Part 1 - What is the place of Water Baptism in Scripture?
There are several baptisms to be found in the Bible, does Water-Baptism apply for anyone today?
We will answer this question as we proceed, but first, let’s consider these important verses. Paul wrote these verses as the “Apostle to the Gentiles” (Rom. 11:13) of a dry (waterless) baptism concerning today’s church which Paul called “the body of Christ” (cf. Eph. 1:22b-23a).
“As many of us as were baptized into Christ were baptized into his death.” Romans 6:3 (KJV)
“Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.” Colossians 2:12 (KJV)
Later we will discuss in detail how Paul’s baptism is waterless (dry), which is totally unlike John the Baptist’s baptism of repentance that applied to Israel. But first we need to understand
The general Scriptural usage the word ‘baptism’ indicates ‘complete identification,’ whether with an element, a person, or a group. This is why Paul tells us the only way to become one with Christ is by Identifying Ourselves With Him “through the faith of the operation of God” (cf. Col. 2:12). That is, to be IDENTIFIED with Him in His death… by faith. We believe Christ’s death was our death and His resurrection is our resurrection to new spiritual life in spiritual union “with Christ.”
“Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? 4Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: [so] that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” Romans 6:3-4 (KJV)
Regarding Israel it is important to understand just what ‘water-baptism’ indicates or symbolizes. Fortunately it is not difficult to determine the proper meaning ascribed to water-baptism in Scripture, historically. Repeatedly water-baptism is used to represent a ‘ceremonial cleansing’ in Israel. While we do not bury people in water, we certainly do wash in water. This is clearly the meaning associated with Israel’s historic water ceremonies as seen in Scripture.
When Peter said in Acts 2:38, “repent and be baptized,” did he mean “repent and be buried”? Of course not! Peter meant ‘Repent and be Cleansed.’ Water baptism for Israel symbolized cleansing – not burial – and this is why the question arose here in John 3:23-25 about purification in connection with the baptism of John.
“And John also was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there: and they came, and were baptized. 24 For John was not yet cast into prison. 25 Then there arose a question between some of John's disciples and the Jews about purifying.” John 3:23-25 (KJV)
In Acts 22:16 Ananias declared to Saul, “Arise, and be baptized, and Wash Away Thy Sins.” Nowhere in Scripture is water-baptism used to symbolize a burial, salvation, new birth, or regeneration.
The Pauline verses of Rom. 6:3, Gal. 3:27, Col. 2:12 (below) speak of our ‘identification with Christ’ in “His death.” Yet, unfortunately, denominational misinterpreted biases often read water into passages, thus robbing the term ‘baptism’ of its real meaning of today’s grace believer identifying with Christ in His death and resurrection.
“Know ye not, that so many of us as were Baptized Into Jesus Christ Were Baptized Into His Death?” Romans 6:3 (KJV)
“For as many of you as have been Baptized Into Christ Have Put On Christ.” Galatians 3:27 (KJV)
“Buried With Him In Baptism, wherein also ye are Risen With Him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him [Christ] from the dead.” Colossians 2:12 (KJV)
While seldom recognized, there are a number of different types of baptisms in Scripture. Not every baptism has to do with water. For example, speaking of Israel’s exodus from Egypt, Paul writes:
“Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and were all BAPTIZED UNTO MOSES IN THE CLOUD and in the sea” (I Corinthians 10:1-2).
This is obviously not a “water-baptism,” since Israel crossed the Red Sea on “DRY ground” (cf. Exodus 14:22). Pharaoh and his army, of course, were the ones who were plunged into the water as it thundered down on them in judgment. But it was Israel who is said to have been baptized. For Israel this was a dry baptism! This helps to clarify the true meaning of the term baptism. The word itself is simply an Anglicized form of the Greek word, baptizo. Unfortunately, for too long denominationally influenced Greek lexicons have wrongly defined baptizo as “to dip.” This cannot be an adequate definition as seen from Scripture:
• In Matthew 3:11 John the Baptist said Christ would “baptize with the Holy Ghost and with fire.” Question: Was Christ to “dip” people into the Holy Spirit and fire?
• In Luke 12:50 Christ called His death a baptism. Was He “dipped” into death? “But I [Jesus] have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened [distressed] till it be accomplished! Luke 12:50 (KJV)
• In I Corinthians 12:13 we read, “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body.” Are believers “dipped” into one body?
To ‘dip” is a totally inappropriate definition for these baptisms.
Water-baptism always referred to a ‘cleansing.’ To understand the reason for this we need to understand the place of water-baptism in the program of God for the Nation Israel.
First, we should understand that water-baptism is not a so-called ‘New Testament ordinance’ for Israel and not applicable today at all to anyone. Water-baptism is in fact a practice firmly rooted in the Old Testament Scriptures and God’s program for the Nation Israel as set forth there.
In John 1:25 John the Baptist was asked, “Why baptizeth thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet?” It is notable that these inquirers were not surprised by John’s practice of water-baptism as though it were something new to them. Rather they expected the practice of water-baptism in connection with the coming of Messiah. Where could this expectation have come from except the Messianic prophecies found in Old Testament Scriptures?
Remember that the Mosaic economy or dispensation was still in force during the ministries of both John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth. This is because Jesus had not yet died, note that importance here in Hebrews 9:17, “A testament [last will and testament] is of force AFTER men are dead.” Nobody’s ‘last will and testament’ applies until they first die. Thus the New Covenant for Israel could not possibly replace Israel’s Old Covenant until after the death of Christ. So, the idea of John’s baptism was not something new – rather it was a cleansing water ceremony that was thoroughly understood by those Israelites to whom Jesus ministered as Messiah.
So. water-baptism did not begin with John the Baptist. When we turn to the Scriptures to trace the water-baptism’s development, we quickly learn that water-baptism is a ceremonial cleansing that pertains to the kingdom long-promised to the Nation Israel.