The Baptismal Formula

The Baptismal Formula
The Baptismal Formula and the Greed Text
By: David K. Bernard

In Acts 2:38, the Apostle Peter, with the support of the other apostles, commanded his Jewish audience to “be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ.” Scripture records that the Samaritans, the Gentiles, and the disciples of John at Ephesus were also baptized in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 8:16; 10:4-8; 19:5).

The Oneness Pentecostal movement understands these passages as descriptive of the baptismal formula. That is, we should actually invoke or utter the name of Jesus when baptizing a person. In response, some trinitarians argue that the phrase only means to baptize with Christ’s authority and has no reference to the actual formula. A study of the original Greek text sheds considerable light upon this contention and assists in a clearer view of the significance of the name of Jesus in baptism.

The Exercise of Power and Authority
At the outset, we acknowledge that God’s name represents His power and authority. Indeed, this explains the significance and importance of using Jesus’ name in baptism. Baptism is part of salvation; it is for remission of sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Peter 3:21). Jesus is the only saving name and the name in which sins are forgiven and remitted (Acts 4:12; 10:43; I John 2:12).

To baptize in Jesus’ name is to baptize with His power and authority. But this does not imply that the name of Jesus should not be used. To the contrary, the proper way to act with God’s authority and exercise His power is to invoke His name.

This is analogous to legal transactions then and now. A person has the power and authority to direct his bank to pay money from his account to whomever he designates. Yet the bank requires his signed name before it will honor his instruction. For someone to exercise the power of attorney for another, he must first present an appropriate document signed by the person he represents.

When David approached Goliath in the power and authority of God, He proclaimed, “I come to thee in the name of the LORD of hosts” (1 Samuel 17:4-5). In the KJV, LORD, in all capitals, stands for Jehovah (Yahweh) in the original text, so David actually invoked the name of Jehovah.

Jesus gave the church power and authority to cast out devils in His name and to pray for the healing of the sick in His name (Mark 16:17-18; James 5:14). How did the New Testament church implement this?

The Apostle Peter declared to the lame man, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk” (Acts 3:6). He told the multitude, “And his name through faith in his name hath made this man strong”
(Acts 3:16). Peter actually invoked the name of Jesus and also exercised faith in Jesus. He told the Jewish council that the man was healed “by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth” (Acts 4:10), quoting the words he had used.

When Paul cast a demon out of a young woman, he said, “I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her” (Acts 16:18). He called the name of Jesus. When the sons of Sceva sought to cast out demons, they said, “We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth” (Acts 19:13). They knew that Paul cast out demons by using the name of Jesus, so they attempted to do the same. They were unsuccessful because they did not have faith in Jesus or a genuine relationship with Him.

Whenever the Early Church exercised the power and authority of Jesus to obtain a spiritual work, they always invoked the name of Jesus in faith. Baptism for the remission of sins is no exception.

Invoking the name
Theologians and church historians generally recognize that the Book of Acts gives the baptismal formula of the Early Church. The Encyclopedia of Religion and ethics states, with respect to New Testament baptism, “The formula used was “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” or some synonymous phrase; there is no evidence for the use of the trine name:” The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible says, “The evidence of Acts 2:38; 10:4-8 (cf. 8:16; 19:5), supported by Galatians 3:27, Romans 6:3, suggests that baptism in early Christianity was administered, not in the three-fold name, but “in the name of Jesus Christ” or “in the name of the Lord Jesus:”

This is the natural reading of the phrase, “baptized in the name of Jesus Christ;’ and a person must use questionable and twisted methods of biblical interpretation to deny that the words mean what they appear to mean. If this language were not a formula, it is strange that it appears so many times as if it were a formula without any explanation to the contrary.

Moreover, if this language does not describe a formula, then neither can a person appeal to Matthew 28:19 to find a formula. The Greek phrase translated as “in the name of” in Matthew 28:19 is identical to the phrase in Acts 8:16 and 19:5. If Acts tells us to exercise Christ’s authority without a formula, then Matthew 28:19 says to exercise the authority of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost without a formula. If this interpretation were correct, we would be left without any baptismal formula, which would be highly unlikely in light of the importance of baptism, the need to distinguish Christian baptism from other types of baptism, the common sense reading of the passages in question, and the historical evidence from the earliest times that Christians always used a baptismal formula.

In addition to the baptismal accounts in Acts 2, 8, 10, and 19, the epistles allude to the baptismal formula in the name of Jesus (Romans 6:3-4; 1 Corinthians 1:13; 6:11; Galatians 3:27; Colossians 2:12). Properly understood, even Matthew 28: 19 describes the name of Jesus. Moreover, Acts 15:17, Acts 22:16, and James 2:7 indicate that the name of Jesus was orally invoked at baptism.

These last three verses use the Greek verb epikaleo, which is composed of the preposition epi and the verb kaleo. Kaleo simply means to call. Epi has a variety of uses, but its most basic and literal meaning is “on, in, above, answering the question ‘where?’ Thus, epikaleo means to invoke, call, call on, or call upon.

Acts 15:17 describes the Gentiles whom God has chosen as those “upon whom my name is called.” The verb is epikaleo in perfect passive form. The passive voice means the action was done to the people spoken about. The Greek perfect tense means the action took place in the past but has present and continuing effects. Acts l5:l7 also uses the preposition epi separately. This double use of epi stresses the idea of invocation on or upon.

God’s name was called over or invoked upon the Gentile converts, and as a result they still bear His name. Marshall’s Interlinear Greek-English New Testament gives the literal translation: “on whom has been invoked the name of me.” A number of other translations emphasize the specific act of invocation, some focusing on the past event and others upon the present result: “upon whom my name has been invoked” (Amplified and Berkeley); “upon whom my name is called” (Phillips); “who bear my name”
James 2:7 also uses the verb epikaleo followed by the preposition epi: “Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called?” Again, a specific act of invocation is indicated: “called on you” (Interlinear); “which was invoked over you” (RSV); “which hath been invoked upon you”(Rotherham). Here, the form of the verb is aorist passive participle. The aorist tense denotes simple past action, while the aorist participle means the action occurred prior to the time of the main verb, which is present tense.

Acts 15:17 and James 2:7, then, point to a specific time in the past when God’s name was invoked over each believer. When did this occur? And what name was used? The New Testament records only one event in which the divine name is orally invoked over each Christian-at the act of water baptism. And the only name that appears in connection with water baptism is the name of Jesus Christ.

This conclusion is so clear that the translators of The Amplified Bible, although they were of the trinitarian persuasion, felt compelled to translate James 2:7 with an explanation in brackets: “Is it not they who slander and blaspheme that precious name by which you are distinguished and called (the name of Christ invoked in baptism)?”

Some interpret Acts 15:17 and James 2:7 as symbolic only, referring to God’s ownership of the saint and the saint’s dedication to God. Vine says the verb in these two verses means “to be called by a person’s name; hence it is used of being declared to be dedicated to a person.” This reveals the significance of invoking the name but does not obviate the actual invocation. As Bauer et al. explain both verses, “Someone’s name is called over someone to designate the latter as the property of the former.”

Acts 22:16 confirms that an actual invocation of the name of Jesus occurs at the conversion experience, namely, at water baptism: “Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” The verb epikaleo appears here as well, indicating a specific invocation: “invoking the name of him” (Interlinear); “while invoking his name (Jerusalem Bible); “with invocation of his name (NEB); “by calling upon His name” (Amplified); “and invoke his name” (TCNT); “as you call on his name” (Phillips); “by calling on His name” (Williams). According to Vine, in Acts 22:16 the verb means to call upon for oneself,” while another form of the same verb in Acts 2:21 means “to call upon by way of adoration, making use of the name of the Lord:’ Of these two verses Bauer et al. say the verb is used “of calling on a divinity.”

Using the name of Jesus

Acts 2:38, 8:16, 10:4-8, and 19:5 all teach baptism in the name of,Jesus. Some trinitarians reject the idea that these four verses speak of a formula, basing their argument on the slight variations in the wording. For example, Acts 2:38 says ‘Jesus Christ,’ while Acts 8:16 and 19:5 say “Lord Jesus.”

But their reasoning is faulty and reveals a biased opinion. What is significant is that in the Greek all four verses include the name Jesus. (In the King James Version, Acts 10:4-8 says “in the name of the Lord:’ The name of the Lord is Jesus, for the earliest confession of the Christian church was, ‘Jesus is Lord” (Romans 10:9; 1 Corinthians 12:3; Philippians 2:11). Moreover, the evidence is overwhelming that in
the original Greek text Acts 10:4-8 actually states, “in the name of Jesus Christ” and all translations since the KJV use the name of Jesus.)

Since the titles vary in the four passages but the name of Jesus is
used consistently, the implication is that it is not the title that is so important but the vital element to make baptism valid is the name ofJesus.

In conclusion, the New Testament teaches that water baptism should be performed in the name of Jesus, perhaps adding the title of Lord or Christ or both. As a study of the Greek text confirms, this means we should invoke the name of Jesus orally upon the candidate at baptism. In this way, the believer relies upon the power and authority of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and dedicates himself to Jesus Christ as his Lord.
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By: E.L. Holley

Jesus, our exemplar, set forth the necessity of water baptism by precedent. Coming to John, He insisted that the Baptist baptize Him, and the reluctant prophet acquiesced (Matthew 3:13-17). Then, at the close of His earthly ministry, our Lord commissioned His church, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matthew 28:l9). Thus, our Savior Himself initiated water baptism by both precedent and precept.

On this basis, water baptism has always been observed by true believers. Moreover, water baptism is of such importance and consequence that it is worthy of careful consideration. The mode and meaning of baptism, its purpose, the formula, and whether or not water baptism is essential to salvation are matters of utmost concern.

The Scriptures depict only one mode of baptism-immersion. John sought and selected sites where ample water was available for baptizing (John 3:23; Matthew 3:13). Jesus came up out of the water after He was baptized (Matthew 3:16). Philip and the eunuch “went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him” (Acts 8:38). The word baptize, in its Greek form means to dip,” and there is no reason to think it means otherwise. The scriptural mode of baptism is immersion.

What is the meaning of the act of baptism to us?

Paul taught that we who are dead to sin were buried with Jesus Christ by baptism “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 6:1-5). As He died, was buried, and arose, so we followed in His steps. We died out to this world (repented), were buried with Him by water baptism, and in the likeness of His resurrection, we arose to walk in a new life!

Peter amplified the beauty of baptism by relating how that “once the longsuffering of God waited 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 . . . by the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:10-21). The “like figure” refers to the similarity between the salvation of Noah “by water” andwater baptism which “doth also now save us.”
Noah’s old life-the world and all that was in it-was destroyed by water, but, when the ark rested on Mount Ararat, a new life began! We were “baptized into his death” when we “were baptized into Jesus Christ” (Romans 6:3). He died and we laid down our old life in repentance, being baptized into His death. But we were also made partakers of the resurrection! The world, with all of its snares and entanglements, is under the curse of death and we are made aware of it. We are in the world, but not of the world.

When we went down into the baptismal water, the world system that is contrary to God went with us. We came forth washed in the blood of the Lamb; but the world and all that is in it was overflowed with the water. There is the “figure” and it is beautiful!

What does baptism do? What is its purpose?

When a convicted sinner turns to God in faith and repentance, he is pointed to God’s answer to man’s sins. Through the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus, every person has access to God. This is accomplished by complying with Peter’s Pentecostal message: “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” (Acts 2:38). That is God’s answer to man’s sins!
The purpose of baptism is clearly stated. It is “for (in order to obtain) the remission of sins.” Jesus said that His blood was “shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:28). Clearly, He shed His blood in order to obtain remission of sins for many. Anyone who suggests that we are baptized “because” we already have remission of sins would, in order to be consistent, be forced to say Jesus shed His blood “because” we already have remission of sins!

Peter preached “that through his name whosoever believeth in himshall receive remission of sins” (Acts 10:43). This statement introduces us to the correct formula for water baptism. It tells us who receives remission of sins and the means by which the remission of sins is received, that is through the name of Jesus. Clearly, the correctformula for water baptism is one that uses the name of Jesus. Everyrecorded baptism supports this truth. (See Acts 2:38; 8:16; 10:48; 19:5.)

Those who fail to see the tremendous marvel of water baptism often attempt to dismiss the subject as irrelevant-as nonessential. The thinking person is not so inclined, however. He understands that the essentiality of water baptism emerges again and again in Scripture.

For the honest-hearted the question is easily settled. The cogent words of the Lord of glory are adequate for such a person. He speaks, and the matter is forever settled!

Let us hear Him as He says, “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). In those pointed words, He set forth the order of events: faith, baptism, salvation. He did not say, “He that believeth shall be saved, and heshould be baptized.” Instead, salvation is contingent upon our believing and being baptized. Clearly, baptism is essential to salvation!

Essential as water baptism is, by itself it is insufficient. It must be an act of faith, and that is why Jesus said, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” Without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). Water baptism without faith is not efficacious. And, of course, saving faith is a belief which is founded upon the Word of God.

Water baptism is indeed worthy of careful-prayerful-consideration to both believers and to those who have not heard. It is a subject that we must share with the world!
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By: David K. Bernard

According to both the Bible and history, the New Testament church invoked the name of Jesus at water baptism. Its baptismal formula was “in the name of Jesus Christ” or “Lord Jesus;’ not “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.’

The Scriptural Record

Every time the Bible records the name or formula associated with an actual baptism in the New Testament church, it was the name Jesus. All five such accounts occur in the Book of Acts, the history book of the Early Church. It records that the following people were baptized in Jesus’ name.

* The Jews. “Then Peter said unto to 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.” (Acts 2:38).

* The Samaritans. “They were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 8:16).

* The Gentiles. “And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord” (Acts 10:48). (The earliest Greek manuscripts say, “in the name of Jesus Christ,” as do most versions today.)

* The disciples of John (rebaptized). “They were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 19:5).

* The Apostle Paul. “Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16).

Moreover, the Epistles contain a number of references or allusionsto baptism in Jesus’ name. See Romans 6:3-4; I Corinthians 1:13; 6:11; Galatians 3:27; Colossians 2:12; James 2:17.

The only verse of Scripture that anyone could appeal to in support of a threefold baptismal formula is Matthew 28:19, in which Jesus commanded baptism “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:’ The word name in this verse is singular, however, indicating that the phrase describes one supreme name by which the one God is revealed, not three names of three persons.

The apostles understood Christ’s words as a description of His own name, for they fulfilled His command by baptizing in the name of Jesus.
There is only one God (Deuteronomy 6:4), and He has one supreme name today (Zechariah 14:9). Jesus is the incarnation of all the fulness of the Godhead (Colossians 2:9). Jesus is the name of the Son (Matthew 1:21), Jesus is the name by which the Father is revealed to us (John 5:43; 10:30; 14:9-11), and Jesus is the name in which the Holy Spirit comes (John 14:16-18, 26).

Luke 24-:4-7 is a parallel verse to Matthew 28:19, and it describes Jesus as saying that repentance and remission of sins and baptism is for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38) would be preached “in his name.” Jesus is the only saving name, the name in which we receive remission of sins, the highest name made known to us, and the name in which we are to say and do all things (Acts 4:12; 10:4-3; Philippians 2:9-11; Colossians 3:17).

Thus the one supreme, saving name of Matthew 28:19 is Jesus. We are to fulfill the command of that verse as the Early Church did, by invoking the name of Jesus at baptism.

The Historical Record

Respected historical sources verify that the early Christian church did not use a threefold baptismal formula but invoked the name of Jesus in baptism well into the second and third centuries.

* Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics (1951), II, 384, 389: “The formula used was ‘in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ’ or some synonymous phrase; there is no evidence for the use of the trine name…. The earliest form, represented in the Acts, was simple immersion …in water, the use of the name of the Lord, and the laying on of hands. To these were added, at various times and places which cannot be safely identified, (a) the trine name (Justin),.. ”

* Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (1962), I, 351: “The evidence …suggests that baptism in early Christianity was administered, not in the threefold name, but ‘in the name of Jesus Christ’ or ‘in the name of the Lord Jesus’.”

* Otto Heick, A History of Christian Thought (1965), I, 87: “At first baptism was administered in the name of Jesus, but gradually in the name of the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

* Hastings’s Dictionary of the Bible (1898), I, 24-1: “(One could conclude that) the original form of words was ‘into the name of Jesus Christ’ or ‘the Lord Jesus: Baptism into the name of the Trinity was a later development.”

* Williston Walker, A History of the Christian Church (1947), page 58: The trinitarian baptismal formula . . . was displacing the older baptism in the name of Christ.”

* The New Schaff-Herzog Religious Encyclopedia (1957), I, 435: “The New Testament knows only baptism in the name of Jesus . . . , which still occurs even in the second and third centuries.”

” Canney’s Encyclopedia of Religions (1970), page 53: “Persons were baptized at first ‘in the name of Jesus Christ’ . . . or ‘in the name of the Lord Jesus: . . . . Afterwards, with the development of the doctrine of the Trinity, they were baptized ‘in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost’.”

* Encyclopedia Bibilca (1899), I 4-73: “It is natural to conclude that baptism was administered in the earliest times ‘in the name of Jesus Christ; or ‘in the name of the Lord Jesus: . . . This view is confirmed by the fact that the earliest forms of the baptismal confession appear to have been single-not triple, as was the later creed.”

* The Catholic Encyclopedia, II, 263: “The baptismal formula was changed from the name of Jesus Christ to the words Father, Son, and Holy Spirit by the Catholic Church in the second century.”

Christians today should use the biblical baptismal formula as found in the New Testament. Everyone should be baptized by immersion in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.

(The above material appeared in a May 1989 issue of Pentecostal Herald.”
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