Baptism: Cold Feet or a Wet Head? – Part 2

I ended Part 1, on the subject of baptism, by saying that immersion remains the primary meaning of baptizo even when we “step out of the water.”  May I take your hand and help you out of the Jordan?

Stepping out of the river

Up you go!

Our study in Part 2 begins with five non-water baptisms.  Each is an immersion, true to the meaning of baptizo and baptisma (the noun form).

Scene one.  Baptism in the Holy Spirit.  Come with me to the Feast of Pentecost in Acts 2.

1. Baptism in the Holy Spirit

Paedobaptists claim this “baptism” was “pouring” because Joel prophesied “I will pour [cheo] out my Spirit on all flesh” (Acts 2:17).  Remember, cheo and baptizo are two different words saying two different things.  Cheo means to pour.  Baptizo to dip or immerse.  It is true that God poured out His Spirit on the Day of Pentecost.  It is also true that the one hundred twenty in the Upper Room were baptized with the Holy Spirit.  That means they were immersed in, or by, the Spirit.  Before He ascended, Jesus told His disciples, “John baptized in water, but you will be baptized in the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Acts 1:5).  Observe.  For Jesus, baptism maintained the same meaning in the Spirit as it did in water.  He makes no distinction between them in reference to their fundamental nature.

As Jesus predicted, when the one hundred twenty were gathered together, suddenly, out of heaven came the sound of a mighty rushing wind that “filled the whole house in which they were sitting” (Acts 2:2).  They were immersed to the ceiling above, by the gale from heaven: as truly baptized as anyone John ever put under in the Jordan.  Like a tea bag submerged at the bottom of a cup after water from a tea pot is poured on it.  The pouring is not baptizing, but produces it.  Tongues of fire were on their heads and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.

2. Baptism in fire

John the Baptist also saw the fundamental nature of baptism as the same, whether the baptizing “element” was water, the Spirit, or fire.  In Matthew 3:11 he says, “I baptize you in water. . . but He who is coming after me. . .will baptize in the Holy Spirit and fire.”  To this, one Paedobaptist brother responds, “Few will assert that they should be plunged into [fire]” (The Popular And Critical Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 1, p. 229).  Yet that is exactly what John meant.  He will tell you himself.  “The winnowing shovel is in His [Jesus’] hand and He will thoroughly cleanse His threshing grain and gather together His wheat into the granary, but the chaff He will consume with unquenchable fire” (v. 12).

3. Baptism into Moses

Another brother responded to the “baptism into Moses” in I Corinthians 10:1-4 with this: “The Israelites did not get wet at all.  It was the Egyptians who were immersed” (To A Thousand Generations, Douglas Wilson, p.104).  To that we add “Ha ha.”  But the joke is on Paul.  These are his words, given by inspiration.  The quarrel is with him.  And the Spirit’s choice of words.  Not us.

All these arguments have one common goal: find a hole in baptismal immersion, which will allow “sprinkling” of infants.

What about Israel’s “baptism into Moses”?

You could say that Moses was the captain of a ship the children of Israel sailed when they left Egypt.  The “bridges” behind them were “burning.”  They had committed themselves to his leadership and were, from that day forward, identified with him in whatever he did.  His experience became their experience.  That is the nature of baptism, as you know.  But why would it’s fundamental “immersion” meaning change here?

It doesn’t.  The children of Israel were baptized into Moses, sharing this historic initiation with him, “in the cloud and in the sea” (I Cor. 10:1,2).  An immersion is actually described in the OT account.  Paul is alluding to this.  “The cloud” was over their heads (v. 1) to the fore, then the rear (Ex. 13:22; 14:19).  When they were “in the midst of the sea” (v. 1; Ex. 14:22), the water was a wall on their right and on their left.  The walls of water were high enough to completely swallow the Egyptians and their chariots when they rode in after them.  Even if some consider baptism a metaphor here, or a figure of speech, it carries a literal sense for the children of Israel.

The Spirit’s words were given wisely.

4. Jesus’ baptism

Jesus asked James and John, “Are you able to be baptized with the baptism I am being baptized?” (Mark 10:38).  He said, “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how hard I am being pressed [tormented] until it is completed” (Luke 12:50).  The fundamental meaning of baptism is clearly expressed here.  He was about to be overwhelmed with the greatest “calamity” (for our good) the world has ever known: the Creator bearing all our sins, the wrath of God, and separation from God for us.  No sprinkling here.  It is immersion in the purest sense.

baptismIn the Garden of Gethsemane He revealed the deep distress and grief in His soul (Matt. 26:38).  He prayed in agony.  His sweat was like drops of blood (Luke 22:44).  “With loud shouting and tears, He pleaded with the One who was able to save Him from death” (Heb. 5:7).  A great flood was about to consume Him!  He speaks prophetically through David about this “baptism.”  “Save me, O God; for the waters are come in unto my soul. . .  I am come into deep waters, where the floods overflow me” (Ps. 69:1,2).

5. James and John’s baptism

Jesus said James and John would also “be baptized with the baptism [He] was baptized” (Mark 10:39).  James was killed with a sword (Acts 12:1,2).  John was boiled, then banished (the Roman version of a B and B) to an island as an old man (Rev. 1:9).  In their “baptism” they paid the ultimate price for their Lord and Savior.

Baptism is not meant to have a light effect.  That’s why sprinkling is sprinkling.  But baptism is something entirely different.  If they can serve the same purpose, why not say, “Are you able to be sprinkled with the sprinkling I am being sprinkled?”  Or, “All our fathers were sprinkled into Moses.”  Or, “You will be sprinkled with the Holy Spirit a few days from now.”  And why not say, “All Judea and Jerusalem went out to the Jordan to be sprinkled by John”?  It would be laughable.  Yet that is exactly how some use the word “baptism.”

What follows is an example.

Circumcision and infant baptism

A major pillar in Paedobaptist belief is equating OT circumcision with infant “baptism.”

The following quote reveals the weight it bears in their theological infrastructure.  “Once it is established that baptism takes the place of circumcision, it may be inferred–Paedobaptists plead–that infants of believing parents are to receive the sign [infant ‘baptism’: in this case, sprinkling] now as they did circumcision in the OT.  Calvin calls this ‘the whole of the subject'” (Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, vol. 1, p. 467).  Paedobaptists appeal to Colossians 2:11 and 12 for “Scriptural” support.  However, three elements in Colossians 2 will not accommodate this point of view.

(1) In verse 12 Paul says, “We are buried together with Him [Jesus] in baptism.”  If there is a “sign” here, it is related to immersion, not sprinkling.  The word “baptism” is clearly associated with “entombment,” as it is in Romans 6.  It refers to our dying: stripping off the body of flesh (v. 11).

So, to be true to the mode identified in the text, one would have to immerse infants!  This was actually done in some early centuries in church history.  Surprising?  It shouldn’t be.  Paul’s words were simply taken at face value.  Hopefully, infant mortality rates didn’t increase because of it.

A word for present-day Paedobaptists.  A “proof text” is only valid if it reflects one’s practice.

(2) The circumcision referred to in verse 11 is not physical.  (“A circumcision not made with hands.”)  The thread to the OT is snipped clean!  We are not going back to anything, or following a line from there to here.  We are going forward to something new: “the circumcision of Christ” related to our identification with Him in His death and resurrection.  The “transatlantic cable” has been severed!  Edinburgh will not be happy about that.  Bagpipers will hang up their “pipes.”  And hang their heads.

Because it is something new, something different, it is difficult to maintain continuity between the Old and New Testament.  Infant girls were not circumcised then.  (For obvious reasons.)  Why would they be “baptized” now?

(3) There is no reference to infants in Colossians 2.  Not even one.  In the entire chapter.

No one likes it when their key witness fails to show up.  Paul is addressing adult believers, that is, anyone old enough to express faith in Christ.  “You [not your infant sons and daughters] have been circumcised with a circumcision not made with hands” (v. 11).  The “circumcised” are believers.  Likewise the “circumcision” in Philippians 3:3 are old enough to “minister in Spirit and boast in Christ.”

In reality, what Paedobaptists see in Colossians 2:11 and 12, is something like this: “Your infants are circumcised with a circumcision not made with hands. . .in the circumcision of Christ: buried with Him in sprinkling in which they are also raised together.”  This bears no resemblance really, to what Paul actually wrote.  Nor does it make much sense.  Such are the paths that steer one clear of the Word of God.  And, in this case, encourage believers to dwell in shadows (vv. 16,17).

It’s funny how words can take on a life of their own, which may not reflect their original meaning.  How did “sprinkling” come to be equated with “baptism”?  The meaning of the Greek word, as we have seen, is immersion (or washing thoroughly, in the sense of immersion).  “Infant baptism” actually means infant immersion.

Yet some still believe baptism can be sprinkling or immersion.  Or both.  And be administered to anyone.  It doesn’t matter what the Bible says.  Nothing you say will change their mind.

Then why bother with truth?

But this presents a problem.

If baptism can mean whatever you like, doesn’t it seem rather pointless?  To implement such a rite, the only instruction you need is “Just add water.”  But then, the NT becomes just another book you carry to Sunday School.  And read occasionally.  But don’t take too seriously.

The promise in Acts 2

In Acts 2:39, on the Day of Pentecost Peter said to thousands gathered in Jerusalem, “The promise is to you and your children and all who are far away, as many as the Lord our God will call.”  Paedobaptists believe this refers to the OT “covenant relationship” (implemented through circumcision) that God maintains with His NT people through infant baptism.

But what did Peter actually say?

The “promise” is the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit” (v. 38).  It is received the same way by everyone he names–“you, your children, all who are far off.”  Through repentance and faith in Christ (v. 38; Gal. 3:14).  Is there any possibility that anyone can claim this promise without repentance and faith?  Does the repentance of parents satisfy the requirement for their children?  If it does, it is the first and only time in the Bible.  If baptized infants must still repent later in life to actually possess the promise, just like non-baptized infants must do, what purpose does infant baptism serve?

Don’t answer that.

First take a good look at the “bottom line.”  To whom does the promise belong?  Peter sums it up with these words: “The promise is to. . .as many as the Lord our God will call.”  This is a reference to God’s effectual call which leads to salvation.  The promise is not secured through family ties, parental faith (cf. John 1:12.13), or a religious practice.  The works we do, do not aid or assist God who calls men sovereignly according to His own purpose.  “For the children not having been born or done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand: not of works but of Him who calls. . .  So then, it is not of him who wills. . .but of God who shows mercy” (Rom. 9:11,12,16).  The ones He calls will receive the promise.  Not the newborns we “baptize.”  Besides, the baptism presented here is preceded by repentance.

Why put words in Peter’s mouth, which no one heard on the Day of Pentecost?

Family baptisms

Philip Schaff gives a defense of infant baptism based on the family baptisms in the NT.  His argument from “silence” is common among Paedobaptists.  The Bible does not give the age of anyone who was baptized or the composition of the families.  Mr. Schaff claims there are “five instances in the NT of the baptism of whole families, where the presence of children in most of the cases is far more probable than the absence of children in all” (History of the Christian Church, vol. 1, p. 471).  Excuse me. . .  Families normally have children or they would not be a “family.”  This is not about “children,” but “infants,” as in newborns.

Children from a very young age are able to believe in Jesus.  In fact, Jesus asks us not to forbid them to come to Him.  Peter may have had this in mind in Acts 2 when he said the promise of the Gospel is for “children.”

What about our “five family baptisms”?  It looks to me like there are only four: (1) Acts 10:47 and 48, (2) Acts 16:15, (3) Acts 16:29-34, and (4) I Corinthians 1:16; and 16:15.  The two verses in I Corinthians refer to the same family.  Though personal details are not given about the families, we are not forced to wallow in anyone’s swamp of pointless surmising.  Why not let God’s Word light our path?  Go around the swamp.

“I would love to!” you say.

Great!  I will tell you how.

In most of the family baptisms the Bible pulls back the “curtain” and gives us a front-row seat on what actually took place.  Why hide your head under a pillow and pretend no one can know who was baptized?  (That’s what they would like you to think.)  Instead.  Put your feet up, lay your head on the pillow and read the Good Book!  Grab a glass of lemonade.

Imagine that you are a private investigator.  Let’s examine the NT’s “version” (the actual story) of these four “family baptisms.”  But in a slightly different order than that given above.

Acts 10:47 and 48.  This whole chapter is about Cornelius, a centurion living in Caesarea.  If one simply follows the narrative, there is no “mystery” about who was baptized.  The only mystery is how Paedobaptists can find even a possibility of infant baptism here.

An open Bible does good for the heart and mind.

So let’s look at the evidence.

Cornelius had called his relatives and close friends (v. 24) who were gathered “to hear” all that God had to say to them (v. 33).  While Peter is telling them that everyone who believes will receive forgiveness of sins through Jesus’ name, the Holy Spirit falls “on all those hearing the Word” (v. 44).  So Peter says, “Who can forbid that these be baptized, who received the Holy Spirit as we have?” (v. 47).  The “highly acclaimed”  baptism follows.  Notice.  All those who were baptized (1) heard the Word, (2) received the Holy Spirit, and (3) spoke in tongues (v. 46).  Need I say more?

Acts 16:29-34.  A thoughtful reader can see that the entire focus of this passage is salvation.  The “baptism” it records is almost incidental, following naturally in the footsteps of salvation.  The Philippian jailer asked Paul and Silas, “What must I do to be saved?”  They said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved and your house.”  Luke (the author) clearly links “household salvation” to this “household baptism” (vv. 31-33).  The jailer’s entire family is the object of the promise of salvation, the preaching of the Word, and baptism.  So it comes as no surprise when we see who “rejoiced” in the end.  The jailer “rejoiced with all his house, having believed in God.”  Only, there is no comma.  Three words united in the Greek text indicate that the man’s rejoicing and believing were shared by the whole family.

No infant baptism here.

If you were looking for a different outcome, cheer up.  Two possibilities still remain to make up for the deficit.

I Corinthians 1:16; and 16:15.  At the beginning of his first letter to the Corinthians Paul tells us he baptized the house of Stephanas (1:16).  At the end of the letter he says the house of Stephanas was the “first fruits” in the region of Achaia (16:15).  This is a reference to their shared faith.  In response to the Gospel.  Paul goes on to say that “they had determined,” as a family, to give themselves to serve the saints.  The way it is written indicates that they were all actively involved in this decision and were actually doing it (16:16).  (There were no passive participants.)  Because of this, Paul encourages other believers in Corinth to “submit themselves” to them and everyone like them who is a “fellow worker” and “laborer” in the ministry (16:16).  Such language is not used for “newborns.”

The only “household baptism” that is silent about the family’s faith prior to baptism is Acts 16:15.  However, if all the other family baptisms that allow us to see what actually happened, reveal that a family’s faith preceded baptism, it is unlikely that Acts 16:15 is teaching something different.  Mind you.  This is not an argument from silence.  The weight of the evidence supports it.

It is also supported by Acts 18:18.  This verse says plainly that the ruler of the synagogue in Corinth “believed in the Lord with his whole house.”  Whatever their ages may have been, they all believed and were then baptized.  We understand this by the words that follow: “and many of the Corinthians were believing and being baptized.”  They were (1) believing and (2) being baptized, in that order (as also in Acts 8:12,13).  A clearer description of NT believers’ baptism cannot be given.  It reveals the common practice in the first-century church.

Jesus blessing the children

Like stepping from stone to stone across a creek, we are touching on some major arguments Paedobaptists give for infant baptism.  We step now, from household baptism to Jesus blessing the children.

The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible says, “Paedobaptists have regularly appealed to occurrences of household baptism. . .  [But] even more prominent than household baptism in Paedobaptist literature is the appeal to Jesus blessing children” (vol. 1, p. 467).

Philip Schaff claims we have a “presumptive and positive argument for the apostolic origin and character of infant baptism. . .[in Christ’s] express invitation to children, whom he assures of a title to the kingdom of heaven, and whom, therefore he certainly would not leave without the sign and seal of such membership” (History of the Christian Church, vol. 1, pp. 470, 471).  The “sign and seal” of membership in the kingdom is “infant baptism.”

When one makes assumptions about what Jesus “certainly would” or “would not” do, they have probably strayed from the path of Scripture.  Though the view may be nice, they may have taken a bridge to nowhere.  However, it does have its advantages.  You can have Jesus say and do whatever you like.

But why stop here?

It doesn’t.  Today’s “institutionalized” Christianity is taking the part of the religious establishment in Jesus’ day, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.  And as it was then, Jesus falls through the cracks.  What about “No one comes to the Father but by Me“?  What about “Let the children come to Me“?  No.  The “sign and seal” of membership in the kingdom is infant baptism.  It’s not about Jesus.  So Jesus blessing children becomes a reason for baptizing infants.  Eyes are drawn from Him to it.  The Supreme Object in the Gospels is reduced to flinging drops of water on a tiny forehead.  He is virtually forgotten.

We find ourselves on a road that bears no resemblance to the one He placed our feet on in the NT passages where He blesses children.  We are in another land.  Another world.  “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”  Many Christians have become accustomed to it.

When a plane is hijacked, it messes up everyone’s vacation plans!  People go to places the hijacker wants to be.  Not where they’re supposed to be.

Imagine someone hijacking the Bible.  It’s not hard to imagine.  A number of the stones we step on as we cross the creek, are hijacked Scriptures: giraffes in Antarctica and whales in the Nile.

Jesus’ words and actions, when He blesses the little children, are a classic example of Bible hijacking.

On July 24, 1864, Charles Spurgeon preached a sermon from Mark 10:13-16, one of three passages given in the NT where Jesus blesses children.  On that Sunday morning in London he said, “Truly I might as well prove vaccination from the text before me, as ‘infant baptism.’  I could prove any earthly thing, if I might but have such reasoning granted to me as that which proves infant baptism from this passage.  There is no possible connection between the two.  The teaching of the passage is very plain and very clear, and baptism has been imported into it, and not found in it.  Still hundreds will catch at this straw and cry ‘Did not Jesus say, Suffer the little children to come to me?’  To these we give this one word, see that ye read the Word as it is written, and you will find no water in it but Jesus only. . .

“Is bringing a child to a font bringing the child to Christ?  Nay, here is a wide difference, as wide as between Rome and Jerusalem, as wide as between Antichrist and Christ, between false doctrine and the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (C.H. Spurgeon’s Sermons, vol. 10, p. 416).

What does the Bible say in the passages where Jesus blesses children?  How does it describe this event in His life?  What did Jesus actually say?

As Spurgeon pointed out, baptism or any “related” topic like circumcision, is not even mentioned.  It is fair to say, it was on no one’s mind at the time.  And anyone who was there would probably be surprised that Jesus blessing children would take on the meaning Paedobaptists give it.

Is it wise to assume or pretend that Jesus was thinking in terms of a theological point of view that would be developed later?  Why even speculate about what He was thinking or what it could mean in the future?  Just listen to what He says.  Find a solid path for your feet.  Remember.  Whatever is not “[His] words” will pass away.  Let us “eat” the words we “find,” and let them be “the joy and rejoicing of our heart” (Jer. 15:16).  The things that are revealed are ours.  The secret things, the silence, belongs to God (Deut. 29:29).  Why fill the silence with “theological” noise?

Three NT passages give us this account: Matthew 19:13-15, Mark 10:13-16 and Luke 18:15-17.

baptismLet us follow the Spirit’s direction in the words God has given us (Prov. 30:6).

The children were small enough to be “brought,” as in hand in hand or “carried” to Jesus.  Matthew and Mark use the Greek word παιδια, Luke the words βρεφη and παιδια, to describe the children.

Παιδια can be infants, little children, even older children, depending on the context.  These were little because, as I said, they were “brought” to Jesus.  Βρεφη are generally either unborn, newborn, infants, or babies.  But they can be older.  Not all of them are newborns in the NT.  Distinctions are made among them.  Peter says, “Desire the milk of the Word as just-born βρεφη” (I Pet. 2:2).  In other words, you could be a βρεφος and not be “just-born.”  According to Paul, Timothy’s knowledge of Scripture began at this early age (II Tim.3:15), which shows that some βρεφη can be old enough to possess an accurate knowledge of the Word, even though they are very small and their understanding is simple.  (Compare Matthew 11:25 and 21:15 and 16.)

So why were the children brought to Jesus?

So that He would “touch” them.  Matthew adds, “and pray.”  Who would not want to be touched and personally prayed for by Jesus?  Especially as a child.  Keep in mind.  They were not brought to Him to be “baptized.”  His disciples did the baptizing anyway (John 4:2).  Only, they practiced immersion.  And they were not interested in the children, as the passages show.

Notice.  The children are not so small that they must be handed to Jesus.  Luke says He “called them to Him” (as in Matthew 18:2).  Mark says “He took them into His arms [and] blessed them, putting His hands on them.”  He invited them to come to Him, then took them into His arms.  This is reflected in His admonition to “let the children come to Me, and forbid them not.”  This all reveals that they were old enough to walk to Him once they were placed before Him.  And they responded when He called them.  The boys were well beyond the age of circumcision (Gen. 17:12; Lev. 12:3; Luke 2:21; Phil. 3:5).  And you can be sure little girls were brought to Him as well.

Notice that Jesus calls attention to their faith.  A child’s faith.  “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a παιδιον, will not enter it.”  They are presented by Jesus as an example of faith.  An example each of us must follow if we want to enter the kingdom.  When an infant is “baptized,” the hallmark is not the child’s faith, but the parents’ faith.  This is a clean departure from what Jesus actually taught when He blessed the children.

Holy children

A Paedobaptist meaning is also given to I Corinthians 7:14.

But not by Paul.

His references to a “sanctified” spouse and “holy” children reveal how unbelieving family members are given a unique opportunity to be saved.  How is that?  Simple.  Because of the influence of a believing spouse or parent.  No more.  No less.  This meaning is clearly stated.  “How do you know that you will not save your husband?”  “Or your wife?” (v. 16).

The children are also set apart in this way.  And for this reason.

However.  If they are already holy (sanctified), in an absolute sense, there is no need for salvation.

Closing remarks

Infant baptism is a return to law.  A return to shadows.

Paul said, “For liberty Christ has freed you.  Stand therefore and do not be held again in a yoke of bondage.  I Paul say to you that if you are circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you.  I testify to every man who is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law.  Those who are justified in the law are removed from Christ; you are fallen from grace” (Gal.5:1-4).

Paedobaptists clearly and intentionally identify infant baptism with circumcision.  According to them this OT practice, related to God’s covenantal relationship with His people, continues to this day through infant baptism.  Though they argue that circumcision preceded the law (which it did), in Galatians 5 Paul ties it to the law (v. 3; cf. Acts 15:1,5,19-21; John 7:22,23; and Gal. 6:13).  Infant baptism is, therefore, a return to law.  It is in fact a denial of grace in Christ.  However subtle or unintended that may be.  And it creates a perpetual struggle between law and grace.  A tension always exists.  But is not acknowledged.  (I have dear brothers and sisters who do not see it that way.  So it is not easy for me to say this.)

There is more.

The Jerusalem council in Acts 15 concluded that Gentile believers need not circumcise their infants.  Yet Paedobaptists, who are generally Gentile, believe infant baptism takes the place of circumcision.  If that is true, why would they need to “baptize” their infants when the Jerusalem council saw no need for them to be circumcised?

In closing.  It is not surprising that this theological point of view carries with it a curse, as the law also did.  The testimony of a Paedobaptist minister bears witness to this indictment.  He wrote, “There have been countless thousands who have had cause to curse the day they were born into a covenant home; because of their unbelief, it only increased their condemnation” (To A Thousand Generations, Douglas Wilson, p. 93).

May God bless His Word, to the glory of His Son Jesus Christ.

Learn more:

The Israel of God, A New Creation


© James Unruh 2017 and beyond

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