THE SIGNIFICANCE OF WATER BAPTISM
By J.L. Hall
When the apostle Paul arrived in Ephesus, he met twelve men who appeared to be Christians. However, when he discovered that they had not received the Holy Ghost, he asked them, “Unto what then were ye baptized?” (Acts 19:3). With this question, he probed their experience and understanding of God’s plan. When they answered that they had been baptized with the baptism of John the Baptist, he immediately taught them of Jesus Christ and then baptized them in Christian baptism.
The question Paul asked the Ephesian believers is still pertinent today, for a person’s baptism may be the best indicator of his concept of God and his level of experience in Christ. Water baptism is one of the foundational stones of the church (Hebrews 6:1-2), and it relates to the doctrinal structure and spiritual experience of its members. (See Romans 6:3; Galatians 3:27; Colossians 2:10-13; Titus 3:5; I Peter 3:21.)
The Bible does not present water baptism as optional. Jesus gave the command of baptism in the great commission: “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 28:19). At the least, this command of Jesus requires the church to make disciples by baptizing believers in the name of God. Thus water baptism here and throughout the New Testament is associated with Christian initiation. This commission from the Lord leaves us no option or alternative. We must baptize believers or disobey God’s plan of salvation.
The numerous references to baptism in the Book of Acts reveal that the disciples diligently obeyed Jesus’ commission. There are at east nine separate baptismal services recorded in Acts, and baptism is mentioned in the conversion experience of Jews, Samaritans, and Gentiles. (See Acts 2:38-41; 8:12-16; 8:36-39; 9:18 and 22:16; 10:47-48; 16:15; 16:33; 18:8; 19:3-5.) Wherever people believed the preaching of the gospel, they were baptized.
The record in Acts therefore establishes the apostles’ commitment to the commission of Jesus Christ to make disciples through water baptism. It is recorded in Acts that they baptized Jews, Samaritans, Gentiles, an Ethiopian, Philippians, Corinthians, and followers of John the Baptist. No believer was excluded, and there is no record of any believer refusing to be baptized. As the disciples preached Jesus Christ they proclaimed that through repentance and water baptism a person can receive forgiveness of sins and the Holy Ghost. (See Acts 2:38.)
The scriptural foundation of the gospel is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (I Corinthians 15:1-4). In our regeneration, we are to identify with Christ in each of these aspects. Repentance and water baptism identify with Christ’s death and burial, and the infilling of the Spirit identifies with His resurrection (See Romans 6:4.) Thus water baptism in the name of Jesus Christ is one way we identify with Jesus and His work of our redemption.
It should be noted that in the Old Testament God assigned an important role to water in delivering His people and in dealing with sin. While Israel was still in Egypt, the Passover Lamb was slain, its blood placed on the houses, and its flesh eaten, but what finally separated the Israelites from Egyptian bondage was their crossing the Red Sea. Israel was “baptized” unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (I Corinthians 10:2).
In the Tabernacle service, the priests were instructed to wash at laver of water before they went before the Lord in the sanctuary. So important was washing at the laver that the priest who neglected to do so would die (Exodus 30:20). If God would not allow Moses, the greatest of the Old Testament prophets, to enter the Promised Land because he broke the typoloy of Calvary by smiting the rock the second time, can anyone expect God to save those who break the gospel pattern on this side of Calvary by ignoring baptism and denying its place in God’s plan to save lost humanity?
Some people suppose that Paul in his letter to the church in Corinth taught that water baptism was optional, but this supposition is an error. In dealing with the internal strife and division that entered around the ministries of Paul, Peter, and Apollos, the apostle used the argument that he had not baptized in his name and that he had baptized only a few of them. It is evident from Acts 18:8 that all the Corinthian believers were baptized. Apparently Paul baptized the leaders and they in turn baptized others.
We only need to look at two events in Paul’s ministry to determine his commitment to water baptism. Late at night, after midnight, Paul and Silas prayed and sang praises in spite of their chains and the darkness of the dungeon in the prison. Earlier, they had been beaten by orders of the city authorities, who then had them cast into the prison. But while they sang, a miracle occurred. An earthquake shook the prison, the doors opened, and the chains fell from them. They witnessed to the jailer, who heard and believed the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Some people end the story at this point because they do not want to admit how the jailer expressed his faith. Paul and Silas told him about God’s plan of salvation, and upon the jailer’s confession of faith in Jesus, they ignored their pains, set aside needed rest, and did not wait for the morning sun to shine to baptize this Philippian jailer and those of his household (Acts 16:25-34).
The second event happened in Ephesus, where Paul felt that Christian baptism was so necessary that he baptized twelve disciples of John the Baptist (Acts 19:1-5). In this passage Paul clearly linked Christian faith with water baptism in the name of Jesus Christ and with receiving the Holy Ghost.
Paul’s teaching on baptism reveals its central role in the salvation experience. (See Romans 6:1-4; Galatians 3:27; Colossians 2:12; Titus 3:5.) Galatians 3:27 is an example of his belief that baptism is essential to salvation: “For as many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. ”
We must not think, however, that water baptism is synonymous with salvation. A person could be baptized and still be lost. (See Acts 8:13-23.) But neither should a person think he can be saved without obeying the command of baptism. It is presumptuous for anyone to reject God’s commandment in the matter of baptism, especially for someone who claims to be a believer of the gospel.
In the New Testament, Jesus told Nicodemus, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). If “born of water” refers to water baptism, there is no mistake about its necessity. But some people attempt to evade the necessity of baptism by interpreting “born of water” as “born of the Word.” The Word is important in the salvation experience, for it is the source of our faith (Romans 10:17). However, to be born of the Word a person must believe and obey the Word.
Since the Word points us to the cross, to repentance, to water baptism, and the infilling of the Spirit, the only way to be born of the Word is to believe, repent, be baptized, and receive the Spirit. It is significant that the apostles interpreted Jesus’ teaching of being born again to mean water baptism and Spirit reception. (See Acts 2:38; 8:16; 10:44-48; 19:1-6.)
We should notice that the Bible speaks of baptism “for the remission of sins.” (See Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3; Acts 2:38.) On the cross Jesus shed His blood for the remission of sins (Matthew 26:28; Hebrews 9:22), and later He gave His disciples the authority to remit sins John 20:23). Jesus’ sacrificial death is the only means of remission of sin; He died once, and there is no other offering for sins. We do not offer sacrifices at altars today, but God gave us a way to receive remission of sins. (See Hebrews 10:18.) And that way is Water baptism in the name of Jesus Christ. (See Luke 24:47; Acts 2:38; 22:16.)
Faith, repentance, the name of Jesus in water baptism and the infilling of the Spirit flow together to wash away our sins, sanctify our sinful nature, and justify us before a holy God. (See I Corinthians 6:11; Romans 6:1-7; Ephesians 5:26-27; Romans 15:16; Luke 24:47.)
We receive remission of sins through His name (Acts 10:43; Luke 24:47), which is enjoined in the baptismal formula. Ananias said to Paul, “Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord” Acts 22:16). At baptism, the blood and water agree (I John 5:8). It is not the blood without the water or the water without the blood, but the blood and the water. By faith in His shed blood for the remission of sins, we repent and are baptized in the name of Jesus Christ to receive remission of our sins.
It does not matter if the water is dirty or fresh, muddy or clear, still or running, in a pond, lake, or river. But what does matter is the person’s faith, his repentance, and the name of Jesus Christ. , the name of Jesus is vital, for only through the name of Jesus can a person experience salvation, including the remission of his sins John 20:31; Acts 4:12; 10:43; Luke 24:47).
The Biblical Formula
The great commission as recorded in Matthew 28:19 states that baptism is to be administered “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” We must notice that the word name is singular and that the name is not even in this text. Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are not proper names but titles of relationship. If Son were the name of the One born of Mary, why was she instructed to name Him Jesus? (Matthew 1:21). While it is true that when we refer to the Son of God we know of whom we are speaking, it is equally true that Jesus and not “Son of God” is His name. Moreover, Jesus indicated that His name was associated with the Father and the Holy Ghost, for He said that He came in His Father’s name and that the Holy Ghost would come in His name (John 5:43; 14:26).
Every reference to a baptismal formula in the Book of Acts and the references in the Epistles either explicitly state or indicate that the name of Jesus and not the titles of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost was used in the baptismal formula. (See Acts 2:38; 8:16; 10:48; 19:5; 22:16; Romans 6:1-4; Galatians 3:37; Colossians 2:14.) It is evident that the apostles did not repeat the titles of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost in the commission but interpreted Jesus’ instructions as baptism in the name of Jesus Christ or Lord Jesus. Neither did they require a confession of belief of God as three distinct, eternal persons. But they did expect a confession of faith in Jesus as the Son of God, Christ, and Lord. (See Acts 8:12,35-38; 10:43-48; 16:30-33; 19:5; 22:16.)
The use of the trinitarian formula began after the apostolic era, probably in conjunction with the development of the doctrine of the trinity. It is ironic that most trinitarians find their strongest doctrinal support in a formula that was not used by the apostles. Although trinitarians are without a single biblical example to support their trinitarian interpretation of Matthew 28:19, the trinitarian formula is so vital to their doctrine of the trinity that they oppose anyone who uses the apostolic formula. They apparently view the Jesus Name formula as a serious threat to the belief that God eternally exists as three distinct persons.
Oneness theology does not see a conflict between Matthew 28:19 and the many examples and references to water baptism in the name of Jesus Christ or Lord Jesus in the Book of Acts and the Epistles. On the contrary, it views Father, Son, and Holy Ghost as how God revealed Himself to us in redemption and regeneration. It recognizes that Jesus used the singular word name, indicating that there is only one salvation name for the three titles of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. That one name was clearly understood by the disciples to be Jesus (Acts 4:12), for without a single exception the only name they used in baptism was Jesus, which they used with Lord or Christ (Acts 2:38; 8:16; 10:48; 19:5, 22:16). The name of Jesus is important in our salvation experience, for it is the only name “under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
While there is not one hint or suggestion in the Book of Acts that the titles of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost were ever used in water baptism, there is abundant evidence to support the formula of baptizing in the name of Jesus Christ or Lord Jesus. Let us notice five recorded examples of evidence.
* “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins…” Acts 2:38).
* “Only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 8:16).
* “And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord” (Acts 10:48). Modern versions such as the NIV read “Lord JESUS” or “Jesus Christ.”
* “When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 19:5).
* “Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). This verse reveals that the name of Jesus was invoked during baptism. Just as the disciples fulfilled Jesus’ similar command to heal the sick and cast out demons in His name by actually invoking the name of Jesus (Acts 3:6; Acts 6:18) they fulfilled Jesus’ command to baptize in the name by actually calling on the name of Jesus in water baptism.
Why is the formula used in water baptism significant? By repeating the titles of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, trinitarian believers affirm the doctrine of the trinity, that God eternally exists in three distinct persons. For Oneness believers, baptism in the name of Jesus allows the apostolic pattern, affirms their faith that God is one, that He was incarnate in His Son Jesus Christ, and that He now wells in us by His Spirit. Baptism in the name of Jesus Christ expresses faith in the Incarnation, the authentic human life of Jesus, the death of the Son of God on the cross for our sins, and the remission of sins through the name of Jesus.
No proof other than the Bible is necessary to convince a believer that he should be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. We do not need secular records to embrace and follow this formula, but for the benefit of confirmation we refer to a few historical sources that affirm that baptism in the primitive church was in the name of Jesus Christ and that the trinitarian formula was not known among the Christians until after the apostolic era. The quotes below come from reputable, scholarly works concerning water baptism:
* “The evidence of Acts 2:38; 10:48 (cf. 8:16; 19:5), supportedby Galatians 3:27; Romans 6:3, suggests that baptism in earlyChristianity was administered , not in the three-fold name, but in the name of Jesus Christ’ or `in the name of the Lord Jesus’.” (The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible [Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1962], 1:351)
* “Different from the post-apostolic and later Christian liturgical praxis, which is marked by the trinitarian formula of Matthew 8:19, the primitive church baptized ‘in’ or ‘into the name of Jesus’ (or ‘Jesus Christ,’ or ‘the Lord Jesus’; See I Corinthians 1:13,15; Acts 8:16; 19:5).” (Dictionary of the Bible, James Hastings, ed. [New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1963], 88)
* “The earliest known formula is in the name of the Lord Jesus,’ or some similar phrase; this is found in the Acts, and was perhaps still used by Hermas, but by the time of Justin Martyr the trine formula had become general. It is possible hat the older formula survived in isolated communities, but there is to decisive contemporary evidence.” (Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, James Hastings, ed., [New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1951], 2:389)
In baptism, our faith in Christ, our repentance of sins, the blood shed for the remission of sins, and the name of Jesus come together in a holy moment to wash away sin. We are saved by “the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost,” by which we become spotless, without wrinkle, a glorious bride for our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. (See Titus 1:5; I Corinthians 6:9-11; Ephesians 5:26-27.)
(The above material was published by the PENTECOSTAL HERALD, August 1993)
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THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE NAME OF JESUS IN WATER BAPTISM
By David K. Bernard
The Book of Acts establishes that the apostles and the early church consistently baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. This pattern is the norm for the church today.
It is our responsibility to obey the commands and examples in Bible regardless of whether we understand the reasons for this practice or the importance of it. Obedience is the only course open to us if we truly accept the Bible as our sole authority for faith and practice and if we truly desire to make Jesus the Lord of all of our life, including our thoughts, values, beliefs, and practices.
Baptism in the name of Jesus Christ is not an arbitrary practice, however. Using the name of Jesus in baptism is inextricably linked with the very purpose of baptism itself. All the reasons for being baptized in water are also reasons for invoking the name of Jesus at baptism. If someone wishes to be baptized but refuses the invocation of the name of Jesus, he has not fully grasped the reasons why he should be baptized. Let us examine these reasons.
1. As a minimum, all groups in Christendom agree that the purpose of water baptism is to express faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior. When the listeners on the Day of Pentecost accepted Jesus as Lord and Messiah, they were baptized (Acts 2:36-38,41). When the Samaritans “believed Philip preaching . . . concerning the kingdom of God, and the name ofJesus Christ, they were baptized” Acts 8:12). When the disciples of John at Ephesus heard that Jesus was the fulfillment of the prophecy of John the Baptist, they were baptized (Acts 19:4-5). When the Corinthians “believed on the Lord,” they were baptized (Acts 8:8).
The proper way to express faith in Jesus is to confess His name. In each of the cases just cited, the candidates expressed their faith in Jesus by being baptized in the name of Jesus. (See Acts 2:38; 8:16; 19:5; I Corinthians 1:13.)
2. Baptism is “for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38), or to “wash away . . . sins” (Acts 22:16), and the name of Jesus is the only name given for remission of sins. “Through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins” (Acts 10:43). Thus the proper way to seek remission of sins at baptism is to invoke the name of Jesus in faith. Acts 2:38 and Acts 22:16 not only connect remission of sins with water baptism, but they specifically connect remission of sins with water baptism in the name of Jesus.
3. Baptism is part of our salvation experience (Mark 16:16; I Peter 3:21), and the name of Jesus is the only name given for salvation. “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). (See also Acts 2:21; Romans 10:9,13.) Thus the proper way to integrate water baptism with New Testament salvation is to invoke the name of Jesus.
4. Baptism is a burial with Jesus Christ (Romans 6:4; Colossians 2: 12). The Spirit of God did not die for us; only Jesus the man died for us and was buried in the tomb. To be buried with Jesus Christ, we should be baptized in His name.
5. Baptism is part of our personal identification with Jesus Christ. “So many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death” (Romans 6:3). “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27). If we seek to be identified with Him, we should take on His name.
6. Baptism is part of the new birth by which we are born into the spiritual family of God (John 1:5; Titus 3:5). We can also view the conversion experience, of which baptism is a part, as an adoption into the spiritual family of God (Romans 8:15-16). A newly born or adopted child always takes on the name of his new family. Since we seek to enter into the church of Jesus Christ, which is called His body and His bride, we should take on His name. (See Ephesians 5:23, 29-32.)
7. Baptism is part of our spiritual circumcision, or initiation into the new covenant (Colossians 2:11-13) . Under the old covenant a male child officially received his name at his physical circumcision. (See Luke 2:21.) Water baptism is the time when our new family name is invoked upon us at our spiritual circumcision.
In connection with the last two points, we know that the identifying name of our new spiritual family is Jesus, for at least two reasons. First, it is the only name in which we can receive salvation. (See John 14:6; Acts 4:12.) Second, it is the supreme name by which God has chosen to reveal Himself to us. “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).
Colossians 3:17 says, “Whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.” This verse does not require us to pronounce the name of Jesus orally before every activity, but it deals with the attitude in which we conduct every activity.
All our words and actions should be consistent with the invocationof Jesus as Lord. When there is cause to invoke God’s name formally, such as at water baptism, which is both word and deed, this verse applies in a specific way, telling us to approach God in the name of the Lord Jesus. Just as we pray, lay hands on the sick, and cast out demons in the name Jesus, so we should baptize in the name of Jesus.
Using the name of Jesus in the baptismal formula expresses faith
* in the person of Christ (who he really is);
* the work of Christ (His death, burial, and resurrection for our salvation); and
* the power and authority of Christ (His ability to save us by Himself).
In short, baptism in the name of Jesus signifies that we trust in Jesus alone as our Savior, and thus it expresses the essence of saving faith. Since the only one who can take away sins is Jesus-not us by our deeds, not the water, and not the preacher-we call upon Him in faith, depending on Him to do the work.
The Bible teaches that everyone should be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, and it reveals that every reason for baptism is specifically a reason for baptism in the name of Jesus. Thus baptism in the name of Jesus demonstrates reverence for and obedience to the Word of God over and above human tradition, convenience, or peer pressure.
In view of the scriptural significance of the name of Jesus, why should anyone refuse to be baptized in Jesus’ name? Why would anyone hesitate to take on the name of the One who died for us and to identify publicly with Him? Why would anyone reject the only saving name, the name that is above every name?
(The above material was published by the PENTECOSTAL HERALD, August 1993)
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