1 Even if today’s baptism ceremony is essentially a social event, the analysis of its meaning and of all that it entails is very important, for it is one of the basic truths of Christian doctrine, mentioned by Paul when he writes: «Therefore, now that we have overcome the basic teaching about the Christ, we should make progress towards maturity, without lingering again on fundamental truths, such as the departing from the works that lead to death, the faith in God, the instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead and the eternal judgment». (Hebrews 6:1…2)
2 The word Baptism comes from the Greek term “βάπτισμα” (baptisma) and means “immersion”. It is a word directly transliterated in other languages, like many other Greek words, as “εὐαγγέλιον” (evangelion), or “good news”, and “Ἀποκάλυψις” (Apocalypsis), or “revelation”.
With the passing of centuries, baptism, like other fundamental truths, has lost its original meaning. As soon as at the end of the first century, arose some of the concepts that would lead to the great apostasy predicted by Jesus in this parable: «The kingdom of Heaven may be compared to a man (Jesus) who sowed good seed in his field. But when the men slept (when the apostles died), his enemy (Satan) came and sowed tares over it, and went away». (Matthew 13:24…25)
In 51 AD, eighteen years after Jesus’ death, Paul recalls his words and warns the disciples: «this unknown offender is already at work, but when that which restrains him is taken away, the offender, that the Lord will declare spiritually dead and shall destroy at the time of the manifestation of his presence, will reveal himself; his manifestation is through the power of Satan, with powerful signs and deceptive wonders to seduce through injustice all those who perish, that is, those who have not loved the truth in order to be saved. For this reason, God sends them a spirit of confusion, so that they may believe in lie and be all judged for not believing what is true, taking pleasure in what is unjust». (2Thessalonians 2:7...12)
3 When the apostles went to sleep in death, the “sowed tares among the wheat” by the “enemy”, grew very fast, and few centuries later, the divisions had dramatically increased, as we can see in the following illustration:
Today there are over 41,000 denominations within a hybrid Christianity, and because of this confusion, baptism has completely lost its true meaning. However, confusion comes from the many misconceptions assumed by post-apostolic Christianity, but the Bible is very clear about its meaning and purpose, and in no way leads to ambiguous interpretations.
Let us consider its tradition and ritual in the various denominations of Christendom.
Extra-biblical interpretations Baptism:
(Click here to consult list)
4 Baptism of infants: according to each religious denomination, children are baptized by immersion, by sprinkling, or by infusion, under the liturgical Trinitarian formula, “in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost”.
Baptism by sprinkling: Water is sprayed for three times on the baptized, “in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost”.
Baptism by infusion: Water is poured for three times over the head of the baptized, “in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost”. This way became popular when at the end of the first millennium, most people chose it to baptize their children, and from the thirteenth century, is the common baptism rite in Occident.
Baptism by immersion: this baptism was once widespread, even if today is only used in the Syrian rite. Water is poured for three times “in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost” on the baptized person, who after this, is immersed in water.
Baptism by total immersion: the whole body of the baptized person is completely submerged in water for three times, “in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost”. This is the common rite among many Baptists and Eastern Orthodox.
5 There is no evidence in the early centuries of Christian Congregation and on the New Testament, of the practices described above, but Scripture clearly states that only those who had exerted faith in Christ could be baptized. With this in mind, we understand that the baptism of infants could not be an accepted practice in the apostolic times. All the baptisms recorded in Scripture are exclusively of adults; newborns and very young children cannot understand what the faith in Christ means, cannot consciously take the decision to obey his words or fully realize what baptism symbolizes.
Even so, some consider that when the New Testament speaks of the baptism of entire houses, testifies about the baptism of adults and all their family, including children. (Acts 16:15,33; 18:8, 1Corinthians 1:16) However, the term “house or family” as used in the Bible, obviously excludes infants. For example, when in Titus 1:11 Paul speaks about some apostates who “subvert entire houses”, it is clear that infants cannot be included, and when in 1Samuel 1:21...22 we read that Samuel's father Elkanah, «went up with all his family» to Jerusalem, the next verse says that his wife «Hanna did not go, because she said to her husband: “I will not go up until the child is weaned”».
6 In the beginning of the 3rd century, Tertullian (150-225) a notable Christian apologist, censured the practice of infant baptism with these words: «According to the condition, disposition and age of each person, it is better to postpone baptism, especially in the case of children... Certainly the Lord said, “Let the children come to me!”; that they come, yes, but when they grow up; that they come, yes, but when they are in age of being instructed, when they will be able to know who is the one to whom they draw near. That they become Christians, but when they will be able to know Christ». (Tertullian: De baptismo 18, 5...6)
Nevertheless, on the 5th century, infant baptizing was established as mandatory standard. In order to comply the papal provisions, in 418 the synod of Carthage was summoned, and in the presence of 200 bishops, eight dogmas or doctrines, including the baptism of infants, were then established. This same Council condemned «those who deny that children should be baptized when they come out from their mother’s womb», stating that «by virtue of the rule of faith» concerning original sin, «even the youngest, which have not yet been able to personally commit any sin, are truly baptized for the remission of sins, so that through the regeneration, may be purified in them that which they received from birth». (Gian Domenico Mansi, Sacrorum Conciliorum, 3, 810…815 and 4, 327)
7 Another theme in contrast with Scripture is the name in which baptism should be administered; the versions of Matthew's Gospel arrived to us, make reference to a baptism in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, in sharp contrast with the words of Peter, Paul, Luke and John. Some translators explicitly recognize that this statement is not in harmony with the rest of Scripture, which only speaks of baptism in the name of Jesus. Regarding Matthew 28:19, we find in one Spanish version of the Jerusalem Bible, a footnote that we translate and partially copy, which says: «It is possible that this formula suffers in its accuracy of the liturgical use later settled in the early communities. It is well known that the Acts speak of baptizing “in the name of Jesus”. Later, the binding of the baptized with the three persons of Trinity could have been made explicit...» These words cautiously admit what is already well known by many, the fact that these words respond to an old Trinitarian interpolation. Originally, this verse simply recorded these words of Jesus: «Poreuthentes mathêteusate panta ta ethnê en to onomati mou» or «Go and make disciples of all nations in my name», (Matthew 28:19) because this is how Eusebius of Caesarea (263-339) cites it in his Ecclesiastical History. (Book 3rd, 5th chapter, 2)
It is therefore evident that the Trinitarian text was added later than 339 AD.
8 Now, why did Paul use the plural in Hebrews 6:2, when he says «the teaching related to baptisms»? The reason is that, in fact, the Bible mentions four different kinds of baptisms:
The baptism of John the Baptist
The baptism of Jesus
The baptism of the disciples of Jesus
The baptism in the holy spirit
The Baptism of John
9 Baptism played a major role in the prophetic ministry of John, son of Zechariah and cousin of Jesus. In fact, his preaching about baptism was so significant that he became known among the people as John the Baptist, and for this reason Scripture says: «In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea». (Matthew 3:1)
His preaching should not have been unexpected to the people, who being familiar with Scripture, awaited the arrival of the promised Messiah in this period. Besides, John's ministry had also been foretold by Malachi, who proclaimed these words from God: «Behold! I send my messenger and he shall prepare the way before me, and suddenly, the Lord whom you ask for will come to his temple. Behold! the messenger of the covenant that you yearn for, comes”, says Yahuh of Hosts », (Malachi 3:1)
This prophecy was totally fulfilled in John, as Luke states when he writes: «Under the high-priests Hannas and Caiaphas, a word from God came in the moor to John, the son of Zechariah. And he went through the region of the Jordan, preaching a baptism of conversion for the forgiveness of sins». (Luke 3:2…3) These words reveal the meaning of John's baptism, it was a baptism of conversion or repentance from sins. He «said to those coming out of crowd to be baptized by him: “Offspring of poisonous serpents, who showed you how to flee from the coming wrath? Bring forth worthy fruits of conversion, do not tell yourselves: “we have Abraham for father, because I say to you that from these stones, God can rise an offspring for Abraham”». (Luke 3:7…8)
10 So John’s baptism was the public statement of those who with the sincere desire to reform or convert themselves, testified their regret for having transgressed the Law given to Moses. John's main task was to make ready a well prepared people before God, since the purpose of John’s important mission was to prepare the people for His Envoy, as before his birth, Yahuh's angel said to his father Zechariah: «he shall turn towards Yahuh, the God of them, many of the sons of Israel, and he shall walk before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their offspring and of the rebel towards the wisdom of the just, in order to prepare for Yahuh a well willing people». (Luke 1:16…17)
John was a powerful instrument in the hand of Yahuh; his words were messages from the Creator, and he proclaimed them with the “spirit and power of Elijah”, displaying the same charisma and energy of the ancient prophet. His ministry inspired a healthy fear that drove sinners to examine their spiritual condition before God, and then, recognizing to be sinners, went to John in heartache and expressed their repentance through baptism.
11 The apostle John write in his gospel that «Jesus went with his disciples to the land of the Judea, and remained there with them, and baptized», (John 3:22) however, in the next chapter we read that: “he was making and baptizing more disciples than John, although in fact, Jesus himself did not baptize, but his disciples». (John 4:1...2)
Which was the sense of the baptism then performed by the disciples of Christ? No one could still be baptized in the name of Jesus, as after his death when Paul wrote: «We were buried through baptism into his death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious Father, we too are transplanted into a new life. For if we have been united with him in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection». (Romans 6:4...5) So the baptism then performed by the disciples of Jesus, obviously had the same meaning as that of John the Baptist; it was “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”.
The Baptism of Jesus
12 Some six months after John began his preaching, Jesus came to the Jordan, and asked him to be baptized. John objected and said, «It’s me who needs to be baptized by you, and you come to me?» (Matthew 3:14) The Baptist knew that the baptism he bestowed was not for Jesus but for repented sinners. However Jesus insisted, «Let it now be this way, since it is proper for us to fulfill all that is just» (Matthew 3:15)
Why was it just for Jesus to receive baptism? His baptism was special, it implied the voluntary acceptance of his Father’s purpose. Until then, Jesus had probably worked as a carpenter, but it was time to start his ministry. Describing Jesus' attitude, Paul writes: «when coming into the world, Christ says: You have not been pleased by sacrifices and offerings, but you prepared me a body. You did not approve burnt offerings or sacrifices for sin, so I said: “Look, I come, in the scroll of the book it is written about me, to perform, oh my God, your will”». (Hebrews 10:5…7)
13 So, which was the meaning of Jesus' baptism? It was a public declaration of the renunciation of his life on earth, in order to fulfill the salvation purpose of He who had sent him to redeem mankind. When Paul explains God's redemption purpose through Jesus, says: «If through the transgression of only one man, death reigned, through only one man, Jesus Christ, life will reign in those who receive the generous gift of justification. And as through one single transgression, the sentence spread to all men, through one single act of justice, the justification that leads to life extends to all men. And as because the transgression of only one man, many were made sinners, because the obedience of only one man, also many are made righteous». (Romans 5:17...19)
14 So Jesus’ baptism was unique and unrepeatable, the Baptist bears witness to this when he writes: «I saw the spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him. I did not know him, but He that sent me to baptize in water, told me: “He upon whom you see the spirit descend and remain, is who baptizes in holy spirit”. And I saw it, and I testify that this is the Son of God». (John 1:32…34)
Matthew writes that when Jesus came out of the water, «the heavens were opened to him, and the spirit of God was seen descending like a dove and coming upon him. And behold, a voice from the heavens said: “This is my beloved son, in whom I delight”». (Matthew 3:16…17) What did it mean for Jesus that the heavens were opened to him? Jesus was aware of his miraculous birth as a human son of God, because at twelve, when being reproved for not returning from the Temple with his family, he told his mother Mary: «Why were you looking for me? Don't you know that I must be in my Father's house?» (Luke 2:49) But even so, he had never been aware of his previous life in heaven as his Father’s firstborn, until “the heavens were opened to him”. And since he knew of the life to which he had resigned, Jesus could well say to the Jews who often argued with him, «verily, verily I say to you, before Abraham came to be, I was». (John 8:58)
The Baptism of the disciples of Jesus
15 In regard with the baptism administered by Jesus' disciples after Pentecost, it is necessary to consider several important steps:
The first of them is the awareness of the baptized person, about what he intends to do, because Scripture declares that baptism should only be received by:
Who has been taught: «Go and make disciples of all nations in my name, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And look, I am with you all days, till the end of the age». (Matthew 28:19…20)
Who believes in the kingdom of God and of Jesus Christ: «But when they believed Philip, who preached the good news of the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, men and women were baptized». (Acts 8:12)
Who converts or corrects himself: Then Peter said, «Convert, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ…» (Acts 2:38)
16 The second and absolutely essential in Christian baptism, is to receive baptism in the name of Jesus Christ. Luke says that Peter told those who asked how to reach salvation: «Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you shall receive the gift of the holy spirit», (Acts 2:38) and gave the command that all those who accepted Jesus, should be «baptized in the name of Jesus Christ». (Acts 10:48) In line with these words, Jesus told his disciples: «I am the way, the truth and the life. Nobody comes to the Father except through me». (John 14:06)
Jesus is the only Christ, the only Messiah or Anointed of God; the only path leading to salvation and to a life without death. God sent only Jesus to redeem mankind' life, as Paul writes to his disciples: «you have received a call to one only hope, for you have one only Lord (Jesus), one only faith, one only baptism, and one only God (Yahuh) who is the Father of all, who is above all and who works for all and in all». (Ephesians 4:4…6) So there is only one true baptism for Jesus’ followers, that which the apostles and disciples administered in his name.
17 The third regards the importance of being aware of the meaning of baptism. The true Christian baptism is not a necessary step to become a member of a Christian denomination, as many believe, but something far more important. Jesus spoke to Nicodemus of its sense when he said: «verily, verily I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God... Do not be surprised that I said you must be born again». (John 3:3,7) And Paul explains it so: «all of us baptized in Jesus Christ, were baptized in his death... therefore, through baptism we were buried in his death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious Father, we too may be transplanted to a new life»; (Romans 6:3...4 ) since God, «made us be born again through baptism, regenerated by holy spirit». (Titus 3:5)
In fact, he who is baptized dies symbolically with Christ when immersed in water, and rising from it, is born again to a new life free from sin, for he receives the gift of «God-given justification through faith in Christ», because «the faith in the redeeming power of his blood is the basis on which God, by his mercy, ascribes justification». (Romans 3:22, 25) This is why Peter tells the disciples, «Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins», (Acts 2:38) and comparing the salvation provided by baptism, with the march of Israel through the Red Sea, says: «This salvation across the water became a figure of the salvation obtained through baptism, which is not a bath to clean the body, but the awareness that the justification is obtained through God, by means of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead». (1Peter 3:21)
18 The forth one is to be baptized in the only baptism that according to Scripture, symbolizes death through a total immersion in water, in fact, Paul says: “we were buried through baptism in his death”, and writes: «In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not made by hands, depriving you of a part of the body, but with the circumcision of the Christ, that is, being buried with him through baptism, and emerging with him by means of the faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead». (Colossians 2:11…12)
Here below we see two early baptisteries or basins. One of them is from the fourth century and belonged to the ancient Christian community in the city of Shivta, on the Negev desert of Jordan, and the other is an octagonal baptistery of the fifth century, located in the necropolis of Costa Balenae, near Riva Ligure, in Italy.
The baptism in holy spirit
19 In the 8th century BC, Isaiah declared these words from God: «I will pour my spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants». (Isaiah 44:3) John the Baptist pointed out that the fulfilling of this prophecy was close, when at Jesus’ baptism, he said: «He that sent me to baptize with water, told me: “He upon whom you see the spirit descend and remain, is who baptizes with holy spirit”. And I saw it, and I testify that this is the Son of God». (John 1:33…34)
His words announced a different baptism, a baptism in holy spirit, which would be bestowed through Jesus on those who were baptized in his name.
After being resurrected, Jesus remained forty days with his disciples, and «while they were together, he gave them orders not to leave Jerusalem until the fulfillment of the promise of the Father, “about which”, he said, “I had spoken to you. For John baptized in water, but you, in not many days, will be baptized in holy spirit”» (Acts 1:4…5)
Which was the “promise of the Father”? Jesus referred to what Joel foretold when he declared these words from Yahuh: «After this, shall come to pass that I will pour out my spirit upon all the people…» (Joel 2:28)
20 The coming of holy spirit upon the disciples in Pentecost day, was the fulfillment of God’s promise of through Joel; Peter confirms it when he says: «This is the fulfillment of what was said by the prophet Joel: “And it shall happen in the last days”, says God, “that I will pour out my spirit upon all the people…”» (Acts 2:16...17)
So the “promise of the Father” is a baptism in His holy spirit, poured out through Jesus “upon all the people”. Peter says to the disciples: «the promise is for you and for your offspring, and for all that are afar, for all those whom the Lord our God shall call». (Acts 2:39) These words make clear that the baptism in holy spirit is for the disciples called by the Father to become the body of Christ, as Paul explains when he writes: «Now we, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free, have been baptized through one spirit in order to form one single body, for we have all been watered with the same spirit» (1 Corinthians 12:13)
The book of Revelation tells us the number of the baptized in holy spirit: «a hundred and forty-four thousand who have been redeemed from the earth. These are they that follow the Lamb wherever he goes and have been acquired from mankind, to be first fruits for God and to the Lamb». (Revelation 14:3…4)
How were they redeemed? Always in Revelation, we read these words addressed to Christ: «You are worthy to take the scroll and to open the seals, because you were slain and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation, and made them for our God, a kingdom of priests to reign over the earth». (Revelation 15:9…10) They are those whom Jesus promised: «I prepare a kingdom for you like my Father prepared it for me». (Luke 22:29)
21 Jesus said to Nicodemus: «“Verily, verily I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God”. Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?” and Jesus answered, “Verily I say to you, unless one is born of water and spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God». (John 3:3...5) So who receives baptism, symbolically dies when he is immersed in water, and when he emerges, receives a new life through the spirit of God. This makes us understand that when those belonging to the body of Christ arise from the symbolic death to a new life, are baptized with holy spirit through Jesus, as Paul writes Titus: «Through baptism He (God) made us be born again, regenerated by his holy spirit poured out generously on us through Jesus Christ, our Savior». (Titus 3:5)
22 The fact of being born again involves radical changes in the life of the disciple; as Paul says, «Those who belong to Jesus Christ, have nailed their body with its passions and desires to the pole (or cross), so If we live by the spirit, let us also walk guided by the spirit». (Galatians 5:24...25)
How can we be guided by the spirit of God? In fact, the spirit will only guide those who are decided to walk guided by it, so the willingness to seek and follow its guidance must be the main purpose in the new life, if so, the spirit will help us through the precious gift of its fruit, which God has poured into our hearts.
Paul names nine qualities of God’s spirit when he writes: «The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, order, mercy, generosity, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-discipline; against such things there is no law». (Galatians 5:22…23) But all these aspects of the fruit of the spirit can only be manifested in our lives if we strive to remain under the spirit’s guide, because only «those guided by the spirit of God, are sons of God», (Romans 8:14) and Paul says for them: «Don't you know that your body is a temple of the holy spirit received from God? So you no longer belong to yourselves, because you have been acquired at a high price. Therefore, glorify God in your body». (1Corinthians 6:19...20)
The gifts of the spirit
23 The baptism in the spirit of God allows the receiving of its gifts, but when were the gifts bestowed through Jesus for the first time? Matthew writes that Jesus sent his apostles to preach the kingdom of heaven, giving them authority to «heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out devils», and told them: «You have received liberally, give liberally… because it is not you who speak, but the spirit of your Father speaks through you». (Matthew 10:8,20)
Later, from Pentecost’s day on, the gifts of the spirit were firstly distributed to the hundred and twenty disciples gathered in the Cenacle, and after Peter’s speech, many of the disciples who were baptized in the name of Jesus, received the baptism in the spirit of God as well as its gifts, which Jesus delivered according to the needs of the Christian community. Paul says: «There are various of gifts, yet the spirit is one... the spirit manifests differently in each, for the common good. For example, one is given a sapient way to express himself, while another, through the same spirit, a cultivated language; one is given the arguments to support the faith, and another, the gift of healing, but always through the same spirit; one, the gift of powerful works, and another the gift of prophecy; one is given the knowledge to interpret inspired expressions, another, the speaking in different languages, and another, the interpretation of the languages. But all these things are the fruit of the one and same spirit, which distributes them on each one as he wishes». (1Corinthians 12:4, 7...11)
24 Those gifts were essential to confirm that after the death and resurrection of Jesus, the situation had really changed. Jesus had foretold this fact when he said: «Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it. So many times I tried to gather your children, as a bird gathers her chicks under her wings! But you were not willing. Behold, your home is forsaken to yourselves, and I also say that you will not see me again until I arrive, when you may say: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of God”». (Luke 13:34…35) So God left the unfaithful Israel to its fate and through Jesus, gave birth to a new spiritual Jerusalem, the new people foretold by the prophets and built by all those to whom Peter says: «You are an elected lineage, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people that God has acquired for himself, in order to proclaim the excellences of Him who called you out of the darkness to His marvelous light». (1Peter 2:9)
Yahuh says to those He considers Abraham’s offspring because of their faith in His purpose and promises: «Now listen Jacob, my servant Israel that I have chosen, this is what Yahuh, your maker, says: He who formed you from the womb will help you. Fear not my servant Jacob, Yesurun (upright) whom I have chosen, because I will pour water on the thirsty and floods upon the dryness, I will pour my spirit upon your seed, and my blessing on your descendants». (Isaiah 44:1…3) And Paul explains: «Abraham and his descendants did not receive the promise to be the heirs of the world through the Law, but through the justification that comes from faith, because if the heirs were those who adhere the Law, faith would be useless and the promise worthless. In fact, the Law produces judgment while where there is no law, there is no transgression. Therefore, the promise comes through faith, so that it can be assigned as a generous gift and be available to all the progeny, not only to the progeny that comes from the Law, also to that which through faith descends from Abraham, who is thus constituted the father of us all, as it is written: “I have made you the father of many nations”». (Romans 4:13...16)
25 How did God confirm this change? As Paul says, «God himself joined in bearing witness with signs and wonders and all sorts of wonderful works, distributing the gifts of the holy spirit according to His will». (Hebrews 2:4)
The wonderful capacities of the gifts of the spirit were needed as a public confirmation of God’s favor over the new chosen people of the disciples of Jesus, however, when the new Israel reached maturity, or in the words of Paul, when the Christian congregation was no longer a child, some of these gifts would become unnecessary. Paul says: «Love will never end. The prophecies will pass, languages will cease and the revelations will end, because now we know only in part, and consequently what we preach is incomplete, but all of these will end when our knowledge is complete. When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child, but growing to be a man, I removed childish behavior. Now we see vague outlines, as in a metal mirror, but then we will see face to face. Now I know partially, but then I will know perfectly and completely. In any case, three things remain unchanged, faith, hope and love, and the greatest of these is love». (1Corinthians 13:8...2)