When we today think of baptism, most of us picture an elaborate ceremony where a new convert, after some particular act of confession or declaration of his faith, is being sprinkled or immersed in water so as to have his or her sins forgiven to then become a member of our particular denomination. But this modern ceremony does not accurately represent what baptism meant to Yeshua (Jesus) or His followers.
Late in the first century, the original Church from the book of ACTS disappeared beneath the sands of time. Afterwards, a new and different Church emerged which was immersed in Greek mythology and from it arose this unbiblical ceremony which came to be referred to as the Baptism. Howbeit, in the days of Yeshua and His disciples, Baptism was of a wholly different nature. Instead, the baptism of today's Church is more closely related to what was current in the Temples of the Greek pagan world rather than with what we find in the Bible (for further elaboration on this, see The Influence of Greek Ideas on Christianity, by Edwin Hatch, pages 294-300).
Our English word baptism comes from the Greek noun baptisma, and our word baptize is from the Greek verb baptizo. They simply mean to ritually cleanse or immerse. The Gospels clearly testify to this.
- MARK 7:4 And when they come from the market, except they wash [baptizo], they eat not. And many other things there be, which they have received to hold, as the washing [baptismos] of cups, and pots, brasen vessels, and of tables.
- LUKE 11:37-41 And as he spake, a certain Pharisee besought him to dine with him: and he went in, and sat down to meat. And when the Pharisee saw it, he marvelled that he had not first washed [baptizo] before dinner. And the Lord said unto him, Now do ye Pharisees make clean the outside of the cup and the platter; but your inward part is full of ravening and wickedness. Ye fools, did not he that made that which is without make that which is within also? But rather give alms of such things as ye have; and, behold, all things are clean unto you.
Thus, they were baptizing their hands, and cups, and pots and vessels. The basic meaning of the word simply meant to wash, either by dipping or immersing or sprinkling. Howbeit, the word baptism didn't only mean cleaning something with water, but it was often used figuratively, as we see below.
- MARK 10:38-40 But Jesus said unto them, Ye know not what ye ask: can ye drink of the cup that I drink of? and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? And they said unto him, We can. And Jesus said unto them, Ye shall indeed drink of the cup that I drink of; and with the baptism that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized: but to sit on my right hand and on my left hand is not mine to give; but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared.
- LUKE 12:49-50 I am come to send fire on the earth; and what will I, if it be already kindled? But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!
- 1 CORINTHIANS 10:1-2 Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea.
Thus we have abundant reason for remaining diligent when reading from our scriptures that we read distinctly, and when we come to this word baptisma, not to just assume that it is referring to the baptism ceremony we are all so familiar with in our Church services. When we read, we must endeavor to gather from the words an understanding which the holy spirit intended, and not misunderstand because of our preconceived ideas brought on by Church Traditions. Many in the Church fall victim to this error and when they read baptism, too often they assume it is referring to water baptism, a bad habit which leads many astray.
One of the earliest Biblical usages of baptism was in the Greek translation of the Jewish Bible when Naaman went and dipped (baptizo) himself in the Jordon river to be healed of his leprosy (2 KINGS 5:14). We should recognize that there wasn't any magical healing properties about the waters where Naaman was healed, but rather he was cured simply because he obeyed the words of the prophet Elisha. Yeshua intimated as much when He declared that "many lepers were in Israel in the time of Eliseus [Elisha] the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, saving Naaman the Syrian" (LUKE 4:27). Naaman wasn't cured of his leprosy because he went and baptized himself in the Jordan river. He was healed because GOD healed him after he went and did as the prophet had commanded.
Nor has there ever been anything magical about the baptism rite. There is nothing holy about the water. When John the Baptist baptized those of his day in the same river Jordan for the forgiveness of their sins, their sins were not forgiven because of the actual baptism rite itself, but their sins were forgiven because they also had done as the prophet John had commanded. That command was that they must truly and genuinely repent. Water baptism was simply a visible act demonstrating that the believer had been cleansed within, that he had truly and genuinely believed, he had confessed his sins, indeed, he had repented. Thus John's baptism is also called the baptism of repentance (MARK 1:4 LUKE 3:3 ACTS 13:24 & 19:4).
- MATTHEW 3:1-2 In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, and saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand....5-6 Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan, and were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.
John attracted a substantial following who had journeyed into the wilderness to hear his preaching. There was a great awakening dawning upon the nation of Israel with many people believing that the time was fast approaching when the Messiah would appear and right all of their wrongs. John referred to it as the wrath to come. In his preaching he warned them that they had better get right with GOD because that new day was upon them all.
- MATTHEW 3:7-11 But when he [John] saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: and think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
- I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:
John was warning them that they weren't going to be forgiven of their sins unless they brought forth fruits worthy of repentance. Water baptism was not what was going to cleanse them. In other words, they had to walk the talk. They must demonstrate by their actions that they truly did repent of their sins. Repentance required not only a change of mind, but a change of lifestyle. Something significant must change in their lives if they were indeed going to be able to truly repent and be forgiven of their sins. The whole ceremony of water baptism was nothing more then an outward manifestation of that genuine repentance. It was the genuine repentance that obtained for the sinner his forgiveness, not the baptismal ritual.
Besides, John temporized his water baptism, saying that another greater then himself was coming who would be baptizing in something far superior to that river. He would be baptizing in holy spirit and fire. What else could John mean here except that the water baptism was going to fade away into insignificance? Did not even Yeshua say as much when just before His ascension into heaven he declared to His followers, that "John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence" (ACTS 1:5)? How else are we to understand His words except that John's water baptism was of no consequence compared to the baptism of the holy spirit which was fast coming upon them?
Some try to explain away Yeshua's words to mean that there are now two baptisms, water and spirit. But surely that is not what Yeshua meant us to understand. If I say that my parents had to look up information down at the Library when they wanted to know something but now we do it with just a click of the finger on our Laptop, that means that the old ways are being replaced by the new ways. Maybe not one hundred percent of the time; maybe occasionally we might still go to the Library to find an answer to some particular question, but that doesn't negate the fact that going down to the Library is the old outdated way of learning the answers to our questions. That is obviously what Yeshua meant in ACTS 1:5, spiritual baptism was to replace water baptism. Though we may still see it lingering for a while in ACTS, it soon fades completely away. This fits well with what the apostle Paul wrote, that there is only one baptism, not two (EPHESIANS 4:5).
There is not necessarily anything wrong with water baptism, just as there is not anything wrong with circumcision. What is wrong is when someone tries to tell us that this outward act is what GOD requires, as if some ritual can cleanse us or cause us to be returned to GOD's graces (see PHILIPPIANS 3:3). The religious zealots of the Jewish Synagogue tried to persuade the believers of old that circumcision was required by GOD, and today the religious zealots of the Church endeavor to convince us that water baptism is required by GOD. Howbeit, no outward physical ceremony gains any favor with GOD. HE looks on the heart and it is the heart that has to change before GOD is impressed.
Whenever we come across baptize or baptism in our reading of the Bible, we must always ask ourselves to what is the word referring? Sometimes it is indeed referring to water baptism, but sometimes we are just reading water into it. An apt example is at the close of Peter's first recorded sermon in the book of ACTS.
- ACTS 2:38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
They were told to repent and be baptized, but does it say that Peter intended them to be water baptized? It behooves us not to read into the text what the writer has left out. Peter simply told them to repent and be cleansed. It is of course possible that later the apostles went ahead and water baptized all three thousand of them (ACTS 2:41), but we can't know that and shouldn't assume it, especially considering Yeshua had just a few days earlier told them that John's water baptism was soon to be discarded, or at the very least not something that they should center their ministries around. Unless we can read elsewhere in scripture that water baptism was indeed commonly practiced in the Church, we should not just assume that Peter meant water when he said that they were baptized.
And that is our eminent concern. No place in the Bible is there any passage or section which gives any indication that the baptism we find in the Church today was practiced by the apostles or any of the early believers. And yet the modern Church defends the ceremony as if is was a rite given by GOD himself. A worthy question which begs for an answer, is that, if water baptism is a rite required by GOD, then why can't any two Denominations seem to agree as to its ways and means? Some say total immersion, others say dipping is adequate, still others say sprinkling will do. Some say infants may be baptized while others say no possible way can infants be baptized. Some say that the convert must be naked, others say clothing is fine. No, water baptism, as it is practiced in the Church today, is an invention from outside the scriptures.
Many justify and defend their attitudes about their water baptism ceremonies with a passage from Matthew.
- MATTHEW 28:19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
This is the verse that gives many of them their foundational support for their baptism ritual. And yet Yeshua said nothing about baptizing in water. In fact when read in conjunction with His command given just a few days later about being baptized in holy spirit (ACTS 1:5) it would seem most natural to expect that He was commanding them to go and baptize all nations in holy spirit, and not in water. But the Church can't figure out a way to baptize new converts in spirit, so they interpret the verse to mean water baptism, which is a ceremony which they have refined and mastered.
As a side note, I ought to comment that the ancient historian Eusebius quoted this verse in MATTHEW over twenty times in his writings, and always wrote it as "baptizing them in His name". Most likely the Trinitarian recipe was added later to the original text. It is further curious that we never read in the Bible of anyone ever baptizing anyone else in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. The phrase is used, not once.
- ACTS 8:36-38 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? [verse 37 is not in the original text] And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.
Here is probably our only occasion in ACTS where we can actually be sure that water baptism occurred. But as we read carefully, we see that it was the convert who desired to be water baptized. Philip no where suggested that it was required, or even that it was normal operating procedure. He simply acquiesced when asked by the eunuch to be water baptized.
Luke tells us that Paul was baptized when he converted (ACTS 9:18) but says nothing about it being a water baptism. Even when Paul is recalling it years later (ACTS 22:16), he still says nothing about it being a water baptism. Our minds have been so programmed and conditioned to think water every time that we read baptism, that we just automatically assume that is what it means.
It is interesting to note that when Paul is questioning a group of disciples about them being baptized, that he makes a definite distinction between John's baptism versus being baptized "in the name of the Lord Jesus".
- ACTS 19:3-6 And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John's baptism. Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard this, they were baptized [cleansed] in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied.
It seems awkward here to assume that Paul would re-baptize them in water after they had already thus been baptized by John the Baptist. It would be more natural to think that Paul was talking to them about being baptized with something utterly different then the water which John used. Of course that would no doubt be by holy spirit.
The apostle Peter also seems to have come to the same conclusion about water baptism. When he was preaching unto the Gentile household of Cornelius he made a comment about "the baptism which John preached" (ACTS 10:37). It is as if John's baptism was a thing of the past, some other sort of baptism than what they were currently accustomed to. Indeed, John's baptism was the baptism of repentance. When in the Gospels they repented of their sins, then they were cleansed. But not necessarily in ACTS. After John's water baptism gave way to Yeshua's spiritual baptism, then it was by faith that they were purified, not just by repentance.
Thus, after Cornelius' household became saved, Peter exclaimed, "Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord" (ACTS 10:47-48). He was so overtaken by these Gentiles being saved that he impulsively wanted to water baptize them. But did he? Probably not, because when he recounted the episode a few days later, he explained "Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that He said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost [holy spirit] (ACTS 11:16). Clearly, the apostles understood that water baptism was inferior to being baptized with the holy spirit.
Years later when Peter again recalled this first occasion of the Gentiles believing the gospel through his ministry, he reminded the Church at Jerusalem that GOD "purified their hearts by faith" (ACTS 15:7-9). Peter recognized that they were not purified by water but by faith. Howbeit, some in the Church, even back then, were endeavoring to require the new converts to do something physical (circumcision), something visible before they could be considered saved and members of their Church. They didn't like the idea that these believers could just go and get saved and not in any way be dependant upon or obliged to the Church hierarchy.
So today. The simple reason that today's baptism ceremony is as we find it, is because this is another way the modern Church has devised to tether us to its coffers. If even water baptism was observed today as it was during the Gospels and ACTS, we would need no Church. Any new convert would be baptized at the time of his conversion without any ceremony or ritual at all. There would be no prepared declaration of one's dedication to the faith. There would be no necessity for clergy. Today's entire ritual is nothing more than the Church attempting to force itself into the loop, so to speak.
Baptism was indeed common in the ACTS age, but rarely is water ever mentioned (ACTS 16:15; 16:33; 18:8 1CORINTHIANS 12:13). But even if water baptism was common, as a carry-over from the days of John the Baptist, still there is nothing in scripture to lead us to believe that it was required by the apostles for new converts. When they believed the gospel and were saved, scripture often tells us that they were then baptized, which could just as easily mean that GOD cleansed them of their sins. We are not cleansed of our sins by water but by GOD's words spoken by HIS spirit into our hearts. This is what it is to be baptized of the holy spirit. This is no doubt the very baptism which Ezekiel fore-told of.
- EZEKIEL 36:25-27 Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.
Of course GOD was not going to sprinkle actual water upon them, for HE was speaking figuratively. The clean water was HIS words, for this is nothing other than faith. To be given HIS spirit, to walk in HIS statutes and then to keep HIS judgments is simply faith. This is how they were to be cleansed. The apostle Paul likened it to "being transformed by the renewing of your mind" (ROMANS 12:2). True baptism isn't dependant upon water, or even repentance alone, but faith. It is interesting to note that scripture often testifies that believers are cleansed by GOD's holy words, but never holy water nor holy Churches or holy priests.
- JOHN 15:3 Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.
- EPHESIANS 5:26 That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word.
- 1 PETER 1:22 Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently:
This is in essence what Yeshua referred to when He promised His followers that, "the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost [holy spirit], whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you" (JOHN 14:26). This is what it means to be baptized with the holy spirit. It is to be cleansed by the words which the holy spirit speaks. To be baptized with the holy spirit is to be transformed within, in the heart. Thus during the time of the ACTS GOD was speaking to individuals whose hearts were open to HIS words.
- ACTS 16:14 And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul.
- ROMANS 6:17 But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.
- 1 CORINTHIANS 6:11 And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.
- GALATIANS 4:6 And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.
- 2 THESSALONIANS 3:5 And the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ.
To be able to be baptized by the holy spirit, the heart must be receptive and responsive to the inner workings of GOD. This baptism by the holy spirit is to have one's heart cleansed by the words of the holy spirit. But a hard heart is one that will not hear, it will not consider what the spirit is saying, indeed it is completely closed off to GOD. Thus being hard hearted makes one blind and deaf to the holy spirit's work.
- ACTS 28:25-28 And when they agreed not among themselves, they departed, after that Paul had spoken one word, Well spake the Holy Ghost by Esaias the prophet unto our fathers, saying,
- Go unto this people, and say, Hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and not perceive: for the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.
- Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it.
Thus, refusing to accept and heed the holy spirits whisperings, may be the worst of all sins. Indeed, it is the unforgivable sin, because one cannot be forgiven for a sin which he refuses to admit committing (see the Study, The Unforgivable Sin). A person can be baptized with all the water of the Jordan river, but if his heart is closed off to GOD he will never be cleansed. He must hear what the spirit is saying. He must receive with meekness the engrafted word (JAMES 1:21). That is what will save his soul; that is the true baptism. Thus, to be truly cleansed, we need the baptism of the spirit's holy words, not the baptism of the Church's holy water.