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What About Water Baptism?

02-09-2015 - Posted by Andre Piet

images_18 Baptism is originally a Jewish ritual. It is called ‘mikwah,’ in Hebrew. According to Hebrews 6:2, the “doctrine of baptism” is a part of the foundation of the Jewish faith. Jews were considered, on several occasions, to ritually cleanse themselves, and the call to be baptized, as it was called for, several times in the New Testament, was for them, in that respect, not at all strange. Even today, a synagogue has a baptismal. Or if you prefer: a ritual cleansing-bath. This is also the reason that, traditionally,  synagogues were built near running water (cp Neh.8:1; Acts 16:13.). When a non-Jew wished to be included with the people, he had to undergo the rite of baptism – the so-called proselyte baptism. Nowhere, in the Bible do we read of a non-Jew, who baptizes. Even in “the Evangel of the circumcision” such as Peter preached (Gal.2:7), water baptism plays an important role (see Acts 2:38). As belonging to the twelve (> Israel!), he was sent specifically to baptize (Matt.28:19). In the Evangel that was committed to Paul, water baptism, on the other hand, does not play a prominent role. Paul even states, explicitly, that he was not sent to baptize, but to preach the Evangel (1Cor.1:17). Is it not remarkable how Paul, here, places water baptism in opposition to the Evangel? It is true that Paul baptized in exceptional cases (1Cor.1:14, Jews and proselytes), but obligatory rituals are alien to his non-Jewish Evangel (“The Evangel of the uncircumcision”; Gal.2:7-9). Remember his opposition to a preaching in which Gentile believers were encouraged to circumcise themselves or otherwise submit to Jewish customs (of which water baptism is one). However, baptism does play a big role in Paul’s letters.  It is not water baptism but baptism “into Christ” and baptism “in one Spirit”. Here, too, believers should not be baptized, they are baptized!

For in one spirit also we all are baptized into one body -1Cor.12:13-

When we come to believe, we are (figuratively speaking) immersed in Christ. We become one with Him, as described in the opening verses of Romans 6, but also in Galatians 3:27. There is no compelling reason to believe that Paul in these sections was referring to water baptism, on the contrary. During the time of the book Acts, various baptisms functioned  besides each other. Besides water baptism, there was the baptism in the Spirit (Acts 1:5). After the time of Acts, a new “economy” (housekeeping, dispensation) came into effect, in which Israel and its statutes were excluded (Eph.2:15). In this “economy of the secret”, there is only “one baptism” (Eph.4:5), a hidden baptism “in one Spirit”. In summary, anyone who truly believes that Christ Jesus is Lord and acknowledges Him as the Risen One from among the dead, is baptized in Christ. That does not require even one drop of water. Everyone is free to be baptized or not to be baptized in water, but to argue that baptism is an act of obedience, is legalism and does not fit into a ‘household’ in which no obligatory rituals exist (Col.2:16).