The Doctrine of Water Baptism

The Doctrine of Water Baptism
By J. Mark Jordan

Anyone who begins a serious study of the New Testament soon faces the prominence of water baptism, both as a practice and as a doctrine in the apostolic community. John the Baptist, Jesus, Peter, Philip, Paul and other major New Testament preachers proclaimed baptism as an integral part of their mission. The strong emphasis in the New Testament church, along with foreshadowing in the Old Testament, makes a powerful case for water baptism’s importance. This chapter will discuss Old Testament types pointing to baptism, the meaning of baptism, early church practice, and baptism as a factor in salvation.

Types Pointing to Baptism

Many Bible students see a foreshadowing of baptism as early as Genesis 1:2: “Darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. ” Perhaps God ordained a baptism to bring order and life to a chaotic earth. An even clearer indication can be seen a few chapters later when God indeed “baptized” the earth in Noah’s day. (See Genesis 7:11.) In fact, the New Testament uses the flood as a type of baptism. “The like figure [type] whereunto even baptism cloth also now save us” (I Peter 3:21).

Later events in Hebrew history serve as outstanding types of water baptism. According to I Corinthians 10:1-4, the Israelites’ deliverance from Egypt through the Red Sea passage is a beautiful portrayal of water baptism. As the water separated God’s children from Egypt, so baptism separates from sin. As the Red Sea became the path to life for Israel, so water baptism becomes the path to life for the believer. As the Egyptians were covered with the same water that saved the Israelites, so the baptismal flow covers our sins.

The laver of water outside the Tabernacle also points to water baptism. (See Exodus 30:17-21.) This truth is accentuated by the very placement of the laver directly between the brazen altar (a type of repentance) and the holy place (a type of the Holy Ghost baptism). These are only a few of the foreshadowing of water baptism in the Old Testament.

The Meaning of Baptism
Baptism signifies two powerful spiritual ideas. First, the act of cleansing or washing is historically linked with baptism. Passages such as Exodus 19:10 – “Let them wash their clothes,”–and Isaiah 1:16 – “Wash you, make you clean”–seem to foreshadow water baptism, as do the various ceremonial washings in the law of Moses. Naaman’s dip into the Jordan River to rid himself of leprosy (a type of sin) is another Old Testament type of baptism. (See II Kings 5:14.) John the Baptist preached “the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (Mark 1:4). Baptism was not an exotic or unheard of concept to the Jews. They readily accepted it because they understood its connotations. “Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judea, and all the region round about Jordan, and were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins” (Matthew 3:5). The idea of washing away or remitting sins is intrinsically bound up in the act of baptism.

Second, baptism is a spiritual burial. In the natural realm all dead flesh is to be properly buried, and spiritually speaking, the repentant man is dead and must be buried. By this he partakes of the crucifixion and burial of Christ. Burial, in this case, takes place by baptism. “Therefore, we are buried with him by baptism into death” (Romans 6:4). “Buried with him in baptism” (Colossians 2:12).

Baptism in Acts
While the case for baptism is strengthened by studying Old Testament typology and its New Testament significance, by far the strongest evidence is found in the simple record of the Book of Acts. First of all, we should note with great care that the apostles preached baptism. Peter placed it within the initial instructions for salvation after his convicting message, the first gospel sermon, stirred his audience to the point of action. “Repent, and be baptized every one of you…” (Acts 2:38). At the household of Cornelius, Peter “commanded them to be baptized” (Acts 10:48). Paul showed his accord with this message at his encounter with certain Ephesians disciples. He questioned them about baptism, explained it, and finally applied it. “When they heard this, they were baptized ” (Acts 19:5). Baptism certainly occupied a central place in apostolic sermons.

Baptism is by Immersion
Having established baptism’s obvious importance to the early church, the next step is to examine how it was practiced. Both scriptural evidence and logic point to full immersion in water as the mode for baptism. The very word baptism signifies this. It is actually an untranslated word carried over from the Greek word baptizo, which means to dip or immerse.

Immersion requires much water. This explains why John the Baptist “was baptizing in Aenon. . .because there was much water there” (John 3:23). It explains why “Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water” (Matthew 3:16). It also explains why Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch “went down both into the water,” and came “up out of the water” performing the act of baptism (Acts 8:38-39). The mode of baptism also reminds us of the significance of baptism as a burial. Sprinkling or partial immersion do not fulfill the symbolism of complete burial.

The Name of Jesus in Baptism
Whereas the mode of baptism deals with the way it is physically administered, the formula for baptism involves the focus and confession of the candidate’s faith. It was at this point that John’s baptism became obsolete. While retaining the mode of immersion, the Apostolic Church had a newer, farther reaching, infinitely better formula. “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). The name of the Lord Jesus Christ, now incorporated into the act of baptism, set forth the greatest legacy Christ could leave the infant church: His Name! “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).

The apostles stressed the importance of the name of Jesus Christ in connection with baptism. The accounts of baptism in the Book of Acts, along with supporting references in the epistles, demonstrate without fail that baptism was in Jesus’ name (Acts 8:16; 10:48; 19:5; Romans 6:3-4; Galatians 3:27; Colossians 2:12).

Paul asked two questions in I Corinthians 1:13 that serve as a good example of this point: “Was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul ?” Had there been half a dozen different formulas, these questions would have been meaningless. The apostle was driving home an obvious point. Jesus Christ was crucified for the Corinthians and they were baptized in the name of Jesus. Paul himself testified to his own baptism. Annanias said to him, “Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). We should note here that the name of the Lord was called upon or invoked. The preponderance of evidence clearly demonstrates that the name of Jesus was used verbally in baptism.

The words “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matthew 28:19) were never reiterated verbatim as a baptismal formula in apostolic practice. A closer examination of this verse of Scripture reveals that the word name, used in the singular form, is actually a reference to the name Lord Jesus Christ. Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are not names, but titles. What, then, is the one proper name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost? Chapter 6 will deal with this question since it involves the identity of Jesus Christ as the incarnation of the one God, who is Father and Holy Ghost. With regard to baptism, the apostles answered this question emphatically by baptizing their converts in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.The Necessity of Baptism

Our study of the typology, meaning, and apostolic practice of baptism reveals that baptism is a factor in our salvation. The following points draw us inescapably to this conclusion:

Baptism is a command to obey. Jesus said, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16). Peter showed his compliance with these words when “he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord” (Acts 10:48).

Baptism is part of our entrance into the body of Christ. “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27). “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?” (Romans 6:3). By contrast, the Scriptures never use the terminology of “believing” into Christ.

Baptism is an important doctrine of the church. “One Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5). This statement places baptism in high company. Hebrews 6:1-2 classifies baptism as a foundational doctrine.

Baptism is the way to the remission of sins. Acts 2:38 spells out baptism’s purpose: “for the remission of sins. ” The Greek word translated as “for” in this verse of Scripture is eis. Here eis indicates “in order to,” or “for the purpose of.” In at least forty different translations of the Bible, the impact of Acts 2:38 is that baptism in Jesus’ name remits, cancels, or wipes away sins. The New Testament also uses the word wash in reference to baptism. Passages such as Acts 22:16, I Corinthians 6:11, Ephesians 5:26, and Titus 3:5 further substantiate that God grants remission of sins through baptism.

Baptism is the expected consequence of hearing the gospel. “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized ” (Acts 2:41). The response to the preached word on the Day of Pentecost was the baptism of new converts. The same thing was true in the Samaritan revival. “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).

Baptism is part of obedience to the gospel. We can ascribe no less meaning to the baptism of Jesus than what He Himself gave. “Suffer it to be so now; for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). Although the sinless Christ was not one whit cleaner by baptism, sinful man, by following His example finds a total release from the record of sins. The gospel of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ (I Corinthians 15:1-4) is partially fulfilled by baptism. As by repentance we par take of the crucifixion, so by baptism we partake of Christ’s burial.

The acceptance of baptism is the next step for a repentant person to take. If true faith resides in his heart, and if he has experienced real repentance, he will embrace such a step wholeheartedly. Following water baptism, he is then ready for another glorious experience, which our next chapter will discuss: the baptism of the Holy Ghost!


J. Mark Jordan, raised in Jackson, Michigan attended Texas Bible College. Later he received a B.S. in Human Relations from the University of Toledo. He and his wife Sandy evangelized several years before he became Associate Pastor to First Apostolic Church, Toledo, OH. In 1978 he founded Apostolic Christian Academy. He served the Ohio District as Youth President, UPCI, from 1977 to 1983. Since 1983 he has pastored First Apostolic Church, Toledo, OH. He has written numerous articles for Pentecostal publications. He now resides with his wife Sandy and three children in suburban Toledo.