All Bible quotes are from the King James Version, unless otherwise noted
Baptism does not appear in the Bible until the New Testament, with John the Baptist being the first one in Scripture identified as a baptizer (Matthew 3:1-6). John performed baptisms at the Jordan River for people who wished to symbolize repentance from their sins (Matthew 3:1,6,11, Mark 1:4-5). Apparently, John was very busy at this work since the whole region of Jerusalem, Judea, and around the Jordan river came out to him for baptism (Matthew 3:5-6).
At that time, baptism was performed as an immersion ritual; the believer was completely immersed in water and brought back up. This is clear in Scripture, as believers are spoken of as going into, or coming out of, the water and having a large quantity of water available (Matthew 3:6,16, John 3:23, Acts 8:36-39). The word “baptism” itself originates from the Greek word “baptizos”, which means “immersion", further supporting the concept of baptism originating as an immersion event.
Because John was performing this service for sinners, he didn't understand why Jesus Christ came to him in order to be baptized (Matthew 3:13-14), since Jesus was the only man without sin (1 Peter 2:21-22). In spite of his lack of understanding, John baptized Jesus – by immersion – immediately after which the Holy Spirit came into Jesus (Matthew 3:15-16). Note This is the first incident in Scripture that speaks about the Holy Spirit coming into a baptized person. Scripture explains to us that Christ's baptism wasn't because of a need for him to repent, but instead it was in symbol of the forgiveness we can gain through His blood (Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16, 1 John 5:5-7).
The Differences Between John's and Christ's Baptisms
During Christ's earthly ministry, it was well-known that John continued to baptize people, while at the same time Christ's disciples were also performing baptisms (John 3:22-23). In fact, there were some people who were troubled by this duality of baptisms and made mention of this to John (John 3:25-26), especially since Christ was starting to gain more baptisms than John (John 4:1-2). John, a devoutly faithful man, replied with godly wisdom: John's baptism of repentance was meant to give way to Christ's baptism of forgiveness. John knew that his wasn't a permanent baptism, as he was simply preparing the way for the Lord (John 3:27-30).
Although John's baptism of repentance is similar to Christ's baptism of forgiveness, these are two very different baptisms. Even though repentance leads to forgiveness (Acts 3:19, 2 Corinthians 7:10), it is the actual forgiveness in tandem with the repentance that saves, not the repentance on its own (Acts 26:18, 1 John 1:9). Forgiveness is by Grace through belief in Christ's blood (Acts 2:38). Therefore, baptism into Christ is a public display of one's belief in redemption through Christ. Because John's baptism into repentance didn't bestow the forgiveness necessary for salvation, Christ commanded that all who follow Him should be baptized under His baptism (Matthew 28:19,Acts 8:12, 16, Acts 10:48, Acts 19:5). There are no scriptural commandments for people to continue being baptized under John's baptism.
Other Biblical Baptizers
Although there are many baptisms spoken of in the Bible, the three baptizers mentioned specifically by name were all male (Mark 1:4, Act 8:38, 1 Corinthians 1:13-14). Aside from the three baptizers mentioned above, there were many many more baptizers who aren't mentioned by name throughout the New Testament. For example, Christ's unnamed disciples baptized people (John 4:2) (Keep in mind, Christ's had other disciples besides the twelve apostles, Luke 10:1). On other occasions, Christ's apostles commanded people to be baptized, but the Scriptures do not specify who the actual baptizers were (Acts 2:38-41, 22:16). On yet other occasions, baptism was mentioned though the baptizers weren't named in these cases either (Romans 6:3-4, Galatians 3:27).
Women's Role in Baptism
The Baptismal Commandment states:
“Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: And, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen ” (Matthew 28:19-20).
Some are of the thought that, since Jesus Christ gave the baptismal commandment only to the men who happened to be accompanying him, then it should be only men who do the baptizing.
The flaw in the “men only” theory is that, if this were the case, then the commandment to spread the gospel would also be a job only for the men believers – as this was also a part of the baptismal commandment. However, we know that men aren't the only ones allowed to spread the gospel, because the Bible tells of women who were instrumental in spreading the Gospel as well (Acts 18:26, Romans 16:1,3, 6, 7). Although women were to be in subjection to men (1 Corinthians 11:3, Ephesians 5:22-24), and were not permitted to teach or hold authority over men within an established congregation (1 Corinthians 14:34, 1 Timothy 2:11-12), the fact is, women played an active role in early Christian evangelism. This is shown by the fact that they prayed with men (Acts 1:14, 17:4), labored in the Gospel (Philippians 4:3) and prophesied in the church (1 Corinthians 11:5). There is even an account of women holding a prayer meeting in Phillippi (Acts 16:13). Clearly, it is not wrong for women to obey Christ's command to go and make disciples of all nations. Therefore, since women were to be included in the commandment set forth at Matthew 28:19, it would be wrong to forbid them from performing any of the duties of that commandment, including baptism.
Modern Forms of Baptism
Before we begin to discuss anything about methods of baptism, we must first get a handle on the three versions of baptism. Without this information, further information can be confusing -- especially for those who aren't long-time Christians. Therefore, we need to start with a basic idea of the three modes of water baptism:
Although all Christian congregations choose one way or another, it is interesting to note that many allow more than one method of baptism. This causes many questions as to the nature of baptism, what it means, and which is the proper way to perform the ritual. Because of these questions, this particular essay aims to give you the straight answers directly from God's Word – The Bible.
The Symbolism of Immersion
Many don't fully realize the meaning of being immersed in water and then brought back out. To them, baptism is simply a ritual that they've been raised with and give it no other thought. However, it is important to know what the immersion method is all about: The act of being submerged in the water, and having someone else bring you up out of it, is symbolic of Christ's death and resurrection (Romans 6:3-4). In other words, a believer is “buried” under the water and brought back up as a new person in Christ, just as Christ was buried in the grave and raised anew by The Father. Because we believe that Christ died and rose for our sins, immersion baptism is a re-enactment of that belief (Colossians 2:12). There are particular Christian denominations that accept only the immersion method of baptism such as: the Amish, the Apostolic Church, Baptists, Christian Church - Disciples of Christ, Church of God in Christ, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (a.k.a. Mormons), Community of Christ, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mennonites, Messianic Jews, and Seventh Day Adventists.
The Origins of Baptism By Sprinkling and Pouring
The first case of non-immersion baptism is recorded in 251 AD, when a man named Novatian was too ill to have an immersion baptism. As an act of mercy, the church leaders of the time decided that an alternative mode of baptism would be acceptable, as they believed that a person needed to be baptized in order to benefit from the salvation of Christ (Novatian did manage to survive the illness though). This method of baptism became known as “Clinical” or “Hospital” baptism. At the time, this method of baptism was used only as a last resort for patients who hadn't yet been baptized. Over time, this practice lost it's original intent and developed into a widely accepted form of baptism, whether or not a person was too feeble for immersion. Eventually, in 1311, the Council of Ravenna decided that all three modes of baptism: Immersion, aspersion, and affusion, should be fully acceptable.
In modern times, many Christian denominations have accepted non-immersion baptism as valid. This includes denominations such as Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Roman Catholics. Although they all agree that immersion baptism is biblical and valid, they also have come to fully accept the alternative versions of baptism as well.
The Difference Between Immersion and Non-Immersion Baptisms
So now we've come to the heart of the matter: The difference between immersion baptism and other methods of baptism. As we've seen, Scripture shows that the original idea of baptism was to publicly show faith in salvation through Christ by paralleling his death and resurrection with the death of our old selves being raised into new selves in Christ. When Christ was in the tomb, he was completely surrounded by the tomb – his body wasn't merely sprinkled with gravestone gravel. Likewise, our bodies must be completely surrounded in order to emulate His burial. Christ is our life-giving “water” (John 4:14), and we must surround ourselves with Christ in order to become new in Christ. By contrast, aspersion or affusion doesn't give the same effect or meaning to the ritual.
Why Do Some Perform Non-Immersion Baptism?
Although all Christian denominations agree to the validity of immersion baptism, there are many different reasons as to why some denominations allow other modes of baptism. Many, for example, consider the sprinkling or pouring to be symbolic of being cleansed from sin, a concept rooted in Ezekiel 36:25, 27. Others look to Hebrews 10:22, which mentions the sprinkling of one's heart to cleanse it from evil thoughts. Because one believes he or she is cleansed from sin through Christ's blood, this is considered to be an alternative way to publicly show one's faith in Christ.
Does the Method of Baptism Really Matter?
It is clear that the original ritual of baptism was that of paralleling Christ's burial and resurrection with our own spiritual re-birth. It is also clear that this symbolism only makes sense in the context of water immersion. Therefore, if one is seeking to emulate one's spiritual re-birth through Christ's death, then yes, the method of baptism does matter. No other mode of baptism can convey that message in the way that immersion demonstrates.
However, if a person's intent is to symbolize one's cleansing (Ezekiel 36:25-26, Ephesians 5:26, Hebrews 10:22) through the blood of Christ, then the aspersion or affusion methods would be appropriate. This is because only non-immersion baptism can effectively convey this kind of symbolism.
Though many believe that only immersion baptism is valid due to its origination, we do not feel it is our place to judge one's preference. The Scriptures do not command a specific ritual for baptism; the only specific commandments regarding baptism is to baptize people from all nations in the name of The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). If a baptism embraces those two commandments, it seems that it should be valid and biblical. Therefore, we believe it is up to each individual to prayerfully take the issue to the Father in order to find peace within themselves on the matter.
Is Baptism a Requirement For Salvation?
Many are of the understanding that baptism is required in order to gain salvation through Christ. They like to cite Christ's words in the passage at John 3:5 which states:
Many tend to interpret this verse to imply baptism. However, it must be noted that Jesus was still alive when he uttered the above Scripture, and that Jesus didn't give the ordinance of baptism until after his death as shown at Matthew 28:19. Therefore, the above quoted Scripture cannot have been in reference to baptism. Parallel to this is the fact that the thief who was awaiting execution with Jesus was not required to be baptized in order to obtain salvation (Luke 23:39-43). Also, the concept that salvation comes through baptism contradicts all the Scriptures that state salvation is through grace only, as shown at: John 3:16-17, Acts 16:31, Romans 3:25, 5:9, 10:9, Ephesians 1:7, 2:8, Hebrews 9:11-14, Hebrews 9:25-28, 1 John 1:7, 1 John 5:5-7.
Since the baptismal command was not yet in effect, the water that Christ was speaking of at John 3:5 had to mean something else. In many circles, it is believed that Christ was referring to the spiritual washing, or spiritual renewal that was mentioned at Ezekiel 36:25-26, Ephesians 5:26, Hebrews 10:22. This becomes apparent as Jesus speaks of believers being clean through faith (John 13:10-11, 15:3), as does the Apostle Paul (Titus 3:5). We are not saved through the washing of water baptism, we are saved through our belief in the Living Water -- Jesus Christ (John 4:14, 7:37-39).
Another passage that people point to in teaching salvation through baptism is Mark 16:16, in which Jesus reportedly states:
He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.
First thing, it should be mentioned that the passage of Mark 16:9-20 has been openly questioned as to its origination, with the thought being that it was added later by scribes; in other words, it is very likely that this passage is not an original part of the Scriptures. Therefore, anything written in that passage must be tried against what the rest of the Bible states in order to test its veracity. Aside from that, even if we assume that the passage is correct, note that Jesus stated that a man who is believes and is baptized is saved; Jesus did not include non-baptized believers as those among the damned – he only specified that non-believers were damned. Nowhere does Scripture state that one can miss out on salvation simply by being an non-baptized believer.
Is Baptism Required For Receiving Holy Spirit?
It is notable that, from Christ's baptism on, only those who were baptized into Christ are spoken of as receiving Holy Spirit. This is shown in that, whenever Holy Spirit was given, it was always given in connection to those who have been, or were about to be, baptized into Christ (Luke 3:21-22, Acts 1:5, 2:38, 8:15-17, 10:47, 19:5-6, 22:16-18, 1 Corinthians 12:13). The Apostle Paul made it clear that John's baptism was indeed different from Christ's baptism at Acts 19:2-6, as those of John's baptism didn't receive the Holy Spirit until they were baptized under Christ's baptism. Note also that when the baptism and the blood are mentioned together, it is also spoken of as in agreement with the Holy Spirit (1 John 5:6-8). This is why Jesus Christ commanded that baptism include the name of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). Therefore, although Scripture shows that baptism isn't a requirement for salvation, it is clear that baptism remains crucial for our Christian growth.
In summary, the method one chooses for baptism is primarily between the individual and God. We as a Christian brotherhood are not in the position to judge a person's relationship with the Father and Son – for who are we to know what's in a person's heart? (1 Samuel 16:7) Therefore, let's not judge a person's Christian lifestyle by their method of baptism, nor should we judge who is or is not saved.