FAITH, REPENTANCE, BAPTISM
AND SALVATION: PART FOUR
In Part Three of this series we saw that water baptism, while not being a precondition to receiving the gift of salvation, is the customary manner in which our repentance towards God and faith in Christ is publicly confirmed. This takes us to a discussion of the mode of baptism. As we have already covered, the Greek words for baptize and baptism have the basic meaning of immersion or to dip. Since this is the basic meaning of these Greek words, some Christians believe water baptism can only mean to fully immerse a person in water. Such full immersion of the body in water is seen as symbolically being plunged into the death of Christ and when lifted out of the water symbolically being resurrected with Christ. For those who take this approach, baptism means full immersion and can’t mean anything but full immersion. Scriptural support for this position is seen in Paul’s teaching in Romans 6 and Colossians 2.
Romans 6:3-5: 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.
Colossians 2:11-12: In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.
If Paul is indeed using the words baptized and baptism in these passages to signify our being buried and raised with Christ through water baptism, this would appear to be a good argument for seeing baptism as full immersion in water and nothing else. However, as previously discussed, some scholars believe Paul is not referencing water baptism in these passages at all but instead is using the Greek baptizo and baptismos to teach we are immersed into Christ and through Christ raised to a newness of life.
Paul writes of being buried with Christ in baptism (immersion). Burial is usually seen as the act of placing someone in a grave and covering them up with dirt. Baptism is often seen as symbolic of such burial. However, Christ wasn't buried in a grave. He wasn't covered with dirt. Christ was placed in a tomb. His dead body was above ground as is witnessed to by the women bringing spices to anoint Jesus' body (Mark 16:1).
In Romans six, Paul speaks of being baptized into Christ Jesus which he sees as equivalent to being baptized into His death. In 2 Corinthians 5:14, Paul, in referring to Christ, writes that "one died for all and therefore all died." Is Paul, in his comments to the Romans and Colossians, saying water baptism is the method whereby one is buried into the death of Christ or, is he not speaking of water baptism at all but of being plunged into the death of Christ through faith in Christ's sacrifice?
Paul wrote to the Romans that, "we have been united with him like this in his death" How are we united with Christ in His death? Paul wrote to the Galatians that he was crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20). In saying this, Paul is again alluding to our dying with Christ. Paul's emphasis appears to be on our being immersed into the death of Christ and not so much on the act of water baptism as a symbol of such immersion.
In Ephesians 4:5, Paul speaks of there being "one Lord, one faith, one baptism." Is Paul addressing water baptism? When Paul speaks of there being "one baptism," is he speaking of there being one water baptism? As already covered in this series, the English word baptism is taken from the Greek word baptizo which has the basic meaning of "to immerse." Is Paul saying there is only "one baptism," as opposed to some other kind of baptism? Is Paul saying there is only one way to be baptized and that is to be immersed in water? Is Paul using the word baptism (immersion) as pertaining to our spiritual immersion into the death of Christ through faith and repentance and not alluding to water baptism at all? Is Paul using baptizo as a general reference to using water as signifying a cleansing from sin?
Many believe baptizo (immersion) can mean having water sprinkled or poured on a person and is symbolic of ones sins being washed away. Under this perspective it isn’t necessary to go under the water to symbolize the salvation that comes through the death and resurrection of Christ. Water is simply being used to represent a cleansing from sin. Scriptural support for this position is taken from passages in the OT that use water to symbolize the washing away of sin.
Isaiah 1:16: When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong.
Ezekiel 36:24-25: "`For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols.”
Psalm 51:1-2: Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.
It is interesting to note that the Greek baptizo is twice used in the NT to show an action that is clearly not immersion of the entire body in water. In Luke 11:38 we read of a Pharisee being surprised that Jesus did not wash before a meal. The Greek translated wash is baptizo.
Luke 11:38: But the Pharisee, noticing that Jesus did not first wash (baptizo) before the meal, was surprised.
The Greek word translated “wash” in this passage is an aorist passive of baptizo and literally means "be baptized before dinner.” There is no reason to believe the Pharisee was expecting Jesus to fully immerse Himself in water before eating a meal. The Pharisee was concerned that Jesus didn’t wash His hands.
In speaking of the Pharisees and Jews in general, Mark’s gospel points out that they were diligent to always wash their hands before eating. Here again the Greek baptizo is used.
Mark 7:3-4. The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash (baptizo). And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing (baptismos) of cups, pitchers and kettles.
Once again baptizo is used to designate the use of water in the washing of hands and not of having the whole body submersed in water. Baptismos is a passive or middle voice of baptizo. So while the basic meaning of the Greek baptizo and baptismos is to immerse or dip, we see that it is not always used to designate the immersing or dipping of the entire body in water but is also used to designate the dipping of a part of the body in water such as the hands, as well as, the immersing or dipping into water of things such as cups, pitchers and kettles.
Is it possible that when we see the Greek baptizo used to designate water baptism in association with conversion that it does not necessarily mean submersion of the entire body in water but can also mean having part of the body immersed in water as occurs when you wash your hands.
Because the basic meaning of baptizo is to immerse or dip, it is easy to assume that baptizo must always mean the entire body must be immersed or dipped into water when baptism is performed in association with becoming a Christian. We see in the Scriptures baptisms being performed in the Jordan River and other places where there was much water and we assume people were always totally immersed. When we add the symbolism of such immersion reflecting being buried with Christ in His death and raised with Christ in His resurrection, it appears to give further credence to the belief that baptism must involve the entire body being immersed in water for baptism to have any meaning.
Otherwise why baptize in a lake or a large body of water? Why not just go to the kitchen sink, fill a container with some water and pour it over someone’s head? Well, let’s take a look at that. Is it possible to pour water over someone’s head or simply sprinkle them with water to facilitate baptism? Is it possible that is how some baptisms were performed in the NT? Let’s for the sake of discussion, take a practical look at some NT baptisms.
We are all familiar with Paul being knocked off his horse on the road to Damascus, losing his sight and becoming a believer in Christ. When the disciple Ananias came to the house where Paul was staying and facilitated the restoring of Paul’s sight, the indication is that Paul was immediately baptized.
Acts 9:17-18: Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, "Brother Saul, the Lord--Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here--has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit." Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul's eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized.
Was Paul immediately rushed to the Jordan River to be baptized? Paul was in Damascus, many miles from the Jordan River. Was there a lake or other body of water close by that Paul could be dunked in? Was there a tub of water in the house big enough for Paul’s entire body to be immersed in? Scripture records that Paul got up and was baptized. While we don’t know how much time elapsed between Paul getting up and being baptized, the implication is that it was right after having his sight restored. Is it possible water was used in some way other than total immersion to baptize Paul?
In Acts 16 we have the account of Paul and Silas being in prison when at midnight a violent wind sprang open the prison doors. The jailer was terrified at the potential consequences he faced for allowing the prisoners to escape and was about to kill himself. However, Paul and Silas and the other prisoners did not leave and the long and short of the story is that the jailer and his family accepted the Gospel message Paul and Silas shared with them. What happened next?
Acts 16:33: At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized.
Paul and Silas were in a jail in Philippi, a Roman colony in Macedonia. It was the middle of the night. It was dark. Upon conversion, the jailer and his family were immediately baptized. Was there a body of water big enough in or near the jail that could accommodate fully immersing the jailer and members of his family? We don’t know. There could have been and then again there might not have been. If there wasn’t a body of water available for full immersion, was baptism accomplished through the use of water in some way other than full immersion?
In Acts 10 we have the account of Cornelius and his family hearing the Gospel message from Peter at the home of Cornelius and upon giving evidence of receiving the Holy Spirit, Cornelius and his family were baptized. What is interesting about this account is that Peter refers to being baptized with water not in water.
Acts 10 47-48: "Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have." So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.
Again we have a situation were baptism appears to immediately follow conversion. Was there a body of water close by to accommodate full immersion or was baptism accomplished by partial immersion where water was poured or applied in some other way? We don’t know. But the circumstances of the three baptism accounts just covered could imply a baptism that was not necessarily full immersion in a body of water.
In Part Two of this series we asked were John the Baptist may have picked up on the idea of water baptism and speculated that it may have been from examples found in the OT were water was used on several occasions to symbolize cleansing from sin. John may have also been aware of the practice of baptism for the purpose of purification in some ancient pagan religions.
There is documented practice of baptism in some pagan religions which appear to be based on belief in the purifying properties of water. There is evidence that water was used in ancient Babylon as a spiritual cleansing agent. In Egypt there is record of new born children being baptized to purify the newborn of blemishes acquired in the womb. Water from the Nile River was used to baptize the dead as it was believed such water had regenerative powers. It appears Egyptian cults developed the idea of regeneration through water.
In the Greek world, baptism was associated with immortality. The religions of the Greek world often included the practice of either immersion or a washing of the body for the purpose of purification or initiation. Use of water in various ways in pagan religions has been found to be associated with symbolizing the turning of ones life around and embarking on a new beginning. Some scholars believe that many ancient religions practiced some form of spiritual cleansing through washing or immersion in water.
Cleansing under the Old Covenant:
The use of water to accomplish cleansing was common in ancient Israel. While such cleansing often involved the washing away of physical impurities, there seems to often be a spiritual significance to such washings as well. Even before the giving of the law we see water being used to prepare people to come before God.
Exodus 19:10-11: And the LORD said to Moses, "Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes and be ready by the third day, because on that day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people.
Here washing appears to be associated with not only the cleaning of their clothes but preparing the people spiritually for their appearance before God.
The Law given to Israel required washings for a variety of reasons for both the priests and Israelites in general. A reading of Leviticus 14 and 15 reveals water being used in a variety of ways to signify cleansing from various diseases and other impurities. In Leviticus 16 we see water used in the purification of priests before they can perform various priestly duties. In Numbers 19 we see water used as a cleansing agent for a variety of purposes and actually referred to as water of cleansing for purification from sin in association with the ashes from the sacrifice of the red heifer.
The Israelites had been given a command to kill a red heifer that was without blemish and the priest Eleazar was to sprinkle its blood toward the front of the Tent of Meeting. Then the heifer was to be completely burned and the ashes removed to a clean place outside the camp. Here is what was to be done with the ashes:
Leviticus 19:9: A man who is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer and put them in a ceremonially clean place outside the camp. They shall be kept by the Israelite community for use in the water of cleansing; it is for purification from sin.
So here we see a ritual where ashes of a unblemished slain young female cow are apparently mixed with water and used in some manner to facilitate purification from sin.
Toward the beginning of the Christian era, the Jews began to baptize proselytes to Judaism seven days after their circumcision. Such proselytes had to go through a type of interrogation where they were judged as to whether they were ready to become integrated into the Jewish religious community. After submitting to these interrogations, they were circumcised and later baptized before witnesses. Such baptism involved being immersed naked in a pool of flowing water. After their baptism, new converts were allowed access to the sacrifices in the Temple. Maybe this is where John got the idea for baptism.
It should also be noted that in first century Jerusalem and extending into other parts of the land of Israel there were many mikvahs. Mikvahs were ritual baths. Archeologists have discovered a number of them, especially near where the temple once stood. The word mikvah means “collection.” It refers to a collection of water for the purpose of ceremonial washing. Ceremonial wishing was practiced in ancient Israel and continued to be practiced in first century Israel. Archeological findings indicate that some mikvahs were deep and allowed for full immersion of the body while other mikvahs were shallow and did not provide for full immersion. However, full immersion in a mikvah appears to have been the standard practice and is still practiced today in the Jewish community.
The Dead Scrolls reveal that participants in the Qumran community to which the Dead Sea scrolls pertain also practiced ritual washings. In fragment 4Q414 of the Dead Sea scrolls you find reference to using water for cleansing and purification before God. Because the following is a fragment, you will see words missing but you should get the gist of what was being said from the words that are available.
For You made me (...) Your will is that we cleanse ourselves before (...) and he established for himself a statute of atonement (...) and to be in righteous purity and he shall bathe in water and sprinkle upon (...) (...) And then they return from the water (...) cleansing His people in the waters of bathing (...) second time upon his station. And he shall say in response : "Blessed are You (...) (...) Your purification in Your glory (...) (...) eternally. And today (...).
From the ritual baths that have been discovered by archeologists at Qumran where the Dead Sea scrolls were discovered, it would appear that they were deep enough for total immersion and this may have been the standard practice of the Qumran Community. However, in the Baptismal Liturgy cited above, it appears that being sprinkled upon was also acceptable. .
History of Water Baptism in Christianity:
We know that water baptism was a common response to conversion to Christianity in the first century. We have already seen possible indicators from the Scriptures that baptism at times may not have been accomplished though total immersion in water. Is there additional information we can go to that indicates full immersion was not the only way for baptism to take place?
The oldest known reference to water baptism outside the NT Scriptures is a document called the Didache.’ A Greek copy of this document was discovered in 1873 as part of an eleventh century Christian manuscript. Since its discovery in the nineteenth century, fragments of the Didache’ have been found in a variety of ancient documents in a number of different languages. The Didache’ is mentioned by the church historian Eusebius in 324 A.D. Some of the early church fathers felt the Didache’ should have been included in the cannon of NT Scripture and it actually is included in some early canons of Scriptures along with such documents as The Shepherd of Hermas and the epistle of Barnabas.
Most scholars believe the Didache’ is a late first century to early second century work apparently written by Jewish Christians. It provides insights into how the early church conducted its services and how it carried on as followers of Christ. Here is what this document says about baptism.
“Now as regards baptism, thus baptize: having first rehearsed all these things, baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in running water. But if you have not running water, baptize in other water; and if you cannot in cold, then warm. But if you have neither, pour water upon the head three times” (Chapter 7).
While the Didache’ isn’t canonized Scripture and its origin and date of composition is uncertain, all indications are that it does reflect some rather early practices of Christians and what we see is baptism not only being performed in running water but in other ways as well, such as pouring water upon the head.
When one takes into consideration how water has been used to signify cleansing for impurities including the impurities of sin, it appears that the primary purpose for Christian baptism is to signify the removal of sin through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Since water as symbolic of cleansing from sin is applied in different ways in Scripture, it my not be prudent to insist that completely immersing ones body in water is the only acceptable way to use water to symbolize ones faith and repentance in turning to Christ.
Total immersion of ones body in water may have been the most likely practice in the early church as total Immersion more perfectly pictures our dying and being buried with Christ than is true of sprinkling or pouring. However, both sprinkling and pouring pictures cleansing and cleansing appears to be a primary Scriptural symbol for having ones sins forgiven. It must also be reiterated that it is the death and resurrection of Jesus that facilitates forgiveness and removal of the death penalty for sin. The use of water in whatever mode is only a representation of the cleansing that occurs through the shed blood of Christ. It is faith in the shed blood of Christ for the remission of sin that immerses us in Christ. Baptism, regardless of its form, is only a symbol of our immersion into Christ. Baptism does not immerse us into Christ. That is accomplished through the power of the Spirit of God.
In this four part series on the relationship between faith, repentance, baptism and salvation, we have seen that faith and repentance are a required response to the gift of salvation that has been provided through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Such faith and repentance in no way earns us salvation but is a necessary response to this gift in order for salvation to be effectuated in our lives. Remember my example of giving you the gift of a new car. In order to get the car you had to first believe I really was going to give you the car and then you had to act on that belief by taking the required steps to receive the car which included agreeing to take proper care of the car once you received it. Once you had the car you were expected to show it off and give witness to the free gift I gave you.
This is the way faith, repentance and baptism relate to salvation. Faith and repentance are conditions that must be met for God to grant us the gift of salvation. Invariably the receiving of a gift is based on some criterion for receiving the gift. Even receiving a birthday gift is based on the criterion that you have reached a certain age. God’s gift of salvation is based on the criterion that we really believe in the reality of His gift and respect His gift by our willingness to change our behavior to correspond to the nature of His gift.
Upon receiving this gift, God expects us to give witness to this gift, initially through a public confirmation that the gift has been given (baptism) and in ongoing confirmation through living the Law of love. While baptism does not appear to be a required precondition to receiving the gift of salvation as does faith and repentance, it does appear to be an expected response to the salvation that has been effectuated in our life following faith and repentance.
I trust this series has been helpful in identifying the role of faith, repentance and baptism relative to our receiving God's gift of salvation.