Summary: How should a person be baptized, who should be baptized, and why should a person be baptized?
A young pastor, fresh out of seminary, was conducting his first baptismal service. In his nervousness, he got his Scriptures confused concerning baptism and the Lord’s Supper: “I now baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” As he lowered the convert into the water, he added, “And now drink ye all of it.”
Baptism is our way of announcing to the world that we are FOLLOWERS OF JESUS CHRIST. It is a public declaration of our private decision.
1. How should a person be baptized? Answer: By IMMERSION.
The practice of baptism in the New Testament was carried out in one way: the person being baptized was immersed or put completely under the water and then brought back up again. This is clear for the following reasons:
Reason #1: The Greek word baptizo means “to PLUNGE, DIP, IMMERSE” something in water.
This is the commonly recognized and standard meaning of the term in ancient Greek literature both inside and outside the Bible.
Reason #2: “Immerse” is the most natural meaning for baptizo in several New Testament passages.
In Mark 1:5, people were baptized by John “in the river Jordan” (not “beside” or “by” or “near” the river). Mark also tells us that when Jesus had been baptized “he came up out of the water” (Mark 1:10). The Greek text specifies that He came “out of” the water, not that He came away from it. The fact that John and Jesus went into the river and came up out of it strongly suggests immersion, since sprinkling or pouring of water could much more easily have been done standing beside the river, particularly because multitudes of people were coming for baptism. John’s gospel tells us, further, that John the Baptist was “baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water” (John 3:23). Again, it would not take “plenty of water” (“much water” KJV) to baptize people by sprinkling, but it would take much water to baptize by immersion.
When Philip had shared the gospel with the Ethiopian eunuch, “as they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, ‘Look, here is water! Why shouldn’t I be baptized?’” (Acts 8:36). Apparently neither of them thought that sprinkling or pouring a handful of water from the container of drinking water that would have been carried in the chariot was enough to constitute baptism. Rather, they waited until there was a body of water near the road. Then “he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught up Philip; and the eunuch saw him not more, and went on his way rejoicing” (Acts 8:38-39). This baptism occurred when Philip and the eunuch went down into a body of water, and after the baptism they came up out of that body of water.
Reason #3: Baptism by immersion captures the symbolism of UNION with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection.
Our statement of faith says that baptism “is the immersion of the believer in water, whereby he obeys Christ’s command and sets forth his identification with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection.”
“Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We are 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” (Rom. 6:3-4).
“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” (Col. 2:12).
When the person being baptized goes down into the water, it is a picture of going down into the grave and being buried. Coming up out of the water is then a picture of being raised with Christ to walk in newness of life. Baptism very clearly pictures death to one’s old way of life and rising to a new kind of life in Christ. But baptism by sprinkling or pouring simply misses this symbolism.
In fact, the waters of baptism have an even richer symbolism than simply the symbolism of the grave. The waters also remind us of the waters of God’s judgment that came upon unbelievers at the time of the flood (Gen. 7:6-24), or the drowning of the Egyptians in the Exodus (Ex. 14:26-29). Similarly, when Jonah was thrown into the sea (Jonah 1:7-16), he was thrown to the place of death because of God’s judgment on his disobedience—even though he was miraculously rescued and thus became a sign of the resurrection. Therefore those who go down into the waters of baptism really are going down into the waters of judgment and death, death that they deserve from God for their sins. When they come back up out of the waters it shows that they have come safely through God’s judgment only because of the merits of Jesus Christ, with whom they are united in His death and resurrection. This is why Peter can say in 1 Peter 3:21 that baptism “symbolizes” the saving of Noah and his family from the waters of judgment in the flood.