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 Vol. 6, No. 9 

September 2004

~ Page 15 ~

Four Water Baptisms

By Hugo McCord

Image "Can anyone forbid water?" (Acts 10:47). "One baptism" (Ephesians 4:5) was commanded by Jesus for "all the nations" to "the end of the world" (Matthew 28:18-20). It was not "Holy Spirit" baptism nor "fire baptism" (Matthew 3:11), but "water" baptism (Acts 10:47), the only kind that human beings can administer. But there were three instances of water baptism preceding the fourth, which is the "one baptism" (Ephesians 4:5) for everybody today.

1. The baptism of the Israelites: They "were under the cloud, and passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea" (1 Corinthians 10:1-2). They did not think that they were saved from Pharaoh before their baptism: "when Pharaoh drew near, the children of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians marched after them. So they were very afraid, and they cried out to Yahweh" (Exodus 14:10).

Moses relieved their fear: "Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of Yahweh, which he will accomplish for you today. The Egyptians, whom you see today, never again will you see them" (Exodus 14:13). After the Israelites had been "baptized into Moses in the cloud and the sea," their deliverance was announced: "So Yahweh saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians" (Exodus 14:3). Their baptism was not "an outward sign of an inward grace," as some modern preachers assert of the "one baptism" (Ephesians 4:5) for us today, but an urgent necessity for the Israelites to escape the Egyptians.

2. The baptisms of Naaman: The prophet told Naaman, a man afflicted with leprosy: "Go, and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh will be restored, and you will be clean" (2 Kings 5:10). But Naaman became angry, saying, "Are not the Abanah and the Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?" (2 Kings 5:12). He went away "in a rage," for he knew that water itself, of any river, has no healing power.

However, as long as he stayed out of the water, he still had his leprosy. So, after he had calmed down, "he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean" (2 Kings 5:14).

3. The baptism of John: As a forerunner for Jesus, God raised up John the baptizer (baptistes, not "the Baptist") to "make ready a people prepared for the Lord" (Luke 1:17). John was "filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb" (Luke 1:15), and "Jerusalem and all Judea and all the area around the Jordan were going out to him, and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins" (Matthew 3:5-6).

John was "preaching a baptism of repentance that sins might be [eis] forgiven" (Mark1:4), not because (dia) their sins had been forgiven. "The preposition dia always points backward, while eis always points forward" (J.W. McGarvey, Commentary on Matthew and Mark, p. 37).

The result of John's work is stated in Luke 7:29-30: "All of the people and the tax collectors justified God, being baptized in the baptism of John, but the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, not being baptized by him."

4. The "one baptism" (Ephesians 4:5), "even to the end of the world" (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-18), began on the day of Pentecost (May 28, A.D.30) in Jerusalem when "about three thousand" were baptized (Acts 2:1-41). The people present that day in Jerusalem who had been baptized by John (including the apostles) were not rebaptized, for they were a "prepared people" (Luke 1:17). But, some 24 years later, "about twelve men," having been taught by a mistaken preacher (Acts 18:25), had been baptized "into John's baptism" (Acts 19:3), a baptism, not "into Christ" (Galatians 3:27), but in believing "on the One coming after" John, "that is, on Jesus" (Acts 19:4). Those mistaken people were rebaptized, this time "in the name of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 19:5).

Like the baptism of John (that sins might be [eis] forgiven, Mark 1:4), the baptism that Jesus has now commanded to "the end of the world" through his apostles is "into [eis] the forgiveness of" sins (Acts 2:38). Sadly, many today say that the 3,000 converts on the day of Pentecost were baptized because their sins had already been forgiven.

Aside from the fact that the preposition eis always points forward ("in order to"), never backward ("because of"), the context shows why the 3,000 were baptized. They had learned from Peter's sermon that Jesus, whom they had "crucified" (Acts 2:23), was truly "both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:36). That startling conviction caused them to interrupt Peter's sermon, crying out, "What should we do?" (Acts 2:37).

Peter did not reply, "Just believe in Jesus, that is all!" No, their question showed that already they were believers. So Peter told them what they lacked: "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, so that your sins may be forgiven. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38, NIV, first edition, 1973).

But many who believe that sins are forgiven by faith only, before and without baptism, protested the NIV's rendition of Acts 2:38 in the 1973 edition. The editors of the NIV, to please their objectors, changed in their 1984 edition from saying, "that your sins may be forgiven," to the KJV translation, which has an ambiguous "for": "for the forgiveness of your sins." The word "for" can mean "because of," as in Matthew 25:8, "for our lamps are going out." But "for" can mean "in order to," as in Acts 27:34, "I beg you to eat; this is for your health." The context (sinners, convicted of crucifying Jesus, crying out, "what shall we do?" Acts 2:23, 36-37) does not call for "repent and be baptized" because your sins are gone, but they were told to "repent and be baptized...for the remission of sins" (Acts 2:38).

Then there are Gospel preachers who forcefully condemn the faith only doctrine, and unthinkingly speak of "Christian baptism." There is no such thing as "Christian baptism," only "sinners' baptism." After baptism, sinners become Christians.

Biblically, baptism becomes the dividing line. It was the dividing line between (1) slavery and freedom with the Israelites (Exodus 14:30); (2) leprosy and good health with Naaman (2 Kings 5;14); and (3) sin-guilt and remission of sins under John (Mark 1:4).

Baptism now is the dividing line between: (1) sin-guilt and remission of sins (Acts 2:38); (2) the unsaved and the saved (Mark 16:16); (3) those whose sins have not been washed away and those whose sins have been washed away (Acts 22:16); (4) those without the gift of the Holy Spirit (John 14:17) and those with the gift of the Holy Spirit (John 7:39; Acts 2:38; 5:32; Galatians 4:6); (5) those whose father is the devil (John 8:44) and those whose Father is the God of heaven (2 Corinthians 6:18); (6) those who are not in Christ and those who are in Christ (Romans 6:3; Galatians 3:27); (7) those who are not in the kingdom of God and those who are in the kingdom of God (John 3:5; Colossians 1:13); (8) those who are not in the "one body" ("the church," Ephesians 1:22-23) and those who have been "baptized into the one body" (1 Corinthians 12:13); (9) those for whom God does not work all things together for good and those for whom God does work all things together for good (Romans 8:28); (10) those who do not have "all spiritual blessings" and those who do have "all spiritual blessings" (Ephesians 1:3); (11) those who do not have "life more abundantly" and those who do have "life more abundantly" (John 10:10); and (12) those who do not have a "never fading inheritance reserved in heaven" and those who do have a "never fading inheritance reserved in heaven" (1 Peter 1:4).

"Be not foolish, but understanding what is the Lord's will" (Ephesians 5:17).Image

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