It’s been awhile since I’ve been able to write anything. Moving 500 plus miles and starting a new job will throw some kinks in your writing time. I appreciate your patience as I’ve had to take a short break while moving.
So we’ve been looking at baptism. I’ve told you my position on baptism, as it relates to paedo vs. credo baptism and we’ve looked a bit at the OT perspective on baptism and some definitions. I wanted to talk about the OT perspective on baptism because I believe the OT perspective on baptism has direct bearing on what we’ll discuss next.
In this post, I’ll be talking about John the Baptist and the baptism of Jesus. During this post, we’ll be looking specifically at Matthew’s account and Mark’s account (in the Gospels) of Jesus’ baptism and John’s baptism. So let’s jump in.
So let’s take a look at Matthew’s account first. As we do that, I think it is important to remember that Matthew was Jewish as was the audience he was writing to. This is important. It’s important because there are things he writes about that have direct ties to the OT and only make sense if you’re Jewish. So keep this in mind. Let’s also remember that baptism and ritual cleansing was a common practice for the Jewish people prior to the life of Jesus. So baptism was not at all unusual. What was unusual was the purpose of it and what it became during the life of John and Jesus.
Let’s look at Matthew’s account. In chapter 3 of Matthew’s gospel we find the account. Without quoting the whole text at length, I’ll ask you to open your Bible as you read this post. Read Matthew’s account. The first thing we need to know about John is that he was the last prophet, the final man whom God sent in the role of preacher to the people of Israel prior to the coming of the Messiah. The role of the OT prophet was to call the people of God back to Himself by repenting and turning again to the covenant relationship they had with the God of Israel. We see in John the final “OT prophet.” This has significance for how we understand his baptism and the fulfillment of the old covenant and the inauguration of the new covenant.
So right at the beginning of Matthew 3, we see John’s message. In verse 2 we read his message, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” So right at the beginning of John’s message, we see what it is about. He was heralding a distinctly eschatological message. In effect, he was proclaiming the coming of the kingdom of God as he prepared the way for the coming of the Messiah. John’s purpose in baptism seems to be to awaken the covenant people of God to the reality of the coming Messiah.
We can see this eschatological flavor in verse 7 of Matthew 3 where John talks about “the wrath to come,” and tells everyone to repent. But why repent? They were called to repent because of the coming wrath (judgment) of God that would come along with the coming of the Messiah and His kingdom. So it looks like John believed that Jesus’ coming was to bring judgment on those who would not repent. There’s an interesting thing I think we see here. Notice that John does not call for belief. No, he calls for repentance and says that the coming Messiah would also baptize, but His baptism would be a spiritual one by the Holy Spirit. So John was not calling for belief and faith but rather repentance.
Remember John’s purpose.
We see John’s purpose specifically laid out for us in Mark’s gospel. In the opening chapter of Mark’s gospel, we see John’s purpose in verse 4 where it says that John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance and the forgiveness of sins. As we saw in the last post, it was not uncommon for the Jews to practice baptism and ritualistic cleansings and converts to Judaism were baptized. So John’s baptism was to require a one-time baptism of repentance for those already in the covenant people of God. This was a clear sign of the inauguration of the new covenant.
Keeping the background of baptism in the OT becomes critical in understanding John’s purpose in baptism.
So if that’s the case for John, what about Jesus? Why would the very Son of God need to be baptized? Let’s go back to Matthew’s account. The detail he offers is quite helpful I think. We see John being reluctant to baptize Jesus. Who wouldn’t be reluctant to baptize Jesus?! As we remember John’s purpose then we see why he was reluctant. After all, why would God’s Son need to repent or be forgiven for sin? But notice Jesus’ answer to John in Matthew 3:15.
But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.
What does that mean?!
It seems clear in the Bible that God’s kingdom is defined, if you will, by His own righteousness. So then Jesus teaches us what God’s righteousness requires by obedience to God’s will. He also, by His death, secures God’s righteousness for us sinners and his baptism also points to His giving of His own life to once and for all secure righteousness for God’s people and those who will place faith in Him.
In other words, Jesus had to be baptized so that we could learn what obedience to God’s will means. If the very Son of God (who is God in the flesh) obeyed the will of the Father, how much more should we obey as adopted sons and daughters?!
Another reason for the baptism of Jesus seems to be the anointing of the Holy Spirit. We see this immediately following His baptism as He comes out of the river, the Spirit descends on Him and the Father speaks, thus verifying for all present that the kingdom of God had been inaugurated and the Messiah had come (see Isa 42:1).
Some random thoughts before I wrap this one up. It is interesting and worth noting a couple of things about baptism and Jesus’ ministry. It appears, from John 3:22 and 4:1, that Jesus Himself seemed to abandon baptism during His ministry. Now don’t read into that that I’m saying Jesus doesn’t believe we should be baptized. That’s not what I said. I’m not sure why it seemed that Jesus and His disciples stopped baptizing people. That’s probably for people way smarter than me to determine. Just an interesting note to add.
One other interesting thing to note is that there is no record in the NT of the disciples themselves being baptized. The one exception I could find to that was when Paul was converted. In Acts 9 we see Paul’s conversion and subsequent baptism. I believe Paul was hearkening back to John’s eschatological flavor and following Jesus’ example but that’s just my opinion. Again, just an interesting note that we have no record of any of the other disciples being baptized.
So this is where we are now. In the next post, we’ll be looking at baptism at the beginning of the Church in Acts and looking at mode. I hope you have found this helpful and interesting so far.
Soli Deo Gloria!
When last we discussed, I probably upset my Baptist friends and family with my “confession” of paedobaptism. However, I think words are important and terms have meaning. So I want to be clear what I mean by paedobaptism.
I want to draw a clear distinction between the infant baptism practices of the Catholic church, the Lutheran church and the Methodist church and what I believe is the actual biblical position. I am in no way expressing agreement with the practices and beliefs of any church that would say that baptism of an infant is a conferral of grace upon that child and that it therefore assures them of salvation.
Let me say this clearly. The biblical testimony is clear. Baptism will not save you.
So when I say that I am a paedobaptist, I use the term ‘covenant baptism.’ I use that term because I want to avoid confusion. I do not want anyone to think that I, in any way, affirm the baptism practices of non-orthodox churches. Did I say that clearly enough? Again, I think words matter and have meaning so I am very deliberate when I say that I believe in covenant baptism. I use that terminology on purpose.
But I don’t want to get too involved in refuting some claims of the Catholic church in this post. My purpose in this post is to continue in our baptism journey. What I’d like to do in this post is to define baptism, talk about the Old Testament perspective on baptism and the history of baptism in the Jewish faith. We’ll get into the orthodox view of baptism later. By orthodox I mean the church that has practiced and affirmed the Christian faith as it has been given to us in God’s Word and fleshed out in history. There are very basic things that, biblically speaking, make one orthodox. What I mean by orthodox is what the Bible says Christianity is and what the Church has affirmed over a couple of thousand years. We stand, as Christians, in a long line of believers and that history has meaning.
So first, defining baptism. I think a lot of the work of defining baptism leads into a discussion on what you think baptism is or is not. That seems a bit circular so let me explain. If you believe baptism is salvific in nature, then how it is defined changes from baptism being non-salvific. Actually, the meaning of baptism and the definition of baptism are kind of different so let’s just define it.
Baptism is generally defined, from the Greek word baptizo, as “to dip or immerse.” At its root, it is a group of words used to signify a religious rite or ritual cleansing. We won’t get into a conversation on mode of baptism (ie immersion vs. pouring or sprinkling) right now. There is debate about the meaning of the Greek word used in the New Testament. I won’t use this post to belabor etymology points but simply to acknowledge that there is debate about what the word actually means. Like many words in both Greek and Hebrew, it has a range of nuances and meanings. The Westminster Confession is helpful in defining baptism. In chapter 28, the Westminster Divines discussed baptism and they defined it in section one:
Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible church, but also to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in newness of life: which sacrament is, by Christ’s own appointment, to be continued in His church until the end of the world.
For all my non confessional friends, don’t get nervous about the use of the word sacrament. Notice something that was said in this definition. Notice that it is a sign and seal and not salvific in and of itself. I really think most American evangelicals fall much more closely to the Catholic understanding and practice of baptism than they do an actual Christian and biblical understanding and practice of baptism.
So how one views baptism can have significance for how it is defined. Let me explain. As I’ve said before, I was raised Baptist. So, for the Baptists, baptism is an outward expression of an inward faith. In other words, it is a public profession of personal faith. We could get into some deeper theological significance of the Baptist position but we’ll keep it simple at that. Most of you reading this will probably have been raised thinking the same thing, that baptism was simply a public profession of faith.
I submit to you that, biblically speaking, there is much more significance to baptism than simply a public profession of faith. I think one of the main problems with that view is, aside from being unbiblical, that it puts the focus on us as individuals rather than on God. So when most people are baptized (in “believer’s baptism”) the focus is on their “public profession” and less on what God has done. In a very subtle way, it changes the focus of salvation and baptism from God centered to man centered.
Think about this with me, even if you disagree with me. Salvation and all its outworkings are expressly not about us but rather about God and what He has done in and through Christ on our behalf and for His glory. In a not so subtle way, we have made salvation about us as individuals rather than about God. The same goes for baptism if we fall into the credobaptist camp, in my opinion.
But if baptism is more than simply a public profession of faith, if it is indeed the sign of entrance into God’s covenant people as began way back in Abraham and it affirms God’s sovereignty and not man’s initiative, then it says much more about God and much less about us. We’ll talk about to whom baptism is to be administered later.
But I’m getting on my soap box now.
So that is about as far as I’ll go on defining baptism right now. Let’s talk a little about history.
I did not realize, until I began to study this issue seriously, that baptism was a practice of the Old Testament also. The ethic nation of Israel also practiced baptism. There were many things under the law that required ritual cleansing with water. For example, touching a corpse or a dead animal or having some type of skin infection required a ritual cleansing with water; a baptism. If you’re looking for specific examples, read Leviticus 13-14 for some specific examples. Now before you push back too hard and say that’s not baptism, let’s go back to the most basic definition of baptism. It is a word that is associated with ritualistic cleansing. So I submit to you that these cleansing rituals under Judaic law were indeed baptisms. Also, under 2nd Temple Judaism, Gentiles who converted to Judaism were baptized and even Jews themselves would sometimes use baptism (immersion) as an act of repentance.
So we’ve defined baptism and talked very briefly about the history of baptism in the OT and in Jewish law. In the next post, we’ll be looking at the baptism of John the Baptist and Jesus’ baptism and maybe a few other things.
Soli Deo Gloria!