“What The Bible Says About Baptism”

by Harold Hazelip


To many people baptism is a hackneyed theme; it has been debated and argued for centuries.  Yet the subject of baptism has never been settled to a good many people, and others have settled it wrong.  Since baptism is a command of God, we will give an account to God for our treatment of this command too.  There is hardly a religious body in our land that one can enter without submitting to what is called baptism by that religious body.  So one must reach a conclusion about the subject before he can enter a religious body.  One may answer that his parents settled his matter for him as an infant, but he still must decide whether he is satisfied with that as his obedience to God!


How Can We Learn About Baptism?


There seems to be a rather common idea today that one must know certain other languages beside his own, such as Greek, in order to reach an intelligent decision about baptism.  However, one only needs an English Testament and conscientious study to learn for himself what God requires of him. But how can a man best learn the teaching of the Bible regarding baptism?  A man once said, “If my mind were unsettled in regard to baptism, I would open my New Testament, and read the entire volume through, watching for the word ‘baptize.’  Every time I found it, I would study the passage carefully and learn all I could.  Then I would compile what I had learned, and with God as my only teacher, I would be sure of His approval.”  This is a commendable way to study any Bible subject.  With purpose of heart, imagine that you have never heard the word “baptize” before, and with your mind as a blank sheet on the subject, allow God to write on it what He will by studying His Word.  This is the nature of our examination of baptism.  We will accept nothing on the subject of baptism except what we read from the Bible itself.  Read the passages along with me in your own Bible, if you wish.


Matthew Third Chapter


When we open our New Testament at its first chapter, we have first a long list of names preceding the account of the birth of our Lord.  In Matthew chapter 3, John the Baptizer is introduced to us, and in verses 5 and 6 there is a word which we shall imagine we have never seen or heard before.  The verses say, “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.”  What could this mean?  These people were “baptized” by him in the River Jordan.  The only thing we can actually learn about the nature of the act itself is that it took place in water: the River Jordan. John adds in Matthew 3:11, “I indeed baptize you with water.”  So water is the element with which the act of baptism was being performed, not wine or milk or honey, or some other.  In the same chapter, Matthew 3:13, we have the word again as Jesus comes to be baptized. Verse 16 says, “And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water.”  This verse tells what He did after baptism, but still does not tell us exactly what baptism was.  We may find some strong indications in these verses of what baptism was but we will not draw any conclusions which are not specifically stated in the texts themselves.  From the third chapter of Matthew, then, one may learn that John baptized people, he baptized them in the Jordan River, with water being the element used, and when Jesus had been baptized by him, He afterward went up out of the water showing that He had been down in it. This is all we learn about the act, so we read on.


Matthew 28:19


Our curiosity has been awakened now about the meaning of this word, and we turn through the pages.  The word “baptism” is not found again in its literal sense until we come to the closing verses of Matthew’s Gospel.  In Matthew 28:19, Jesus said, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”  Here we learn that the command is universal (for all nations), and that it is to be performed in the names of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost.  But we do not learn any new information about what the act is though we do get an idea of its importance as it is authorized by Christ.


The Gospel of Mark


The next New Testament book is the Gospel of Mark, and in the first chapter we learn, “John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the re mission of sins.”  We may wonder about John’s baptizing in the wilderness until we know something of the geography of Palestine.  A study of geography would show us that the portion of the Jordan River near its mouth runs along a barren wilderness on its western bank.  But when we read the following verse, the difficulty is removed, for it is said that “there went out unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins.”  A bit later we are told again of Jesus’ baptism: “And it came to pass in those days; that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan.  And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him.” (Mark 1:5-10)  Again we are impressed by the fact that baptism takes place in water.  In Mark 16:16, we next come across new in formation about baptism. Jesus says, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.”  This statement adds much importance to our study of this act called “baptism” because it is placed by Christ between the sinner and salvation.


Luke and John


In Luke’s Gospel we are reminded of what we have seen before: “And he (John) came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.” (Luke 3:3). Repentance is connected with baptism, and both are for or unto the remission of sins.  The next reference which adds to our understanding of baptism is John 3:22-23: “After these things came Jesus and his disciples into the land of Judaea; and there he tarried with them, and baptized.  And John was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, be cause there was much water there: and they came and were baptized.”  Here is another indication of the nature of the act of baptism, since it is performed in a certain place because there is much water there.  However, the term “much” is a relative term, and we will not assume anything at all which is not expressly stated.  We are learning gradually about the meaning of baptism from just the verses themselves.


The Acts of The Apostles


When we open the book of Acts, we learn a new thought about baptism in chapter 2.  The Apostle Peter tells an audience of Jews who were part of that mob responsible for the death of Christ what they must do to be forgiven of their sins: “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.” (Acts 2:38)  Additional importance attaches itself to this command as we learn more of the blessings which God has connected with baptism, including here the remission or taking away of sins, and the gift of the Holy Spirit.  We have other references to baptism in Acts, hut none which actually helps us to know what the act itself is until we get to Acts 8:38-39. Here Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch have been riding along in a chariot while Philip preached to him Jesus, and the man from Ethiopia has made known his desire to be baptized. “And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.  And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing.”  This may not describe the exact action of baptism, but it is certainly “hemming it in.”  Before baptism, both the preacher and the person to be baptized went down into the water, and after the baptism, both of them came up out of the water.  What took place while they we-re in the water?

As we continue our search of the Scriptures which teach concerning baptism, we read in the book of Acts of the conversions of Saul, Cornelius, Lydia, the Philippian jailor, the Corinthians, and others, but these are incidents describing the history of how the early disciples carried forth the Great Commission.  They do not actually go into detail about the nature of the act of baptism, but do impress upon us that sinners everywhere were baptized in becoming Christians.  For example, Acts 22:16 records the command of Ananias to Saul of Tarsus, who became the Apostle Paul: “And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” Baptism precedes the washing away of sins in God’s plan; hut what is baptism?


Baptism In Romans and Colossians


As we proceed with our study into the epistles, we come across vital information in Romans 6:3-5.  “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?  Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.  For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection.”  In this passage, baptism is into Christ and into His death, so its importance grows. Then Paul writes, “We are buried with him by baptism.”  Now we know what happened while men were down in the water being baptized: they were buried in the likeness of Christ’s burial!  Then as Christ was raised up, they were raised to walk in newness of life!  The same truth is clearly stated in Colossians 2:12, “Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him…”


Concluding Passages


In Ephesians 4:4-5, Paul writes, “There is one baptism.”  One baptism could not mean three baptisms, could it?  Sprinkling, pouring, and immersion?  Which one is a burial as Christ was buried?  This is a summary of what the Bible teaches about baptism.  From the Scriptures themselves we have learned that baptism is a burial of the penitent sinner in water, in the names of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, for the remission of his sins!  The last reference to baptism in the New Testament says that as Noah and his family were saved from the flood in the ark by water (as water bore the ark safely), “The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us” (1 Peter 3:20-21).

Jesus Christ is the Savior, but He promises salvation only to those who sincerely believe in Him and obey His commands.  Have you been buried with Him in baptism?  Will you investigate His Word for yourself on these matters?