Summary: What does the Bible teach about Christian baptism?
A story is told of a preacher who liked to preach on water baptism. Week after week he preached about it. Finally, the deacons asked him to preach a sermon on Genesis 1:1. They said, “Let’s see him get a sermon on baptism out of that.” When he got up to preach, he said, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth is 2/3s water. Today’s subject is Water Baptism.”
We laugh, but the fact is, to ignore what the Bible teaches on baptism is no laughing matter. There are 3 commonly asked questions about baptism. Let’s consider them and notice the answers the Bible gives.
1. Who is to be baptized? – v. 36-37
Some of your Bibles have verse 37, while some do not. Those that do not, like the NIV, have a footnote, letting you know what that verse is omitted. It is because the oldest manuscripts do not have that verse.
The idea is like the old game, where people pass along a message, only to find it has changed by the time it reaches the 100th person in line. The theory is that the manuscripts closest to the original will be most like the original. Why is this important? Because we believe the Bible was inspired by God as to be without error in the original manuscripts.
We don’t know if we possess the “autograph” copies, so scholars give greater weight to those that are oldest. Often, there is little difference in the message, even when a disputed verse isn’t included. If verse 37 wasn’t part of the original text, the answer to the Eunuch’s question is obvious. He could be baptized because he had placed his faith in Jesus.
That’s the answer to the first question - only those who believe on Christ as their personal Savior are qualified to be baptized. The reason for this is because of what baptism signifies. Jesus commanded His church to go make disciples and to baptize them as a way to identify themselves as belonging to Him (Matthew 28:19-20).
This command made perfect sense to our Lord’s disciples.
The Jewish term for baptism is “Mikvah, ”which is full immersion for the purpose to symbolize cleansing. In the Old Testament, this is a ritual people go through if they had been considered “unclean” due to an illness, or touching a dead body, or for any other of the things which might cause one to be considered “unclean” and thus, unfit to worship God or associate with the people of God.
Jesus instituted the “Mikvah” as a symbol that one has repented and placed their faith in the Messiah (Jesus) and thus, received the cleansing made possible through His sacrifice on the cross.
- Messianic Rabbi Barney Kasdan -
A wedding ring is an outward sign that a person is married. Similarly, water baptism is designed by God to identify a person as a disciple (follower) of Jesus Christ.
This is why infants are not to be baptized. An infant cannot decide to become a follower of Christ. Only one with an awareness of their
accountability to God can knowingly repent and choose to be saved.
So, how did the practice of infant baptism develop? As a result of the false teaching that baptism saves. But one isn’t baptized to be saved, but they are baptized because they have been saved (Acts 2:41; 8:12; 8:36; 9:18; 10:47-48; 16:14-15; 16:32-33; 18:8; 19:4-5). As the false teaching that baptism saves spread, the conclusion was that people needed to be baptized as young as possible. Hence, infant baptism.
But baptism doesn’t save. It doesn’t matter if your baptism was by
immersion, pouring, or sprinkling - if you haven’t trusted Christ for salvation, baptism (no matter the method) is meaningless and useless.
“He saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit.” - Titus 3:5 (NLT)
Water baptism is a step of obedience to be done after salvation as a public profession of faith in Christ and identification with Him.
2. When are they to be baptized? – v. 36
The Bible says we should be baptized as soon as it can be arranged. Baptism isn’t to be put off. Why? Because Christ commanded His
followers to publicly declare that through baptism; and if I am serious about following Jesus, I will want to do what to do His will.
Someone answered the question of “How is God’s will done in heaven?” with “right away!” Well, that also applied to being baptized. We should be baptized as soon as we possibly can.
How do you supposed that Baptists got their name? Why are we called “Baptists?” Well, the reason for our name is that the group that became the first “Baptists” felt the need to return to the Bible with respect to their faith and practice.