Baptism is a word transliterated from Greek into English. Among the Greeks the verb to baptise signified the acts of immersion, submersion and emergence. It was used, for instance, of the dyeing of a garment. No other meaning existed. So in the New Testament, the threefold act in water conveys the spiritual significance of burial into death and of resurrection (Rom. 6:3, 4; Col. 2: 12). Figuratively the people of Israel were baptised in this way “in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Cor. 10: 2).
The Lord gave command to His Apostles to go and “make disciples of all the nations” and to baptise them into the Triune Name (Matt. 28: 19). They were not to make disciples. “by baptizing” them, as some have rendered it. Such an idea is contradicted by other Scriptures and reads a meaning into the command which it was never intended to convey. As examples of the preliminary requisite of faith before baptism, see Acts 2: 41; 8: 12; 16: 32, 33; 18: 8. There is no such teaching in Scripture as regeneration by baptism. The new birth comes by faith, by the power of the Spirit of God, and by the Word of God (Jas. 1: 18; 1 Pet. 1: 23).
While none were baptized but those who professed faith in Christ, no believer remained unbaptized. An unbaptized believer is not contemplated in the New Testament. When Paul said he had baptized only a few at Corinth (1 Cor. 1: 14), he did not imply that others remained unbaptized, he was simply guarding against the charge mentioned in verse 15. His very question to the whole assembly, “Were ye baptized into the name of Paul?” implies that all had been baptized by one person or another (see Acts 18: 8). It is the responsibility of every believer to be baptized, and it is the responsibility of servants of God to see to it that no one but a believer is baptized. Primarily the Lord’s command is given to the baptizer to carry out the ordinance; the believer is called upon to submit to it.
A believer, having already become identified with Christ in His death, shows in baptism that he has been buried with Him and raised with Him to walk in newness of life. He shows that he is one who reckons himself as having died to sin and as being alive unto God in Christ Jesus (Rom. 6: 11). That “old things have passed away” is set forth by going under the water; that “all things have become new” is set forth by rising out of the water. Both facts become true at conversion. Both are figuratively shown forth in baptism. The one who is baptized openly declares that he or she has accepted God’s sentence on the flesh, the old nature, in the death of Christ. He confesses, the truth that he has been crucified with Christ, and that nevertheless he lives, yet not he, but Christ liveth in him (Gal. 2: 19, 20), that he no longer practises sin, but is living entirely to the Son of God, who loved him and gave Himself up for him.
Baptism is therefore a holy and solemn obligation. It is a necessary response both to the command of Christ and to His love (John 14: 21).
Not long after apostolic times, in a period of departure from the faith, the Scriptural mode of baptism was replaced by sprinkling, which robbed it of its essential significance. After the cessation of early persecutions, measures were taken to incorporate people into the churches in a wholesale manner in order that the Christian religion might outrival its competitors. Pagans were allowed to come into the churches and retain some of their pagan customs. Hence the rite of sprinkling was adopted and the doctrine was promulgated in Christendom that salvation was procured by it and that those who refused it must perish. Hence the error of baptismal regeneration and the substitution of a rite which fails entirely to set forth the profound significance of baptism as taught by the Lord and His Apostles, and set forth in the Word of God.
In our next issue we hope to insert Mr. Vine’s comments on two much misunderstood Scriptures relating to Baptism (1 Pet. 3: 20, 21 and 1 Cor. 15: 29).