What About Baptism?

I write this blog post with two audiences in mind, admittedly. But, I choose to write it centered around (not based off of) one text of Scripture. I do so for the sake of brevity. Many passages have been weighed and examined before choosing this one. [If you have comment or question, please feel free to “reply” a comment below or contact me.]

Acts 2:37-41 (ESV)

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation. So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.” 

First, I write to the one who is confused about baptism and its place in the Christian life. It is undeniable that the Lord Jesus required his disciples to teach and baptize (Matt. 28:19-20). So, without being baptized, one cannot claim to be obedient to the Lord. Baptism, in ancient times (and today) is a matter of identity. If you identify yourself with Christ the Savior, believing he has redeemed you, then baptism is the proper way to show the world who you believe and follow. According to passages like Acts 2:41 and 8:36, believing and having water nearby are the only prerequisites for baptism–not a monetary fee to the church, not a set of “discipleship lessons” or chatechism, just plain faith that Christ has redeemed you and the desire to show that to the world.

It is also true that Baptizo is an ancient Greek word transliterated (spelled out with equivalent phonetic letters) into modern Bible translations. Hence, we have “baptize.” And, it does originally mean “to dip.” 2000 years ago, everyone understood that being baptized in the name of another meant whatever the water touches belongs to (or is identified with) the name signified by that baptism. Apparently, rivers and bodies of water were the mode of Jesus’ day, but there is no mystical power in getting dipped. It is just water. On the other hand, if you understand what baptism meant to those of Christ’s day, then you’ll also see the significance of being fully immersed in the water.

These things being said, who cares if you don’t have a stream or body of water deep enough to dip in?! Whether you need to pour the water, or if you only have enough to sprinkle the water (as in a 3rd world country where it is scarce and precious), then the better part of reason says, “just get it done.”

Secondly, I write to the studied critic who argues that it is water baptism which removes sin and not the grace purchased by the blood (sacrificial atonment) of Jesus Christ. For that audience, please see below. Mr. Zuck and Mr. Walvoord do a far better job than I ever could. I will say the below quote proves grammatically that repentance and faith are the prerequisites for forgiveness of sins, not baptism. However, if one has received the word of the Gospel as those in Acts 2:41 (which an infant cannot – 1 Pet. 1:21-25; http://blb.sc/000Czr), then baptism must follow for the sake of obedience to the Lord. It must also follow in order to show the equivalence of what it means to repent (of one’s fallen [sin] nature) and to place faith in Christ for reconciliation to God and regeneration. Great contradiction arises when one says he/she has renounced the identity of his/her fallen nature and self-governance for the imparted divine nature (putting off of the old man for the new creature “in Christ”) and governance of the Spirit, yet he/she does not wish to proclaim that exchange of identity by baptism.

…………………………………….

“A problem revolves around the command “be baptized” and its connection with the remainder of 2:38. There are several views:

(1) One is that both repentance and baptism result in remission of sins. In this view, baptism is essential for salvation. The problem with this interpretation is that elsewhere in Scripture forgiveness of sins is based on faith alone (John 3:16, 36; Rom. 4:1-17; 11:6; Gal. 3:8-9; Eph. 2:8-9; etc.). Furthermore Peter, the same speaker, later promised forgiveness of sins on the basis of faith alone (Acts 5:31; 10:43; 13:38; 26:18).

(2) A second interpretation translates 2:38, “Be baptized … on the basis of the remission of your sins.” The preposition used here is eis which, with the accusative case, may mean “on account of, on the basis of.” It is used in this way in Matthew 3:11; 12:41; and Mark 1:4. Though it is possible for this construction to mean “on the basis of,” this is not its normal meaning; eis with the accusative case usually describes purpose or direction.

(3) A third view takes the clause and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ as parenthetical. Several factors support this interpretation: (a) The verb makes a distinction between singular and plural verbs and nouns. The verb “repent” is plural and so is the pronoun “your” in the clause so that your sins may be forgiven (lit., “unto the remission of your sins,” eis aphesin tōn hamartiōn hymōn). Therefore the verb “repent” must go with the purpose of forgiveness of sins. On the other hand the imperative “be baptized” is singular, setting it off from the rest of the sentence. (b) This concept fits with Peter’s proclamation in Acts 10:43 in which the same expression “sins may be forgiven” (aphesin hamartiōn) occurs. There it is granted on the basis of faith alone. (c) In Luke 24:47 and Acts 5:31 the same writer, Luke, indicates that repentance results in remission of sins.”

(Bible Knowledge Commentary, Walvoord; Zuck — Volume 2, Page 359, bold mine, underscore mine)

4 thoughts on “What About Baptism?

  1. Well, I certainly do not have the command of the English language as you do, this is very well put. In fact, even though I am an American, and the only language I speak is English, there are times I do not feel like it is my mother tongue. ok, with that said…
    I want to merely comment on the phrase “faith only.” I think many people get caught up in this, as if it means believe only, and it doesn’t. A study of James, and Genesis 2:7 helps clarify this.
    Gen 2:7 then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.(ESV) [living soul]
    This is the pattern
    James tells us that faith is like the body without the spirit, it’s dead.
    James 2:17 so also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.(ESV)
    James 2:26 for as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.(ESV)
    James is comparing the works with the spirit; belief is the body with the spirit of works breathed into it and the result is faith (comparable to the living soul)
    So “faith alone” does not mean “just by believing”, no it is much deeper than that.

    Another thing I find interesting, is this idea some people have that baptism is not necessary, because it is a work, and we aren’t saved by works. Yet, if you ask them if they have to believe, [a work] they will agree they do. If you ask them if they have to repent, [ a work ] they will agree that is necessary, confess Christ? [a work] of course you do, be added to the church? receive the gift of the holy spirit? all yes, until you come to baptism, and you get your first “no.” It’s a great mystery. I guess it’s because it is “physical” work. To me, this is the same type of error those make, who think they should have snakes in their worship service. Oh, well, thank you for your post.

    1. Thanks for the complement!

      About your other observations, may I say that in whatever I write, I have obviously come to what I believe is the most accurate and honest way to state what the biblical data presents. I do not wish to argue, and I also have no trouble saying I am still learning. I also am admittedly non-denominational, so that I can be free to state what I believe is the most accurate and honest way to interpret biblical data.

      That being said, I agree that the Bible presents the command for all to repent toward God and believe on Christ. By definition, if one is changing his mind about his own worthiness to guide his “own way,” and if one realizes it is GOD with whom he is entering into a relationship, then a different set of desires and consequent actions will, by (new) nature and definition, flow out of that established relationship — not beforehand. I think that was also James’ point in his epistle. [Please see my posts on What is Holy / Holiness? and Grace] But, I think you would agree that no one can be justified in God’s eyes by good deeds. (Romans 3-5)

      1. “But, I think you would agree that no one can be justified in God’s eyes by good deeds. (Romans 3-5)”

        I think it’s easy to stray from the context of Romans 3-5 and come to a wrong conclusion. Paul was writing to Jews and explaining they could not be justified by keeping the Law of Moses. Paul then to prove his point he brought Abraham to their attention to show that he was declared righteous before there Law of Moses existed. Paul wasn’t talking about good deeds at all, he was speaking only about the Law.

        James said Abraham was justified by works (James 2:21-23 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? 22 You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God.) Were Paul and James disagreeing? No because Paul writing to Jews who believed they could be saved by the Law and James was writing to Jews to explain that faith alone doesn’t work, but faith plus deeds does. Two completely different audiences, subjects and contexts.

        James’ use of the word work has nothing to do with Law, Paul’s does. James is referring to the things Jesus spoke of; feeding the hungry, caring for widows, loving others, forgiving others, etc. In effect James was saying faith + good works = justification.

        Good deeds alone do not save, but good deeds do matter. We must be in covenant with Jesus and we can only enter into that covenant if we believe in the resurrection, and believe what Jesus taught. Once we are in covenant there are conditions. (Repentance, obedience, confessing Christ, loving God and others, etc.)

        This is what Jesus was speaking about in John 15. When we abide in Christ we are in covenant with Christ and we keep his commands. Of He was speaking to those who he knew believed Him (had faith in Him), so He had no need to mention faith.

        But, the thing that’s easy to miss is that deeds often equal love. To feed the poor and care for the fatherless is to love them and to obey the Lord is to love the Lord. We can talk about “faith alone” vs “faith plus deeds” all day long, but the bottom line is we are saved by loving the Lord and choosing to follow Him.

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