The Nature and Purpose of Baptism – Marshall Butz

Marshall Butz

Paul declares there is only one baptism. “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as also ye were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in all” (Eph. 4:4-6). If there is one Lord and one God (as we know there is), this passage teaches there is also one baptism. What is it? It is well to remember, in the first place, that the English word baptism is not a translation of some Greek or Hebrew word; it is, instead, a transliteration. That is, it is the Greek word baptisma spelled with English letters. The translators of the Bible, for one reason or another, were unwilling to translate the Greek word literally, therefore they simply substituted English letters for Greek and left it up to the reader to determine the meaning of the word baptism.

Thayer, whose Greek-English Lexicon is recognized as an authority by all scholars, states that the Greek word baptisma (is) a word peculiar to New Testament and ecclesiastical writing, (and means) immersion, submersion.” He further states that the Greek word baptismos from the same root, a word translated in Mark 7:4 as washings with reference to the Mosaic law has to do with “a washing, purification effected by means of water.” Thayer continues with reference to the transliteration baptisms in Hebrews 6:2 pointing out that this passage, which condemns the preaching of baptisms “seems to mean an exposition of the difference between the washings prescribed by the Mosaic law and Christian baptism.” In other words, in Hebrews 6:2 the preaching of baptisms which is condemned is primarily, the Mosaic rites which Christ condemns in Mark 7:4.

We should remember, however, that a person who has never seen a Greek-English lexicon nor had the Greek words baptisma, baptismos and baptidzo explained to him can determine from the New Testament exactly what baptism is. Let us examine a few scriptures: In Mark 1:9-11 we read,

And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in the Jordan. And straitway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens rent asunder. and the Spirit as a dove descending upon him: and a voice came out of the heavens, Thou art my beloved Son, in thee I am well pleased.

Now answer this if you will: Why was Jesus in the Jordan River? “To be baptized, of course,” you say. Would it have been necessary to be in the river and come up out of the water if Jesus was baptized by sprinkling or pouring as some insist?

Furthermore, in Romans 6:4 Paul states: “We were buried therefore with him through baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life.” God, through Paul, again emphasizes that baptism is a burial when He says, “having been buried with him in baptism, wherein ye were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead” (Col. 2:12 ASV). A little later in the same epistle, Colossians 3:1, Paul reiterates the burial aspect of baptism by saying, “If then ye were raised together with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated on the right hand of God” (ASV). From these last two passages we see that baptism is a symbolic burial which through faith in God brings the sinner into contact with the blood of Christ which cleanses us from sin and from which we are raised to walk a new life.

Let us look at a familiar passage, Acts 8:36-39, which reads:

And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water; and the eunuch saith, Behold, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thy heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they both went down into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip; and the eunuch saw him no more, for he went on his way rejoicing.

I ask you: Why did they go down into the water? You answer it!

We have shown thus there is one scriptural baptism which is immersion; now we proceed to find out what baptism does for the recipient. Thayer, in speaking of “Christian baptism,” writes,

This, according to the view of the apostles, is a rite of sacred immersion, commanded by Christ, by which men confessing their sins and professing their faith in Christ are born again by the Holy Spirit unto a new life, come into the fellowship of Christ and the church (1 Cor. 12:13), and are made partakers of eternal salvation.

Scriptural baptism has only one purpose, namely, satisfaction of the command of Christ which demonstrates our faith in Him and washes away our sins. Consider again Colossians 2:12 where the writer points out that baptism is accomplished through faith in the working of God wherein we are made alive again, God “having forgiven us all our trespasses.” (See verses 13-15.) Reading part of the first epistle of Peter, chapter 3, we see that baptism through faith saves us:

When the long suffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water; which also after a true likeness doth now save you, even baptism, not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the interrogation of a good conscience toward God, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 3:20-21).

The Bible is replete with passages which show clearly the purpose of baptism. While on earth, Christ told his apostles “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that disbelieveth shall be condemned” Mark 16:15-16 ASV). Only one conclusion can be reached from this statement and that is that both belief and baptism are necessary to salvation. An unbeliever would not and could not be baptized anyway. (See Acts 8:37.) On Pentecost following the resurrection, Peter, when asked by the believing Jews, “What shall we do,” answered, “Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins; and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 2:38 ASV). “They then that received (or accepted) his word were baptized: and there were added unto them that day about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41 ASV).

After Saul of Tarsus had seen the Lord on the road to Damascus and received Christ’s command “Enter into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do” (Acts 9:6), he entered Damascus and waited three days for instructions. Finally, Ananias, a devout preacher, came to Saul and told him, “Why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on his name” (Acts 22:16 ASV). What did Saul have to do? He had to be baptized, having already believed as a result of the vision on the road to Damascus. Why did he need to be baptized? To “wash away” his sins.

Paul was also baptized to get into the body of Christ, for writing to the Galatians he says, “For ye are all sons of God, through faith, in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ did put on Christ” (Gal. 3:26-27). To the Corinthians Paul states,

For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of the body, being many, are one body; so also is Christ. For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free; and were all made to drink of one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many (1 Cor. 12:12-14).

We have here two lessons: (1) the oneness of the body through individual members, regardless of race, accepting Christ, and (2) that we who are in the body of Christ got there through baptism!

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