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With so many denominational doctrines about the subject, baptism has become a confusing topic. Yet most people interested in Christianity realize that it is an important teaching. This is an attempt clarify this important Christian subject with Bible teaching.

What Does Baptism Mean?

The word baptism comes from the Greek word baptizo (baptizw) meaning "to immerse or place under water". The New Testament (Matthew through Revelation) was originally written in the Greek language, and baptizo was commonly used in reference to bathing or washing dishes. It's meaning is distinct from other Greek words which mean to sprinkle (rhantizo [rantizw]) or pour (ekcheo [ekcew]), and its definition can be clearly seen in a reference to baptism in Romans 6:3-5 "Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection." (NIV). History likewise confirms that baptism, because of the meaning of the word, was only by immersion in the first several centuries of Christianity.

Kinds of Baptism in the Bible

Baptism (immersion) is mentioned many times in the New Testament, but it is not always referring to the baptism commanded by Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20).

Of Moses -- The apostle Paul speaks of a kind of baptism (immersion) associated with a story with which most people are familiar, Exodus and the crossing of Red Sea: "For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea." (1 Corinthians 10:1,2, NIV). As Israel was surrounded and protected by a cloud from God (Exodus 13:21 and Psalms 105:39) and later walked through the midst of the Red Sea (Exodus 14:22,29) they were immersed (baptized) in the cloud and the sea to become the chosen people of God.

Ceremonial Jewish washings (Hebrews 9:10)--Throughout the book of Leviticus and also in some of the other Old Testament books (Leviticus 15:10, for example) there are commands from God to literally wash in water as part of being ceremonially "clean" in God's sight. This principle of a spiritual cleansing at the time of a ceremonial physical washing is carried over into and expanded regarding

John's baptism and later Christian baptism.

Of John -- John came to prepare men's hearts for the Savior who was coming in the very near future, and his baptism was an immersion to show repentance (which was required for forgiveness of sins). Paul explained it this way, "John's baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus." (Acts 19:4, NIV). John's baptism was not the same as the sort commanded of Christians (see "Of Christ" below) as Acts 19 makes clear, "Paul asked, 'Then what baptism did you receive?' 'John's baptism,' they replied. Paul said, 'John's baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.' On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus." (Acts 19:1-6, NIV).

Of suffering -- This sort of immersion is used in a metaphoric way by Jesus, an immersion in suffering, "'You don't know what you are asking,' Jesus said. 'Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?' 'We can,' they answered. Jesus said to them, 'You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with,'" (Mark 10:38-39, NIV). Here Jesus is referring to His own suffering and the fact that His disciples will also suffer.

Of the Holy Spirit -- There are two ways this baptism can be seen in the New Testament. One baptism of the Spirit is the sort seen in Acts 2, where there was a great noise that brought people together, something like fire alighting on the heads of the apostles, and the apostles began speaking in tongues. This baptism of the Holy Spirit with its miracles were "credentials" of approval from God. The second sort isn't accompanied by miraculous signs, but is a description of our immersion into the life of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13, Galatians 5:1626, and Romans 8:128).

Of fire -- This baptism was mentioned by John the Baptist as an alternative to baptism with the Holy Spirit, Hell. According to the New Testament we will be immersed in the life of the Spirit or in fire.

Of Christ -- This baptism is twice commanded by Jesus, "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit," (Matthew 28:19, NIV), and "He said to them, 'Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.'" (Mark 16:15,16, NIV). It was commanded by Peter, "Peter replied, '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.'" (Acts 2:38, NIV). And many times over it can be seen as the obedient response of faith from people desiring to be saved and become Christians in the book of Acts.

The Baptism of Salvation

Of the baptisms mentioned above, the baptism of Christ is the baptism of salvation. It is the "one baptism" of Ephesians 4:46 that is essential to Christian life and doctrine. It is an immersion in water (John 3:5 and Acts 8:36) in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19) for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38 and Acts 22:16) and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38 and Ephesians 1:13,14).

Who Should Be and Can Be Baptized?

Believers --In order to be baptized validly, one must first believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God: "He said to them, 'Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.'" (Mark 16:15,16, NIV). Thus, immersion of babies who do not believe in Jesus is useless.

Those who've repented --Repentance is simply a commitment of the heart to follow God's way rather than our own sinful ways. It usually comes from a heart which has been broken over the sorrow it has caused God through sin. When many of the Jews in Jerusalem realized that they had killed God's Messiah, they sorrowfully asked what they should do. Peter answered, "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.' (Acts 2:38, NIV).

Those who've confessed Jesus --A natural outcome of faith in Jesus is a confession of that faith in front of others: "And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, 'See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?' And Philip said, 'If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest.' And he answered and said, 'I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.'" (Acts 8:36,37, KJV). Paul later wrote, "That if you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved." (Romans 10:9,10, NIV).

Those who intend to walk as faithful disciples of Jesus --Baptism, as the paragraphs above prove, was never meant to be "all there is to it". It is the cleansing and new start for a new kind of life. It is for those who intend to try to follow Jesus.

Those who want forgiveness of sins --Baptism is portrayed in the Bible as the point at which our sins are forgiven (Acts 2:38), washed away (Acts 22:16), and removed (1 Peter 3:20).Those interested in the forgiveness of sin and becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ must be interested in baptism.

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