So we’ve talked about baptism in general by defining it. We’ve talked about baptism in the Old Testament period. We’ve also talked about John’s baptism and why Jesus was baptized. The topic I’d like to delve into in this post is baptism in the New Testament. I probably won’t have time to give it the full treatment I would like but here’s where we‘re going. First, I want to address how baptism relates to circumcision. There are multiple texts addressing this but we’re going to look specifically at three of them. Then we’ll talk about the Gentile baptisms we see in the early church that have been recorded in the book of Acts. If there is space left, I may briefly talk about mode. Cool? Let’s jump in.
The first text I want us to look at is found in Mark 10:13-16. Again, I’m not going to quote the whole passage at length. Rather, I’ll leave it up to you to read this with your Bible open. So there are some important things here. First, the word for children used here is literally “infants.” And we can see from the text that they were young enough to have to be brought by their parents. I don’t know about you but my 3 year old doesn’t want to be brought anywhere by me and certainly doesn’t want me to carry her!
There are two specific things I’d like to consider in this text. The first we find in verse 14 where Jesus says, “do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” Now we could certainly read this allegorically and say that Jesus is making some sort of statement about how their innocence means they belong in the kingdom. What I think is important, as we consider this in the light of covenant solidarity, is the language Jesus uses. He is expressing the very idea and notion of OT covenant solidarity. The children belong in the kingdom is what He’s saying. Why? Certainly not because of their faith initially but because of the faith of their parents. I think we can also see that they are showing what true believers know; we have nothing to bring to God and everything to receive.
Then in verse 16 of this text we see something else very important. Jesus takes the children in His arms, lays His hands on them and blesses them. To receive God’s blessings, at least in the OT, means to be called by His name (see Gen. 48:16 and Num. 6:22-27). To receive God’s blessings and be called by His name also includes you in the blessings and promises of the covenant (see Gen. 22:16-18 and Deut. 7:13).
Let me say that again. To receive God’s blessings, in the OT, meant to be called by His name and to be included in the blessings and promises of the covenant. That does not mean that the children had faith. Don’t hear me saying they were “saved” but rather that they were included in the covenant promises. This is a crucial difference to understand when it comes to baptism.
The next text I’d like to consider is 1 Corinthians 7:14. Take a moment to read that. I don’t know, if you’re not a covenant theology person, how you get around this text without acknowledging that at least Paul believed that there was some correlation between the faith of the parents and the covenant standing of their children. Made holy here speaks to the nature of the home where at least one parent is a believer. In the OT, the whole family was in a covenantal relationship with God. We can also see this in Acts 2:39, 16:15 and 16:33-34. We’ll get to these texts later.
The last text I’d like to consider is Colossians 2:11-12. Again, take a moment to read that text. The correlation between baptism and circumcision is quite clear here. In fact I don’t see a way around the correlation. So, if baptism and circumcision are related as far as signs of the covenant, then now the children of believers must receive the sign, just as children of Israel were to be circumcised with or without “saving faith” in Christ. Again, if we understand what the signs are and are not, according to the covenant, this all becomes quite clear.
Let’s turn to the book of Acts to look at the record of baptism during the birth of the early Christian Church. I want to jump right in at the beginning at Peter’s sermon at Pentecost. Acts 2 records Peter’s sermon for us. Notice, if you will, verse 39. Peter again echoes the OT covenantal notion of the inclusion of the children of believers when he says, “the promise is for you (who have just heard the gospel preached and have believed) and for your children and for all who are far off…” Did you see that?
Peter preaches to what apparently is a crowd of men. When they heard the gospel, they ask what they should do. Peter tells them to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins then tells them that the gift of salvation is not just for them but for their children. Peter is simply affirming the covenantal understanding of the OT by saying that God has included their children in His promises.
Let’s turn to the Gentile conversions we see in Acts. Let’s start in chapter 10 of Acts. We see the conversion of Cornelius. At the beginning of the chapter, in verse 2, the text states quite clearly that Cornelius feared God “and all his household” and in verse 24 we see Cornelius calling together his “relatives and close friends.” These are members of his household and I think it is very safe to say that this included children. At the end of chapter 10 we see Cornelius and others receive the gospel and the Holy Spirit and what does Peter say? Baptize them.
In Acts 16 we see the conversion and baptism of Lydia and the Philippian jailer. Take the time now to read these texts if you will. What does verse 15 say? Lydia was baptized and her household as well. Then, in the same chapter verses 25-34, we have the account of the jailer. Look at what verse 31 says. Did you see that? Paul says to the jailer that his belief could save his entire household! Then verse 33 explicitly says that the jailer and all his family were baptized.
Now I’m not the brightest guy around. But I can read. So can you. What does the text say?! It expressly says that those who believed were baptized…and their families. I really don’t see how anyone could read this any other way. If the apostles themselves were baptizing whole families because of the faith of one of the parents, why aren’t we?! These are the apostles, ya’ll. Not some JV team. These were the men who walked with and learned from Jesus Himself and they clearly understood the outworking of the covenant to include children…even under the New Covenant.
Ok, I’ve beat that horse enough for now and it seems pretty clear to me. A quick word about mode. I know all my Baptist brothers get really wrapped around the axle about immersion. And that’s fine. I’m a fan of immersion. But I’m not going to dunk my baby under the water or a little old lady who’s wheelchair bound and hooked up to oxygen or something like that. I think pouring or sprinkling would be just fine in some cases.
What if you lived in a desert climate where there is no water? Could you use sand or something else to baptize? Just a little food for thought there.
I think the important thing here is that we can all agree that baptism is important and commanded in Scripture. Can we also all agree that we have differences of opinion and still love each other? We are, after all, brothers and sisters in Christ and should disagree without disunity.
Ok, for our last post on baptism, we’ll be looking at the covenant with Abraham and how it still stands today and how that affects what we believe and practice in baptism.
Soli Deo Gloria!
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!