By Thomas Weisser
The love Jesus has for people is evident when we consider the great plan He has for all of us. At the Last Supper He revealed to His disciples, as they were sitting there, that His blood was to be shed for the remission of many people’s sins. (Mt. 26:28). Before His ascension He instructed His disciples to preach “repentance and remission of sins in His name,” (Lk. 24:47) beginning at Jerusalem. In Jerusalem Peter obeyed Jesus. While under the anointing of the Spirit of Christ, he instructed new converts to; “Repent, and be baptized…in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.” (Acts 2:38).
The Pauline epistles anointed by Christ say many beautiful things about baptism. The writer himself was cleansed of his sins upon entering the Christian faith. Ananias says to Paul; “And now why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” (Acts 22:16).
In Romans Paul asks and answers a very important question; “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 from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” (Rom. 6:3-4).
First Corinthians ten reminds us that the Jews in their release from bondage and escape from Pharaoh’s army, “were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea.” (1 Cor. 10:2). To the New Testament Church, Peter plainly states that everyone desiring to be released from the bondage of sin should be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. (see Acts 2: 38 and 10:44-48). The Jews all drank from a spiritual Rock that followed them. The Rock that we now build upon is a stationary Rock. His name is Jesus Christ and He is the cornerstone of a building fitly framed together that is called the Church. He is immovable and unchangeable, the same yesterday, today, and forever. The gates of hell have not prevailed against the Church because Jesus is its builder and all power in heaven and earth belongs to Him.
Colossians says the Church is; “Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead And you being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses.” (Col. 2:12-13).
When Paul was in Ephesus he found disciples of John the Baptist. After finding out that they had only been baptized “unto John’s baptism,” he proceeded to baptize them in the name of the Lord Jesus. (see Acts 19:1-5).
Peter, the preacher of the New Birth message in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost, compares baptism to the salvation of Noah and his family from the flood. “In the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet. 3:20-21).
When Peter commanded Cornelius and his household to be baptized in the name of the Lord, it was out of concern for their salvation. Just as Noah was building an ark for salvation from the flood, so is Christ building a church that will have the power of His name to escape the judgment of the world.
Relationship to Practices in Bible Times
Why did God choose baptism as an initiatory and cleansing rite for new converts to Christianity? Were there any parallel practices among the people of those times? If there were, this would help to explain why this was readily accepted by many thousands in the early days of the Church.
Archaeologists tell us that immersionary washings were common among the Jews of Jesus’ day. These immersion baths were called miqva’ot. William Sanford La Sor in a recent article entitled; “Discovering What Jewish Miqva’ot Can Tell Us About Christian Baptism,” argues for immersion as the earliest form of baptism. He says; “But the archaeological and Mishnaic evidence seems to support the argument for immersion. That is clearly what occurred in the contemporaneous Jewish miqva’ot, so that is probably what happened in early Jewish Christian baptism.” In considering the necessary steps for a proselyte to Judaism he says; “Three things were required of a proselyte to Judaism; circumcision, the offering of a sacrifice and immersion in the miqveh.”
Considering the significance of being baptized “into the name” Ralph Bohlmann has shed some light on early practices. After outlining the meaning of entering into union with God through baptism he explains another aspect. “Another explanation is suggested on the basis of many of the papyri coming from the Hellenistic world of business and finance. Here the expression “into the name” was used to designate an entry made into an account or account book over which the name of the owner was written. What was placed “into the name” of a person was placed into his account and became his possession.”
The Scripture tells us we; “are bought with a price.” The price can not be equated in money, but blood. The blood of the perfect sacrifice, Christ. “Therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.” (1 Cor. 6:20). Paul again exhorts the Corinthians, saying; “Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men.” (1 Cor. 7:23). Paul is very explicit in Colossians where he warns about men who would take us away from the beautiful experience of being; “buried with him in baptism.” (Col. 2:12) Traditions of men would take us away from this life changing action but the Word of God would never take this wonderful opportunity from anyone.
Again, Bohlmann tells us about the Jewish practice between the testaments of freeing slaves. He says; “ritual washings for manumitted slaves were prescribed and carried out
“into the name” of a free man; in such references the expression “into the name” states the special purpose and intention of the ritual act, namely, to become a free man.”
The greatest indictment against mankind is recorded in the Bible. The pronouncement is bold and straightforward; “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Rom. 3:23). In a spiritual sense every one is a slave to sin. Is there a way out? Fortunately, yes, Jesus is the way. “And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin.” (1 John 3:5). Jesus is the only one who ever lived on the face of the earth without sin. This is why it is so vital that we be washed in the name of the only free-from-sin man so that we might be free. This explains why the Scripture says; “Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12).
What about Mt. 28:19?
Much confusion concerning baptism has been caused as men interpreted this verse of Scripture. After the apostles a dangerous trend appeared in the thinking of many men. They started to view the terms Father, Son, and Holy Ghost as representing three Persons in the Godhead. This concept which was out of harmony with the general truth of Scripture gave them a ready excuse to abandon the only saving name, the name of Jesus Christ, in baptism. Instead of baptizing into the name of Jesus Christ at baptism many started to baptize into the titles Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. This, along with conceiving God as three persons was a clever trick of Satan to eliminate the name of Christ in baptism. It violates the clear word of Scripture which states; “Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12).
Then how should we interpret Mt. 28:19? First, we have to consider who Jesus was addressing in this Scripture. The obvious answer is His disciples. The question then we must consider is, how did they fulfill Christ’s commission in their actual practice? Invariably, when the words are related to baptism, they baptized in or into the name of Christ.
Were the disciples disobedient to Christ’s command? Did they purposely ignore the admonition to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost? I don’t believe so. Then what is the explanation for this incongruity? The only logical solution is that Peter and the others recognized that the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost is Jesus. Obviously, the apostles did not recognize these titles to represent three persons in the Godhead. They understood these to be three titles that could all be ascribed to Jesus Christ.
The Meaning of “for” in Acts 2:38
“…be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.” The Greek word translated “for” in Acts 2:38 may mean either “because of or “in order to”. In the Revised Version it is translated to the English word “unto”.
Authorities on the Greek language have agreed that it could not mean “because of” in the context of Acts 2:38. Dr. Hackett translates part of Acts 2:38 this way, “in order to the forgiveness of sins.” Professor Tyler, of Amherst, expresses the sense of the passage thus; “Repent and let every one of you be baptized to the end that your sins may be forgiven.”
Professor N. C. Cameron, of Princeton, says: “The preposition for, in Acts 2:38, is evidently used in its final sense, and the phrase is clearly connected with “repent and be baptized” as the end to which repentance and baptism in the name of Jesus, led.”
Professor Packard, of Yale University, would translate the clause classically to read; “to the end of remission of sins,” and says; “It would then make “remission of sins” an object aimed at, or a result attained by the acts denoted by the verbs.”
Professor Flagg, of Cornell, says that for in this passage…”denoted intention or purpose, “with a view to” much as if it had been written, “so as to obtain remission of sins”. This is his view from the standpoint of classical Greek.
Believing on Jesus
In the apostolic age, the command to BELIEVE ON the Lord Jesus Christ caused men to be baptized.
- Jerusalem: “Men and brethren, what shall we do?…be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ.” (Acts 2)
- Samaria: “But when they BELIEVED Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.” (Acts 8:12)
- Caesarea: “To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name (Jesus) whosoever BELIEVETH in him shall receive remission of sins…And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. (Acts 10:43, 48)
- Ephesus: “that they should BELIEVE on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” (Acts 19:4,5)
Titus 3:5 says; “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration (baptism), and the renewing of the Holy Ghost.” Baptism is here represented, like the bestowing of the Spirit, as God’s act; which it certainly is through the hand of the administrator. It is declared to be not a work of righteousness done by ourselves. This is unquestionably correct; for in so far as baptism is a work at all, it is the act of another. What the candidate does in baptism, is to put on Christ and enter into union with him. This is simply faith. In the apostolic age, the command to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ caused men to be baptized; and it should do so now.
What about the Philippian Jailer?
“Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said; “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” (Acts 16:30,31) This is one of three instances where the question is posed, “what shall I do?”
- Acts 2:37,38
- Acts 16:30,31
- Acts 22:10,16
Out of these three the answer of Paul and Silas to the jailer is universally used as the answer to inquirers, (by those who say, “just believe” for salvation), while neither of the other answers is ever used.
The question must be asked concerning Acts 16:30,31; “Did it express a part of what is necessary for the jailer to do in order to be saved, or did it embrace his entire duty in order to salvation?” It is easy to supply the supposed meaning out of our own doctrinal ideas, and yet fail to be conscious that we are not interpreting, but perverting the Scripture.
The passage cannot teach the moral monstrosity of a conversion without repentance. Paul did not teach a different gospel from that of the other apostles. The others, including Christ himself, give abundant evidence that repentance is a condition of salvation, and we may be sure that neither Paul nor any other apostle will state any condition of salvation that omits it.
The Scriptures declare as clearly and positively that baptism is a condition of salvation, or remission of sins, as they do that repentance is. There are no clearer or more definite statements in the New Testament than those of Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16 (Paul is the one spoken to) and I Pet. 3:21.
Paul, himself, places baptism (the washing of regeneration- Tit. 3:5) among the conditions of salvation. Moreover, when he spoke “the word of the Lord,” which explained to the jailer what was meant by believing on the Lord Jesus, the; “jailer took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes, and was baptized, he and all his, straightway.” Speaking the word of the Lord to inquirers always resulted in immediate baptism in the apostolic age. Not so, with a faith that saves before baptism.
If reading the Scripture shows the necessity of faith and repentance, the scriptures on baptism should not be ignored. The jailer’s believing on the Lord Jesus included his baptism. After his baptism, he; “rejoiced greatly, with all his house, having believed in God.” (Acts 16:34) His believing on the Lord Jesus was consummated in his baptism.
The following scriptures show the necessity of baptism for salvation:
- In Acts 16:31 Paul tells what one must do to be saved.
- In Tit. 3:5 he declares baptism to be a condition of salvation
- In Acts 22:16 Paul’s conversion clearly included baptism
- In Tit. 3:5 Paul excludes baptism from the category of works
- In Gal. 3:27 he places in it a spiritual element which conditions justification, that is, putting on Christ.
- In Rom. 6:4 entering into union with him.
According to the apostles, the terms for saving faith included baptism. Separating faith from baptism in salvation is without scriptural support.
The Psychology of Remission
A man has committed an atrocious murder. The trial clearly establishes his guilt and shows that he was perfectly sane in the act. The indignation is so great that, were it not for their respect for the law, they would rise and execute summary vengeance. The prisoner is sentenced to execution at an appointed date. But the keepers soon discover a change in his mental state, and after a time become fully convinced that he has sincerely repented of his crime. This knowledge reaches the governor and he also believes in the man’s repentance, and immediately his feelings for him are changed. Should he have an occasion to visit the prison and meet the condemned, he would speak very kindly to him, and his tone and manner would indicate his sympathy. He would also be glad to do him any favor, or give him any help that would be consistent with his duty as the chief magistrate of the state. But it is safe to say that he will not pardon him. Even subconsciously, he has not pronounced his release. In leaving the penalty to take its course, he will feel that he is doing him no injustice. If repentance had rendered the man innocent, it would be a crime for the governor to let the penalty stand. Though out of sympathy he may commute the sentence; he will feel that he is doing right in not releasing the man. Pardon would save the prisoner’s life and restore him to citizenship. But let it be noted, that the governor’s change of feeling towards him does neither of these things. Let it be still further noted, that his proceeding will be considered by all mankind as just. The change of feeling which naturally follows the knowledge of the offender’s repentance does have some effect on the governor’s bearing toward him. But it does not change his relations, nor remove the penalty. These things hinge on the act of will which constitutes the mind’s final disposal of the case; and the conscience of the race has pronounced that it should be so.
The example of Cornelius in Acts 10 exemplifies this principle. He was earnestly striving to do his duty to both God and man. His moral state was such as repentance is designed to produce; and in the commencement of this course there must have been the essential elements of repentance. God’s attitude toward him was also what we should expect. There was no mark of displeasure. But, on the contrary, approval. His prayers and alms rise as a memorial to God. But, notwithstanding these things, the narrative clearly informs us that he was not saved; for he was told to send for Peter who should tell him words whereby he and his house should be saved (Acts 11:13,14). We also discover that he had not received the remission of sins. For Peter tells him that; “through his (Christ’s) name every one that believeth on him shall receive remission of sins (Acts 10:43). And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord (Acts 10:48).”
This case presents insurmountable difficulties if we are to make remission of sins dependent only on ethical conditions. But if it depends not only on a man’s change of attitude toward righteousness and toward God, but also on his laying hold on the strong forces which God has ordained for his rescue from sin, all difficulties vanish and every feature of the case becomes what we should expect it to be.
Cornelius had reached the state where God had ceased to be displeased with him and viewed him with approval. He had not been “saved” and had not received the “remission of sins”. Simply put, he had not become a part of Christ’s church. Union with the church cannot take place by a mere act of the mind. It can be consummated only by some external act; and that act is, by divine appointment, Christian baptism.
Repentance is the ethical condition of salvation; connection with Christ and his Church are practical conditions. In repentance a change of feeling and purpose with regard to righteousness takes place; in faith and baptism connection is made with the strong forces that render righteousness attainable.
Many people have held to baptism in Jesus’ name for the remission of sins since the beginning of the Church. They felt it important that they use this saving name in baptism. They were looked down upon and persecuted. Yet they felt they were standing for something instituted by Christ and, therefore, eternal. This book is dedicated to and about them.
This article “A Plan Conceived in Love” was excerpted from: The History of Baptism by Thomas Weisser. Morris Publishing, 2005. It may be used for study & research purposes only.