by Shawn Brasseaux
Christendom teaches us that the Lord Jesus Christ left two ordinances for the Church the Body of Christ: water baptism and the Lord’s Supper. However, this is not what God’s Word teaches. I spent about 15 years of my life in Baptist churches, and I often heard the expression: “Water baptism is the first step of obedience after salvation. We should follow the Lord Jesus by also being water baptized.” Water baptism is most definitely in the Bible, but is it for us today? In this article, we want to study how the Bible uses the term “baptism.”
In Matthew 20:22,23, Jesus makes reference to a “baptism” He has yet to be baptized with. Now we know Jesus was already water baptized in Matthew 3:13-17. It is apparent from the context of Matthew 20:22,23 that Jesus referred to His crucifixion as a “baptism.” The Lord Jesus Christ was telling His audience that He was going to identify with death.
Or, in Matthew 3:11 alone, there are three “baptisms”: John’s water baptism, baptism with the Holy Spirit (a reference to Pentecost in Acts chapter 2), and baptism with fire (alluding to the judgment and wrath of God during the Tribulation and Second Coming of Christ).
Was Jesus water baptized in order to set an example for us to follow today? The answer is an emphatic no. Water baptism is not a “New Testament ordinance,” as religion teaches—water baptism is an Old Testament teaching associated with the nation Israel. Furthermore, the word “baptism” in the Bible does not always refer to water baptism. In fact, there are more than one dozen “baptisms” and many are totally unrelated to water.
So, why was Jesus water baptized? We have to study the Old Testament for the answer. Let us begin by understanding God’s purpose in creating the nation Israel in the first place. The LORD God took Abram (later He renamed him Abraham) and He promised Abraham a son, Isaac. Through Isaac, a new nation would begin, the nation Israel, the Jewish race of people. In a kingdom on earth, God would rule Israel, and Israel would evangelize the Gentiles (non-Jews) (Genesis 12:1-3).
After the Abrahamic Covenant was made, Israel went into Egyptian bondage. Nearly 500 years after Abraham, Moses leads Israel out of Egypt, and the nation Israel is now assembled around Mount Sinai. Let us see what Exodus 19:3-6 KJV says:
“3 And Moses went up unto God, and the LORD called unto him out of the mountain, saying, Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel;
4 Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself.
5 Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine:
6 And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.”
As we continue this study, keep in mind that Israel was to be a “kingdom of priests” (verse 6).
If you are unfamiliar with the Old Testament priesthood in Israel, I will take the time to explain it. The Tabernacle was the proto-Temple, and once a year (the Day of Atonement; Leviticus chapter 16 and Hebrews 9:7), the Lord commanded Israel’s high priest to offer blood sacrifices for Israel’s sins. The holy presence of the Lord God was in a special back room of the Tabernacle, called the Holy of Holies.
It was here on the “mercy seat” (the lid of the Ark of the Covenant) that the Israeli high priest would sprinkle animal blood. Israel’s priests, the Levites (also known as the sons of Aaron), would have to wash with water before coming into the presence of the holy God in the Tabernacle. In the Tabernacle courtyard (the outer part of the Tabernacle), there was a brass laver (tub) filled with water, in which the priest would wash his body before dressing in the ephod (priest’s clothing). See Exodus 30:17-21 for more information on this.
Recall that we read Exodus 19:6 where the LORD promised Israel would become a “kingdom of priests.” In that kingdom with Jesus Christ ruling, every Jew would be a priest of JEHOVAH. When Jesus Christ finally makes His appearance in Israel, John the Baptist is water baptizing repentant Jews in Matthew 3:1-6. John the Baptist’s message to Israel is “Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). Why is John the Baptist baptizing Jews? To prepare them for that kingdom (which Christ offered during His First Advent), and these Jews needed to be ceremonially cleansed in order to qualify as priests of JEHOVAH!
John’s water baptism did not surprise Israel; they were familiar with the water baptism their priests practiced all the years before John! In John 1:31, John the Baptist says: “And I knew him [Jesus] not: but that he [Jesus] should be made manifest to Israel, therefore I am come baptizing with water.”
Jesus was water baptized to identify with His people, the Jews, to encourage them to do the same, and for God to set them apart from the pagan Gentiles. Jesus did not set an example for us today, because Jesus was ministering to Jews under the Law (Matthew 10:5-7; Matthew 15:24; John 4:22; Romans 15:8). The Church the Body of Christ would be a Pauline revelation given sometime after Christ’s earthly ministry.
According to one local church’s statement of faith, “Baptism is an ordinance of the Lord Jesus, obligatory upon every believer, wherein he is immersed in water in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, as a sign of his fellowship with the death and resurrection of Christ, of remission of sins, and of his giving himself up to God, to live and walk in newness of life.”
However, this water baptism in the name of the three Persons of the Godhead is only found in Matthew 28:19, which were the words of the Lord Jesus to His twelve Jewish apostles under the Law! God does not instruct us Gentiles to water baptize today. And if you notice, this church claims that water baptism is “obligatory” and an “ordinance”—legalism is filled with ordinances and obligations. We need to clear up this confusion, and rid ourselves of denominational teaching. Some denominations pervert the Gospel of Grace by making water baptism part of your salvation; it is a serious error to say you have to be water baptized in order to be saved or to prove that you are saved!
The Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 4:4-6 KJV seven distinct principles we Christians need to recognize today:
“4 There is one body [the body of Christ], and one [Holy] Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;
5 One Lord, one faith, one baptism,
6 One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”
Today, various Christian denominations practice many types of baptism: baptism in the Holy Spirit (mimicking Acts chapter 2 and Pentecost), water baptism by immersion, water baptism by pouring, water baptism by sprinkling, x times forward, x times backward, in a river, in a pool, in a baptismal, by a pastor, by a priest, by a pope, and so on. What a confusing mess because these people are ignoring what Paul wrote. There is one baptism today according to Ephesians 4:5, and it has nothing to do with any of those baptisms we just mentioned.
That one baptism to which Paul is referring in Ephesians 4:5 is found in 1 Corinthians 12:13 KJV: “For by one [Holy] Spirit we are all baptized into one body [the body of Christ], whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.” Pay special attention to the first part of that verse. Who is doing the baptizing: a pastor, a priest, a pope? None of them. It is the Holy Spirit taking a lost person and placing he or she into the Church the Body of Christ the moment he or she trusts in the Gospel of Grace of 1 Corinthians 15:1-4. If you have trusted exclusively in the Lord Jesus Christ as your personal Saviour, the Holy Spirit has already placed you in the Church the Body of Christ! You already have that one baptism that you need, and you need no other baptism.
Paul never instructs us to be water baptized at all (we do not need water baptism, even for a “testimony”). We find Paul write in 1 Corinthians 1:17 KJV: “Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel….” Why would Paul write that Christ did not send him to water baptize, yet Christ sent His twelve apostles of Israel to water baptize in Matthew 28:19? Today in the Dispensation of Grace, the Holy Spirit is performing the only baptism—the supernatural baptism of 1 Corinthians 12:13, the one unrelated to water. The water baptism of Jesus and the water baptism of John the Baptist was God dealing with Israel in the Dispensation of Law, but now God is dealing with us (non-Jewish) Gentiles under a different set of circumstances.
We do not need Israel’s water baptism today because God is doing something differently with us in the Church the Body of Christ. Furthermore, we are not baptized with the Holy Spirit like they were on the Day of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2; the Holy Spirit has baptized us into the Church Body of Christ. That is why I have not been water baptized, and I never will be because I already have that one baptism I need, the dry baptism of 1 Corinthians 12:13.
By the way, contrary to religious tradition, Romans 6:1-5, Galatians 3:27, and Colossians 2:12 are not speaking of water baptism. These verses refer to the dry baptism of 1 Corinthians 12:13. Those who have been placed into Christ by the Holy Spirit have already been identified with His death, burial, and resurrection.
If someone claims you need to be water baptized to either complete your salvation or to prove your salvation (“follow the Lord in believer’s baptism”), they have NO Pauline Scripture to support either claim. We do not prove our salvation by being water baptized like the nation Israel did in times past.
God does not command us in the Dispensation of Grace to be water baptized as a testimony. Do not let someone force anything on you and try to make you a member of their church just to increase funds. The important thing to remember is as long as you are a member of the Church the Body of Christ (and have been baptized supernaturally by the Holy Spirit into the Body of Christ), that is the one baptism that you need that counts for all eternity.
What “baptism” is this: “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?” (1 Corinthians 15:29 KJV). Today, there are some groups in Christendom that use this verse to teach that we should water baptize for the dead (“baptism by proxy,” “baptism in abstentia”). Exactly what is the Apostle Paul saying in 1 Corinthians 15:29? Should we be water baptizing for the dead?
Firstly, the context of this verse cannot aid us in defining that term “baptized for the dead.” We have no idea what “baptism” this is (and even those people who enjoy using 1 Corinthians 15:29 have no idea what the verse is saying). The Corinthians were once pagan, and pagan religions have their water rituals and rites. Whatever “baptism” that is in 1 Corinthians 15:29, it was probably something the Corinthians knew (from the time when they were lost). Remember that that the same pagans that baptize for the dead today existed then in Paul’s day, so Paul may be referring to that. (?)
If we look at the verse, we see “what shall they do which are baptized for the dead” and “why are they then baptized for the dead?” Because Paul uses “they,” we know he does not associate himself with this baptism (he would have used “we”) and we know that the Christians at Corinth are not related to that baptism (he would have used “you” or “us”). The word “they” indicates that no member of the Body of Christ was performing this baptism of 1 Corinthians 15:29—this was not something for Christians.
If you come across people who want to discuss 1 Corinthians 15:29, point out to them that Paul never condoned whatever “baptism” it was, and we are never commanded to administer it. Paul was simply making a point, not giving a command. If it was such a big deal, Paul would have repeated it in other epistles. Furthermore, the whole argument of 1 Corinthians 15:29 is not that “baptism” at all. The purpose of 1 Corinthians chapter 15 is to prove resurrection, not “baptism.” There are 58 verses on resurrection, and the only thing people can come up with is one silly baptism doctrine. Shame, shame, shame!!