What About Water Baptism?

I received two requests today for information on water baptism. One request came via our Ask the Pastor site. The other request is from a member of DepartingUPC. In this study I will deal with both questions. Let's discuss the issue of water baptism.

This is Bible Study DU007 - What About Water Baptism?

(1) Here is the question from our Ask the Pastor page: "Why did the church stop baptizing in the name of Jesus, as it was in the book of the Acts of the Apostles?"

(2) Here is the request from a member of DepartingUPC: "Could you discuss the role of baptism in terms of the early church. As you know; in 'apostolic' circles, baptism is tied to salvation using Peter's response to the question: what must we do, and the statement that baptism doth also now save us."

Let's look at (1). Here is my response to our Ask the Pastor question. (Edited for clarity.):

"According to the earliest Christian writings the Church baptized both ways. It appears that most did not see any distinction between baptizing in the name of Jesus or baptizing in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. To them it was all about authority. Keep in mind that when reading the Acts of the Apostles you are reading a limited rendition of early church history.

"When you see the term 'name' in Scripture, it generally speaks of authority. So if Jesus told the disciples to baptize in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, He would have been giving them the express authority to do so. This is how the triune baptism was considered. It was done in and by the authority of Jesus.

"Actually water baptism could just have easily have been stated as, 'By the authority of Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.'" It would not have really mattered. The issue comes back to the One who authorized water baptism and under whose authority does it come?

"There is another issue that needs to be considered. Calling upon the name of the Lord is something that the candidate does. What the minister says is not some magical formula in water baptism. According to Scripture, salvation is always in the mouth of the one coming to Jesus. For this reason the crucial issue is not with what the minister says, but what the candidate says."

That was my Ask the Pastor response. Now for more thoughts.

Think about it. Is a person's salvation to be placed in the mouth of the one doing the baptizing? Or, is salvation wholly a matter of the person being baptized? This is not a trite question. It reaches into the very heart of Biblical redemption.

If we say that our salvation is contingent upon the words that a minister speaks over us in baptism, then we then have placed ourselves in the same category as is found in the Roman Catholic Church, that is, with the doctrine of transubstantiation.

In this doctrine the priest has the 'supposed' power to change the wine and bread into the real blood and body of Christ, by simply saying the words, 'hoc est corpus.' Suddenly the elements are magically changed. Do we want to think that a minister has the power to cause a person to be saved by saying something over them? Hardly.

When is a person actually saved? Is he saved before baptism, during baptism, or after baptism? The answer is that baptism is for a person who had already accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. Water baptism is a rite of affirmation, that is, it has to do with a covenant walk. As believers we are commanded to be baptized in water.

Now to the second issue (2). The question here involves what Peter meant in saying that baptism now saves us. Here is the Scripture in question:

"Corresponding to that [flood of Noah], baptism now saves you -- not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience - - through the resurrection of Jesus Christ." (1Pe 3:21)

This is probably the most abused water baptism Scripture used today. The simple side of this is that Peter is pointing to the affirmation of our faith in the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. This is why he said that water baptism represents our faith in Jesus, that it serves as an open appeal to God for a good conscience.

Lets now look at what Peter clearly defines as salvation. It is not fair to seclude one Scripture from the body of Scriptures to try and create a doctrine. This is what all eisegesis based, restrictive religions do. Listen carefully: (Eisegesis means 'reading into.')

At the council of the church in Acts 15, it was called to determine how to handle all the Gentiles who were being saved. Not one time is water baptism ever mentioned. But what Peter has to say places salvation where it needs to be. Here are excerpts of statements made by Peter:

"And God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit just as He also did to us; and He made no distinction between us and them, CLEANSING THEIR HEARTS BY FAITH..." (Keep the statement in caps in view. It applies to what Peter said about baptism having to do with our appeal for a cleansed conscience as an appeal for our faith.)

Peter then says, "But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are." (Cf. Acts 15)

Peter is pointing to the fact that Cornelius and his household were saved before they were baptized in water. The command of water baptism came after they were saved. And this is where the confusion comes in on what Peter is talking about in his statement, "baptism now saves us."

The apostle is dealing with types and symbols that are found in the Old Testament. Notice carefully how Peter begins his statement concerning 'baptism now saves us.' He says, 'Corresponding to that.' This is a single Greek term that speaks of an antitype that takes the place of the type.

In dealing with types and symbols, Peter is saying that water baptism alone is not the saving element. Water baptism is equal to a type in that it serves to confirm or reaffirm our faith in Jesus Christ. Thus water baptism is an appeal to God for a good conscience, in saying that we truly believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Water baptism is a follow through of our faith. It is here that we fully and openly express our faith in Jesus Christ.

If this seems difficult to grasp, let me add something that many believers are unacquainted with. For the Jewish people, water baptism was a covenant rite. It expressed that the believer had entered into a covenant relationship with the God of Israel. In this sense no believer should feel that water baptism is not a necessary part of our walk with the Lord. It should never be downplayed. Water baptism is actually the first commandment of faith that follows our having received the blood atonement.

This is why Paul speaks of the mystical side of water baptism in that the old man (or, the old master) is cut off in water baptism, and we now come fully under our new Master, the Lord Jesus Christ.

All the Jewish apostles placed a high premium on water baptism, but not in the sense that the blood is applied in water baptism. The blood is to be applied before baptism. Water baptism had to do with covenant authority, with the obedience of faith, with fellowship and communion. It had to do with community. No person was accepted into the community of faith without water baptism.

One of the best examples we have with regard to types and shadows of the former testament involves Israel coming out of Egypt. The blood had been applied to their homes. This disallowed any judgment from God. They were saved in the sight of God. They actually belonged to Him. But there was a problem. They needed to identify more fully with Moses and not with Pharaoh. It could be said that they were still in Pharaoh's territory.

Something had to happen before Pharaoh would completely release his hold on the people of God. What happened to produce this effect? Israel passed through the Red Sea. In the passing through the sea, the old life, the old master, and the old way of living were cut off. It was through the waters that they came fully under the authority of Moses.

Here is what Paul said: "For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea." (1Co 10:1,2)

Yet the point must be made. They were God's people before they came through the sea. Water baptism is an act of faith and any acting on our faith will have spiritual ramifications. (Every step of obedience does.) Peter is making a similar statement with regard to 'baptism now saves you.'

It is not my desire to weary you by saying too much. I recommend that members view our Hebraic-Foundations studies. Skim through the list. You will find studies that deal with a great variety of subjects. (156 studies at present.) Go to:


One study in particular speaks to the subject at hand. See HF021 - Bodies Washed With Pure Water.

On a personal note, I have always baptized people in the name of Jesus. I do this out of tradition. Sometimes I will say something like this, "I baptize you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, who represents all that God is as Father, Son and Holy Spirit." However, I never discount another believer's baptism. The issue for me is if the person has truly accepted Jesus Christ as their own Lord and Savior.

Here is one way that Jewish believers are baptizing in Israel. They say, "I baptize you in the name of Jesus Christ, who brings us to the heavenly Father, who graciously gives us the Holy Spirit."

Does it really matter? Think this through for yourself and let the Lord help you with a better understanding.

"Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission."

This study was originally shared on April 21, 2006. It was written by Pastor Buddy Martin, a former United Pentecostal Church minister, who founded and pastors Christian Challenge International. Writings are the copyright of Buddy Martin and reprinted on this site by permission.

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Page added April 21, 2006


August 23, 1997
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