Torpen, “Dunking -A Study on Baptism”, June 2002)

  1. In the Septuagint (the Torah, Zabur and Prophets) had been translated into the Greek language and was used in the Roman World with Greek speaking Jews and God-fearers) the Greek word baptism is often used and associated with ceremonial washings.For example:

    • Leviticus 11:25-40; these are examples of washing with water to become ceremonially clean.
    • Mark 7:1-5; The Jewish customs involved many kinds of ceremonial washings.
  2. The following is a summary for the setting of the ministry of John the Baptist.

    From about 300 years prior to the time of John until he came on the scene the Jews had an initiation rite for the proselytes, (i.e., during the period between Malachi and John). For a non-Jewish man to enter into Jewish worship of the Creator God he faced three requirements (F.F. Bruce, NEW TESTAMENT HISTORY, p 156; Some members of the school of Hillel went so far as to maintain - for the sake of argument, but hardly in practice - that it was by baptism rather than by circumcision that a Gentile became a Jew.):

    • Be circumcised

    • Offer a sacrifice, and

    • Go through a full-body washing ceremony

    After a proselyte went through these three requirements he was given a new name and was then allowed to join in Jewish worship. Women were required to do all the above except for circumcision. At the time of Isa the prophet, Judaism consisted of two types of people, and a  third group that was closely related:

    1. Natural-born Jews (who had to do nothing special to enter Judaism – they were born into it)

    2. Non-Jewish converts, who had completed all of the above mentioned requirements, and the third group were

    3. “God-fearers” as they were called by the Jewish community, people like the Centurion (Mark 5) or Cornelius (Acts 10), who did not get circumcised. They were allowed to participate in the synagogues, but were not allowed to folly participate at the temple (Acts 21:26-30).

    John the Baptist’s ministry appealed to the common people, for they were not absorbed in their own self righteousness. However, to the religious and especially the Pharisees, John’s baptism must have been repulsive. These religious leaders required the filthy (in their minds) Gentiles to be baptized to signify their need for cleansing. Now John and his disciples are saying that they all Jews were also filthy from sin and need cleansing. His baptism with water was a strong symbol to all that it is not by law, religion, culture or heritage that one is made righteous.  One must repent from within and turn to God appealing for a clean conscience.

    F.F. Bruce writes: “In so far as proselyte baptism provides an analogy to John’s baptism, John was saying in effect to true-born Jews, proudly conscious of their descent from Araham: ‘Your impeccable pedigree is irrelevant in God’s sight; if you wish to be enrolled in the new Israel of the age that is about to dawn, you must take the outside place, acknowledging that you are not better in his eyes than Gentiles, and you must enter the end-time community of his people by baptism, as they have to do.”

    While the common people, and even some who were classed as social outcasts, were  greatly moved by his preaching, and sought baptism at his hands in great numbers, the religious leaders of the nation, the teachers of the law and especially the Pharisees, remained unimpressed. They had their own ideas of what constituted the way of righteousness, and would not recognize in John’s baptism any improvement on their own ritual washings(p 158).

    Most of John’s hearers went home after listening to him, to await the advent of the Coming One. But some stayed with him and became his disciples. They formed a recognizable community, comparable in this respect to the great Pharisaic teachers and later, to the disciples of Jesus (p158). From the New Testament writer’s point of view, the climax of John’s ministry was his baptism of Jesus (John 3:30). This event marks the beginning of Jesus public ministry. However, John continued his ministry after the baptism of Jesus not only in the Jordan valley but also in other parts of the country.(p 158) The memory of John remained for many years with those who had heard of him. A quarter of a century after his death we learn of a group of people as far away as Ephesus who claimed to have been baptized with John’s baptism. John’s disciples probably survived as a self-conscious community for a generation or two, apart from those who, recognizing in Jesus the coming One of whom John spoke, became disciples of Jesus.

    In the eyes of Jesus, John’s ministry marked the end of the era of the law and the prophets.  There followed the new era of the Kingdom of God on the threshold of which John stood as the last and the greatest in the long succession of those who foresaw and foretold its advent (Luke 16:16). Jesus said, “I tell you among those born of women none is greater than John; yet he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he ” (Luke 7:24-28).

    F.F. Bruce in these above paragraphs provides a historical backdrop for John’s baptism.

In the Gospels

Significance of John’s Baptism

  1. John was “sent from God” - he was sent in fulfillment of the prophecy in the Scriptures. The manner in which the gospel writers introduce John is very significant (Matthew 3, Mark 1:1 - 20, Luke 1 to 3 and John 1:1- 42). Significantly, Mark begins “the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” with John as “messenger” linking the promise of the Lord (Mark 1:1-8) and Luke begins his account with a detailed description of events related to the birth of John and the prophecy about his identity and work (Luke 1:11-17).

  2. John’s unique prophetic ministry “…preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4,5; Luke 3:3). All the gospel writers, particularly Matthew, Luke and John give a lot of explanation regarding John’s special prophetic ministry, its purpose and where it ended! All the Gospel writers refer to John as “John the Baptist”. The water ritual was an integral and significant part of John’s identity and ministry. It is important to note the link: Baptism (water ritual) - Repentance (inner attitude / response) – Forgiveness  of sins (the promise). John was very clear about his prophetic commission -He knew he was sent to “…baptize with water… ” (John 1:33). “…the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel. “(John 1:31). John knew who he was and why he was sent by God (John 1:19 - 27; Luke 3:15 -18).

  3. John had a special message - And this was his message: “After me will come one more powerful than I… I baptize you with water for repentance… He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:7, 8; referred in all the gospels). It is very significant to note that John always contrasted his baptism (with water} with the baptism that Jesus came to give (with the Holy Spirit and fire). Also significant is his emphasis when referring to Jesus - “… the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie …” John always made it very clear, “I am not the Christ… ” He knew his job was to point people to the “Lamb of God”. John was eagerly waiting for the Messiah.

  4. John’s prophetic ministry and baptism had a preparatory thrust - “Prepare the way for the Lord …Make straight the way for the Lord…”, which was prophesied in the book of Isaiah 700 years previously - to prepare the Jews for salvation that would come through the Messiah. More significant is the role John the Baptist played in “preparing the way” for Jesus - “… to make ready a people prepared for the Lord… ” (Luke 1:17)! The response was huge! (Matthew 3:5 - 7; Mark 1:5, Luke 3:3:7 - 14; John 3:23) Probably John was among the few prophets who saw a good response to their message!! Andrew, Peter, James, John and probably most of the “12” were John’s disciples before they responded to Jesus’ call. John surely had done the groundwork in their lives. His example would have had a tremendous impact on their lives! 

  5. John the Baptist was a phenomenon!! He got everybody’s attention! Many even thought that “John might possibly be the Christ” (Luke 3:15). The crowds, tax collectors, soldiers - they all came to him (Luke 3:7-14). The Pharisees and Sadducees, Jews of Jerusalem, Priests and Levites confronted him (John 1:19-28; Matthew 3:7-10).   The Chief Priests, Teachers of the Law and Elders could not figure out John’s Baptism (Luke 20:1-8)! John even got Herod’s attention! All indicators of his phenomenal influence/impact. And many of Jesus disciples and followers were John’s disciples  earlier. We note that John had his own disciples and some comparisons were also being made (Matt 9:14-17, John 4:1-3). The key point is that “John’s Baptism” outlived his life - a life that came to a sudden end! Even though John himself realized and expressed that his role came to an end with Jesus (John 3:22-30), “John’s Baptism” became a doctrine and spread as far as Alexandria and Ephesus.

Jesus and John the Baptist

A Why did Jesus get baptized? - The special significance of Jesus’ baptism:

Matthew and John give some details regarding the significance and purpose of Jesus’ baptism (Matthew 3:13-17; John 1:29-34). There was no requirement on Jesus’ part to repent and respond to John’s baptism, m fact, John tried to deter Jesus from taking his baptism (Matthew 3:14).

Why then did Jesus get baptized? At least three explanations have been traditionally given. They are:

  • It was to identify with John’s ministry.
  • It was to give us an example to follow
  • It was fulfilling an Old Testament command (fulfilling all righteousness). The command related to priests being consecrated through water (His baptism), and anointed with oil (Holy Spirit’s anointing) when they reached 30 years of age. It is understood that His baptism was His ordination (Leviticus 8:6-36), preparing Him for His priestly ministry.

All these explanations have been inferred from the Scriptures, but are not actually stated in Scripture. The NIV Study Bible Notes gives 4 reasons:

  1. Let us look closely at what Jesus Himself said regarding His baptism, and the whole event: Matthew 3:15

  2. Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. (NIV)

  3. But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so for now. For in this way we shall do all that God requires.” So John agreed. (Good News)

  4. But Jesus insisted. “Do it. God’s work, putting things right all these centuries, is coming together right now in this baptism.” So John did it. (Message)

Five observations are:

  1. In reply to John’s statement, Jesus replied, “Let it be so now”. It was an act that seemed to be pivotal at that particular point in time; not something that related to future Christianity.

  2. Jesus further replied,“… it is proper for us to do this”. It was an act

involving both John and Jesus. It wasn’t simply Jesus fulfilling all righteousness.

  1. Finally, Jesus said, “to fulfill all righteousness”. The entire Gospel of Matthew is sprinkled with the phrase fulfill, m fact, Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17). As you study the Old Testament passages that Jesus fulfilled, the fulfillments were always literal, not symbolical. To then say His baptism was symbolic (e.g. His ordination) would seem quite strange.

  2. It would rather seem that in this context Jesus’ baptism had more to do with the roles and ministries that both John and Jesus were fulfilling, as indicated in the law and the prophets.

  3. Immediately after Jesus’ Baptism, John saw “the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on Him”. It was this physical awareness of the Holy Spirit on Jesus that was the vital evidence to John that Jesus had come and would commence His ministry. In fact, baptism was central in this testimony of John. It was as if the Holy Spirit was clarifying for John that his ministry (of water baptism and repentance) was completed and that Jesus’ ministry (of Spirit baptism) was about to commence. “Then John gave this testimony: ‘I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on Him. 1 would not have known Him, except that the One who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is He who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and testify that this is the Son of God’” (John 1:32-34).

It is also significant to note that John the Baptist was the first man to proclaim that the man Jesus was indeed the Son of God!

What possible conclusions can be drawn from these observations?

Jesus was completing (fulfilling) John’s ministry by taking part in water baptism from John. John was completing (fulfilling) his ministry when he baptized Jesus and recognized this pivotal transition when the Spirit of God descended on Jesus like a dove.  

The physical ministry of John (Elijah) symbolized by water baptism was fulfilled and the spiritual ministry of Jesus - i.e. baptizing with the Holy Spirit (into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit) would commence.

Jesus’ baptism by John marked the end of an era (Old Testament), and Jesus’ anointing by the Holy Spirit marked the beginning of the preaching of the Gospel (New Testament). In Luke 16:16 it states, “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the Kingdom of God is being preached…”

In light of these conclusions, Jesus’ own statement about His water baptism would seem to make more sense: “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented (Matthew 3:15).

Jesus’ explanation of John’s role:

The gospel writers record Jesus’ explanation of John’s role to his disciples using different circumstances.

Matthew gives a detailed introduction to John in Chapter 3 and culminates it with Jesus’ baptism. He records an interesting situation in Chapter 11: John is in prison and is wondering about Jesus and seeks a clarification directly from Jesus! Then Jesus uses this occasion to clarify about John (to the crowds and obviously the disciples were also listening in.) Jesus places John is the perspective of God’s plan (11:7-15) - “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing … For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And… he is the Elijah who was to come. He who has ears let him hear.” Jesus was making a grand revelation - John was the “hinge”, fulfillment of everything God had promised - and the ushering in of the new - “the good news of the kingdom of God”. (Luke 16:16)

Jesus indicated that John’s role is completed - and now His kingdom has come. But He also laments that people were not willing to accept what God was doing.

Luke also records this in Luke 7:18-33. He gives an interesting reason for the way people responded to Jesus’ explanation about John -All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus’ words, acknowledged that God’s way was right, because they had been baptized by John. But the Pharisees and the experts in the Law rejected God’s purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John. (Luke 7:29-30)

The other occasion was on the mount when Jesus physically revealed Himself through His transfiguration to Peter, James and John (Matthew 17:1-13). It is interesting to note in this context that both Moses (the Law) and Elijah (the Prophet) were present with Jesus. God verbally confirmed the revelation by saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him!” (17:1-5). As Jesus spoke about his resurrection the disciples had a question, “Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first? ” And Jesus explained that Elijah had already come (vl2), and they “understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist (vl3).

In John’s gospel, two different incidents sow how John and Jesus responded to an argument over baptism: John 3 -22-30 (assuming the quote ends here) and John 4:1-3.

The issue was - John is baptizing and lots of people are coming, but John’s disciples had a problem - “…that man … the one you testified about-well, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.” The Pharisees also “heard that Jesus was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John… ” Interestingly, the gospel writer includes a clarification - “in/act it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples.”

However the responses of John and Jesus need to be noted:

John - “He must become greater; I must become less.” (Is this to imply that John is impressing on his disciples and all those whom he had influenced the need for a shift/transition - now Jesus is to become “greater” and he was must fade out?)

Jesus - no confrontation, no explanation - he just decided to move out for the time being - “When the Lord learned of this, he left Judea… ” (Would be right to imply that Jesus knew that the disciples will understand the God’s purposes in due course as he was yet to completely reveal to them his person and kingdom? m fact he never even raised the issue of water baptism with his disciples-as yet!)

Although, John understood what his work was and where it ends - “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come …He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit… “, it is important to understand that John’s prophetic ministry overlapped with “the good news of the Kingdom” that Jesus began to reveal. Also, it took a while before the early disciples experienced what John had proclaimed. In fact it only happened after Jesus death, resurrection and ascension!!

Comments about some other references

  • There is an additional reference in Mark 7:4 to “baptizo” being translated as “wash”. This is in connection to the ceremonial washing of hands and vessels that was a “tradition of the elders”. A similar mention occurs in John 3:25 in the context of a controversy over “ceremonial washing” (v25).

  • The issue of baptism never rises again in John’s Gospel (except in reference to a location, John 10:40).

  • One other note should be added. This is the use of baptize/baptism in Mark 10:38 (and Matthew 20:22-23, KJV). Again, Jesus said to the sons of Zebedee, “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” (Mark 10:38). Obviously, Jesus is not referring to His physical baptism. The Living Bible puts it this way, “Or to be baptized with the baptism of suffering I must be baptized with?” The use of the word “baptism” by Matthew in the context of the complete involvement or identification with Jesus’ suffering and death is very significant because it surely does not refer to the water ritual.

  • For completeness, there are two other Greek words used: The first is “baptistees”, translated “Baptist” and the 14 references are all to John the Baptist. The other word is “bapto” and is translated “dip” (Luke 16:24, John 13’26, also in Revelation 19:13). These three references are not referring to baptism and do not add any further light.

The word “baptizing” occurs in the context of the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20. Matthew’s focus is on Jesus and His Kingdom. He places this as the fulfillment of God’s plan. What is this “baptizing them in/into the name of the Father Son and Holy Spirit… “?

There is the mention of “baptized” in a similar context in Mark 16:15-19.

The question of baptism does not occur in the Commission given in John 20:21.

The issue of “baptism” is not mentioned in the similar Commission in Luke 24:44-48. But there are at least four important points that must be noted:

  • As a backdrop, Jesus reiterates, “Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me …THEN HE OPENED THEIR MINDS SO THEY COULD UNDERSTAND THE SCRIPTURES. “(Luke 24:44-45; emphasis added) - need to grasp the entire “big picture” in the Scriptures to understand how the Great Commission works.

  • ”… repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached IN HIS NAME TO ALL NATIONS …“v46,47;emphasis added ) - compare with Luke 3:3 where he introduces “John’s Commission” - “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” And what was his domain? - “the reason I came baptizing with water was that he may be REVEALED TO ISRAEL. “(John 1:31)

  • “I am going to send you what my Father has promised… CLOTHED WITH POWER FROM ON HIGH. “(48,49; emphasis added) – Jesus specifically mentions the promise of the Holy Spirit. (”…he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit… “ - the disciples were yet to see and experience what John had been saying - but Jesus commissioned them with the reminder and assurance of the promise of this Holy Spirit baptism!)

  • Note the word Luke uses –“clothed” (NIV) – “endued” (KJV) – the Greek word enduo means – in the sense of sinking into a garment.

Then there is the Great Commission in Acts 1:8 – which s very much in line with what Luke had mentioned earlier. But in the context (Acts 1:1-11), there is a very clear reminder (v5) “For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” Jesus is helping them see the difference and the transition, and more importantly the fulfillment of the promise! Also, just before Jesus commissions the disciples, their thinking seems to be quite different! - “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel? “(v6) Nevertheless, Jesus commissions them with the promise of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the one who empowers - he is vital to the Great Commission!

It is important to note that the focus of Jesus Christ was a spiritual baptism. John the Baptist acknowledged this focus when he said, “ I baptize you with water for repentance… He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Matthew 3:11). Jesus reinforced these words when He said, “For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5).

In the light of these snapshots, it is necessary to track the flow of how the early apostles (and gospel writers) understood the great commission and the place/meaning of baptism/baptizing. We will need to explore Acts and the Letters to get a better understanding before we grasp the issue of “baptism” is relation to the Great Commission.

“Acts” and Understanding of the Apostles

The book of Acts contains 21 references to the word “baptizo”. The situations are:

  • Acts 1:5      Jesus explains to His disciples, “For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” This was clearly in reference to the day of Pentecost.

  • Acts 2:3 8-41 Peter preaches the Gospel and introduces the concept of water baptism “in the name of Jesus” (a basic text for the Jesus Only Movement). We do note in Acts 3:19 that the next time Peter preaches the Gospel, he omits this requirement.

  • Acts 8:12-17 Phillip had been preaching “the good news of the Kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ” to the Samaritans. They had accepted his message and Phillip had got them “baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus” (vl2,16). Simon also followed this pattern (vl3). The picture was quite confused. Apart from the fact that they were Samaritans, they had also not experienced the new birth. After Peter and John’s arrival, this vital point of being baptized by the Holy Spirit was communicated. Interestingly, neither Peter nor John insisted on a further act of water Baptism after their conversion.

  • Acts 8:3 0-39 This is the description of Phillip’s encounter with the Ethiopian. Knowing Phillip’s propensity for making water baptism part of the Gospel, it is not surprising that the Ethiopian requested this act.

  • Acts 9:17-19 Paul was baptized after his conversion. Although the necessity for this act is not mentioned in this passage, Paul was obviously compelled by Ananias (Acts 22:12-16).

  • Acts 10:34-48 Peter is explaining the Good News to Cornelius and his relatives and close friends. In feet, he explains the historical development, “You know what happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galileo after the baptism that John preached — how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power…” (v37,38). While Peter continued speaking, “The Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message.” They also began “speaking in tongues and praising God.” Suddenly Peter “ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ’ (v48). His rationale for this action was, “They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.”

Interestingly, when Peter was defending these events back in Jerusalem because of his involvement with Gentiles, Peter quotes Jesus’ own words, “Then I remembered what the Lord had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit (Acts 11:16). In fact, he omits any mention of having the Gentiles take water baptism. The issue was obviously spiritual with respect to the Gentiles.

  • Acts 16:13-15 Lydia appeared to be a convert to Judaism as she was called “a worshiper of God”. She responded to Paul’s message, and she and her household were baptized. The events were very similar to Cornelius’ situation.

  • Acts 16:31 -33 Shortly afterwards, Paul helped the Roman Jailer in Philippi and his family come to faith, and he had them baptized.

  • Acts 18:7-8  Many of the Corinthians heard the message from Paul. They “believed and were baptized.”

  • Acts 19:1-7  In Ephesus Paul came across disciples who received John’s baptism. Paul explained that “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus”. It is not clear from the text whether the 12 men now felt that water baptism in the name of Jesus was necessary or if Paul suggested it. In any case, we find that Paul then placed his hands on them and they received me Holy Spirit. Interestingly, they did not take water baptism after receiving the Holy Spirit, which in this case, would have been their third water baptism.

Tracking the thinking (and influence) regarding Baptism - the Water Ritual in the movement in Acts. (Need to understand and “feel” the effect/influence of his John’s Baptism on the thinking and work of the early apostles and leaders. Some selected passages/episodes that may be helpful.)

  • Acts 1:21,22; John’s baptism was a criteria for selection /replacement of the 12th apostle.

  • Note the response of the Apostles at Jerusalem to Philip’s work in Samaria. Acts 8:4-17. Lots of people are baptized by Philip (vl2). Peter and John check out this response and the water baptism - in Samaria!!  What did they do? - “… they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, BECAUSE THE HOLY SPIRIT HAD NOT COME ON ANY OF THEM; THEY HAD SIMPLY BEEN BAPTIZED INTO THE NAME OF JESUS.” (14-17; emphasis added). So the water baptism of Philip (“he preached the good new of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ”(v12) was not adequate? Or what was it? Also, the Samaritans received the Holy Spirit when the Apostles placed their hands on them - no indication that they water baptized them again in the name of the Father Son and Holy Spirit - if that made all the difference! Anyway, Philip has another encounter - this time with an Ethiopian! (8:26-40). He “told him the good news about Jesus” There is water baptism again on the request of the Ethiopian. (Somehow as far as Philip’s explanation went, from passage in Isaiah to the good news about Jesus, there must have been the story of John’s baptism?) Surprisingly Philip was taken off and the Ethiopian did not see him again!

  • Compare what was told to Ananias and his response: Acts 9:10-19 and 22:12-16

  • Acts 10:33-40 (Peter’s response at Cornelius’ place. Compare this with his explanation in Acts 11:15-18) Peter is beginning to see the reality of the difference between John’s baptism - which he did to Cornelius and household - and the baptism that Jesus gives to those who believed on him. And note Peter’s final comment here and the response of all the apostles and leaders (v l7,18).

  • The new movement at Antioch Acts 11:19-24. Significantly no mention at all of water baptism - even after “the church at Jerusalem” checks out the scene through Barnabas.

  • Significant to note that there is no mention of the water ritual in the 1^st^ missionary journey. Although, Paul does mention - “John preached repentance and baptism to all the people of Israel” (Acts 13:14-52) and many Gentiles responded - there is no mention of water baptism.

  • But there are interesting points in the 2nd journey: In Macedonia (Philippi), “household” (Lydia), “family” (Jailer) baptized - (Acts 16). But nothing mentioned in Thessalonica (17:4), Berea (17:12) and Athens (17:34). But again there is baptism in Corinth (18:8)

  • Aquila and Priscilla teaching Apollos - a very significant correction in the understanding of God’s purposes and the gospel (Acts 18:24-26).

  • Some chaos in Ephesus Acts 19:1-7! (Compare with the situation in Samaria. Also compare with what Paul writes to the Ephesians in Eph 4:5 - ONE Baptism!

It is very important that we grasp the significance and impact of “John’s baptism”. Probably most of the early apostles were John’s disciples before they responded to Jesus’ call. They were all baptized by John and “John’s baptism” had a special place in their “theology” and experience. We find John’s disciples continuing this practice of water baptism, even after joining Jesus.

However, after me confusion in John 3:22-4:3, the practice is not mentioned again, including the commission in John 20:21.

Throughout the New Testament, and especially in the Book of Acts, we see new believers taking the act of water baptism. It is never mentioned that this was in response to a command given by the LORD.

Even in me case of the Gentiles, we find Peter eager to baptize them with water (Acts 10:47), and orders them to take it (v48), but there is no explanation given except that the Gentiles had also received the Holy Spirit just as the Jews had. In this very passage, we find Peter having great difficulty in discerning tradition from the Scriptures. We note in v28 that he told Cornelius, his relatives and close friends, “You are well aware that it is against our law/or a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him”. He was battling with what the tradition of the elders said (as found in the written and oral Torah) versus Jesus’ command of Acts 1:8. Interestingly, we note in v37 that Peter recognized that the trademark of John’s ministry was water baptism, but that of Jesus was the Holy Spirit (v38).

Therefore, in the early movement of the gospel (Acts), water baptism was intermittently entwined with the gospel. However, it seems they made a special modification to the water ritual - they now called it “baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” - instead of John’s name. (But this is not the case in all references - many times it just says they were “baptized). The general observation is that the water ritual came along with the Good News of Jesus. Apparently in the initial stages, there were no conflicts or questions raised.

“Reflection” in the Letters Explaining the Gospel

The Corinthian Experience

This was very special for Paul - a very chaotic context - but these issues begin to clarify the gospel. Paul’s letters to the Corinthians are beautiful illustrations of understanding and living the Gospel among the lost mainstreams of the Greek society. It was a radical transformation indeed!

Only in Corinth+ did water baptism become an issue - a divisive issue. In fact, Paul regrets that this had happened. This necessitated a beautiful clarification of the gospel and the ministry of the apostles (I Corinthians Chapters 1-4). Paul’s very clear statement regarding the issue was, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the Gospel (vl7).

With Paul’s “hinge” statement in I Cor 1:17, we see a differentiation or delinking between water ritual and the Gospel, wisdom/miracles and the Gospel - and Paul emphasizes the single focus on “Jesus Christ and him crucified”- nothing else - “lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power”! We sense from this passage, that Paul no longer considered water baptism as a part of the Gospel message. In fact, the matter of water baptism is never raised again in any of Paul’s Epistles. (Peter too had a special experience very early in Cornelius’ house where he differentiates between John’s water baptism and the Spirit Baptism – Compare Acts 10:44-48 and 11:15-18. But we are not sure about how things progressed from there.)

1 Corinthians is the only other place in the New Testament that water baptism (except Hebrews 6:2,9:10) is mentioned. In 1 Corinthians chapter 1, the subject arises in the midst of controversies in the church. Division had arisen due to two reasons. One was due to people saying they were following different men’s teachings. The other was due to who was being baptized by whom. Although Acts 18:8 had given the impression that Paul had baptized many of the Corinthians, he clarifies in this passage that he personally had only baptized two men. One of those was Crispus, the synagogue ruler (Acts 18:8).

Spirit Baptism - “Baptized” - a powerful expression of the work of the Holy Spirit.

It is helpful to note the way Paul and other writers use this word - “Baptized” (and its variants) to express the work of the Spirit in our lives.

The reference in 1 Corinthians 12:13 states, “For we were all baptized by/with/in one spirit into one body…”, and is obviously referring to the Spirit baptism at the new birth. But the scope of this baptism is phenomenal - Paul is setting this in the context of the “one body ” - Jew, Greek, Hindu, Muslim, whoever - “all baptized by one Spirit into one body …all given the one Spirit to drink” (Need to make this emphasis - because many times we tend to limit “baptism” to just the individual.)

  • In 1 Corinthians 10:1,2, Paul uses the word “baptize” to refer to the Israelites being “all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.” This usage was in connection to their identification and commitment to Moses. Note the way in which he brings “all” to indicate collective/common identification into Moses. They were all part of what the Lord was doing. (Very significant is that the word “baptized” has nothing to do with water baptism here.) Paul uses it to communicate the sense of all being involved.

  • In 1 Corinthians 15:29,30, Paul notes that people were being baptized on behalf of those who had died. He argues that this practice or tradition that was taking place at that time would be silly unless the people doing it believed that the dead would rise again. Paul was using this practice as an argument for the Resurrection. This is the only time in the New Testament that this practice is mentioned. It would seem that Paul did not approve or practice this tradition, but merely used it as an illustration to prove his point. The fact that he did not condemn the practice very likely implies that he saw it merely as a tradition. How much Paul saw water baptism practiced in any form as a tradition is hard to know. Certainly it drops out of the New Testament record after this reference.

  • Romans 6:2-5 speaks of the new birth in terms of being baptized into Christ (His death, burial and resurrection). In feet, the GNB uses the phrase “baptized into union with Christ”. The word “baptize” is only used in one verse in the book of Romans, verse 6:3. The noun “baptizma” is used in verse 6:4.

Paul is explaining the gospel and how “… grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life… “(Romans5:21) The context is the description of the new birth, and not being slaves to sin. Note the following aspects in (vl -4):

  1. ”…all of us … baptized into Christ…

  2. ”… baptized into his death? “

  3. ”…therefore buried with him through baptism into his death in order that…” - what is the end result of this baptism? - “we too may have a new life. “

We need to relate these things to the explanation in v5-l 1. Paul is illustrating how all of us have been freed from sin. This is the work of the Spirit - we die with Christ and we are raised with him - the spiritual life in us.

Due to the strong link (and belief) that the word baptism in the above passage relates to the water ritual, it is believed (and practiced) that water baptism “depicts graphically what happens as a result of the Christian’s union with Christ..( NIV Study Bible Notes on Romans 6:3-4) Paul uses the word “baptized/baptism” to depict intensely the wonderful work of the Spirit in all of us - that we all share in the death and resurrection of Christ - just as we all are baptized into his “one body “. This entire passage talks about a spiritual relationship and the fruit of Christ’s work. (But if we associate me word “baptized” with the “water ritual” this could be forced as the basis for immersion baptism!)

  • Galatians 3:27 tells us that being baptized into Christ results in us being sons of God, and hence “…clothed” with Christ. Again note the emphasis on “You are all… all of you … for you are all one in Christ.” (v28). This work of the Spirit brings about a wonderful unity.

  • In Ephesians 4:l-6. in the context of spiritual unity, Paul makes it clear that there is only ONE baptism! Note the emphasis on “one body …one Spirit… one God … who is … in all.” (There is no question of two baptisms - i.e. a spiritual baptism and a physical baptism). (NIV Study Bible Note on Ephesians 4:5 is again linking Baptism to a “church ordinance in which every new convert participated publicly”.)

  • Again, Colossians 2:6-23 is very beautiful in the usage of the word “circumcision ” and “baptism ” in relation to the work of Christ. Somewhat similar to the way he used it in Romans, but this time he uses the metaphors of circumcision (specifically not the physical circumcision), and baptism to describe the transaction of the new birth - i.e. “God made you alive with Christ” (vl3).   Also, the emphasis is on our spiritual relationship “in him “!

  • 1 Peter 3:18-22 speaks of the new birth, in terms of the clean conscience.  Note: verse 21 has been badly misinterpreted. It says, “this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you “. But very clearly the baptism referred to here in this context is a spiritual one. For indeed the rest of the verse says, “Not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ”

Somehow, Paul (as well as other writers) used these words (that had their origins from a physical ritual) to communicate powerfully to those early recipients the reality, power and fruit of the work of Christ and our relationship with him! And the early recipients would have been gripped by such illustrations of their relationship with Christ.  A stunning usage is in Philippians 3 “it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God.” - powerful use of the word circumcision, especially as Paul confronts the “mutilators of the flesh “!!

Also, Stephen echoed phrases from Isaiah and Jeremiah - “uncircumcised hearts and ears ” - powerful language which resulted in his stoning. Paul also uses words like “.-. you were washed … in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God”(I Cor 6:9-11), to refer to the sanctifying work of the Spirit. In Ephesians 1:13-14, Paul uses the phrase “marked in him ” as he refers to the “promised Holy Spirit” that is given to the one who responds to the gospel.

To the New Testament believers, the use of the word baptism/baptize as a metaphor conveyed tremendous meaning - i.e. identified with, united with, totally immersed with the Person of God and His body. And it was powerful expression to include ALL - “all baptized by one Spirit into one body ” – all united in Christ!!

We observe that the word “baptism” was used in different ways. When used to mean other than the water ritual - it had a very expressive and significant meaning!!

For us the meaning is greatly diluted, since we have had 2000 years of associating this word with water. As a consequence, we have avoided its usage with the new birth, and have used other Scriptures to describe the spiritual baptism.

All these references to “baptism” used by Paul and Peter are in the context of the Spirit baptism and explain the great transactions that took place at our new birth. However, it is at this very point that many commentators and Bible scholars, who are defending a particular viewpoint on water baptism, seem to lose all sight of the actual contexts of these verses, and the primary thrust of the Gospel. Even the NIV Study Bible indicates that Ephesians 4:5 is “probably not the baptism of the Spirit, which was inward and therefore invisible, but water baptism”. The NIV Study Bible gives an even more confusing picture on Romans 6:3-4 and 1 Peter 3:21, which unfortunately reflects a very specific denominational viewpoint. It is at this point that the notes in any Study Bible or of any commentary have to be weighed very carefully against what the Scriptures are actually saying. In fairness to the NIV Study Bible, they do indicate an alternate position on water baptism in Colossians 2:12. The fact that they relate water to any of these passages is, however, puzzling.

Other references

Finally, there are two references (Hebrews 6:2 and 9:10), where the word “baptismos” is used, being translated baptism or washings (plural).

In Hebrews 9:10, Paul is explaining to his Jewish readers that all of the physical arrangements under the first covenant, including “divers baptisms” (KJV) or  ceremonial washings” applied only “until the time of the new order”. 

John’s ministry, including his water baptism of repentance was under the old order. In fact, Jesus’ circumcision and baptism were the final steps in fulfilling the Law.

The great message of Hebrews 9 is summed up in the first verse of chapter 10: “The Law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming - not the realities themselves.” In fact, the water baptism of John was only a shadow of the reality that Jesus brought - i.e. baptized by the Spirit of God. Both John and Jesus testified to this great truth (Matthew 3:11 and Acts 1:5).

To continue to perform a physical act or ceremony of any kind performed under the old order would seem contrary to the spirit of the New Testament. That the practices of circumcision and water baptism were continued for some time in the New Testament times does not nullify the great truth that it is in Christ’s death and resurrection alone we have salvation and are united to Him and His body. No physical acts such as circumcision or baptism are required to confirm such a great transaction. They are not compulsory acts that Jesus or the New Testament places upon us.

It is assumed that the above teaching is what is being referred to in Hebrews 6:2, where Paul considers them to be the “elementary teachings about Christ”. It is interesting that the NIV Study Bible and the commentaries in general avoid any explanation of the word “baptisms” as found in these references in Hebrews.

Summarizing the “flow” in the New Testament

The Gospels and the Book of Acts are sprinkled with the act of physical baptism. The Epistles, however, focus only on the spiritual baptism as it relates to the new birth. The exception is the letter to the Corinthians where the matter of baptism is seen in transition or as an INTERLUDE on this subject. The Book of Hebrews is ever more specific in declaring the stark difference between the physical (shadow) and the spiritual (reality), and includes specifically “various baptisms, ceremonial washings” (Hebrews 9:10) as being under the first covenant. Their relevance was over once Christ came.

It is interesting to observe Paul’s own thinking go through a considerable transition regarding this act of baptism.

We note:

Paul was baptized after his conversion (Acts 9:17-19). Later in Acts 22:12-16, we find that as Paul gives his testimony, he states that he was compelled by Ananias at his conversion to take water baptism, since Ananias understood it as part of the Gospel. Note Ananias’ statement to Paul in v l6, “Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on His name.”

This is very similar to Peter’s statement in Acts 2:38 where Peter says, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the Name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven.” At Pentecost, Peter saw water baptism as part of the Gospel. However, we note in Acts 3.19 that the next time Peter preaches the Gospel, he leaves out the condition of water baptism and simply says, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out.”

When Mark wrote his Gospel, we also sense that at that point Mark understood the Commission to include water baptism and this was essential to salvation (Mark 16:16).

In summary, it would appear that John the Baptist had influenced the early disciples very strongly, and men like Peter, Mark and Ananias had felt this influence.

This influence was passed onto Paul and he, too, immediately had Lydia and her family, plus the Philippian jailer and his family take baptism after their confession of faith (Acts 16:15,33).

By Acts 19, we find Paul’s thinking beginning to go through a transition. The influence of John the Baptist had reached to Ephesus, and the disciples there had received John’s water baptism. Paul begins to explain that John’s baptism was not the key to salvation, but was a baptism of repentance. The twelve men heard the good news from Paul, and men received water baptism in the name of the Lord Jesus. After this, they received the Holy Spirit. They also spoke in tongues and prophesied.

Actually, there was quite a bit of confusion at this point as Paul was trying to sort out John’s message from the Gospel, and also the whole matter of water baptism. In fact, he did not insist on water baptism of the 12 men after their new birth, as this would have been their third water baptism.

In the rest of the Book of Acts, Paul makes no mention of water baptism, except in his testimony to the crowd in Acts 22.16. However, in his testimony before King Agrippa in Acts 26, he omits any mention of water baptism. Furthermore, in explaining his Gospel, he makes no reference to any water baptism, but simply states, “I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds” (Acts 26.20).

After the initial confusion in Ephesus, Paul stayed on in the city for about three years. Near the end of his time in Ephesus, he writes back to the Corinthians, whom he had visited before coming to Ephesus. Some members ofChloe’s household had informed Paul that there were divisions in the church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:11). These divisions seemed to have been sparked off by me issue of water baptism. It seems that people were identifying themselves with the baptizer! Paul is, in fact, thankful that he himself only physically baptized Crispus, Gaius and Stephanas’ household.

He then makes a categorical statement in v l7, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the Gospel” We notice two major shifts in Paul’s thinking, and consequently his practice. Firstly, he delinks the Gospel from water baptism. Secondly, he makes it clear that water baptism is not part of Christ’s commission to him (or by inference to any other disciple of Christ).

Interestingly, Paul continues in his Corinthian letter to mention baptism three more times, but none of them refer specifically to water baptism.

The first reference in 1 Corinthians 10:2 is a 40-year baptism that utilizes the word in the sense of “identification” with Moses.

The second reference is 1 Corinthians 12:13, which related to our spiritual baptism into Christ’s body. The verb is past perfect, and relates back to Christ’s redemptive work on the cross.

The third reference is 1 Corinthians 15:29-30 which relates to a practice or tradition that the Corinthians were apparently doing. Paul utilizes the tradition to make a point about the validity of the resurrection. The fact that he does not condemn the practice probably implies that he saw water baptism practiced in any form as a tradition.

It was at about this time (approximately 57 A.D.) that Paul also wrote to the church in Rome. In this letter, his references to baptism in Romans 6:3-4 are of a purely spiritual nature only, and relate again to the redemptive work of Christ on the cross.

The letter to the Galatians was also written somewhere around this time (although there is some dispute on this), where again the reference in Galatians 3:27 is to our spiritual baptism in Christ.

The letters to the Ephesians and to the Colossians were both written  around 60 A.D., when Paul was in prison. In both letter (Ephesians 4:5 and Colossians 2:12), the references to baptism are spiritual. In fact, he is even more emphatic in Ephesians 4:5 to state that there is only ONE baptism. Also, he strongly delinks in Colossians 2:9-13 the physical (circumcision, baptism), from the spiritual baptism that was accomplished at Jesus’ death (burial) and resurrection.

We have been observing me transition in Paul’s thinking on this issue.  We had also referred to Peter’s initial shift (Acts 2:38 to Acts 3:19) in delinking water baptism and the Gospel. Peter’s thinking continued to modify in Acts 10:34-48 and Acts 11:16. He had ordered water baptism, but omitted this event when explaining to the believers in Jerusalem.

Rather, he quoted Jesus’ statement in Acts 1:5.

By the time Peter writes his first letter many years later (early 60’s, A.D.)  he speaks of baptism only in spiritual terms, and again clearly delinks it from any physical act, but relates it to the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 3:21-22).

What about Matthew 28:18-20?

This is the one verse that seems to indicate that baptism is a fundamental part of the Great Commission. There are two questions to ask from this passage. They are:

What are we commanded to do from this passage?

Is baptizing in these verses related to the spiritual or the physical aspect?  The imperative verb in this passage is “make disciples”. The verbs “go”, and “baptizing” and “teaching” are all present participles, implying simultaneous action along with the main verb “make disciples”, which is a verb of command. The context would seem to imply that the baptizing is a spiritual activity, where the people of the nations are becoming Christians (KJV note), and are therefore being baptized (identified, united) into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, as opposed to the gods of the nations. The present continuous tense of the verb “baptizing” used in vl9, would imply an ongoing identity associated with the total life of a disciple.

This would seem to be supported by the fact that the early disciples never baptized anyone with water in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. However, the Christian church today does. Rather, they did perform water baptism in the name of Jesus, m fact, this difference has led to the appearance of the “Jesus Only” movement today that performs water baptism in the name of Jesus only, and counts all other baptisms as invalid. This movement has proved to be divisive with almost all other denominations.

The other factor is that every other reference in the New Testament that teaches about baptism is always in the context of the new birth and making disciples. It would seem strange to suddenly tag this reference in Matthew 28:19 with water baptism, especially since it is also in the context of the new birth and making disciples.

How did Jesus Himself see Matthew 28:18-20 being applied?

We note in Acts 1:8 that when He reiterated His commission, the central aspect was the baptism of the Holy Spirit (the new birth) that took place for these disciples at Pentecost. In fact, in Acts 1:5, Jesus had communicated that water baptism belonged to John’s ministry, and now the Spirit baptism was the key to the ministry that Jesus had entrusted to the disciples.

How do we see the Great Commission?

Matthew’s focus is on Jesus and His Kingdom. He places this as the fulfillment of God’s plan, the “Law and the Prophets” and “all righteousness”. Unveils the Good News of the Kingdom! And in this context profiles the life and character of a disciple. The “keys” and “secrets” of the Kingdom are given to the disciples.  And “this Gospel of the Kingdom” is for all Nations! Matthew states the “greatest commandment” - “all the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments “.

Concludes the Gospel with the - great commission!

“Go … and make disciples of all nations …”

We tend to read the great commission as making disciples from all nations - one by one or whatever, and we have some profile of a disciple, etc.

But it seems that this passage is referring to the nations - nations as disciples of Jesus!

  • how do we disciple nations?!

  • how do we disciple the lost nations?!

”… baptizing them …”

  • what does it mean to baptize (continuous!) nations in/into the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit?! Does this refer to the  water ritual and while dunking the disciple we now say “in the name of the…”?? Is the change/use of “name” in the ritual that makes it spiritual / significant?

What can this “baptizing” mean? How would God like to see the nations /disciples “baptized”? Completely “united”/“clothed”/“baptized” into the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are to be “baptized” every moment in a “baptismal relationship” with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit - just like how our Master Jesus lived!

How do we do all this? - “…teaching them (nations) to obey everything …” And He will be with us always to help us live like him!

A significant turning point for us was the separation of the water ritual and the Gospel - not only in the sense of an “add on” and the “purity of the Gospel”, but also in the way we begin to see and understand the Scriptural references/incidents related to baptism. True the water ritual was God ordained - but that “commission” belonged only to John me Baptist, the “Elijah who was to come”. But then, it is the “the Christ, the Son of the living God” - who baptizes us ALL with the Spirit - and revealed to us and included us in his “Gospel of the Kingdom”. We have been forgiven, “washed”, sanctified, baptized… and are being transformed/renewed each day!

Conclusions and Applications

  1. In searching the Scriptures, we conclude that water baptism is not part of the Gospel message. Neither is it a command that must be fulfilled in our calling to advance the Gospel of Jesus and His Kingdom into the Nations.

  2. We further conclude that there is only ONE baptism essential for the citizen of the Kingdom, and that is me baptism of the Spirit. By this ONE baptism we are all ONE in Christ. This is the primary thrust of the Gospel and the New Testament. In fact, we need to constantly seek together and trust the Spirit to open our minds to the Scriptures, understand and align our lives according to the purposes of God.

  3. In our context, we constantly wrestle with our innate desire for “holy rituals” to feel/ become more spiritual or to express one’s spirituality. It is an integral part of our make-up (guess it’s the general “fallen” human nature - to spurn the “grace” that brings freedom to love and serve, and exchange it for the “Basic Principles … Regulations … Codes … and Law” that enslaves us in ritualism and legalism. We need to explain the pure gospel and help our friends understand the Scriptures so that they may be free - free to serve the lost!

  4. Therefore, we will prayerfully continue to open and explain the Scriptures to help believers among from the lost communities of our nation to understand that water baptism is not required - and set them free from any imposed or assumed yoke and corruption of the Gospel.

  5. We will continue to learn, dependent on the Spirit and be faithful - our desire is that the Gospel must flow unfettered and uncorrupted into ALL THE NATIONS - as the GOOD NEWS of JESUS and HIS KINGDOM.