Observations Regarding Baptism

vanhetloo_baptism.jpgGod leaves much unreported, not to encourage our speculation, but probably to suggest to us that some things are not terribly important. John the Immerser introduced a new form by which to honor God and along with it an emphasis on its spiritual significance as portraying a personal determination to die unto former fleshly patterns and to begin displaying those patterns of proper conduct expected of God. Both the form and the significance continued to be evident in the water immersions during the public ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ.

God directed to be recorded, “Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John, (Though Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples)” (John 4:1-2). Reaction by the Pharisees led Jesus to leave for Galilee (3). Two things suggested in this passage are not directly asserted. There is no hint of any sort that those disciples who had been immersed by John were re-immersed when they began following Jesus. Both the form and significance introduced by John seem to have continued, appointed by God, not by man.

One change is noted. Accounts only mention that John performed immersions, but Jesus did not do so, only His disciples. That would seem to stress that the one performing the immersion is not the important one; it is the action and witness of the one being immersed that are important. Disciples of Jesus performed the rite. The same pattern is evident in connection with the immersions of believers at Corinth. There was no insistence on Paul doing the immersing. In fact, he seems to have immersed very few, recalling at first that he had immersed only Crispus and Gaius and the household of Stephanus (1 Cor. 1:14-16). For the immersion of John and for Christian immersion, the genuine intent of the penitent was important, not the one performing the immersion.

Two passages in Acts further emphasize what was considered important by God. A Jew named Apollos preached and diligently taught things of the Lord, knowing only the immersion of John (18:24-25). Two believers explained unto him the way of God more fully (26) such that he mightily convinced the Jews, publicly showing by the Scriptures that Jesus was Messiah (28). There is no hint that he was re-immersed. The form and significance seemed to continue. What was new was the prophetic intent of John’s immersion, that it pointed to the Messiah promised in the Old Testament, which he began proclaiming.

A second passage emphasizes the other prophetic aspect of John’s immersion. About twelve in Ephesus were among disciples there. Paul inquired of them whether they had received the Holy Spirit when they believed (19:1-2, 7). They replied that they had not even heard about a Holy Spirit (2). Paul inquired next about their immersion. “Unto what then were ye immersed? And they said, Unto John’s baptism” (3). They understood the form and significance, but not the prophetic intent. So Paul explained, “John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus” (4). “When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (5).

Suggested, but not directly asserted: Apollos had shown evidence of the Holy Spirit in his life; these twelve did not. Presumably, true believers had all received the Holy Spirit at the same time at Pentecost, even those who had not been not present in the 120. Only a guess: these twelve had learned of John’s immersion following Pentecost, but had not heard of its predictive aspects. For them, God gave an evident certification, not just an indwelling, but also an unusual filling of the Holy Spirit such that they were immediately able to witness in other languages (not necessarily unlearned), proclaiming God’s truth (6).

Warren VanhetlooWarren Vanhetloo has A.B., B.D., Th.M., Th.D., and D.D. degrees. He served three pastorates in Michigan, taught 20 years at Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN), taught 23 years at Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary (Lansdale, PA), and is listed as adjunct faculty at Calvary. Retired, he lives in Holland, Michigan. At the urging of fellow faculty and former students, he sends an email newsletter called “Cogitations” to those who request it. You may send e-mail to him at cbsvan@sbcglobal.net.
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