Questions About Baptism

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Questions About Water Baptism

Preliminary Comments More About Baptism

The following is a compilation of numerous different questions we have received on the subject of Baptismal Regeneration. Though the questions are worded differently, most of them could have been asked in the words of one of the questions on this page.

There are at least two minor variations of the false teaching of Baptismal Regeneration, the most common (and least offensive) form of which is that water baptism is an essential element of salvation. Another (and more heretical) version of that teaching is that salvation comes only as a result of water baptism.

The primary difficulty with the idea that water baptism is an essential element of salvation is that it puts conditions upon God’s unconditional free gift of eternal life.

The difficulty with the teaching that salvation comes only as a result of water baptism is that it dethrones God and deifies man, in that it forces salvation to depend upon the works that man does rather than upon the completed cross-work of Yeshua HaMashiach.

We also need to understand that what Yochanan the Immerser and the Shliachim (Apostles) practiced and taught, and what was practiced by the early Messianic Believers, was not the form of “Christian baptism” that is practiced today, but rather the Jewish practice of tevilah [lit. immersion], which is the total immersing of one’s self in “living water” such as a stream (the Jordan River, for example) or a lake. If no stream or lake were available, as at the Temple grounds, a mikvah (container of “living water” conforming to specific requirements) was provided.

“Christian baptism” is based upon this concept, but has been changed from the practice followed by the early Messianic Believers. Whereas “Christian baptism” is performed upon the individual by another, generally a member of the clergy, tevilah is performed upon one’s self by the individual, and may may or may not be observed by “official witnesses.”

The word “baptize” (in all of its various forms) is a “borrowed word,” a transliteration — not a translation — of the Greek word baptizo, which means to totally immerse with the result that the object so immersed is changed in some way (as a piece of cloth immersed in dye is changed to the color of the dye). If the English Bible were to translate instead of transliterate the word baptizo, it would be rendered as “immerse” or “immersion.” It therefore cannot possibly be used to describe the process of either “sprinkling” or “pouring” as practiced by some Christian denominations. Since both the Roman Catholic and Anglican traditions do not practice immersion, it was necessary to either change their practice to confirm to Scripture, or to change the early English translations of Scripture to conform to their practice. More recent translations of the Scriptures have followed their faulty example.

In the discussion which follows, I have used the grammatically correct term immerse or immersion.


The Questions Stated

The questions that we receive on this subject generally take one or more of the following forms:

• I had a friend who is a Baptist preacher say to me, “Yes, I know what the Apostles taught about water baptism (baptismal regeneration — water and Spirit together, referring to Titus 3:5-7), but I just can’t accept it. It goes against my traditions.” [ANSWER]

• I wonder if the early Christians would have divided up the Spirit baptism and the “reenactment” of water baptism as you suggest? [ANSWER]

• What about Paul’s words to Titus (Titus 3:5-7)? They say a great deal about what seems to many a very uncomfortable teaching. [ANSWER]

• What if those folks in the Christian Churches / Churches of Christ are right that water and Spirit baptism happen at the same time? [ANSWER]


The Reply

First of all, let be briefly address those who have difficulty accepting sound biblical teaching that is contrary to their tradition. Both Yeshua (“Jesus”) and Rav Sha'ul (the Apostle Paul) addressed this subject.

And He [Yeshua] said to them, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from me. But in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’ Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.”

He was also saying to them, “You nicely set aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition. For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him be put to death’; but you say, ‘If a man says to his father or his mother, anything of mine you might have been helped by is Corban (that is to say, given to God),’ you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or his mother; thus invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down; and you do many things such as that.” (Mark 7:6-13, NAS)

See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. (Col. 2:8, NAS)

Unfortunately, many who call themselves “Christian” or “Messianic” hold the authority of their tradition (what their denomination, their congregation, their rabbi, their pastor, their beit din, etc. teaches) equal, or even superior, to that of the Word of God. There are undoubtedly many more (including a lot of clergy) who simply do not know what the Word of God teaches because they refuse to take the time to “Be diligent to present [themselves] approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15, NAS).

The answer to any doctrinal discussion or question must rest upon the preponderance of the Scriptural evidence on the subject. In the final assessment, the case of “baptismal regeneration” is inseparably linked to the answer to the question of whether salvation comes through the works of man or through the grace of God. That is, is our salvation the result of what we do or is it the result of what God has done?

A consistent grammatical interpretation of Scripture clearly indicates that our salvation is by grace and not by works. Rav Sha'ul goes into a rather complete discussion of this concept in chapter four of Romans when he points out that God, Who never changes, counted Avraham (Abraham, the father of all the faithful) righteous solely on the basis of his faith, and not on the covenant of circumcision. He continues the discussion into chapter five, emphasizing that our justification is on the basis of our faith (what we believe) and not on our works (what we do).

This discussion of the “works” of circumcision has a direct parallel to the “works” of water baptism.

What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about; but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.

Now to the one who works, his wage is not reckoned as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing upon the man to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, and whose sins have been covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account.”

Is this blessing then upon the circumcised [or immersed], or upon the uncircumcised [or un-immersed] also? For we say, “Faith was reckoned to Abraham as righteousness.” How then was it reckoned? While he was circumcised [or immersed], or uncircumcised [or un-immersed]? Not while circumcised [immersed], but while uncircumcised [un-immersed]; and he received the sign of circumcision [baptism], that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised [immersed], that righteousness might be reckoned to them, and the father of circumcision [baptism] to those who not only are of the circumcision [baptism], but who also follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham which he had while uncircumcised [un-immersed].

For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith. … with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief, but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what He had promised, He was able also to perform. Therefore also it was reckoned to him as righteousness.

Now not for his sake only was it written, that it was reckoned to him, but for our sake also, to whom it will be reckoned, as those who believe in Him who raised Yeshua our Lord from the dead, He who was delivered up because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.

Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Yeshua HaMashiach, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. (Emphasis added.)

Here Rav Sha'ul clearly presents the argument that Avraham’s circumcision was the sign of his faith, and occurred only after God had already pronounced him righteous.

Likewise, Yeshua Himself told Nicodemus (John 3) that the one who believes in the Son of God is the one who has eternal life. If water baptism (immersion) had been essential, Yeshua would certainly have told Nicodemus that the one who believes and is immersed (baptized) is the one who has eternal life. If water baptism was essential to Nicodemus’s salvation and Yeshua didn’t tell him so after Nicodemus asked him directly, then Yeshua was misleading Nicodemus into a position that would cost him his eternal soul.

Rav Sha'ul’s whole argument in Romans chapters 3 through 5 (and elsewhere) is that to add any works of man (including water baptism) to the requirement for salvation makes God the debtor who is contractually obligated to provide salvation to anyone who successfully completes the required process. Salvation thus becomes the “wages” of our works and is no longer a free gift.

The primary problem with this view (besides the fact that it simply cannot be supported by a consistent and systematic grammatical interpretation of Scripture) is that it dethrones God and deifies man.

What the Scriptures clearly teach is that God is sovereign over His creation, and that it is the Creator, not the creature, Who establishes the requirements for fellowship with Him.

To force the Scriptures to conform to the doctrinal position that immersion is essential for salvation we would have to create a “New Uninspired Translation” of the Scripture that contains the following verses:

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him and is immersed should not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him and through immersion. He who believes in Him and is immersed is not judged; he who does not believe and has not been immersed has been judged already, because he has not believed and been immersed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:16-18, New Uninspired Translation)

But as many as received Him and were immersed, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believed in His name and were immersed, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God and of the immersion water. (John 1:12-13, New Uninspired Translation)

And he [the jailer] called for lights and rushed in and, trembling with fear, he fell down before Paul and Silas, and after he brought them out, he said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Yeshua and be immersed, and you shall be saved, you and your household.” (Acts 16:29-31, New Uninspired Translation)

We would also have to omit nearly the entire book of Romans from this new translation.

[BACK TO THE QUESTIONS]


Q. I wonder if the early Christians would have divided up the Spirit baptism and the “reenactment” of water baptism as you suggest?

A. I doubt seriously that they would have. In fact, I doubt whether that particular question would ever have even occurred to them … just as it should not occur to us.

It must first be remembered that the earliest believers in Messiah (from the first century well into the third century) were all “Jewish!” Those gentiles who came to faith in Messiah were adopted and absorbed into Jewish culture and tradition; there simply was no “church” as we know it until the fourth century CE. Obedience to Torah (the teaching received through Moshe [Moses] at Sinai) was never in question! Thus, obedience to the teaching of the Shliachim (Apostles) would likewise not have been questioned.

To the believing Jews (who, as Rav Sha'ul has carefully pointed out, were saved by faith and not by circumcision) there was no such thing as an uncircumcised Jew. Torah commanded circumcision, so the believing Jew complied. Likewise, to the early Messianic Believers (who, as Rav Sha'ul has carefully pointed out, were saved by faith and not by baptism) there was no such thing as an un-immersed Believer. To the early Messianic Believers, Yeshua commanded immersion, so the Messianic Believer complied.

But “churchianity” today is not about obedience and submission the the authority of the Word of God; it is about doing and saying whatever is “socially acceptable” within the society of one’s particular denomination, or of conforming to the teaching of the leader of one’s particular group.

And so today’s faithful Bible teacher must deal with the fact that the great majority of church members (including clergy) today who refer to themselves as “Christians” do not even believe the absolutely essential doctrines of the historical Messianic faith: the inerrancy of Scripture; the virgin birth; the sinfulness of man; the deity of Yeshua HaMashiach; His death, burial, and bodily resurrection; His imminent return and literal earthly reign. They don’t believe it and their clergy don’t teach it!

[BACK TO THE QUESTIONS]


Q. What about Paul’s words to Titus (3:5-7ff)? They say a great deal about what seems to many a very uncomfortable teaching.

A. Concerning the interpretation of Rav Sha'ul’s words in Titus 3:5-7, the way the questions are asked seem to suggest that the writers make some connection between the Titus passage and “what the Apostles taught about water baptism.”

There is absolutely nothing in the entire letter to Titus that even remotely suggests anything at all about water baptism.

According to the Englishman’s Concordance to the Greek New Testament (I have not recently taken the time to verify by reading the entire book of Titus in the Greek New Testament, though I have very recently read the entire book in several different English translations) there is no form of the word “baptize” or “baptism” [Greek baptw (bapto), baptizw (baptizo), or baptisma (baptisma)] in the entire book of Titus. The only way that the phrase “washing of regeneration” [Greek loutrou paliggenesiaV (loutrou palingenesias)] in Titus 3:5 can have any reference to water baptism whatsoever is to presuppose (without support from Scripture) that regeneration is the result of water baptism, or immersion. But that is simply not what Rav Sha'ul says. [Note: The Greek words on this page will not display properly if you do not have the BSTGreek font installed.]

But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, Whom He poured out upon us richly through Yeshua HaMashiach our Savior, that being justified by His grace we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.“ (Titus 3:4-7, NAS)

But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Yeshua HaMashiach our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7, NIV)

The passage, in fact, refers to two simultaneous functions performed by the Holy Spirit at the instant of our salvation:

(1) washing of regeneration [that is, the initial cleansing from unrighteousness, which recurs frequently in the life of a believer (1 John 1:9)] and

(2) renewing [rebirth, becoming a “new creation” in Messiah Yeshua]. In fact, in this letter to Titus Rav Sha'ul repeats his teaching to the Romans that we are not saved on the basis of any righteous deeds (like immersion in water), but that rather “according to His mercy” we are “justified by His grace.”

[BACK TO THE QUESTIONS]


Q. What if those folks in the Christian Churches / Churches of Christ are right that water and Spirit baptism happen at the same time?

A. In this question the name “Christian Churches / Churches of Christ” refers to the churches in the Stone/Campbell movement (also known as the American Restoration Movement) which are variously called Christian Church or Church of Christ, including both instrumental and a capella churches.

For those who are unfamiliar with this group of churches, it is a loosely-knit organization of independent evangelical Christian churches which began in the opening years of the 1800’s as an attempt to unify all Christian denominations (or at least as many congregations as were willing to unify) around a simple faith in Messiah Yeshua as removed from all “man-made” creeds and confessions. Unfortunately, as lofty as were the intentions of the movement’s founders, what resulted was just one more denomination, which has subsequently split into three major denominations:

  • the Christian Church/Churches of Christ, some of which refer to themselves as Church of Christ, others as Christian Church, who use instrumental music in their worship services;

  • the Church of Christ, whose congregations do not permit instrumental music in their worship services; and

  • the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), which has become a stronghold of liberalism since the late 1960’s; plus

  • several additional smaller splinter groups.

The Christian Churches and the Churches of Christ often refer to themselves collectively as “the Brotherhood” or as “Brotherhood churches” and are essentially divided only on the issue of instrumental music. The liberal Disciples of Christ have completely removed themselves from any association with the original group, much to the relief of the “Brotherhood.”

One of the primary things that makes this “denomination” uniquely an “un-denomination” is that there is no formal organizational structure other than totally voluntary participation in common goals and projects, nor is there any uniform doctrinal statement to which the individual congregations subscribe.

That having been said, there is absolutely no way that it is possible to come up with a clear definition of what the Brotherhood churches collectively believe, because one of their most carefully guarded tenets is that they will have no written statement of faith or doctrinal creed. About the closest that you can come to a doctrinal statement is this: “No Creed but Christ, no book but the Bible, no doctrine but the divine.” In this movement, the elders of each congregation hold the responsibility for setting the doctrinal direction of that congregation, and the divine right of each Christian to interpret the Scriptures for him/her self is jealously guarded. Thus, every single member of every single congregation has the total freedom to establish for him/herself whatever interpretation of Scripture he/she desires. With absolutely no “doctrinal standard” to apply, it is no wonder that most members of these congregations have absolutely no idea what to believe beyond their own opinion (which may or may not be based in any way on Scripture).

Even so, the great majority of Brotherhood churches hold to the position of baptismal regeneration. But I insist that they do so out of “denominational” tradition and not of sound Biblical exegesis.

I do not say that unkindly at all, but rather only as one who can dispassionately view the shortcomings of his own family. My family has been affiliated with the Stone/Campbell movement from its earliest beginnings. My great grand uncle was one of the first Campbellite missionaries in western Virginia (now West Virginia). One of the congregations that he and other members my family established at the very beginning of the movement was in the area near Fort Belle south of Blennerhassett Island in the Ohio River (now Belleville). That congregation subsequently relocated to Parkersburg. From its beginning until as late as 1968 my family has continually had their membership in that congregation. I was born into that congregation, came to know Yeshua HaMashiach as my personal Lord and Savior in that same congregation the month before my seventh birthday, and have held several positions of leadership in that same congregation. In fact, my membership in that congregation has never been formally withdrawn, and I still consider myself at least partially a “Campbellite” in that I believe many of those same things that the Stone/Campbell movement has historically attempted to accomplish.

My father was a Brotherhood minister, was trained in the Brotherhood’s pre-eminent Bible school, and faithfully served the Brotherhood churches from the early 1950’s until his death in 1983. My brother attended that same school and I took some of my undergraduate training from that school. My son has now graduated from that school and is presently serving as an Elder in a Brotherhood congregation, and my daughter-in-law received both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the same school.

If you read our congregation’s constitution on this web site, you will notice that our organizational structure is much more closely related to that of the Christian Churches than it is to the traditional “Baptist” organization. You will also notice that our position on denominationalism is also in line with that of the Brotherhood. In fact, if you read our doctrinal position carefully you will find that have historically been organizationally closer to most Brotherhood churches than we are to traditional “Baptists” — except for our position on water baptism and eternal security.

But back to the question, “What if many of those folks in the Christian Churches are right that water and Spirit baptism happen at the same time?”

You ask, “What if they are correct?” But I ask, “What is the Scriptural evidence that they are correct?” If we accept the final authority of the Word of God in all matters of faith and practice, then the traditions or opinions of a man — or of a congregation, of a denomination, or even of an “un-denomination” — are of no consequence. Our only question on matters of doctrine should be, “What does the Bible say about …?”

Where in the Bible does it say that “water and spirit baptism happen at the same time”?

In over 20 years in Brotherhood churches, over 55 years of daily personal Bible study, and three post-graduate degrees from seminary I have yet to find any Scriptural support for the doctrine of baptismal regeneration or for the idea that “water and spirit baptism happen at the same time.”

But setting that question aside for the moment, if water baptism is necessary for salvation, then Yeshua was only telling Nicodemus half the truth when He said that that “whoever believes may in Him have eternal life” (John 3:15-18).

And Yeshua was only telling half the truth when He told Yochanan’s disciples, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36) and when He told the Pharisees, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24).

He was misleading the multitudes when He told them, “And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him, may have eternal life; and I Myself will raise him up on the last day. … Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life” (John 6:39-40, 47).

He was being less than truthful when He taught in the Temple, “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water’” (John 7:38).

When He said to those who were accusing the woman taken in adultery, “You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world. I said therefore to you, that you shall die in your sins; for unless you believe that I AM, you shall die in your sins” (John 8:23-24), He was not giving them the whole story.

He left out an important piece of information when he taught the multitudes: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand.” (John 10:27-29)

He only told Martha half the truth when just before He raised Lazarus from the grave He told her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.” (John 11:25-26)

The Shliach Yochanan (Apostle John) was being less than truthful when he wrote, “Many other signs therefore Yeshua also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written that you may believe that Yeshua is the Messiah, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:30-31)

The prophet Joel was a liar, and Kefa (Peter) was deceived when he quoted that false prophet in the famous Pentecost sermon: “And it shall be, that everyone who calls on the name of ADONAI shall be saved.” (Acts 2:21, quoting Joel 2:32)

Kefa was still seriously confused when he told those in Cornelius’ family: “Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.” (Acts 10:43)

Unless salvation (Spirit baptism) clearly occurs before water baptism, then the Holy Spirit made a serious mistake when He came upon those of Cornelius’ family before they were even saved:

While Kefa was still speaking these words, Ruach HaKodesh fell upon all those who were listening to the message. And all the circumcised believers who had come with Kefa were amazed, because the gift of Ruach HaKodesh had been poured out upon the Gentiles also. For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God. Then Kefa answered, “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be immersed who have received Ruach HaKodesh just as we did, can he?” And he ordered them to be immersed in the name of Yeshua HaMashiach. Then they asked him to stay on for a few days. (Acts 10:43-48)

Here the Biblical pattern is made absolutely clear:

1. The Word of God is presented to the unbeliever.

2. The hearer believes God and is immediately justified and indwelt by Ruach HaKodesh (the Holy Spirit) as the proof of his/her possession of eternal life.

3. The obedient believer receives immersion in water as an outward sign of that which has already taken place.

This sequence of events is confirmed in Kefa’s report to the Elders in Jerusalem (Acts 11:1-18).

I could go on, but you probably have a concordance of your own, and I believe that I have made my point. While there are a few isolated verses that speak of salvation and baptism together in the same context, there are far more that speak clearly of salvation without any reference whatsoever to water baptism.

But when all is said and done, the whole matter boils down to this: Is our salvation a free gift of God through faith in the completed work of Yeshua HaMashiach, or do we earn our salvation by obeying some rules or participating in some ritual? Is salvation by faith or by works?

But before I close this discussion, I want to play the “what if” game one more time for those who still cling to the notion that God cannot save those who have not been immersed in water.

What if a man sitting in a church service on Sunday morning hears the gospel and believes in Yeshua HaMashiach as the Son of God and receives Him as Lord and Savior?

What if at the end of the worship service while the congregation sings “Just as I Am,” he walks to the front of the sanctuary and makes his public confession of faith and requests that he be immersed immediately?

What if for some reason the baptistery is not filled (or the small church does not have a baptistery), so his water baptism is scheduled for the evening service?

What if he then goes home and wins his entire family for the Lord?

What if he then he goes next door and wins that family for the Lord?

What if that evening on his way to the church he is killed in a vehicle accident?

What is the man's eternal destiny?

There are only two possible outcomes from this scenario. Either the Lord takes him to heaven, thus demonstrating that water baptism is indeed not an absolute requirement for salvation, or he spends eternity in hell because Almighty God was either powerless or unwilling to save him on the basis of the completed work of Yeshua HaMashiach alone.

Where do you believe that this man spends eternity, and what is the Scriptural basis for your belief?

Don’t be satisfied with any man’s opinion for your answer. What does the Scripture say?

[BACK TO THE QUESTIONS]

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