The subject of baptism is a many sided one, and has been debated in all of its aspects perhaps more than any other religious topic. Yet, the teaching of the Bible on the question of baptism is so clear and simple that it cannot be misunderstood by anyone who reads it with an honest heart.
Bible baptism is not to be performed upon just anything or anybody. There are certain specific qualifications laid down which must be met. For one to be a proper subject of baptism he must be one who believes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. There is not a single case on record of an inspired man giving order that one should be baptized who did not have this faith. Jesus said, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16). Examine the cases of conversion in the book of Acts and notice that they who were baptized believed first.
Repentance is necessary to prepare one for baptism. When a person is baptized, he obligates himself to a life of faithful service in the Lord’s kingdom. So he must decide in advance if he is willing to so obligate himself and to put sin entirely out of his life. Repentance is not mere sorrow for sin, but is a strong determination that leads to reformation of life. Actually, one must determine to reform his life before he is a proper subject of baptism. Peter told his audience on Pentecost to “Repent and he baptized” (Acts 2:38).
In Acts chapter 8 there is a case of a man who had heard the gospel preached. As a result he believed in Christ and was evidently penitent. He then requested baptism. The preacher, Philip, said, “If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest.” The penitent believer then confessed, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” Then he was baptized. Here, Philip required this man to confess his faith in Christ, or to make it known by word of mouth. Romans 10:10 says, “for with the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”
From all of the above we conclude that for one to be ready for baptism he must believe the gospel, repent of his sins, and confess his faith in Christ. Obviously this excludes infants, as well as others who are incapable of performing these actions. There is no example in God’s word of infant baptism. No, this does not exclude infants from heaven. Infants are not responsible for obedience because they lack ability. Not being responsible, God will not hold them accountable. Babies are safe until they grow up and arrive at an age when they are able to comply in full with the requirements of God. Only then do they become accountable.
Now let us turn our attention to another side of the baptism controversy. In order for Bible baptism to take place there must be water in which to do the baptizing. No other element than water will do for this important action; no other element is allowed in the Bible.
John the baptist used water, in fact much water (Mark 1:8, John 1:26). This certainly proves that water is the element in which to baptize a person. In fact, it would be impossible to think of any other element which would serve as well. The very feasibility and practicality of water is sufficient to prove that is the proper element of baptism, for the Lord would not choose something that is not practical or feasible.
More important than any of the above, however, is the fact that the New Testament plainly teaches the importance of water. “Can any man forbid water that these should not be baptized? (Acts 10:47). “And they went down both into the water, both Philip and the Eunuch, and he baptized him” (Acts 8:38).
Since water is the right element of baptism, Holy Spirit baptism for men today is excluded. If water is the element, then men are not to be baptized in the Holy Spirit. And in the Bible, the only case of Holy Spirit baptism was for the apostles alone. But the position is taken by some that men should he baptized in the Holy Spirit in addition to being baptized in water. To show this position to be false, we refer you to Paul’s statement in Eph. 4:5 to the effect that there is “one baptism.” Now, one does not mean two or more. If water baptism today is the right one, then Holy Spirit baptism is not, and vice versa. We have already taken the space to show water baptism to be right. The baptism authorized for us in the New Testament is administered by man. Who would deny this? But Holy Spirit baptism was administered by the Lord (Luke 24:49). Therefore, Holy Spirit baptism is not the baptism authorized for us in the New Testament. The only case of Spirit baptism was special and for the apostles alone.
We have now studied the subject of baptism so far to learn that there must be a proper candidate, a penitent believer; there must also be the proper element, water. Now let us turn our attention to the proper action involved in baptism.
Consider first the meaning of the verb “to baptize.” It is a Greek word which has been transliterated. That is, the Greek figures have simply been changed to English letters, and the ending Anglicized. The word itself has not been translated. Since we are dealing with a Greek word, it is only fair that we go to the Greek lexicons to learn what the word means, just as we should go to a dictionary to learn the meaning of an English word.
Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament is perhaps the most commonly used by preachers, and the most popularly accepted lexicon. Mr. Thayer says that baptize means “to immerse, to dip, to plunge, to submerge.” Does it ever mean to sprinkle or pour? No, for there is a different Greek word denoting the action of sprinkling. Since the how is inherent in the word itself, it is needless to offer any arguments as to how baptism is to be performed. If sprinkling is baptism, then the element, water, is baptized instead of the candidate, since it is the water that is sprinkled and not the man. The same is true concerning pouring.
The examples of baptism in the New Testament indicate the action to be performed. “They went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him.” Does sprinkling or pouring require both persons to go into the water? Certainly not. Of course, it is true that one could have water sprinkled on his head while standing in water, but such would be mighty strange. It is also true that one could go into the water without then being immersed, but what would be the sense of it? Only immersion requires both persons to go into the water. This example is in harmony with what scholars say is the meaning of the word baptize. “Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him” (Col. 2:12). “Therefore we are buried with him in baptism” (Rom. 6:4). Anyone who knows the meaning of the word bury knows what baptism is. A burial and a resurrection must take place in the likeness of the burial and resurrection of Christ.
Now let us deal with baptism from the standpoint of its design or purpose. Peter told the Jews on Pentecost to “Repent and be baptized every one of you, for the remission of sins.” There should be no dispute over what one is baptized for, since Peter plainly said to be baptized for the remission of sins. This is the design, or motive, that the sinner should have in being baptized, and since this is the commanded motive we cannot doubt that baptism will accomplish the remission of sins.
We have never taught that there is any efficacy in the water, per se. Indeed, if water itself were powerful to save, man would have discovered that fact long before Jesus ever came and died for us, and there would have been no need for the sacrifice which He made. There was no power in the water of the river Jordan when leprous Naaman was cleansed (2 Kings 5:1-15) but there was power in obedience to the commandments of God.
First Peter 3:21 teaches that the salvation of Noah through water was a type of the way baptism saves us. How did water save Noah and his family? If we learn this, then we shall know how baptism, in the antitype, now saves us. Water delivered the inhabitants of the ark from the sinful and impure antediluvian world, and translated them into the purity of a sinless world. So the Lord through baptism delivers the penitent believer from the power of darkness, and translates him into the kingdom of His dear Son. (Col. 1:13).
If we could only persuade men to cease their quibbling and accept the plain teaching of the Bible on baptism, how wonderful it would be! Why will men not believe and accept the simple promise of Jesus, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved. (Mark 16:16).