Water Baptism


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God commands all believers to be water baptised


In Matthew 28:19, Mark 16:16 and Acts 2:38, God instructs all humans who are believers and disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ to be water baptised. Matthew 28:18-19 records: “Then Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’”

Acts 2:41, 8:12-13, 8:38, 9:18, 10:47-48, 16:15, 16:33 and 18:8 record examples of new believers in the Early Church being water baptised.

Matthew 28:19 reveals water baptism should be done “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Acts 2:38, 8:16 and 10:47 show baptism in water should be “in the name of Jesus Christ” or “the name of the Lord Jesus” or “the name of the Lord”.


Faith, repentance and water baptism


One common error is the idea that we can receive salvation, justification, forgiveness, adoption and regeneration through just being baptised in water without having personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and without experiencing genuine accompanying repentance in our hearts.

In Mark 16:16, Jesus taught that personal faith is the key element in being saved: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” Christ did not here teach we are saved by a combination of faith and being water baptised. Instead He showed that a normal result of a person having true saving faith is they will obey God about being water baptised. The primary focus in Mark 16:16 is on faith and not water baptism. This is seen in the fact it says “he who does not believe will be condemned”, leaving out any mention of water baptism.

Also note in Acts 16:30-31, Paul and Silas did not say that we are saved by believing in the Lord Jesus plus being water baptised: “And he brought them out and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ So they said, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.’” Acts 16:33 shows Paul and Silas water baptised the jailor and his household after the latter became new believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.

In Acts 2:38, Peter also stressed that water baptism must be preceded by sincere heart repentance: “Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’” In Acts 3:19-20, Peter declares that God will blot out our sins when we repent and are converted to faith in Jesus Christ: “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before.”

These verses do not say we need to be water baptised in order to have our sins blotted out. If we have repented in our hearts – having a change of mind and will about sin, unbelief and faith in God and in Jesus Christ, one of the post-conversion fruits of such repentance at conversion will be a desire to be water baptised. But such fruits of repentance are not a condition of salvation but are a sign we are saved.

In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus taught that we first become Jesus’ disciples at conversion and after this we should be water baptised and obey His other commands.

Also observe in Matthew 3:7 and Luke 3:7-9, John the Baptist emphasised that wanting to be water baptised while refusing to repent in our heart and to manifest the post-conversion fruits of repentance is a form of religious hypocrisy. Luke 3:7-9 records: “Then he said to the multitudes that came out to be baptized by him, ‘Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father.” For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.’”

In Colossians 2:11-12, Paul showed that having faith in Christ was a key element associated with being water baptised: “In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.” These verses are not referring to our parents or others exercising saving faith for us when we were babies.

Water baptism itself does not provide us with salvation, justification and regeneration. Instead it is the outward sign or witness that we have been buried with Christ, have died to the rule of sin and have been resurrected in our hearts by the eternal life which is in our Lord Jesus Christ. We have received all of these wonderful things – salvation, justification, being buried with Christ and so on – through God’s unmerited grace through Jesus’ death and by our faith and accompanying repentance.


Water baptism and calling on the Name of the Lord


Acts 22:16 records what Paul said Ananias told him: “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.”

One false view suggests this verse teaches that being baptised in water results in our sins being cleansed or forgiven. But note:


·         Acts 9:6 reveals Paul had already received Jesus Christ as his Lord before Ananias came to visit him.

·         In Acts 22:16, Ananias associates having Paul’s sins washed away with Paul “calling on the Name of the Lord.” Romans 10:13 reveals it is the calling on the Name of the Lord which receives salvation: “For whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” In Acts 2:21 and 38 taken together, Peter shows calling on the Lord is related closely to true repentance. In Romans 10:8-14, Paul teaches that calling on the Lord is related to having saving faith. So Acts 22:16 is not teaching that mere water baptism washes away our sins.

·         Romans 10:14 says: “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” Here we see that someone cannot properly call on the Lord unless they have a personal faith in Him. So Acts 22:16 cannot mean that babies can call on the Name of the Lord and have their sins washed away through water baptism without having a personal faith in Him.


A sign and a seal like circumcision


God commanded that all male descendants of Abraham must be circumcised as a sign of being under the Abrahamic Covenant (see Genesis 17:7-14). God was so displeased that Moses did not circumcise his son that He was going to punish Moses with death (see Exodus 4:24-26). In Leviticus 12:3, God commanded that male Israelite baby boys must be circumcised under the Mosaic Covenant.

But despite God’s heavy emphasis on the importance of circumcision for Israelites under the Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants, He did not say that just being circumcised resulted in individual Israelites being eternally saved and justified before Him. In Romans 4:9-12, Paul taught that Abraham was declared righteous by God through faith before Abraham was circumcised. In these same verses, Paul revealed that people are justified by faith and not through circumcision and that circumcision is “a sign” and “a seal of the righteousness of the faith.”

In Romans 3:29-30, Paul stresses that God will declare people righteous through their faith regardless of whether they are circumcised or not. This is despite the fact God commanded all male descendants of Abraham to be circumcised and He was going to punish Moses with death for disobeying this command.

This is similar to the New Covenant situation in relation to faith, repentance and water baptism. As we see in the many verses quoted in the section “Conversion explained” in Chapter “Conversion”, New Covenant believers are saved, are justified and receive eternal life through faith and accompanying repentance. Water baptism is the outward sign, token, symbol or witness that someone has been saved and justified by God’s grace through faith and accompanying repentance.

In Colossians 2:11-12, Paul taught that water baptism was similar in many ways to the sign of circumcision. God does not command New Covenant non-Israelite male believers to be circumcised (see Acts 15:1-29 and Galatians 5:2-6). But water baptism is a sign under the New Covenant that a person has been saved and justified by God’s grace through faith and associated repentance. This is just like circumcision is the sign of these things under the Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants.

Deuteronomy 10:16, Jeremiah 4:4, 9:25-26, Ezekiel 44:7, Acts 7:51 and Romans 2:28-29 prove that just receiving the outward sign of being circumcised without also changing or circumcising one’s heart is a form of religious hypocrisy which God hates. Jeremiah 9:25-26 states: “‘Behold, the days are coming,’ says the Lord, ‘that I will punish all those who are circumcised with the uncircumcised – Egypt, Judah, Edom, the people of Ammon, Moab, and all who are in the farthest corners, who dwell in the wilderness. For all these nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in the heart.’”

In Acts 7:51, Stephen told religious Jews who had received the outward sign and seal of circumcision: “You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you.” Such circumcised Jews did not have saving faith in God and in Jesus Christ and had not experienced accompanying saving repentance. They had faith in God’s existence but they did not have saving faith.

Similarly, those who in New Covenant times are water baptised but do not have saving faith and have not experienced accompanying repentance are not saved and are not declared righteous by God. Such people only have a “form of godliness” (see 2 Timothy 3:5).

In Christ's time, many Pharisees, scribes and Jews in general believed that they entered into a covenant relationship with God through His grace symbolised by circumcision and continued to maintain this relationship to God through grace-empowered good works. This was similar in many ways to the modern false religious idea that people enter a New Covenant relationship to God by His grace through merely being water baptised and maintain this relationship through grace-empowered good works. In Matthew 23:13, Jesus said: “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.”

In Romans 2:28-29, Paul says that true circumcision is “of the heart”. Similarly, someone who is water baptised but does not have saving faith and associated repentance in their hearts, is merely a baptised pagan.

Acts 15:1-2 reveals that some Jewish Christians taught that unless New Covenant non-Israelite male believers were circumcised, they could not be eternally saved. These Jewish Christians are known as the ‘circumcision party” and taught that circumcision is one condition of salvation. The Apostles opposed this false teaching (see Acts 15:1-29). Those in the modern church who say that water baptism is a condition of salvation are the modern “circumcision party”.


Receiving the Holy Spirit and water baptism


One common view is that when people are baptised in water, they always receive the Holy Spirit at exactly the same time. But note Acts 10:44-48 reveals that when the first non-Jews received the Holy Spirit, they were baptised in water after this. Also Acts 8:4-17 and 19:5-6 show that believers were baptised in water before they received the fullness of the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:1-4 does not say that the believers were water baptised when they received the fullness of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost.

Some Christian writers have invented all types of marvellous excuses to try to explain away these above passages. Such excuses are clever but not Biblical. One such excuse is the claim that such Biblical historical passages can never be used to determine Christian doctrine. This, however, is an error. In Acts 4:3, 4:22, 9:12, 9:13, 11:3, 11:4, 13:22, 1 Corinthians 10:7, Galatians 3:6, Hebrews 4:4, 12:20 and 12:21, we see that New Testament writers used historical examples from the Old Testament in determining Christian teaching.

It is possible for someone to receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit at the same time they are water baptised. But this is not a frequent occurrence.

Matthew 3:13-17 and Mark 1:9-11 record that the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus Christ at the time of His water baptism. But note Jesus Christ's water baptism was different from ours in numerous ways. First, He was God’s Son from the time He was conceived in Mary’s womb by the Holy Spirit (see Matthew 1:20-21, Luke 1:31-32, 1:35 and John 3:35) and not later when He was water baptised. Secondly, Christ was a part of God’s Kingdom from the moment of His conception and not from when He was baptised (see Isaiah 9:6-7). Thirdly, Christ did not need to be baptised for the purpose of giving a sign of Him being forgiven of His sins. This is because He had no sins to be forgiven (see John 8:46 and Hebrews 4:15). John the Baptist knew Jesus did not need to be water baptised (see Matthew 3:14).

John 3:22, 3:26 and 4:1-2 record that Jesus Christ had his disciples water baptise other disciples. But note John 7:39, 20:22 and Acts 2:1-4 reveal that Christ’s disciples did not receive the Holy Spirit until after His death and glorious resurrection. These disciples received the Holy Spirit at a different time from when they were water baptised. They were water baptised before receiving the Holy Spirit, because Jesus’ death and resurrection had not occurred and as a result the Holy Spirit was not given to all believers as yet.


Water baptism is a symbol of Jesus’ death and resurrection


Someone may argue, “1 Peter 3:20-22 proves that one of the conditions of our salvation is being water baptised.” 1 Peter 3:18 and 20-22 says: “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit…who formerly were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls were saved through water. There is also an antitype which now saves us, namely baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him.”

But note the following key points:


·         In context, these verses use Noah as an example of being saved by God’s grace. Noah had a personal saving faith in God prior to the time he went through the waters. Hebrews 11:7 shows that it was through his faith that he was saved by God: “By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.” Genesis 6:8-9 refers to Noah’s relationship to God before God saved him from the waters of judgement: “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord…Noah was a just man, perfect in his generations. Noah walked with God.” Therefore 1 Peter 3:18 and 20-22 relate to people being water baptised who already had saving faith.

·         1 Peter 3:20-22 does not teach that Noah was saved by the waters. Instead God saved Noah by the Ark He had commanded Noah to build. The Ark was God’s instrument of saving grace. The waters were the instrument of God’s judgement and did not save Noah.

·         In 1 Peter 3:21, Peter says baptism is an antitype. In Greek, “antitype” is “antitupon” which means “corresponding to something that has gone before” [1] or “that which corresponds in form and structure to something else, either as an anticipation of a later reality or as a fulfilment of a prior type”. [2] Therefore, this verse teaches that water baptism is a wonderful type or symbolic picture of salvation through Jesus’ death and resurrection. This is because water baptism is a symbolic representation of believers’ death to sin and resurrection in Christ's eternal life which is a result of His death and resurrection. Note the context of 1 Peter 3:18-21 focuses on salvation through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

When commenting on the use of the word “antitype” in 1 Peter 3:21, Vine says: “the circumstances of the flood, the ark and its occupants, formed a type, and baptism forms ‘a corresponding type’…each setting forth the spiritual realities of the death, burial and resurrection of believers in their identification with Christ”. [3]

Water baptism is both a symbolic type or representative picture of God’s gracious salvation of Noah from God’s judgement by the flood and of His gracious salvation of us from His eternal judgement. Noah was saved out of the waters of death. Believers are saved from eternal spiritual death – being separated from God forever – through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

·         In this verse, Peter says water baptism is “the answer of a good conscience toward God” (N.K.J.V.) or “an appeal to God for a good conscience” (N.A.S.B.). Water baptism is an outward expression of an appeal to God for a good conscience based on what Jesus’ death and resurrection has achieved.

Note in 1 Timothy 1:5, 1:19 and 3:9, Paul links having a good conscience to having a saving faith. For example, 1 Timothy 1:19 says “having faith and a good conscience”. This also confirms 1 Peter 3:18 and 20-21 is referring to people being water baptised who already have saving faith.

·         Peter would not teach in 1 Peter 3:20-22 that we are saved by water baptism when he taught in Acts 2:38 and 3:19 that forgiveness of our sins and receiving the Holy Spirit is a result of repentance and conversion – turning to God from our known sins.


Christ achieved what the Mosaic sacrifices and cleansings symbolised


Some commentators argue that Hebrews 10:22 refers partly to water baptism when it says: “let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” But considering Hebrews 7:1-10:22 is written to Hebrew Christians partly to show them that the New Covenant through Jesus Christ fulfils and supersedes the Old Mosaic Covenant, the expression “having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” indicates how the death of Jesus Christ has achieved what the blood sprinklings of the animal sacrifices and the water cleansings of the Mosaic Covenant symbolised. Through our “full assurance of faith”, Jesus’ death has cleansed our hearts, conscience and bodies from the rule and guilt of sin.

Note in the surrounding context of Hebrews 10:22, verse 19 refers to entering the Holiest Place in God’s Temple through Jesus Christ's death. Verse 20 mentions entering the veil of the Temple. Verse 21 refers to the High priest. Verse 22 grammatically is a part of the sentence found in verses 19-21. So it makes sense to interpret verse 22 as relating to Jesus’ death achieving what the animal sacrifice blood sprinklings and water cleansings symbolised.

Exodus 30:17-21 refers to the bronze laver in God’s Tabernacle or later Temple: “Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: ‘You shall also make a laver of bronze, with its base also of bronze, for washing. You shall put it between the tabernacle of meeting and the altar. And you shall put water in it, for Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet in water from it. When they go into the tabernacle of meeting, or when they come near the altar to minister, to burn an offering made by fire to the Lord, they shall wash with water, lest they die. So they shall wash their hands and their feet, lest they die. And it shall be a statute forever to them – to him and his descendants throughout their generations.” Under the Mosaic Covenant, God commanded the High Priest Aaron and his sons to wash their hands and feet on this altar before burning an offering on the Altar of Burnt Offering.

Also note Hebrews 9:10 refers to the “washings” with water commanded in the Mosaic Law. This relates to the washings mentioned in Hebrews 10:22.


Born of water and the Spirit


John 3:3-6 says: “Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ Nicodemus said to Him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?’ Jesus answered, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.’”

Some suggest the expression “born of water” refers to water baptism. But note:


·         John 3:3-6 does not once use the word “baptize”.

·         The expression “born of water” does not have to mean being baptised in water. This is just as the expression “born of blood” in John 1:13 does not literally mean baptised or immersed in blood.

·         Jesus’ Words in verse 5 are both an explanation of what He meant in verse 3 by the expression “born again” and an answer to Nicodemus’ question in verse 4 about being in your mother’s womb and then being born. In verse 5, Jesus says we have to experience natural birth and a later spiritual birth to enter God’s Kingdom. When a woman gives birth, she passes great amounts of water from her womb just before the baby comes out of the womb. The latter is what Jesus meant by “born of water”.

·         Jesus’ expression “born of water and the Spirit” is in the right time order – natural birth and then later spiritual birth by the Holy Spirit.

·         Verse 6 mirrors verse 5. In verse 6, Jesus referred to natural birth as “That which is born of the flesh is flesh” and to spiritual rebirth as “that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”

·         In John 3:7-8, Jesus describes being “born again” as being “born of the Spirit” and not as being born of water and the Spirit.


Other verses which do not refer to water baptism


Some may argue that the expressions “you were washed” in 1 Corinthians 6:11, “cleansing her with the washing of water by the word” in Ephesians 5:26 and “the washing of regeneration” in Titus 3:5 relate to water baptism and in their contexts collectively prove we are saved, cleansed of our sins, come into union with Christ, receive the Holy Spirit and are born-again through water baptism.

But this is false because the above Biblical expressions do not refer to water baptism. Instead they relate to God washing and cleansing us from the filth or pollution of our sins. Psalm 51:2, 51:7, 51:10, John 15:3 and Revelation 1:5 refer to people being washed from the filth or uncleanness of their sins without any connection to water baptism. Psalm 51:2 says: “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.” Revelation 1:5 says Jesus Christ “washed us from our sins in His own blood.” John 15:3 states: “ You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.”

We must be very careful when interpreting Biblical verses about washing and cleansing. This is because the Pharisees probably misinterpreted the symbolic expressions about having clean hands in Psalm 18:20, 18:24, 24:3-4 and Job 17:9 to mean God had literally commanded all the Jews to have clean hands and one condition of His blessings was them washing their hands (see Mark 7:1-5). We can easily develop a Pharisaic-like attitude to water baptism by believing the latter is a condition of salvation.

Similarly the words “made to drink” in the expression “…we…have all been made to drink into one Spirit” in 1 Corinthians 12:13 must be interpreted symbolically and not literally. Otherwise we will be teaching the ridiculous idea that we receive the Holy Spirit by drinking some water.

The expressions “were baptized by one Spirit” in 1 Corinthians 12:13 and “were baptized into Christ” in Galatians 3:27 do not refer to being water baptised. Instead “were baptized by one Spirit” means being immersed by the Holy Spirit. Acts 1:5 and 11:16 also refer to being “baptized with the Holy Spirit”. Acts 1:5 refers to the Day of Pentecost when believers were not water baptised. Acts 11:16 relates to Acts 10:44-48 which refers to being baptised in the Holy Spirit at a different time from being water baptised. “Were baptized into Christ” refers to being immersed into the spiritual Presence of Jesus Christ.

One of the meanings of the expression “were baptized” in 1 Corinthians 12:13 and Galatians 3:27 in Greek is “immerse”. [4] Note also in Galatians 3:26-27, Paul also mentions having “faith in Christ Jesus” in relation to being baptised into Christ, putting on Christ and being sons of God.

Because of continual brainwashing, some churchgoers imagine that every time the words “baptism” or “baptized” are used in the New Testament, they are referring always to water baptism. But note in Luke 11:50 in Greek, Jesus uses the word “baptism” and a form of the word “baptized” to refer to His death on the Cross and not to water baptism. In Mark 10:38-39, Jesus uses the words “baptism” and “baptized” to refer to His own death and the sufferings of His disciples and not to water baptism. So we need to be very careful not to take all verses in the New Testament which refer to baptism as meaning water baptism.


Being baptised into Christ and baptism in Romans 6


Romans 6:3-4 states: “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”

Note the following points:

·         Romans 6:3-4 does not teach that we are eternally saved and justified by merely being water baptised. This is because this would contradict Paul’s emphasis in the rest of the Book of Romans. In Romans 1:16, 1:17, 3:22, 3:25-26, 3:27-28, 3:30, 4:3, 4:5-6, 4:9, 4:13, 4:16, 4:22-25, 5:1, 5:2, 9:30, 10:3-4, 10:6, 10:9, 10:10, 10:13, 10:14, 11:23 and 13:11, Paul stresses that we are saved and/or justified through personal faith in the Lord Jesus. This is 23 verses or passages. It would be ridiculous if we interpret Romans 6:3-4 contrary to these 23 verses and passages.

·         The expressions “were baptized into Christ Jesus” and “baptism” in Romans 6:3-4 may not refer to water baptism. Instead they may refer to being immersed into Jesus Christ's Spirit. Remember as stated earlier, in Mark 10:38-39 and Luke 11:50 Jesus used the words “baptized” and “baptism” to mean other things than water baptism.

If, however, these two expressions do refer to water baptism, they are not teaching that we are regenerated by the Holy Spirit and justified through water baptism. Instead they mean that water baptism is the sign or outward witness or symbolic type of the fact that true believers have been identified with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection, have been regenerated in the resurrection life of the Holy Spirit and are justified (see Romans 6:3-11). In Greek, the expression “has been freed from sin” refers to aspects of justification.


The danger of interpreting verses in isolation


The danger of taking isolated verses about water baptism to attempt to prove we are saved through water baptism is seen if we take Paul’s words about women in 1 Timothy 2:15 alone in a way contrary to other verses on salvation: “Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control.” This verse can be wrongly interpreted to mean that women can be saved by a combination of faith, love, holiness, self-control and bearing children. This would foolishly mean that women who had saving faith but who did not bear children, would be sent to hell.




[1] Bauer, page 76.

[2] Louw and Nida, page 593.

[3] Vine, page 236.

[4] Bauer, page 131 and Perschbacher, page 66.

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