The Household Baptisms

June 8, 2018

Jesus’ instructions in the Great Commission should settle an important issue about baptism. With the phrase “baptizing them” we have a pronoun. Pronouns in both Greek and English have referents. In this case, we go back to the immediate command: “them” refers to the people who are made disciples. Unless you have made someone a disciple of Jesus, Jesus has not authorized you to baptize them.

But those arguing for infant baptism often seek support for their practice in the household baptisms in Acts. This is an argument from silence, and therefore a very weak argument. Can we be certain that there are any infants? Examining the household baptisms exposes evidence counter to the infant baptism case.

However, if you are accustomed to looking at these household baptisms in such discussions, you may find a surprise in the ESV of Acts 16:34. The ESV reads:

And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God. (Acts 16:34, ESV)

The NASB represents the reading or meaning which is also found in the KJV, NKJV, and NIV.

… and rejoiced greatly, having believed in God with his whole household. (Acts 16:34, NASB)

The translation issue is the Greek adverb πανοικεί (panoikei, G3832) which is translated “with his whole/entire household.” What in Greek is an adverb is a prepositional phrase in English. Does this adverb modify the verb “he rejoiced,” the participle “having believed,” or both? Although the adverb occurs after “he rejoiced” and before “having believed,” most translations put it at the end of the sentence in English to indicate both. The ESV shows the position of the adverb, but Greek is not as sensitive to position within a sentence as English is. I would favor a translation like the NASB here, but even if we keep the ESV, a rejoicing household doesn’t help the infant baptism position.

What do we learn as we look through the accounts of the household baptisms?

  • The household feared God. Acts 10:2
  • The household heard the word of God. Acts 10:44
  • The household heard the word. Acts 16:32
  • The household rejoiced, believed, or both. Acts 16:34.
  • The household believed. Acts 18:8

These seem consistent with Jesus’ instructions in the Great Commission: baptize those who have been made disciples.


Baptism Is Not Just a Symbol

July 7, 2017

The teaching of the New Testament is that baptism when done in faith is the point at which one becomes a Christian and receives the blessings that are available in Christ. In other words, baptism is not just a symbol that can be dispensed with. It has symbolism of burial and resurrection, but scripture teaches that something really happens in it. It is not just a symbol. Although this view of baptism is not popular in the religious world, ironically it is found among New Testament scholars outside churches of Christ. Frederick Dale Bruner in his A Theology of the Holy Spirit cites works by G.R. Beasley-Murray, R.E.O. White, and Johannes Schneider as examples (p. 264, footnote 52).

The late Beasley-Murray, a British Baptist, in The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (I:144) writes, “Despite assertions to the contrary, it seems that baptizo, both in Jewish and Christian contexts, normally meant ‘immerse’, and that even when it became a technical term for baptism, the thought of immersion remains.” In his book, Baptism in the New Testament (p. 263), Beasley-Murray after citing a quotation from Adolf Schlatter comments, “He meant, of course, that there is no gift or power available to man in consequence of the redemption of Christ that is not available to him in baptism. On the basis of the exposition offered above, and without any attempt to give exhaustive references, the ‘grace’ available to man in baptism is said by the New Testament writers to include the following elements…” (the following is simply Beasley-Murray’s paragraph given in a list form).

  • Forgiveness of sin, Acts 2:38 and cleansing from sins, Acts 22:16, I Cor. 6:11.
  • Union with Christ. Gal. 3:27, and particularly union with Him in his death and resurrection. Rom. 6:3ff, Col. 2:11f, with all that implies of release from sin’s power, as well as guilt, and the sharing of the risen life of the Redeemer, Rom. 6:1-11.
  • Participation in Christ’s sonship, Gal. 3:26f.
  • Consecration to God, I Cor. 6:11, hence membership in the church, the Body of Christ, I Cor. 12:13, Gal. 3:27-29.
  • Possession of the Spirit, Acts 2:38, I Cor. 6:11, 12, 13, and therefore the new life in the Spirit, i.e. regeneration, Tit. 3:5, Jn. 3:5.
  • Grace to live according to the will of God, Rom. 6:1ff, Col. 3:1ff.
  • Deliverance from the evil powers that rule this world, Col. 1:13.
  • The inheritance of the Kingdom of God, Jn. 3:5, and the pledge of the resurrection of the body, Eph. 1:13f, 4:30.

We can only hope that the scholarship of Beasley-Murray and others on the subject of baptism will help convince the religious world to reexamine scripture. What is needed is for people everywhere to return to the teaching of the New Testament on baptism. Baptism is not just a symbol.


Baptized In the Name of Jesus?

July 17, 2015

Recently, someone asked me what the proper thing to say at baptism is: “in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” or “in the name of Jesus”? Both phrases are used in the New Testament. First, let’s examine what the phrases mean, and then deal with the question.

The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) uses the phrase “baptizing them into the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” The New Testament was originally written in Greek. The Greek word, eis, that I have rendered “into,” is probably translated as “in” in your Bible, although the ESV and NIV give a footnote citing “into.” The phrase, “eis to onoma/into the name,” was used in the Greek business word to indicate entry into an account bearing the name of its owner. Cottrell commenting on this phrase writes:

Its use in Matthew 28:19 indicates that the purpose of baptism is to unite us with the Triune God in an ownership relation; we become his property in a special, intimate way. (Baptism: A Biblical Study, p. 17)

The same kind of construction is also used in Acts 8:16 and Acts 19:5, where it is “baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus” with the same ownership kind of meaning.

The phrase, “baptized in the name (en to onomati) of Jesus Christ,” is used in Acts 10:48. The Greek word “en” is often translated as “in.” This phrase can mean while naming or calling on the name and in some cases, at the command of, by the authority of someone. The standard Greek lexicon (BAGD, p. 572) suggests in these verses the idea is to be baptized while naming the name of Jesus Christ. Baptism is a calling upon Jesus. Ananias says to Paul, “And now why do you delay? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name” (Acts 22:16, NASB). Most people confess Jesus prior to their baptism, and so call on His name. If the meaning is by the authority of someone, then it means that someone is baptized by the authority of Jesus (that is at his command).

Each of these phrases reveals aspects of baptism. Baptism is an appeal. Baptism is the place where we enter into a new relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—we become His. Baptism is done at the command of Jesus. These two phrases do not contradict each other. They reveal aspects of baptism.

But what should we say at baptism? The truth is that nowhere in the New Testament are we instructed to say certain words while baptizing someone to make the baptism valid. The baptizer could be silent, although most of us choose to say something that reveals the meaning of baptism. It is the purpose and meaning of baptism that is important and not the formula of words spoken. Both phrases are biblical. It is only the familiarity of traditional usage that makes one phrase seem more appropriate than the other. But we need to understand that Matthew 28:19 and Acts 10:48 are not proscribing a spoken formula. The phrases do not contradict one another; they both reveal aspects of baptism.

BDAG = A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Chicago (University of Chicago Press, 2000)


Was Baptism Unimportant to Paul?

March 14, 2014

In arguing against the divisions in Corinth, Paul questions “Or were you baptized in the name of Paul” (1 Cor. 1:13, ESV)? Paul then begins a digression where he is thankful that he hadn’t baptized many of the Corinthians, so they couldn’t claim to have been baptized into Paul. He notes that he had baptized Crispus and Gaius and then remembers he must add the household of Stephanas to the list, and he is a bit uncertain of how many more. But he concludes, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel” (1 Cor. 1:17, ESV). Does this statement mean that baptism was unimportant to Paul?

How do we go about answering the question? The context of the Bible must be our source of evidence. First, let us examine Paul’s teaching on baptism.

  • Romans 6:1-6. In baptism, we are united with Christ. We are united to his death, and therefore, we have the hope of being united with his resurrection.
  • 1 Corinthians 12:13. Baptism is the occasion for our being united in the body of Christ and is linked with the reception of the Holy Spirit.
  • Galatians 3:27-29. Baptism is when we put on Christ and become heirs.
  • Ephesians 4:4-5. Paul places one baptism in a list which includes one body, one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, and one God.
  • Colossians 2:11-12. Baptism unites us with the burial and resurrection of Christ, and it is also linked with the spiritual, circumcision of Christ (i.e., regeneration). Grammatically, the “having been buried” is antecedent or contemporaneous to the main verb “were circumcised.” That means the spiritual, circumcision of Christ occurs at the same time as the baptism or following it as far as the grammar of the sentence is concerned.

The clear teaching of Paul prevents me from saying that baptism was unimportant to Paul. So how am I to understand Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 1? Again, the context of scripture helps us.

Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. (John 4:1–3 ESV)

This is a passage which shows a division of labor between Jesus who is doing the preaching and his disciples who are doing the baptizing. Does a division of labor approach to preaching and baptizing explain Paul’s comment? It certainly does, and it fits with what Paul says about the differing functions in the body (1 Corinthians 12).

Was baptism unimportant to Paul? Paul’s clear teaching on baptism and the broader context of scripture must cause us to answer no. Baptism is clearly important to Paul.


Sent Not to Baptize?

March 22, 2013

I’ve had people object to the importance of baptism by saying, “Paul wasn’t sent to baptize.” Are we really supposed to understand baptism as optional by this quotation from Paul in 1 Corinthians 1? We must investigate the immediate and broader contexts to answer our question.

Paul is dealing with a worldly, party spirit within the church at Corinth. Some are saying, “I am of Paul.” Others are saying, “I am of Apollos.” And others still are saying, “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.” For this reason, Paul is glad that he hasn’t baptized many of them, for fear they would have claimed to be baptized into the name of Paul. He had, however, baptized Crispus, Gaius, the household of Stephanas, and he wasn’t certain who all else. Baptism is clearly a part of the ministry of Paul. It is within this context that Paul states, “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel” (1 Corinthians 1:17).

First, we need to examine what Paul says about baptism. Within 1 Corinthians, Paul teaches, “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:13, ESV). Baptism is linked to one’s incorporation into the body, that is the church, and regeneration (that’s what the language of “made to drink of one Spirit” is about). We cannot imagine a Christian not in the church or not having the Spirit. Baptism does not appear from this teaching to be optional. But consider also the following passages from Paul.

  • Romans 6:3-4 — union with Christ and regeneration.
  • Galatians 3:27-29 — put on Christ and become heirs
  • Ephesians 4:5-6 — one of the important ones of Christianity.
  • Colossians 2:12 — buried and raised with Christ

If baptism is important in Paul’s teaching, what explains his statement in 1 Corinthians 1:17. The answer to that question also is found in 1 Corinthians. It is Paul’s view of ministry: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone (1 Corinthians 12:4–6, ESV).

Clearly Paul sees his function within the church as to preach and teach the gospel. If we take seriously what Paul writes, this teaching will result in baptisms. But Paul’s view of ministry is such that he doesn’t have to be the one who actually performs the baptism. He does at times, but others do too. Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 1:17 doesn’t make baptism optional. It reflects the fact there may be a division of labor between the one who does the teaching and the one who administers the baptism.


Why Be Baptized?

January 11, 2013

Why be baptized? The question only makes sense if someone believes in Jesus. If you believe that Jesus died for your sins, was buried, and raised from the dead, then it is legitimate to ask: why be baptized?

Jesus was baptized (Matthew 3:13-17, Mark 1:9-11, Luke 3:21-22). If I’m going to follow Jesus, I can’t hesitate to do what Jesus did especially when he commands it. Jesus didn’t need baptism for forgiveness of sins unlike you and me, since Jesus is sinless. But Jesus persuaded John to baptize him “to fulfill all righteousness.” It was appropriate to fulfill God’s will.

Jesus commanded baptism (Matthew 28:19-20, Mark 16:16). The followers of Jesus are to go into all the world and make disciples. A disciple, in this case, is a follower of Jesus. A disciple is someone who learns and follows Jesus’ instructions. But the making of a disciple is incomplete if we don’t follow all of Jesus’ instructions. We are also to baptize this person in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. We are also to teach them to keep all the things commanded by Jesus.

Jesus promised certain things in baptism through his teaching and his apostles’s teaching.

  • The entrance into the Kingdom of God, John 3:5
  • Forgiveness of sin, Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16, 1 Cor. 6:11.
  • Reception of the Spirit, Acts 2:38, 1 Cor. 12:13, and therefore the new life in the Spirit, i.e. regeneration, Titus. 3:5, John 3:5.
  • Union with Christ. Gal. 3:27, and particularly union with Him in his death and resurrection. Rom. 6:3ff, Col. 2:11f, with all that implies of release from sin’s power, as well as guilt, and the sharing of the risen life of the Redeemer, Rom. 6:1-11.
  • Salvation. Mark 16:16, 1 Peter 3:21

Now I’m not suggesting that immersion in water by itself does all these things. These passages assume that we come to baptism in faith with repentant hearts. The power is in the work of Christ — his death, burial and resurrection. Baptism is an expression of our trust in Jesus and in God. But on the other hand, the New Testament never pictures the unbaptized as possessing these blessings. Baptism is the place where we meet God in faith to receive the spiritual blessings he has promised because of what Jesus Christ has done for us.

Why be baptized? Jesus was baptized. Jesus commanded baptism. Jesus has promised spiritual blessings in baptism. I can’t take Jesus seriously and claim to follow him without also submitting to baptism.


Why Be Baptized?

October 7, 2011

The practice of baptism in the New Testament is immersion in water, but why be baptized? Some view baptism as a mere symbol of something that has already taken place in a person’s life. In other words, a person becomes a Christian, and then he or she is baptized. Baptism, then, is non-essential to becoming a Christian. Others view baptism as the place where God has promised to give the benefits of salvation. Which view fits the teaching of the New Testament?

  • Mark 16:15-16. Both “believes” and “is baptized” are linked with “will be saved.” Some object to the linkage because of the phrase “whoever does not believe will be condemned” doesn’t mention baptism. But no one is arguing for baptizing the unbelieving. Without faith no one is scripturally baptized.
  • Acts 2:38. In this passage “repent” and “be baptized” are linked with “for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Forgiveness and regeneration are reasons for baptism.
  • Acts 22:16. “And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name” (ESV). Baptism is said to be the place where sins are washed away. Baptism is also linked to one’s confession or appeal to God. The phrase “calling on his name” is an allusion to Joel 2:32.
  • Romans 6:3-5. Baptism unites us to Christ and to his death. After being raised from the waters of baptism, we have the blessing that “we too might walk in newness of life” (ESV). This last phrase also links baptism to regeneration.
  • 1 Corinthians 12:13. “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body- Jews or Greeks, slaves or free- and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (ESV). Baptism unites us to the church, the body of Christ. Note again that baptism is linked with regeneration—“to drink of one Spirit.”
  • Galatians 3:27 “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (ESV). It is in baptism that we put on Christ.
  • 1 Peter 3:21 “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (ESV). Baptism saves. Peter is clear. The reason baptism saves is because of what Christ has done for us.

Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) is responsible for the Reformed doctrine of baptism, which views baptism as a mere symbol. He argued that no physical act could have a spiritual effect. The problem with such an argument can be seen in one simple question. What about the crucifixion? Zwingli was influenced by a philosophical dualism that does not have its roots in the Bible. Although baptism has symbolism (death, burial, and resurrection), the New Testament teaches that something real and spiritual takes place at baptism.

Why be baptized? Forgiveness of sins. Salvation. Regeneration. Union with Christ. Putting on Christ. Union with the body of Christ.