Professing Christians are in confusion as to what constitutes the biblical method of baptism. Some feel that sprinkling or pouring of water is sufficient. In spite of the fact that repentance is a prerequisite for baptism, some denominations “baptize” infants and assume that this is valid. In this lesson, we will investigate what the Bible says about baptism, including the correct form and the proper age.
We will first lay the foundation by pointing to events in the Old Testament (Old Covenant), which contains clearly represented “types” of baptism foreshadowing the New Testament (New Covenant and Testament) practice of water baptism.
(1) Did Noah’s deliverance from the Flood—a watery grave for the sinful world—represent our deliverance from the penalty of sin through baptism? I Peter 3:20-21.
Comment: Noah was provided a way of escape from the penalty that sin had brought. Noah believed God and demonstrated his faith by obeying God and building the ark. God requires the same kind of active faith today. The focus of verses 20 to 21 is the deliverance of Noah’s family from the watery grave and our deliverance likewise by such a baptism by which we are brought up from the water.
Comment: We read that Noah walked with God and that he was a preacher of righteousness. We also find that all of God’s commandments are righteousness (Psa. 119:172). The rest of mankind, outside of Noah’s immediate family, were destined for destruction because “the wages of sin [was and] is death” (Rom. 6:23). Noah’s preaching of righteousness—obedience to God’s commandments—fell on deaf ears.
(5) Does the fact that the universal Flood did occur and that the ark is preserved to this day in the mountains of Ararat as a testimony to God’s deliverance of Noah and his family reveal that God does not tolerate the vile corruption of humanity indefinitely—that civilization will reap the consequences of sin in due course as prophecy warns? Ezekiel 12:22-25, 28.
(6) Did Noah demonstrate his faith in God by his determined action over a course of building the ark in a world hostile to God and to him? Hebrews 11:7; Genesis 6:14-16, 22. How long did the construction of the ark take? Genesis 5:32; 7:11.
Comment: Noah’s belief and obedience to God stand as an example to those who seek to escape the corruption of sin and be delivered by God. We can see how the analogy of baptism with the Flood was referred to in I Peter 3:21, in that deliverance from destruction resulted from faith and obedience to God.
Comment: The servitude to Pharaoh typified one being in sinful servitude to Satan.
Comment: The death angel “passed over” Israel where the blood of the lamb was applied to the doorposts. Likewise, the sacrifice of Christ—the Passover Lamb—delivers those from the death penalty who are covered by His blood.
(3) Did Israel leave Egypt in a joyful mood of celebration? Exodus 14:8.
(4) While still rejoicing over their freedom, did they discover that Pharaoh was pursuing them to either take them back into slavery or destroy them? Exodus 14:7-10.
Comment: Josephus recorded that Pharaoh not only had 600 chariots, but also 50,000 horsemen and 200,000 footmen in pursuit of Israel (Antiquities of the Jews, Bk. II, ch. 15, sec. 3).
(5) While the Israelites were stunned with fear at the sight of the oncoming Egyptians, what was Moses inspired to instruct them? Exodus 14:13-14.
(6) What did God further instruct Moses to do at this crucial point when the Egyptians were drawing dangerously close? Exodus 14:15-16.
Comment: Exodus 14:27 states, “and the Lord overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea.” Israel was then free from Pharaoh and his army.
(8) Was Israel’s deliverance from Egyptian bondage through the Red Sea considered a type of Christian baptism in the New Testament? I Corinthians 10:1-2.
Comment: The parallel of the deliverance of Israel at the Red Sea with water baptism is clearly established here. These verses also show how Moses was a type of Christ. The phrase, “and they were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (I Cor. 10:2), clearly shows that Moses was typifying Christ by his role in this event. Acts 7:37 and Acts 3:22 also picture Moses as a type of Christ.
In both events, at the Flood of Noah’s time and at the Red Sea, God miraculously delivered His people who looked to and trusted in His deliverance. Water baptism also requires faith in Christ—faith in His sacrifice, which wipes clear the past sins of the repentant believer. Noah acted on his faith in managing the giant project of building the ark. Moses instructed Israel to move forward to the sea and obeyed God’s instruction to lift up his rod in order to cause the sea to divide. The truly repentant believer must also act in faith, trusting in the deliverance of Christ to cover his sins and lift him up to a new life led by the Holy Spirit. An active living faith is required.
Shortly before Christ began His ministry, John the Baptist was given a special commission to carry out the baptism of repentance. His commission was a crucial step preparing for the ministry of Christ, as we shall see.
Comment: John the Baptist was told how he was to recognize the Christ when he would baptize Him at a future time. John also shows that Christ (who was before him as stated in John 1:30) had sent him and authorized him to baptize with water. The baptism of John symbolized the outward expression of sincere genuine repentance of those who would be convicted by the message he preached. Luke 1:77 states that John the Baptist came “to give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins.”
Comment: As one who came in the spirit and power of Elijah, John the Baptist fulfilled a three-fold commission of turning the hearts of the fathers to the children, the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, and to make ready a people prepared for the Lord—for the First Coming of Christ. (The one who would fulfill the future end-time Elijah of Matthew 17:11 and Malachi 4:5-6 is discussed in our book I Will Send Elijah to Restore All Things.)
(3) Was John the Baptist a prophet from God? Luke 1:76.
Comment: This closely ties in with the role of John the Baptist in making ready a people prepared for the Lord and introducing the people to the knowledge of salvation by the remission of sins—as symbolized through the baptism of repentance.
Comment: John baptized those who had deeply repented and these were forgiven by God. He focused on the first step of salvation pertaining to repentance and the remission of sins (Luke 1:77). Yet, they did not receive the Holy Spirit, because Christ was not yet resurrected and glorified in order to send forth the Spirit according to God’s Plan (John 7:39).
(1) What was the response of John the Baptist when Jesus came to him to be baptized? Matthew 3:13-16.
Comment: Unlike all others, Christ, having committed no sin, did not stand in need of repentance. Yet, as He explained to John the Baptist, “this is how we should fulfill all our duty to God” (Moffatt). The purpose of His baptism was clearly to set an example for us to follow. All who would yield to God and become led by the Holy Spirit would need to follow this example.
(5) What were Christ’s final instructions to His apostles just before He ascended into heaven? Matthew 28:19-20.
Comment: It is evident from Scripture that baptism was an explicit, clear command for all those called into the true Church.
(6) When the time came for Christ to show that Gentiles would be called into His Church, He sent Peter to the house of a devout Italian named Cornelius. Did Cornelius and his family receive the Holy Spirit even before being baptized, as a special sign to the apostles that God was now calling Gentiles, as well? Acts 11:15-18.
Comment: Although repentant believers are to be baptized first before receiving the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38), an exception occurred in this situation as a sign that God had opened up the way for Gentiles to be called.
(7) Were these Gentiles—Cornelius and his family—exempted from being baptized, since they were given the Holy Spirit before baptism? Acts 10:47-48.
Comment: Peter commanded them to be baptized and apparently conducted the baptisms himself for Cornelius and his family almost immediately.
(8) Does the Bible show that baptism is symbolic of the death, burial and resurrection from the grave of the repentant individual who is showing his faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Christ? Colossians 2:12-13; Romans 6:2-6.
(9) To whom is repentance and faith directed upon turning to God and seeking baptism? Acts 20:21.
Comment: Repentance is toward God for breaking His spiritual Law. This means to stop sinning and to live in obedience to God’s commandments. Faith is toward Christ. This pertains to our conviction and belief in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ as covering our past sins and looking to Him as our personal Savior and soon-coming King in the kingdom of God.
The term baptize is a Greek term not translated into English. Had the term been translated into English, the word “immerse” would have been used. To immerse means to be put completely under water. This shows that the trends of pouring and sprinkling of water—that began about the fourteenth century by counterfeit Christianity—never met the requirements of immersion as defined by baptism. The Bible is clear as to the correct and proper form of baptism.
Comment: Since baptism meant immersion, this required a location where there was much water.
(2) How can we tell that Christ had been immersed as opposed to having been sprinkled? Matthew 3:16.
Comment: One does not come up out of the water when being sprinkled. It was clear that Christ had been immersed—the only correct form of baptism.
(3) Is there another example in which baptism took place within water? Acts 8:38.
(4) Does God allow people to come up with various alternatives to fulfill ordinances such as baptism? Ephesians 4:4-6.
Comment: The fact that there is one baptism does not leave room for any novel ideas of man.
(1) Did Jesus baptize more disciples than did John the Baptist? John 4:1-2.
Comment: As verse 2 shows, the disciples of Christ baptized on His behalf and by His authority.
Comment: To baptize in the name of Christ meant to do this by His authority. The Greek term translated “in the name of” means “by the authority of.” To do anything in someone’s name means to do it on his behalf, in his place, or by his authority.
(3) What further instruction did Christ give with respect to what one is baptized into? Matthew 28:19.
Comment: Christ instructed the apostles to baptize in the name of the Son, because His death, in our stead, makes salvation possible (Rom. 5:8; II Pet. 3:9). They were also to baptize in the name of the Holy Spirit because the Father uses that Spirit—His Spirit—as the power through which the begettal is performed (Rom. 8:16). The Holy Spirit is the begetting agent. This is what Matthew 28:19 means! God gives Christians His Spirit, which is His seed, at the point of conversion. Upon receiving that seed, they are given God’s name and become heirs with Jesus Christ. When understood, this is why the name of the true Church has always been the “Church of God.”
Comment: When one is baptized into the name of the Father and the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit, they are inducted as being begotten sons of God and become part of the body of Christ—His true Church. One does not “join” the Church, but rather is baptized into it.
(1) Are we saved by the specific act of baptism? Romans 5:10.
Comment: Baptism is not what saves us, even though it is one of the commanded symbolic steps in God’s plan of salvation. It pictures our faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, understanding that it is His life that ultimately saves us.
(2) When the thief on the cross asked Christ to remember him when He came into His kingdom, how did Christ answer him? Luke 23:43.
Comment: The translators punctuated the text as they felt necessary. Here, their attempt at punctuation changed the entire meaning. The correct translation of verse 43 is: “Truly I say unto you today, you shall be with Me in paradise.” Some works, such as the Lamsa translation, explain this punctuation dilemma and show that the comma could appear before or after the word, “today.” In short, the thief was only promised paradise rather than receiving it at the time of the account in Luke 23:43.
The thief was unable to be baptized and this was taken into account. Rare situations have occurred in which someone could not be baptized, yet God has made allowances in such cases. This does not, however, validate “deathbed repentances.” The Bible shows that one must evidence “fruit” in his life and stay the course, over an entire lifetime, with the attitude of always seeking to grow and overcome. Christ was pointing out the thief’s wonderful attitude.
Comment: From Scripture, we see that when one becomes moved with conviction to count the cost and seek God’s will with no “escape clauses,” then preparation for baptism should begin. The one seeking baptism must be of adult age (a minimum age of 18 has long been observed by the Church) and understand the seriousness of this step. This fact alone shows why infant baptism makes a mockery of the required condition of repentance. One should never assume that he is too old or too infirm to pursue baptism. God wants those with courage to press forward to do His will and not to fall back on excuses. The ministry of the true Church is trained to help those in need of discussing such details and to help in reaching viable solutions.
In order to more thoroughly understand the many details introduced in this lesson, read our booklet What Do You Mean “Water Baptism”?