Baptizing New Believers: Step Two of Matthew’s Version of the Great Commission

March 2, 2010

What is the meaning of the verb “to baptize?”

According to the standard Greek lexicon (dictionary) of this generation (Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich-Danker), “to dip, immerse, wash.”

When did the practice of baptism begin?

What approximates baptism was apparently begun during the Intertestamental Era. Nothing substantially like it is seen even at the very end of the Old Testament period (i.e., among the Post-exilic Writings), but it is present in the very earliest chronological incidents recorded in the New Testament.

Although the term “baptism” is not used to describe the Jewish rituals, the purification rites (or mikvah—ritual immersion) in Jewish laws and tradition is quite similar to baptism.  In the Hebrew Bible and other Jewish texts, immersion in water for ritual purification was established for restoration to a condition of “ritual purity” in specific circumstances.  For example, Jews who (according to the Law of Moses) became ritually defiled by contact with a corpse had to take part in the mikvah before being allowed to participate in the Temple.  Immersion was and is required for converts to Judaism as part of their conversion (i.e., becoming proselytes).

What is the earliest passage in which baptism is seen in the Bible?

John the Baptist adopted baptismal immersion as the central sacrament in his messianic movement.  Matthew 3:7-17 tells us that John preached a baptism of repentance for sin.  John strongly contrasted his baptism with that of the Messiah following him: “I baptize you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”  Interestingly, in the only two episodes in which Matthew specifically speaks of baptism, the Trinity was present when Jesus was baptized by John (3:16-17) and we are commanded to baptize in the “name” of the Trinity in the Great Commission (28:19)

Is there any mention in the Gospels of Jesus, or the apostles, baptizing?

One passage—but it appears to be more from the standpoint of comparing Jesus’ ministry with John the Baptist’s than anything else (John 3:22, 4:1-2).  The resulting question: Why did Jesus not baptize?

What are the key passages in Acts where baptism is in view? Why are these passages chosen by Luke?

Matthew 28:19-20 says that “all the nations” are to be evangelized, with those who respond (in faith) being baptized.  Acts 1:8 says that the witness is to extend from Jesusalem to Judea and Samaria and even to the ends of the earth (i.e., the Gentiles).

On the Day of Pentecost, Jews were baptized (2:38ff.)

Then, after persecution broke out, Samaritans were baptized (Acts 8:12)

(In the midst of this worldwide expansion, we note the significance of the baptism of Saul/Paul [Acts 9:18].)

After Peter’s vision from the Lord, Gentiles were baptized (Acts 10:47)

Those who had only heard Apollos’ message–which did not include the finished work of Christwere re-baptized by Paul (Acts 19:1-6).

Where in the Epistles is baptism mentioned?

Explanation of the meaning of baptism: a picture of Christ’s death and resurrection (Rom. 6:3-5)

The unity of the Body of Christ reflected in baptism (“one Lord, one faith, one baptism” [Eph. 4:5])

Baptism: one of the basics of the faith, according to Hebrews 6:2 (Greek baptismon)

A needed word of clarification: “baptism now saves you (not the removal of filth from the flesh, but the pledge of a good conscience toward God) through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 3:21)”

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