Plunged into Baptisms

Plunged into Baptisms:

What the Bible says about them

By P. K. Chamberlain

Baptisms are a vital element of New Testament teaching, as Hebrews 6:1-2 tells us:

“…Let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.”

We already know from this that baptisms are important, just like teaching about repentance, faith, the resurrection, and eternal judgment. But like other foundation teachings, there continues to be a big contest over what we should understand about baptisms.

We are going to see what the Bible says about baptisms, and you will likely find some surprises there. For one thing, the New Testament speaks of at least seven different baptisms. Five of the seven may apply to you and me, today. Even the other two are included for our spiritual education, so we have a lot to explore.

We get to seven baptisms in two steps. First, we find everything that the New Testament describes with the same words, baptize and baptism. Second, we look at the three key elements in every baptism: someone who is doing the baptizing, someone (or more than one person) who is being baptized, and that into which the person is being baptized.1Using the preposition “into” may seem unusual at this point, but it reflects the understanding that the Greek “baptize” word practically means “to plunge, to immerse or immerse oneself, to bathe.” We will investigate a little further on in this study. It turns out the New Testament mentions seven different combinations of these three elements.2Seven is the right number, though superficially two of the seven—the baptism of John and water baptism—seem to have the same combination of believer baptizing believer in water. As the study develops, passage after passage make it plain that to the New Testament generation of disciples, these two baptisms were quite distinct.

Table 1. Distinct baptisms mentioned in the Greek New Testament

Baptism3Five of the table’s seven groups of Scripture references include Scripture’s one mention of baptisms in the plural: Hebrews 6:2. That reflects my idea of which kinds of baptisms the writer to the Hebrews had in mind. Baptizer Who is being baptized What the baptized is being baptized into Key New Testament references
Baptism of John4Here are all the direct references to the baptism of John (except where his name is given as “John the Baptist”): Matthew 3:6,7,11,13,14,16, Matthew 21:25, Mark 1:4,5,8,9, Mark 11:30, Luke 3:3,7,12,16,21, Luke 7:29,30, Luke 20:4, John 1:26,28,31,33, John 3:23, John 10:40, Acts 1:5,22, Acts 10:37, Acts 11:16, Acts 13:24, Acts 18:25, Acts 19:3,4. A believer, originally John the Baptist A repentant believer A body or stream of water Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:4, Luke 3:3, Acts 13:24
Water Baptism5Here are all the direct references to water baptism: Matthew 28:19, Mark 16:16, John 3:22,26, John 4:1,2, Acts 2:38,41, Acts 8:12,13,16, Acts 8:36,38, Acts 9:18, Acts 10:47,48, Acts 16:15,33, Acts 18:8, Acts 19:3,5, Acts 22:16, 1 Corinthians 1:13-17, Hebrews 6:2, 1 Peter 3:21. A believer A believer A body or stream of water Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38,41, John 4:1,2, Acts 8:16, 38, 1 Peter 3:21
Baptism into Jesus Christ6Here are all the direct references to baptism into Jesus Christ: Romans 6:3,4, 1 Corinthians 15:29, Galatians 3:27, Colossians 2:12, Hebrews 6:2. God, the Father A believer Jesus Christ, in the likeness of His death, and in His resurrection Romans 6:3,4, Colossians 2:12, Galatians 3:27
Baptism into the sufferings of Christ7Here are all the direct references to baptism into the sufferings of Christ: Matthew 20:22,23, Mark 10:38,39, Luke 12:50. God Originally Jesus, but subsequently a disciple The sufferings of Christ, to fulfill them Matthew 20:22,23, [Colossians 1:24]
Baptism in the Holy Spirit8Here are all the direct references to baptism in the Holy Spirit: Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, John 1:33, Acts 1:5, Acts 11:16, Hebrews 6:2. Jesus Christ A believer God, the Holy Spirit Matthew 3:11, John 1:33, Acts 11:16,17, [Acts 2:2-4, 16-18, 32-33, 38-39, Luke 24:49]
Baptism into the Body of Christ9Both direct references to baptism into the Body of Christ are already listed in the table. God, the Holy Spirit A disciple The Body of Christ I Corinthians 12:13, Ephesians 4:5, [Ephesians 4:12-16, 1 Corinthians 12:18-25]
Baptism to Moses10The only direct reference to baptism to Moses is already listed in the table. God The people of Israel The cloud and the sea 1 Corinthians 10:2, [Exodus 14:15-31]

Baptism, the Untranslated

One big reason I began this study is because, unlike most other New Testament words, the words “baptize” and “baptism” are not translations of the Greek original. They are letter-for-letter copies of the letters of the Greek words, but don’t give you an English equivalent for the first century Greek words. Someone decided to show their sounds instead of their translation, but we will very soon see we need a real translation. There is no other way to understand what the author meant to say.

To see the difference between showing sounds and meanings, take a look at a sample version of Mark 1:4-5 here. The Greek “baptizing”, “baptize” and “baptism” are here, along with two others words you probably do not recognize:

“John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the aphesis of sins.

“And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, exhomologuing their sins. “

Here are the same five words, but with the Greek word they represent spelled out in our alphabet:

Table 2a. Untranslated Greek words, before looking them up

Untranslated word Original Greek word (phonetic) Common meaning in the First Century
Baptizing baptidzon [We should look this up.]
Baptism baptisma [We should look this up.]
Aphesis aphesis [We should look this up.]
Baptized baptizein [We should look this up.]
Exhomologuing exomologein [We should look this up.]

None of us talk about “aphesis” or “exhomologuing,” because we don’t know what they mean. It doesn’t tell us what the author was writing to his first century readers. But the fact is, we are in exactly the same position with “baptize” and “baptism.”

I was relieved to find that the common-sense solution to the “what does he mean?” problem works just fine. If you don’t know what a word means, look it up in a dictionary. In this case, we look up the Greek words in an unabridged dictionary (they’re called lexicons when they describe an ancient language like Greek or Latin), and we have the answers. Drawing on the biggest, unabridged lexicon for all classical Greek, here is the table again, with first-century meanings for all the words.

Table 2b. Untranslated Greek words, after looking them up

Untranslated word Original Greek word (phonetic) Common meaning in the First Century
Baptizing baptidzon “Plunging; immersing”
Baptism baptisma “Plunging in; immersion”
Aphesis aphesis “Forgiveness”
Baptized baptizein “To be plunged in; to be immersed”
Exhomologuing exomologein “Confessing”

Now we look at Mark 1:4-5 again, with all the words translated:

“John appeared, immersing in the wilderness and proclaiming an immersion of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

“And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being plunged by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.”

With first-century definitions, this passage makes perfect sense—it is what Mark wrote to his readers.

The replacement of baptism’s ordinary meaning, using a “sound-alike” substitute word, is not unique. Neither is it accidental. There were people who found it convenient to do a meaning transplant. They eventually turned a simple, vivid act and word picture into a disconnected, un-Scriptural religious ceremony. Other examples that appear in most Bible translations include apostle, bishop, deacon, heresy, and Nicolaitan. Please look at the pattern that gave rise to a definitional transplant:

  1. These words had a plain, non-religious meaning to the first century readers of the New Testament.
  2. Religious practices and doctrines followed in later centuries were at odds with the ordinary meanings of the words.
  3. These later religious practices and doctrines justified themselves by substituting new, religious meanings for these words. To publish the new meanings, they put the new meanings to “sound-alike” transliterations of the Greek words, and pretended the first-century meanings never existed. Never mind that the New Testament was written with those first-century meanings in both writers’ and readers’ minds.

This small table shows the Greek word from the New Testament, a phonetic rendering of it in Roman letters, the ordinary meaning of the word in the first century, when the New Testament was first written, and the transliterated word that appears in New Testament translations:

Table 3. Important words transliterated (not translated) from the Greek New Testament

Greek word Phonetic rendering First-century meaning Transliterated word used in translations
βαπτίζω baptidzo plunge, immerse baptize
βάπτισμα baptisma immersion baptism
απόστολος apostolos ambassador, envoy apostle
επίσκοπος episkopos overseer, foreman bishop (Latin episcopus, Spanish obispo)
διάκονος diakonos server (e.g., waiter) deacon
αίρεσις hairesis faction, party, sect heresy
αιρετικός hairetikos factious, divisive heretic
Νικολαιτάνοι Nikolaitanoi conquerors over the common people (compound noun characterizing certain persons by joining “conquer” with “the common people”) Nicolaitans

So, when we set out to a Bible study on baptisms, it is up to us to choose whether we want to know what the first century writers wrote and readers understood. The first century reader read a word that was generally known to anyone who functioned in Greek, a major international language of that day.

The traditions, on the other hand, slipped in new, more convenient definitions after the New Testament years, long before our own time. Because the substitution took place so far back, the translations into English and other languages have a long tradition of “non-translating” baptisms, as well as the other words in this table.

By tradition, the English reader reads a word that simply carries the sounds of the Greek word transliterated into Roman letters, while carrying nothing of its ordinary first century meaning.

A word that only pronounces the sounds of Greek allows tradition to fill in the blank and suggest religious meanings that are very different, but fit with traditions and doctrines that have become common during the two thousand years after the first century.

So this is our fork in the road. Would you rather study what Paul, Peter and John intended their audience to understand, or study meanings that were substituted during the centuries after the original writers and readers had long since died? The first-century writers wrote the New Testament with inspired words for their first-century readers. They used the eastern Mediterranean’s international language, Greek. They did not use words strange and exotic to their readers.

Exotic words do exist in the Bible, but almost always in the Hebrew of the Old Testament, not the Greek of the New Testament. There are Hebrew words that are only seen once or a few times in Scripture, and not found elsewhere. Many of them name specific plants and animals the Biblical writers knew, but we are not always sure which is which. Here are five examples:

Table 4. Examples of hard-to-translate Hebrew words11Fauna and Flora of the Bible, (New York: United Bible Societies, 1972), pp. 4, 15, 66, 92.

Word Bible Reference Translation 1 Translation 2 Comment
Tukki 1 Kings 10:22; 2 Chronicles 9:21 Peacock Baboon Peacock is probably wrong
Qippoz Isaiah 34:15 Arrowsnake Owl Maybe sand partridge?
Tinshemeth Leviticus 11:18, 30; Deuteronomy 14:16 Chameleon Barn owl One, the other, or both—not clear to translators
Qippodh Isaiah 14:23, 34:11 Porcupine Bittern
Tappuah Proverbs, Song of Solomon, Joel Apple Apricot

The New Testament words we study here, baptizo and baptizein, are well known and used in Greek literature long before the New Testament was written. Their ordinary meaning is plain to see from the places where they appear in non-Christian Greek literature. The first-century reader did not have to wonder what was meant.

So, once we are willing to put aside the traditions of later centuries, we have two ways to see the ordinary meaning of baptism.

First, the meaning of baptizein in classical Greek according to the unabridged lexicon is “to immerse, to plunge” something into something else. In the passive it is also recorded as meaning “to drown!”12Liddell and Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, pp. 305, 306. We use a lexicon instead of a dictionary because classical Greek is not a spoken language anymore. A dictionary describes a spoken and written language, while a lexicon describes a language that only exists in written form now. Liddell & Scott’s unabridged lexicon of classical Greek is the largest one there is, with Greek words from all the centuries of Greek from Homer to New Testament times.

βαπτίζω (baptizo, infinitive baptizein) means “to dip, plunge.” Examples cited from Greek literature include: a sword “plunges” to the slaughter in battle; a broad blade plunges into an infant; someone plunges himself into the sea; something sinks or disables a ship, someone is plunged or immersed in sleep, in wine, in deep water, or in sorrow. Also, one draws wine by immersing a cup in the bowl of wine. Similarly, βαπτισμός (baptismos) is defined as a “dipping in water, immersion.”

The lexicon finds these words all over the literature. Some quotations are from famous historians, like Josephus, Plutarch, and Polybius. Others are from famous medical authorities like Hippocrates, Galen, and Soranus. You can find them used by philosophers, such as Epictetus and Plato. Demosthenes, the famous Athenian orator and statesman, used them; so did Aristophanes the playwright. There are other authors besides, and eight other closely related words defined alongside baptizein and baptismos.

It surprised me to find there are even three uses of the verb baptizein and the related noun baptismos in the New Testament that are translated in the ordinary Greek way. I didn’t realize it because the translations do translate in these verses!

Sadly, they are translated in a way that obscures the reason for baptizein and baptismos being in these three places. In each case, Mark, Luke, and the writer to the Hebrews are talking about ceremonial cleansings or washings, so the translators translate two different verbs used here as both meaning “wash.” As we will see, that misses the point of using baptizein. The authors are emphasizing the way the washing was done according to Jewish religious tradition—by immersion. Here are the passages:

A. Luke 11:37-38. While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him, so he went in and reclined at table. The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner.13English Standard Version (ESV). Many Scripture quotations in this study use the ESV. Luke uses a form of baptizein for “wash” here; he uses it as a native Greek speaker would. The text tells us they reclined at a low table to dine, as was the common custom in those days. The ritual Jewish washing of hands that mattered so much to the Pharisee would have involved a bowl or basin of water, and naturally one would immerse the hands in the bowl to wash them. Luke chose the word here because it was obvious, ordinary, and precise!14The form of baptizein here is passive and in the past tense: εβαπτισθη, ebaptisthe. A more word-for-word translation would be, “But the Pharisee saw and marveled that he [Jesus] was not immersed [or bathed] before the dinner.” It was a short way to say that his hands were not immersed or bathed in a bowl or basin of water. A similar passage in Matthew describes a Jewish ritual practice of washing, in Matthew 15:2. Here Matthew was describing objections that Jesus’ disciples did not wash hands before eating food, using a common work for washing, niptein.

B. Mark 7:3-5. (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands, holding to the tradition of the elders, and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?”15ESV Mark uses a common word for “wash” for “wash their hands,” but uses a form of baptizein as verse four’s ritual “wash” in “they do not eat unless they wash.” What’s more, the related noun form baptismos is the word for “washing” in “the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.”16In verse 3’s “wash hands” Mark uses the most common word for washing, niptein, turning to baptizein in verse 4. In verse 4, baptismos is the word for the washing (immersing) of the dishes and objects.

C. Hebrews 9:9-10. [The first tabernacle] was a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience; which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation. The noun baptismos is again the word translated “washings.”

These three New Testament passages indicate not just washing, but a specific form of washing, an immersing of what is washed. A review in Young’s Concordance finds five basic words that the King James Version translates as “wash” in the New Testament.17Young, Robert, Analytical Concordance to the Bible, p. 1034. Directly or in closely related verbs, these five appear some 28 times in all.

The two most common of these, niptein and louein, account for 22 of the 28. Only two of the 28 use baptizein—the Mark and Luke passages just cited. Both specifically refer to the Jewish ritual washing, as does the Hebrews passage; Mark is explaining the ritual washing to a Gentile audience unfamiliar with the Pharisees’ religious practice.

This narrow usage of baptizein argues that the washing in question was, and was being described as, an immersion into water. We get a strong hint in the same direction when we notice that Mark begins in verse 3 with a general word for “wash,” then uses the more specific baptizein to be specific about the ritual washing.18Young’s lists 28 appearances of a word translated “to wash:” (1) niptein, 14 in all, 13 directly and 1 in the related aponiptesthai; (2) louein, 8 in all, 6 directly, and 2 in the related apolouein; (3) plunein, 2 in all, 1 directly and 1 in the related apoplunein; (4) brechein, 2 directly; and (5) baptizein, 2 directly.

We have another way to check on the meaning of baptizein. In New Testament times, Jews not only lived in the Holy Land, but were scattered across the Roman Empire in places like Egypt, Crete, North Africa, Greece and Asian Minor, and as far east as Babylonia. As is still true today, some studied and knew Hebrew, but many others spoke the languages of the countries in which they grew up. The supernatural use of many languages at Pentecost (Acts 2) hints how many different languages were spoken by the Jews who were in Jerusalem for the Feast of Weeks.

Greek was the international language of the day, so many godly Jews knew and studied the Hebrew Scriptures in Greek translation. The central translation of the Hebrew Scripture into Greek is called the Septuagint. The Septuagint was translated more than a century before Jesus’ birth, and it was the Scripture first-century believers used and quoted when handling the things of God in Greek. Baptizein appears four times in the Septuagint, including the passage of Naaman the Syrian bathing in the Jordan River. In every instance, baptizein translates a sense of being plunged or immersed, sometimes literally, and sometimes in a figure of speech.

Looking at the Hebrew Scripture, baptizein translates the Hebrew טבל, taval, which means “to dip or immerse.” The Hebrew Bible has basically sixteen places where taval appears: ten in the Torah, two in 2 Kings, and one each in Ruth, I Samuel, Job and Ezekiel. The Septuagint translates fourteen of these by baptein (“to dip”), one by baptizein and one by an unrelated Greek verb.19The same verb baptein also appears in the New Testament. In Matthew 26:23, Jesus replied that he who “dipped” his hand in the bowl along with Jesus was the one who would betray Him. “Dipped” here translates baptein. So it appears the two Greek verbs covered the range of meaning of taval, dividing between “dip” (baptein) versus “plunge or immerse” (baptizein.)20Baptein translated taval in these 14 references: Exodus 12:22, Leviticus 4:6 & 17, Leviticus 9:9, Leviticus 14:6, 16 & 51, Numbers 19:18, Deuteronomy 33.24, Joshua 3:15, Ruth 2:14, 1 Samuel 14:27, 2 Kings 8:15, and Job 9:31.

The translators of the Septuagint clearly understood Hebrew and Greek, and they chose these two Greek verbs as ways of translating taval. One was “dip” and the other was “plunge or immerse,” so where the Hebrew meant to describe plunging or immersing, baptizein was their natural choice.

Table 5. Baptizein in the Old Testament: Appearances in the Septuagint

Reference Passage Comments
2 Kings 5:14 (Naaman the Syrian) “Then went he down, and immersed himself seven times in Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God: and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.” Baptizein translates taval.
Isaiah 21:4 “Lawlessness immerses [i.e., floods over; baptizei, present tense of baptizein] me.” Septuagint includes this “lawlessness immerses” thought (which does not appear in the most used Hebrew manuscripts) after the words we do have.
Judith 12:7 (Apocrypha) “She remained in the camp for three days, going out each night into the valley of Bethulia and bathing in the spring.”21New English Bible. The verb is ebaptizeto, a past tense of baptizein: “she was immersing herself.”
Wisdom of Sirach 34:25 (Apocrypha) “One who is immersing himself [baptizomenos, participle of baptizein] because of [contact with] a dead body, and yet is touching it again, what benefit did he get by his bath?” (Author’s translation) Numbers 19:16-19, for example, treats the requirement to bathe and cleanse oneself after contact with a dead body.

Teaching about Immersions

To agree with our own conclusions, we will park the words baptize and baptism for the rest of this study, and speak (as the New Testament’s believers did) of immerse and immersion. We can start with a simple restatement of our first table:

Table 3. Distinct immersions mentioned in the Greek New Testament

Immersion22Five of the seven groups of Scripture references include the one mention in the plural, Hebrews 6:2. That reflects my idea of which immersions the writer to the Hebrews had in mind. Who is doing the immersing Who is being immersed What the immersed is being immersed into Key New Testament references
Immersion of John23Here are all the direct references to the immersion of John (except direct citation of his name as “John the Immerser”): Matthew 3:6,7,11,13,14,16, Matthew 21:25, Mark 1:4,5,8,9, Mark 11:30, Luke 3:3,7,12,16,21, Luke 7:29,30, Luke 20:4, John 1:26,28,31,33, John 3:23, John 10:40, Acts 1:5,22, Acts 10:37, Acts 11:16, Acts 13:24, Acts 18:25, Acts 19:3,4. A believer, originally John the Immerser24Since we have decided to say what the words mean, not just repeat Greek sounds—and “John the Immerser” is what the New Testament actually calls John the Baptist—we will use his recovered name here. A repentant believer A body or stream of water Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:4, Luke 3:3, Acts 13:24
Water Immersion25Here are all the direct references to water immersion: Matthew 28:19, Mark 16:16, John 3:22,26, John 4:1,2, Acts 2:38,41, Acts 8:12,13,16, Acts 8:36,38, Acts 9:18, Acts 10:47,48, Acts 16:15,33, Acts 18:8, Acts 19:3,5, Acts 22:16, 1 Corinthians 1:13-17, Hebrews 6:2, 1 Peter 3:21. A believer A believer A body or stream of water Matthew 28:19,20, Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38,41, John 4:1,2, Acts 8:16, 38, Acts 19:2-6, 1 Peter 3:21
Immersion into Jesus Christ26Here are all the direct references to immersion into Jesus Christ: Romans 6:3,4, 1 Corinthians 15:29, Galatians 3:27, Colossians 2:12, Hebrews 6:2. God, the Father A believer Jesus Christ, in the likeness of His death, and in His resurrection Romans 6:3,4, Colossians 2:12, Galatians 3:27
Immersion into the sufferings of Christ27Here are all the direct references to immersion into the sufferings of Christ: Matthew 20:22,23, Mark 10:38,39, Luke 12:50. God Originally Jesus, but subsequently a disciple The sufferings of Christ, to fulfill them Matthew 20:22,23, [Colossians 1:24]
Immersion in the Holy Spirit28Here are all the direct references to immersion in the Holy Spirit: Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, John 1:33, Acts 1:5, Acts 11:16, Hebrews 6:2. Jesus Christ A believer God, the Holy Spirit Matthew 3:11, John 1:33, Acts 11:16,17, [Acts 2:2-4, 16-18, 32-33, 38-39, Luke 24:49]
Immersion into the Body of Christ God, the Holy Spirit A disciple The Body of Christ I Corinthians 12:13, Ephesians 4:5, [Ephesians 4:12-16, 1 Corinthians 12:18-25]
Immersion to Moses God The people of Israel The cloud and the sea 1 Corinthians 10:2, [Exodus 14:15-31]

We will investigate each of these in turn just ahead. First, though, we should recognize that the New Testament is using a picture―immersion of someone by someone else into something―to show us spiritual truth. Second, it is using this picture in more than one way. It is natural for any of us to come into a study like this with conclusions already in hand, based on the traditions and teachings of the Christians among whom we have grown up. It is natural, but unhelpful, to arrive convinced beforehand that there is one and only one immersion, two and only two, or even five and only five!

In our own conversations and writing, we use metaphors and other word pictures to get our message across to each other. Shouldn’t we allow the Scriptures the same liberty to use word pictures? And is it not wise to examine what is actually written there and seek understanding from God?29Acts 17:10-11. Luke wrote approvingly of the Jews of Berea as to how they received the new message through Paul and Silas:

The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men.

Immersion Who is doing the immersing Who is being immersed What the immersed is being immersed into Key New Testament references
Immersion of John A believer, originally John the Immerser A repentant believer A body or stream of water Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:4, Luke 3:3, Acts 13:24

The immersion of John30Matthew 3:1-6.

Let us begin by looking at Matthew’s declaration of John:

In those days John the Immerser came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.

For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.”

And the same John had his clothing of camel’s hair and a leather girdle about his loins. And his food was locusts and wild honey.

Then Jerusalem and all Judea went out to him, and all the region round about Jordan.

And they were immersed by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins.

This man John was sovereignly raised up. Jesus told us he was the Elijah which was to come.31Luke 1:17, 76-77; Matthew 11:14. He came to prepare the way for Jesus, and he brought a new message.

John proclaimed repentance, and demanded repentance from the people in order to enter into the kingdom of God, the same kingdom of God that Jesus began to proclaim some months later.

Repentance means a change of attitude, a change in one’s way of thinking.32The Greek word translated as repentance is metanoia. “Meta” signals a change or exchange, and “noia” is a way of thinking, closely related to the word for mind, nous. John declared the beginning of an entirely new way for the people of Israel to relate to God. Instead of trying to please God by keeping the commandments of the Law and offering the required sacrifices for sin, he called Israelites to the kingdom of God.

In God’s kingdom, He is actually king; He both rules and communes with His people personally. By faith, John proclaimed the only person who could fully declare this kingdom and make it possible—Jesus the Messiah. The key to give an Israelite entry into this new covenant was not an observance or an act of obedience, but a change of heart attitude toward God. “Rend your heart, and not your garments,” as the prophet Joel cried centuries before.33Joel 2:13. (King James Version) Joel expresses repenting as “returning” (the verb shuv) to the Lord in this passage. The commonest Hebrew word for repentance is t’shuvah, a “return” to the Lord.

John himself declared Jesus boldly: “I indeed immerse you with water to repentance. But He who comes after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He shall immerse you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”34Matthew 3:11. Luke reports that John “came into all the country around Jordan, proclaiming the immersion of repentance for the remission of sins.”35Luke 3:3. This is the dawn of a new covenant, for the Torah provided blood sacrifices of animals to cover the people’s sins, but John declared repentance to be the gateway for the outright remission of sins.

In our day, we see that Messiah Jesus has come, has atoned for us, and has risen from the dead in glory, and John’s dawn has opened up into the amazing sunshine of Jesus the Victor. Under these circumstances, immersion as a testimony of repentance is understandably no longer preached or practiced among believers, for John finished his work of preparing the way of the Lord. Instead, we practice the immersion Jesus commanded and His disciples carried out. John’s message, though, that nothing less than a fundamental change of heart attitude toward God will avail, is still before us in letters of fire. In God, we owe him a great debt.

Immersion Who is doing the immersing Who is being immersed What the immersed is being immersed into Key New Testament references
Water Immersion36Here are all the direct references to water immersion: Matthew 28:19, Mark 16:16, John 3:22,26, John 4:1,2, Acts 2:38,41, Acts 8:12,13,16, Acts 8:36,38, Acts 9:18, Acts 10:47,48, Acts 16:15,33, Acts 18:8, Acts 19:3,5, Acts 22:16, 1 Corinthians 1:13-17, Hebrews 6:2, 1 Peter 3:21. A believer A believer A body or stream of water Matthew 28:19,20, Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38,41, John 4:1,2, Acts 8:16, 38, Acts 19:2-6, 1 Peter 3:21

Water immersion

The New Testament reveals a number of key facts about water immersion:

  1. In the one passage which describes the act of water immersion itself, Philip and Ethiopian eunuch go down into the water (as one would expect,) Philip immerses him in the water, and then the two of them come up out of the water.37Acts 8:38.
  2. Believer immerses believer: John carefully points out that while Jesus immersed more disciples than John as He proclaimed the Kingdom of God, yet Jesus Himself did not immerse any of them. Instead, His disciples did it.38John 4:1,2.
  3. Jesus at His Great Commission commanded immersion as an act of obedience, not as a substitute for personal faith, but as a testimony to the personal faith the immersed believer already has.39Mark 16:16. “Go and make disciples of all nations, immersing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to guard everything I have commanded you.”40Matthew 28:19,20.
  4. Peter declares that immersion saves us, by the resurrection of Jesus, indicating that immersion in water is a visible picture of another immersion, into the risen Jesus Christ, which is the immersion we will discuss next. In water immersion God has given us another visible picture of something we do not see with our eyes, just as God commanded Moses to build the Tabernacle as a visible representation of God’s heavenly throne room.411 Peter 3:20,21.
  5. Peter also declares obedient immersion in water to be the answer of a good conscience toward God—the immersed believer gives his outward testimony to his new rescue through Jesus. Peter explicitly rejects the idea that this immersion is about cleansing the physical body. Instead, he points to the resurrection of Jesus from the dead as the power behind the rescue.421 Peter 3:21.
  6. When Paul’s first visits the believers of Ephesus in the Book of Acts, he plainly distinguishes water immersion “in the name of the Lord Jesus” from the immersion of John, on one hand, and from the immersion in the Holy Spirit, on the other. This passage describes immersion in the Holy Spirit as “receiving the Holy Spirit,” but plainly shows that it is the same thing that happened to the believers at Pentecost.43Acts 19:2-6.
  7. Peter prescribed water immersion to thousands of repentant Jews on the day of Pentecost. He promised that their repentance and obedient immersion in the name of Jesus would cause their sins to be forgiven.44Acts 2:38, 41.
  8. Peter addresses water immersion as separate and distinct from immersion in the Holy Spirit, which he refers to both as the promise of the Father (Acts 2:33, 39) and as the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). Later, visiting the household of the Gentile centurion Cornelius, Peter again handles immersion in water and “the gift of the Holy Spirit” as separate. For Cornelius’s household, immersion in the Holy Spirit preceded water immersion.45Acts 10:44-48. The multiple passages that refer to the promise of the Father are discussed below in connection with immersion in the Holy Spirit.
  9. When Philip went down to Samaria and many believed there, Acts plainly says that the Samaritans were immersed in water in the name of Jesus, and that was something different from immersion in the Holy Spirit.46Acts 8:16.

In the centuries since the New Testament was written, many people have written about water immersion. Sometimes the controversy has been so strong that nations have fought wars supposedly about the true meaning of water immersion. We do not have to go wrestle with most of this, because we can go back to directly to God’s Word.

To mention only one controversy, some people have pointed to water immersion in the name of Jesus as something distinct from water immersion in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is good to know that the controversy goes away as soon as we examine the verses.

The phrase “in the name of Jesus” or “in the name of the Lord Jesus” is used about 12 times in the New Testament without reference to water immersion. That phrase was an instantly recognized reference to speaking or acting on the authority of Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God. Besides those 12 references, water immersion “in the name of Jesus” is mentioned in three other places, making a total of 15. Interestingly, “in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit” appears only once—in the Great Commission in Matthew 28.

So, the text shows that “immersion in the name of Jesus” was the usual way to describe an action that specifically recognizes Jesus as the Messiah, not just an expression of general reverence for God. Matthew’s citation in Matthew 28 does not contradict this. Matthew is just expanding the reference to recognize all three Persons of the Godhead, as in Isaiah 48:16.47In general, Matthew, more than the other Gospel writers, emphasizes specific references, relationships and fulfillments of prophecy in the Law and the Prophets. A Jew well-schooled in the Hebrew Scriptures might well have recognized a reference to Isaiah 48:16 and other similar Scriptures, such as Deuteronomy 6:4, which declare the God Who is perfect unity, rather than perfect singleness.

Immersion Who is doing the immersing Who is being immersed What the immersed is being immersed into Key New Testament references
Immersion into Jesus Christ48Here are all the direct references to immersion into Jesus Christ: Romans 6:3,4, 1 Corinthians 15:29, Galatians 3:27, Colossians 2:12, Hebrews 6:2. God, the Father A believer Jesus Christ, in the likeness of His death, and in His resurrection Romans 6:3,4, Colossians 2:12, Galatians 3:27

Immersion into Jesus Christ

Peter talks about a spiritual reality illustrated by water immersion in 1 Peter 3. Paul speaks at length about that immersion in Romans 6. By revelation, Paul portrays a spiritual reality that is striking in its power and depth. His words enable us to see something of the mystery by which believers receive and walk in newness of life.

Romans 6:2-12. Paul was speaking carefully and precisely when he spoke of immersion in Romans 6. Here is a direct translation:49Author’s translation of Romans 6:2-12. For as many of us as died to sin, how shall we live any longer in it? Or are you ignorant that as many of us as were plunged into Messiah Jesus, were plunged into his death?

You see, we were co-buried with him through immersion into [his] death, so that just as Messiah was raised up from among the dead by the Father’s glory, just so we too should walk about in newness of life. For if we have become co-planted in the likeness of his death, indeed we shall partake of his resurrection, too. We know that our old man was co-crucified, so that the body of sin might be done away with, so we should no longer be bond-slaves to sin. That is because one who has died has satisfied [God’s] judgment for sin. But if we died with Messiah, we trust that we will share life with him.50Literally, “co-live” with Him.

Because Messiah was raised from among the dead, we know that he does not die anymore. Death does not lord it over him anymore. In that he died, he died unto sin just once: but in that he lives, he lives to God. So too for you: consider yourselves to be dead toward sin, but living toward God in Messiah Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign as king in your death-bound body that you should obey it in its greedy desires.51Or “lusts,” translating epithumia.

To sum in a few words the reality Paul describes, we believers are immersed, plunged into Jesus, and our point of entry into Him is into the likeness of His death. An alternative picture Paul uses here and in Romans 11 is of being inserted into Jesus, as a branch is grafted into a new host tree.52In the oldest traditions of grafting plants, the host tree is slashed open in a long cut at a shallow angle to the its bark, forming a long, very narrow “V”-shaped cut or wound in the tree trunk. The master gardener cuts the lower end of the branch to be grafted into a long, flat, tapered end that slides right into the “V.” Then he binds the cut and the grafted branch together, and lets them grow together. The graft begins to take the life-giving sap from the tree, and the two become one ever after.

How we as defiled sinners can be joined to the holy Savior is an amazing miracle. This immersion is God’s miracle and the one immersing the believer in this case appears to be God the Father, as Ephesians 2:4-10 witnesses. Verse 10 there refers to it as a work of creation: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” So the Creator Himself immerses the believer, and the immersion is into Jesus Himself.

Paul describes this amazing union as immersion in two other places: Colossians 2:12-13 and Galatians 3:26-27.

Colossians: You were co-buried with him by immersion, by which you were also co-raised through faith in God’s working, when [God] raised him from among the dead. And as you, you who were dead, too, in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, he co-quickened you with him, and forgave you all your transgressions.53Author’s translation.

Galatians: You see, all of you are God’s sons through faith in Messiah Jesus. That is because as many of you as were immersed in Messiah, you have clothed yourselves with Messiah.54Author’s translation.

How do we understand being immersed into Jesus Christ? If you have been born again, you can remember how you came to understanding what it means to be born again, rather than just being reformed. God revealed it to your heart. That is the way it is with this immersion into Jesus. A believer gains heart knowledge of immersion into Him, in the likeness of His death, and in His resurrection life, as God reveals it to him. We do not have to strain and analyze, because the challenge is not intellectual, mainly. Instead, God will show it to us as we seek Him.

Immersion Who is doing the immersing Who is being immersed What the immersed is being immersed into Key New Testament references
Immersion into the sufferings of Christ55Here are all the direct references to immersion into the sufferings of Christ: Matthew 20:22,23, Mark 10:38,39, Luke 12:50. God Originally Jesus, but subsequently a disciple The sufferings of Christ, to fulfill them Matthew 20:22,23, [Colossians 1:24]

Immersion into the sufferings of Christ

In two places, Jesus speaks of a difficult immersion, one that challenges a disciple’s soul to the uttermost. From the text, this is plainly an immersion into His sufferings, as Paul also refers to it. Jesus spoke of it as an immersion He faced during His earthly ministry. He also described it as an experience that at least some of His disciples would face.

Luke 12:50: But I have an immersion to be immersed in, and how I am pressed down until it is accomplished!

Matthew 20:22,23: But Jesus answered and said, You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be immersed with the immersion that I am immersed in? They said to Him, We are able. And He said to them, You shall indeed drink of My cup and be immersed with the immersion that I am immersed in; but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but to those for whom it has been prepared by My Father.

Paul says plainly that this immersion reflects personal participation in suffering that is not self-chosen. Instead he reveals it to be divinely appointed to bring forth Jesus’ Church:

Colossians 1:23,24: If indeed you continue in the faith grounded and settled, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which you have heard and which was proclaimed in all the creation under Heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister, who now rejoice in my sufferings on your behalf, and I fill up the things lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh, on behalf of His body, which is the church….

The New Testament says suffering is vital to bringing forth the Bride of Christ. It describes Jesus’ own suffering. In John 12:24, for example, Jesus speaks of the corn of wheat falling into the ground and dying.

It describes suffering on the part of apostles and the other disciples. Philippians 3:10-11 expresses Paul’s fervent desire to “know him and the power of his resurrection, and … share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.”

As to God’s people overall, Revelation 12 presents the picture of the beautiful but persecuted woman who brings forth the man child, or as one could view it, the plan of God, in the face of all hell’s hatred. Jesus uses the figure of the pain of childbirth, too, in John 16:20-22. His disciples would go through suffering like childbirth as they saw Him go to the Cross, then saw His resurrection. Paul uses the same picture as he mourns over the Galatians, and pleads with them, in Galatians 4:19.

This is only a small look at the role of suffering for Jesus and His followers. We have to remember that Jesus was the one who used the picture of being plunged or immersed in suffering. He said that for at least some of His own, it will be their portion as they follow Him.

Immersion Who is doing the immersing Who is being immersed What the immersed is being immersed into Key New Testament references
Immersion in the Holy Spirit56Here are all the direct references to immersion in the Holy Spirit: Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, John 1:33, Acts 1:5, Acts 11:16, Hebrews 6:2. Jesus Christ A believer God, the Holy Spirit Matthew 3:11, John 1:33, Acts 11:16,17, [Acts 2:2-4, 16-18, 32-33, 38-39, Luke 24:49]

Immersion in the Holy Spirit

God has given immersion in the Holy Spirit as a picture of a major experience or transformation in a disciple’s life. There has been so much argument and controversy over this immersion that we should talk about it in three steps:

  • First, we should look at what makes it different from all the other immersions described in the Scripture.
  • Second, we should review all the effects Scripture promises to believers who receive this immersion.
  • Third, we should look at other Scriptural pictures of the very same Scriptural fact—immersion is not the only way the New Testament describes it.

First, immersion in the Holy Spirit is described in that very picture in six places, four times by John the Immerser, once by Jesus and once by Peter:

Matthew 3:11: I indeed immerse you in water to repentance. But He who comes after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He shall immerse you in the Holy Spirit and in fire….

Mark 1:8: I indeed have immersed you in water, but He shall immerse you with the Holy Spirit.

Luke 3:16: John answered all, saying, I indeed immerse you in water, but He who is mightier than I comes, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to loose. He shall immerse you with the Holy Spirit and with fire….

John 1:32-34: And John bore record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from Heaven like a dove, and He abode on Him. And I did not know Him, but He who sent me to immerse in water, that One said to me, Upon whom you shall see the Spirit descending, and remaining upon Him, He is the One who immerses in the Holy Spirit. And I saw and bore record that this is the Son of God.

Acts 1:4,5: And having met with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to await the promise of the Father which you heard from Me. For John truly immersed in water, but you shall be immersed in the Holy Spirit not many days from now.

Acts 11:15-17: And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them, as on us at the beginning. And I remembered the Word of the Lord, how He said, John indeed immersed in water, but you shall be immersed in the Holy Spirit. If God gave to them the same gift as to us, they having believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to be able to prevent God?

These passages make several things clear:

  • Jesus immerses believers in the Holy Spirit, in a way that resembles how John the Immerser immersed repentant believers in water. Strikingly, all six passages compare immersion in the Holy Spirit to the immersion of John in water, so the visual picture ought to be unmistakable to us. At the same time they say there are big differences between the two experiences, too.
  • John understood the immersion in the Holy Spirit because God revealed it to him directly; he named it as one key testimony to the Messiah-hood of Jesus, the Lamb of God.
  • John also associated immersion in the Holy Spirit with power, for Jesus’ act of immersing believers in the Holy Spirit is a testimony to Jesus’ power.
  • Jesus Himself, in Acts 1:4-5, used a second name or description for immersion in the Holy Spirit: the Promise of the Father.
  • Peter, in Acts 11, recognized what happened in Cornelius’ house. He saw it was the same as what happened to him and the others in the Upper Room at Pentecost—immersion in the Holy Spirit. Peter speaks of immersion in the Holy Spirit, and also used another name for immersion in the Holy Spirit: the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The Bible often describes the immersion in the Holy Spirit in Scripture as “the Promise of the Father.” Since Jesus plainly said they were one and the same, let us look at the passages that describe it in these words, too:

Luke 24:49: And behold, I send the promise of My father on you. But you sit in the city of Jerusalem until you are clothed with power from on high.

Acts 1:4 And having met with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to await the promise of the Father which you heard from Me.

Act 2:33 Therefore being exalted to the right of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured out this which you now see and hear.

Jesus sends the promise of the Father, the Holy Spirit. This confirms John’s identification that Jesus the Messiah is the one who sends the Holy Spirit upon a believer, in one picture, and immerses a believer in the Holy Spirit, in the other picture. Peter, in Acts 2, confirms that the pouring out recorded at Pentecost was this one and the same promise fulfilled for those gathered there.

Jesus also gave us a third perspective, as He spoke at the Last Supper.

John 14:16-18: And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, so that He may be with you forever, the Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot receive because it does not see Him nor know Him. But you know Him, for He dwells with you and shall be in you. I will not leave you orphans. I will come to you.

John 14:25-26: I have spoken these things to you, being present with you. But the Comforter, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in My name, He shall teach you all things and bring all things to your remembrance, whatever I have said to you.

John 15:26-27: And when the Comforter has come, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He shall testify of Me. And you also shall bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning.

John 16:7-11: But I tell you the truth, it is expedient for you that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Comforter will not come to you. But if I depart, I will send Him to you. And when that One comes, He will convict the world concerning sin, and concerning righteousness, and concerning judgment. Concerning sin, because they do not believe on Me; concerning righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.

John 16:13-15: However, when He, the Spirit of Truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth. For He shall not speak of Himself, but whatever He hears, He shall speak. And He will announce to you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will receive of Mine and will announce it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and will announce it to you.

Again, the specifics are consistent with the other passages. Jesus sends the promise of the Father to believers. But here he emphasizes two important consequences. First, there is comfort, or in modern terms, encouragement. The Greek original, parakletos, has much the same sense as a coach in modern-day athletics, or other challenging activities: someone to encourage, to give pointers, to help you persist and do your best.

Second, the Holy Spirit is named the Spirit of Truth, acting in Jesus’ name. It is helpful in that connection to remember that Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” The Holy Spirit will lead believers into all truth and glorify Jesus. Putting this passage alongside the other passages, immersion in the Holy Spirit comes into sharper focus. It is an important part of moving forward to a fuller understanding of God’s will and plan as expressed in the risen Lord Jesus.

No wonder there has been such a contest over it across the years!

In connection with sending the Holy Spirit, Jesus tells us the Holy Spirit will convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment. While not everything is spelled out in detail, it is striking that Jesus tells His disciples, “I will send Him to you. And when that One comes, He will convict the world concerning sin, and concerning righteousness, and concerning judgment.”57John 16:7-8. Jesus’ sending of the Holy Spirit upon believers appears here to relate to the Holy Spirit’s work in so convicting the world.

If so, it would seem that the more believers claim and receive this promise from the Lord Jesus, the more widely the Holy Spirit will pursue His work in our generation. That is what Jesus said, in so many words.

Jesus’ words make those Jews and Gentiles who follow Him the central focus of each generation in God’s sight. The work of readying them for an eternity with Him, together with the missionary and evangelistic imperative to invite “whosoever will” to come to Him and be a part of that remnant, is the main event of human history, more obviously so since Jesus ascended back to the right hand of His Father’s throne.
Remember how Jesus admonished His disciples to see to it that they were “clothed with power from on high” through receiving this same promise, before going to the ends of the earth to fulfill the Great Commission:

And He opened their mind to understand the Scriptures. And He said to them, So it is written, and so it behooved Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be proclaimed in His name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witnesses of these things. And behold, I send the promise of My father on you. But you sit in the city of Jerusalem until you are clothed with power from on high.58Luke 24:45-49.

Finally, besides the pictures of immersion, the promise of the Father, and sending the Comforter, the Spirit of truth, there is a fourth perspective on immersion in the Holy Spirit in Scripture, declared by Peter on the day of Pentecost―the gift of the Holy Spirit. He spoke by inspiration and revelation, with power, declaring the promise of the Father by quoting the prophet Joel.

This is the Lord’s promise, through Joel:

And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit. And I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the LORD has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the LORD calls.59Joel 2:28-32. (ESV)

Here is how the inspired Peter declared it to the crowd at Pentecost:

But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:

“‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.”

This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.

Repent and be immersed every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.60Acts 2:16-18, 32-33, 38-39. (ESV)

Joel, Peter and the events of Pentecost all emphasized the supernatural, but normal, expressions of spiritual power and function that were poured upon believers when Jesus sent the promise of the Father upon them, immersing them in the Holy Spirit. He uses another picture in the passage: Jesus pouring the Holy Spirit on the believer, a picture recalling the pouring of the perfumed holy oil over the priests in the Torah, referred to vividly in Psalm 133. Peter goes on to declare that it is normal for a believer to receive this gift, a promise extended “to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.”61Two passages describe immersion in the Holy Spirit as “the gift of the Holy Spirit”: Acts 2:38 and Acts 10:45. Hebrews 6:4 appears to do so as well, although the exact phrase is not used there.

Jesus’ urged his followers to be sure to be clothed with power. (Another picture! Putting on power or a new life as one puts on a set of clothes adds more perspective.) One thing that surely means is that receiving the promise is normal, but it is not automatic. Paul’s words reflected that same point of view when he asked the disciples he had just met in Ephesus, “Have you received the Holy Spirit since you believed?”62Acts 19:2.

Because space is limited in a study of all the New Testament’s immersions, we will not discuss the spiritual gifts associated with immersion in the Holy Spirit, as for example in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14. Even without studying those chapters, we have already discussed some 18 individual Scripture passages here on the immersion in the Holy Spirit, a testimony to its vital importance to us as disciples of Jesus.

We ought to close the discussion here by listing the effects of receiving the promise of the Father, as described in these passages: power, encouragement, revelation of truth, supernatural gifts distributed among the whole assembly, conviction of sin, righteousness and judgment, and witness to the Lord Jesus.

In discussion of the next immersion, one can see even more of the work of the poured-out Comforter.

Immersion Who is doing the immersing Who is being immersed What the immersed is being immersed into Key New Testament references
Immersion into the Body of Christ God, the Holy Spirit A disciple The Body of Christ I Corinthians 12:13, Ephesians 4:5, [Ephesians 4:12-16, 1 Corinthians 12:18-25]

Immersion into the Body of Christ (“Baptism into the Body of Christ”)

I Corinthians 12:12-13: For as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body; so also is Christ. For also by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free, even all were made to drink into one Spirit.

Ephesians 4:3-8: …Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, even as you are called in one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in you all. But to every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Therefore He says, “When He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive and gave gifts to men.63Some people may have gone to this very passage, where Paul writes, “one immersion”, and wondered if it challenges the distinct existence of all the variety of immersions examined in this study. Far from doing that, the passage focuses instead on the essential need for unity among the members, in place of factions and divisions. He speaks of maintaining unity as being immersed in one body, moving in one and the same Holy Spirit, begotten of one and same heavenly Father, saved by trusting one and the same Savior.

Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians of the church (or assembly, or congregation) of Jesus by one of the most-used pictures of it given in Scripture: the Body of Christ.64It is worth remembering that Scripture gives at least four distinct pictures of the Church, “the Assembly:” Christ’s Body, the living Temple, the New Jerusalem, and the Bride of Christ. One may think of them as views of one and the same Church from different perspectives, much as a palace may be viewed from north, south, east and west to get a fuller appreciation of it. Each is true and wonderful, but the marvel of God’s wisdom expressed in the Church (described in Ephesians 3:8-10, for example) surpasses any single picture of it. The entire passage speaks of the church as one body, then reveals that “we all” are immersed (or plunged) into that one Body by the Holy Spirit. Here is an immersion distinct from the others we have visited. God the Holy Spirit immerses believers into the Body of Christ—the church, His Body, His Bride, His Temple, His New Jerusalem.

A person could just assume what immersion into the Body of Christ is. If people start with the definition of the Church they usually use, they can assume that somehow God the Holy Spirit must have put those people together. But revelation is not assumption, and immersion into the Body of Christ is a matter of revelation, a supernatural fact attested in Scripture. Scripture here reveals a marvel that God Himself has done, because here God the Holy Spirit is the Agent, immersing one formerly separate and isolated individual after another into a living, organic creation that embodies God’s highest purpose for the human race.

In Ephesians 4, Paul again refers to an immersion while he pleads with believers to maintain the unity of Christ’s assembly as one body. He seems to use the same picture there that he uses in 1 Corinthians 12. He declares that members of Christ’s body are not members just because they show up, or because they want to be there. They are not automatically members simply through the very fact of being born again. Instead God the Holy Spirit immerses believers into the Body, a picture that recalls the grafting of wild olive branches into the good olive tree in Romans 11. People who were separate, with separate lives, are supernaturally and vitally joined into one new creation, a wonder of God’s design and making.

Like immersion in the Holy Spirit, Scripture uses more than one picture to illustrate the reality of membership in the Body of Christ: immersion is one of them. Some people have noticed that three of the immersions described in the New Testament correspond to our human nature. Scripture reveals that we are tripartite—unique human beings with three parts forming our whole being: spirit, soul and body.65For example, Paul’s blessing and prayer in 1 Thessalonians 5:23 addresses the three in order. Another key verse is Genesis 2:7, in which God breathed (a common picture of spirit) into Adam’s body formed of clay, “and man became a living soul,” as this verse literally reads. For an excellent Bible study of how we are put together, see Soul and Spirit, by Jessie Penn-Lewis. As someone put it, “I am a soul, and I have a spirit and a body.” Briefly characterized, our body serves as our connection to and communion with the physical world all about us, and our spirit (if we are born again) serves as our connection to and communion with God, Who is a spirit.66John 4:24.

One can observe that water immersion immerses the believer’s body, and that immersion in the Holy Spirit immerses our human spirit. A careful examination of Scripture, especially in Ephesians but not just there, suggests that immersion in the Body of Christ immerses our souls into God’s new creation, Christ’s Body. Not that we lose identity or personality by any means, but rather that we find ourselves vitally joined to like-minded disciples by the operation of the Holy Spirit, such that we move and function as a Body, not merely a group of well-intentioned individuals.

There is no sudden experience attested for this immersion, nothing as sudden as the Ethiopian eunuch coming up out of the water one day, or the Ephesus disciples and the household of Cornelius each being immersed in the Holy Spirit on a single day. Perhaps it is more gradual because of all that is in our souls—heart, mind, emotions, relationships, conscience, attitudes. Yet this immersion into the Body does transform the life. One can know it is real by the way the way the believer fits as a functioning, integral member in the Body.

In many places, the New Testament says that if we are to fulfill our calling in God, we need to be thoroughly transformed in our attitudes and in our minds. Romans 12:1-2 calls each of us to offer our own bodies a living sacrifice, all for Jesus, for all eternity, not to live for self anymore. In the very next phrase Paul pleads that we be transformed by the renewing of our minds. That transformation takes time and patient obedience. Peter in 1 Peter 1:3-9 encouraged his hearers to endure the trials of their faith to reach their faith’s fulfillment—the rescue (salvation) of their souls.

Yet, Paul’s description of the disciples in Ephesians and 1 Corinthians, or John’s description in 1 John,67In 1 John 2:27, the anointing (another picture of the Holy Spirit being poured out) teaches believers the truth, and helps them to abide in Jesus. cannot be fulfilled by just adding up a number of separate Christian lives. Unless Paul and John were just doing some wishful thinking or exaggerating, the essential unity they describe is God’s supernatural work, performed by the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ Name.

This unity brought by the Holy Spirit is part of the Church as the New Testament describes it. It is unity in the Church where personal discipleship to Jesus is normal, immersion in the Holy Spirit is normal, and immersion in the Body is normal, yet not one of them is automatic. Instead, they wait on our choices and desires of our hearts.

How could God seamlessly join a soul to the other members of Christ’s body without a genuine, radical surrender of the life to Jesus, to become His disciple on His terms? If we will not be transformed, will not be molded, will not be conformed, then we will not be one with His Body. Self-will cannot make it so.

Whatever you or I choose in our individual lives, God will still have His supreme creation, a Bride worthy of His Son, a City He will call His home forever. Immersion into the Body of Christ is the highway of holiness that leads us to fulfill our high calling there, together.

Like salvation itself, immersion into the Body of Christ becomes vivid to a believer by experience. One gains the experience of functioning as a member among members, joined to the Head. With that comes, too, a heart-revelation of the Body’s nature as God’s supreme handiwork; God manifests His wisdom to the rest of creation through the Church!68Ephesians 3:10. As with other revelation God gives us, our reaction afterward is likely to be, “Why, it is so plain. I wonder that I did not see it before!” Yet, we wonder even more to see how Scripture flows more naturally together, how the weaving of truth is the more beautiful, as we seek and get heart knowledge of what God has revealed. His plan of redemption for the sons of Adam—through Jesus—is so wonderful.

Immersion Who is doing the immersing Who is being immersed What the immersed is being immersed into Key New Testament references
Immersion to Moses God The people of Israel The cloud and the sea 1 Corinthians 10:2, [Exodus 14:15-31]

Immersion to Moses (“Baptism to Moses”)

1 Corinthians 10:1-2: And, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized to Moses in the cloud and in the sea….

This last immersion in the New Testament record reminds us that God gave us immersion as a useful picture of a literal or spiritual reality. Paul makes this statement, the only time Scripture mentions it as immersion, without a big explanation. He only refers briefly in those verses to what happened to Israel when they came out of Egypt.

How was it an immersion? For bookends to this reality, a “before and after,” remember how at the first, the Israelites in Egypt had no use for Moses. The quarreling Israelites gave him backtalk instead of deference when he tried to break up their quarrel. Then consider the history of the Jews for the 3,500 years or so since. Moses, and the Torah God gave them through Moses, have defined and distinguished their lives and culture ever since. Whether religious or not, Jews can hardly imagine their history or their identity without Moses.

Yes, there was an immersion. God, through a series of magnificently supernatural acts, suddenly halted Israel’s slavery in Egypt, and revealed the God of Abraham as the almighty supernatural Rescuer of His people. He also let all Israel know, in no uncertain terms, that Moses was His servant, to be heard and obeyed.

Read Exodus 14:15-31 from the perspective of a great transformation of a great mass of slaves into a free nation under Moses’ leadership. Israel became a nation, defined by the way Moses led them out of Egypt and by the covenant he delivered to them.

Immersed in Immersions

Hebrews 6:1-3. Therefore, let us leave behind the message of the first things of Messiah, and bear on to the full completion, not laying down—all over again—a foundation…of teaching about immersions…. And we will do this, if God permits it.69Author’s translation.

Matthew 28:18-20. Then Jesus approached them and said: “Go therefore, make disciples of all the nations, immersing them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Teach them to guard everything I commanded you, and look! I myself am with you all the days, until the fulfillment of the age.”70Author’s translation.

As the old saying puts it, in examining a matter, sometimes one does not see the forest for the trees. We are used to handling each immersion as a matter of teaching to be examined by itself. But the New Testament uses the same picture of immersion for all of them.

In this study, we have examined seven separate immersions presented in the New Testament—distinct in the combination of immerser, the one immersed, and that into which one is immersed. The Old Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures, do not describe any of the seven events in terms of an immersion. The Torah only gives one hint about immersion as a picture of spiritual truth: it commands bathing in water as part of cleansing one’s body from defilement, especially if someone touches a dead body and becomes unclean because of that. As we have seen, the Greek Septuagint translation does use the very same word for immersion to describe that bathing.

Let us look beyond the seven “trees” we have studied, and look at the forest.

The forest is that God has pictured the experience of a person coming to Him under the New Covenant as immersion:

  • an immersion into God’s kingdom, being permanently plunged into a realm where one discovers with wonder and gratitude that God rules, prevails and shines in all parts of life,
  • immersion into God Himself (as in immersion into Jesus in the likeness of His death and in His resurrection, and immersion in God the Holy Spirit), and
  • immersion into His new creation, the Lamb’s Bride (as in immersion into His Body and immersion into His sufferings.)

As we have seen, immersion first appeared through the work of John the Immerser (as the New Testament names him.) John introduced the immersion of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (the Immersion of John.) John also announced a new immersion in the Holy Spirit (and fire) that only Messiah Jesus would bring (the Immersion of the Holy Spirit,) which Jesus poured out, beginning at Pentecost.

Remembering that the New Covenant is eternal—the Bible everywhere points to an eternity of God dwelling with His own, Jews and Gentiles together—what is it about immersion that makes it such a useful picture of what God is doing? Let us look at the picture, the metaphor itself:

Immersion is immediate—there is no distance left between the one immersed and what he or she is immersed into.

Immersion is comprehensive—you cannot plunge into a pool and part of you stays dry.

Immersion is decisive, too. From beginning to fulfillment, immersion depends on our own willingness and choice to receive, and to plunge in. What’s more, the whole person is committed to it.

Immersion in God means, literally, nothing between my soul and the Savior, as one favorite hymn puts it.

Immersion as established for us by a holy God means that He has thoroughly redeemed and sanctified us, because He finds nothing to separate us from Him—or Him from us—anymore.

Immersion is a picture of Jesus’ prayer at the Last Supper—“that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us…. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”71John 17:21-23.

The New Testament declares that immersion in Himself is God’s intent, and He will do it, with whoever is willing to join Him in it. That is the forest view of immersion that emerges in this study.

Confirmation in Other “Forest” Themes

When we look at other big themes in the New Testament, as immersion is a big theme, they come together to the same view we found with immersions. If these themes are hidden to someone, we would have to say they are hidden in plain sight, because they are frequently presented in the New Testament:

  • The Kingdom of God
  • The new birth
  • God as the Father
  • Jesus as Son of God, Son of Man
  • The Atonement via the Cross, as accomplishing an unbroken communion with God
  • God the Holy Spirit as Comforter and Instructor
  • The Assembly (the Body, the Bride, the new Jerusalem, the living Temple)

We can only glance briefly at these here, but that will be enough to see how they are woven together seamlessly with the big message of immersion.

The Kingdom of God

Jesus Himself came heralding the kingdom of God. He plainly declared how great a canyon divided all Israel’s prior experience from the kingdom He revealed and heralded. Discipleship to Jesus for each individual is the norm, not the exception. Every repentant person is called—if he will—to forsake all that he has and is, to follow the Messiah. God’s kingdom was not a revised edition of Moses’ law. Instead it was such a surprise, such an amazing new covenant that God gave us at least 13 pictures of it in the Gospels to help us understand:

  • The parable of the sower (Matthew 13, Mark 4, Luke 8)
  • The grain of mustard seed (Matthew 13, Mark 4, Luke 13)
  • The leaven hid in three measures of flour (Matthew 13, Luke 13)
  • The good seed and the weeds in the wheat field (Matthew 13)
  • The treasure hidden in a field (Matthew 13)
  • The merchant who found one pearl of great value (Matthew 13)
  • The net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. (Matthew 13)
  • The king who forgave the debts of his two servants (Matthew 18)
  • The master who hired laborers to work in his vineyard (Matthew 20)
  • The king who gave a wedding feast for his son (Matthew 22)
  • The ten virgins who took lamps to meet the bridegroom (Matthew 25)
  • The parable of the talents (Matthew 25, Luke 19)
  • The scattered seed that grows to harvest (Mark 4)

Among the many pictures of the Kingdom, note the constant theme that God is the King, and He deals directly and personally with every citizen of His eternal kingdom.

Among immersions, the Immersion into Jesus Christ shows a vital aspect of the Kingdom. As we have observed, God the Father appears to be the immerser of believers into Jesus. God obtains his Kingdom chiefly by sacrificial love, not by power and conquest. His human subjects who serve Him in His Kingdom must enter through immersion into Jesus, the Second Adam. Paul says as much in Romans 6:3-4.

The new birth, begotten of God the Father

The new birth, by which a sinner may become a new creature, begotten of the Father in Jesus, is also fully declared in the New Testament, in both the Gospels and the Epistles.

Again, Immersion into Jesus Christ adds another view to the picture of the new birth; it shows us that the new birth is totally connected to Jesus, and connected to the miracle the Father did in raising Jesus to new life after He died at Calvary.

God as our Father

As part of His mission, Jesus also revealed God the Father to whoever had ears to hear. In the prayer recorded in John 17, He prayed that we would not only know Father for ourselves, but become perfectly one with Him through Jesus, and know the Father’s love as it is:

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.

Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.

O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”72John 17:20-26.

The Immersion into Jesus Christ likewise testifies to God as our Father. “Father” is not a title, but a supernatural, biological fact. Every human being immersed into and abiding in Jesus can truthfully say, “God is my Father, and I am His child.”

Jesus as the Son of God and Son of man

Scriptures declare Him to be both at the same time, and to be both forever. In many places in the Gospels, people are perplexed, offended, or even insulted by the thought that Jesus of Nazareth could be God’s own Son, “the only begotten of the Father.” But the New Testament proclaims both parts of who Jesus is. God and the redeemed human race will never be separate again, because they are joined in Jesus.731 Timothy 2:5 emphasizes Jesus as the Mediator, who is God and Man. Here are some of the references to Jesus: As Son of God, Matthew 14:33, 26:63, 27:43, Mark 1:1, 15:39, Luke 1:35, 22:70, John 1:34, 10:36, 20:31; as Son of man, Matthew 11:19, 12:40, 16:27, 20:28, 26:64, Mark 8:31, 14:62, Luke 9:26, 18:31, John 3:13, 6:27, 12:34.

Immersions in the New Testament always involves believers in Jesus, but this large theme of Who Jesus is about Him alone. Therefore, it does not rely on immersions as a picture.

The Atonement via the Cross, as accomplishing an unbroken communion with God

Redemption is a theme, a huge, grand scheme. When the Bible names Jesus as the Lamb of God, it points to the price He paid for us. The description of Jesus in Hebrews as great High Priest does, too, for He offered Himself as the sacrifice.

As with the theme of Who Jesus is, the theme of what He accomplished to take away the sins of the world focuses on Him alone, and so is not pictured by immersion.

God the Holy Spirit poured out as Helper upon individual believers

After Jesus ascended and God poured out the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the result that day proclaimed and demonstrated the supernaturally anointed co-working of believers with God by His Holy Spirit. As Jesus said,

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. “74John 14:16-17.

The empowered believers began to fulfill the Great Commission, proclaiming Jesus the Messiah to Jews and Gentiles alike. So, immersion in God and redemption plunges the disciple into God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

As we have already explored, Immersion in the Holy Spirit is one major picture (along with “promise of the Father,” “sending a Comforter,” and the “Gift of the Holy Spirit”) of this great theme of empowerment and communion through God the Holy Spirit.

The Bride, the Wife of the Lamb

Finally, this list of immersions proclaims and characterizes the Bride of the Lamb and reveals her central place in eternity, in perfect unity with the Lamb. We are, of course, used to thinking of her as the “Church,” but that is a post-New Testament translation issue, at least in English and some other languages. The “Church” translation issue is a lot like the problem with the words “baptize” and “baptism,” which we discussed already.

Besides being called the Bride, the Body of Christ, the living Temple, and the new Jerusalem, she is also called the Assembly, ekklesia.

Among immersions, Immersion into the Body of Christ sheds vital light on the Body, one of these five Biblical perspectives. It parallels the picture of being built together into a holy temple,75See Ephesians 2:21 and 1 Peter 2:5-6, for example. and adds to the picture of parts of the Body being vitally joined together and functioning as a single Body, joined to the Head, Jesus.761 Corinthians 12:14-18; Ephesians 3:6; Ephesians 4:16, 25.

We spoke earlier of stepping back from individual, disconnected studies of the different immersions (we compared them to individual trees) to see what the New Testament was doing by describing them with the same picture (seeing the trees as a single forest.) We can step back one more time here to look at these great themes as a group. Think of the seven we just listed—the Kingdom, the new birth (new creation) in individuals, the Father, Jesus as Son of God and Son of Man, the Atonement via the Cross, God the Holy Spirit as Comforter and Instructor, and the Bride:

  • Each of them is mentioned and foreshadowed in the Hebrew Scriptures, but not at length, except of course for the prophecies of Messiah.
  • Each of them is expressed in or woven together with the New Testament teaching of immersions. The “whosoever will” members of the human race, those who are willing to come to Jesus, are to be immersed in God and in relationship to Him through Jesus—forever.

Surely the God-given picture of immersion is intended to show us the “new normal”—the eternal normal—of the New Covenant: God and His people, Jews and grafted-in Gentiles, together and in close fellowship from here to the new heavens and new earth He has promised.

Going on to fulfill our calling

Hebrews 5:12 – 6:3. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who needs milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.

Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, and teaching of immersions,77This passage is quoted from the New International Version (NIV), except for “teaching of immersions.” The NIV has “instruction about baptisms,” which seems to imply more of tutoring than of handling matters of truth. The original phrase is baptismon didaches, literally “immersions’ teaching.” the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so.

The writer to the Hebrews rebukes his audience for being spiritually hard of hearing, then holds out a high standard of mere maturity as a believer: those “who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” It is a high standard, but normal for any of Jesus’ disciples.

Teaching of immersions is one of six “elementary teachings” the writer lists. Once we have digested what Scripture teaches about immersions, we need to go on to full maturity as individuals and as Christ’s Bride.

While the writer does not list the immersions he is thinking of, four of them are clearly described as normal for believers: immersion in water, immersion into Christ, immersion in the Holy Spirit, and immersion into the Body of Christ. A fifth, immersion into the sufferings of Christ, is the portion of many, though not necessarily for all.

God has given us these immersions as pictures of spiritual reality. Like the pictures God has given of His supreme creation—the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ, the living Temple, and the New Jerusalem—they are God-given insights into what He intends us to do and to become.

This review has been brief, staying close to the Scripture’s language, and not exploring developing any of these immersions to the extent they deserve. There is great reward in searching them out in Scripture. They give shape and context to so much of the rest of Scripture.

But our high calling in Jesus Christ is not mainly to research these pictures, but to fulfill them. We need to see them real in our lives, individually and corporately. As Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “Until all of us arrive to unity–of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God—to a complete man, to the measure of the stature of Messiah’s fullness.”78Ephesians 4:13, author’s translation.

This exploration has done well if it stirs you to search the Scriptures, to seek God’s face for understanding. May He enable you to fulfill His high calling. There is plenty of room in our generation for the joy and the wonder that still echoes from those disciples on the road to Emmaus: “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us by the way and while He opened the Scriptures to us?”79Luke 24:32.

By P. K. Chamberlain
Copyright © 2013 – 2015 P. K. Chamberlain. All rights reserved.


Bibliography

Brown, Francis, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, ed., A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament. Oxford, The Clarendon Press, 1968.

Even-Shoshan, Abraham, A New Concordance of the Bible. Jerusalem: Kiryat Sepher Publishing House Ltd., 1980. [A concordance of the Hebrew Tenach, in Hebrew.]

Hatch, Edwin, and Henry A. Redpath, A Concordance to the Septuagint, 2d edition. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2005.

Kittel, Rudolf, et al., ed., Biblia Hebraica, 14th edition. Stuttgart: Württemburgische Bibelanstalt, 1966.

Liddell, Henry George, and Robert Scott, et al., ed., A Greek-English Lexicon, 9th edition. Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1983.

Nestle, Eberhard and Erwin, Barbara and Kurt Aland, et al. ed., Novum Testamentum Graece [Greek New Testament], 27th edition. Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1993.

Rahlfs, Alfred, ed., Septuaginta, 9th edition. Stuttgart: Württemburgische Bibelanstalt, 1935.

Young, Robert, Analytical Concordance to the Bible, 22nd American edition. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1969.

Appendix A. Appearances of baptize, baptism, etc. in the New Testament

Baptism Baptize, baptizeth Baptized Baptizing Baptism, baptisms Baptist
Baptism of John Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:4, Luke 3:16, John 1:26, John 1:33 Matthew 3:6,13,14,16, Mark 1:5,8,9, Luke 3:7,12,21, Luke 7:29,30, John 3:23, John 10:40, Acts 1:5, Acts 11:16, Acts 19:4, John 1:28,31, John 3:23 Matthew 3:7, Matthew 21:25, Mark 1:4, Mark 11:30, Luke 3:3, Luke 7:29, Luke 20:4, Acts 1:22, Acts 10:37, Acts 13:24, Acts 18:25, Acts 19:3,4 Matthew 3:1; 11:11,12; 14:2,8; 16:14; 17:13; Mark 6:14,24,25, Mark 8:28, Luke 7:20,28,33, Luke 9:19
Water baptism 1 Corinthians 1:17, John 3:26, Mark 16:16, John 3:22, John 4:1,2, Acts 2:38,41; 8:12,13,16: 8:36,38; 9:18; 10:47,48; 16:15,33; 18:8; 19:3,5; 22:16; 1 Corinthians 1:13-16 Matthew 28:19, 1 Peter 3:21, Hebrews 6:2
Baptism into Jesus Christ Romans 6:3, 1 Corinthians 15:29, Galatians 3:27 Romans 6:4, Colossians 2:12, Hebrews 6:2
Baptism into the sufferings of Christ Matthew 20:22,23, Mark 10:38,39, Luke 12:50 Matthew 20:22,23, Mark 10:38,39, Luke 12:50, Hebrews 6:2
Baptism in the Holy Spirit Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, John 1:33 Acts 1:5, Acts 11:16 Hebrews 6:2
Baptism into the Body of Christ 1 Corinthians 12:13 Ephesians 4:5, Hebrews 6:2
Baptism to Moses 1 Corinthians 10:2

   [ + ]

1. Using the preposition “into” may seem unusual at this point, but it reflects the understanding that the Greek “baptize” word practically means “to plunge, to immerse or immerse oneself, to bathe.” We will investigate a little further on in this study.
2. Seven is the right number, though superficially two of the seven—the baptism of John and water baptism—seem to have the same combination of believer baptizing believer in water. As the study develops, passage after passage make it plain that to the New Testament generation of disciples, these two baptisms were quite distinct.
3. Five of the table’s seven groups of Scripture references include Scripture’s one mention of baptisms in the plural: Hebrews 6:2. That reflects my idea of which kinds of baptisms the writer to the Hebrews had in mind.
4. Here are all the direct references to the baptism of John (except where his name is given as “John the Baptist”): Matthew 3:6,7,11,13,14,16, Matthew 21:25, Mark 1:4,5,8,9, Mark 11:30, Luke 3:3,7,12,16,21, Luke 7:29,30, Luke 20:4, John 1:26,28,31,33, John 3:23, John 10:40, Acts 1:5,22, Acts 10:37, Acts 11:16, Acts 13:24, Acts 18:25, Acts 19:3,4.
5. Here are all the direct references to water baptism: Matthew 28:19, Mark 16:16, John 3:22,26, John 4:1,2, Acts 2:38,41, Acts 8:12,13,16, Acts 8:36,38, Acts 9:18, Acts 10:47,48, Acts 16:15,33, Acts 18:8, Acts 19:3,5, Acts 22:16, 1 Corinthians 1:13-17, Hebrews 6:2, 1 Peter 3:21.
6. Here are all the direct references to baptism into Jesus Christ: Romans 6:3,4, 1 Corinthians 15:29, Galatians 3:27, Colossians 2:12, Hebrews 6:2.
7. Here are all the direct references to baptism into the sufferings of Christ: Matthew 20:22,23, Mark 10:38,39, Luke 12:50.
8. Here are all the direct references to baptism in the Holy Spirit: Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, John 1:33, Acts 1:5, Acts 11:16, Hebrews 6:2.
9. Both direct references to baptism into the Body of Christ are already listed in the table.
10. The only direct reference to baptism to Moses is already listed in the table.
11. Fauna and Flora of the Bible, (New York: United Bible Societies, 1972), pp. 4, 15, 66, 92.
12. Liddell and Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, pp. 305, 306. We use a lexicon instead of a dictionary because classical Greek is not a spoken language anymore. A dictionary describes a spoken and written language, while a lexicon describes a language that only exists in written form now. Liddell & Scott’s unabridged lexicon of classical Greek is the largest one there is, with Greek words from all the centuries of Greek from Homer to New Testament times.
13. English Standard Version (ESV). Many Scripture quotations in this study use the ESV.
14. The form of baptizein here is passive and in the past tense: εβαπτισθη, ebaptisthe. A more word-for-word translation would be, “But the Pharisee saw and marveled that he [Jesus] was not immersed [or bathed] before the dinner.” It was a short way to say that his hands were not immersed or bathed in a bowl or basin of water. A similar passage in Matthew describes a Jewish ritual practice of washing, in Matthew 15:2. Here Matthew was describing objections that Jesus’ disciples did not wash hands before eating food, using a common work for washing, niptein.
15. ESV
16. In verse 3’s “wash hands” Mark uses the most common word for washing, niptein, turning to baptizein in verse 4. In verse 4, baptismos is the word for the washing (immersing) of the dishes and objects.
17. Young, Robert, Analytical Concordance to the Bible, p. 1034.
18. Young’s lists 28 appearances of a word translated “to wash:” (1) niptein, 14 in all, 13 directly and 1 in the related aponiptesthai; (2) louein, 8 in all, 6 directly, and 2 in the related apolouein; (3) plunein, 2 in all, 1 directly and 1 in the related apoplunein; (4) brechein, 2 directly; and (5) baptizein, 2 directly.
19. The same verb baptein also appears in the New Testament. In Matthew 26:23, Jesus replied that he who “dipped” his hand in the bowl along with Jesus was the one who would betray Him. “Dipped” here translates baptein.
20. Baptein translated taval in these 14 references: Exodus 12:22, Leviticus 4:6 & 17, Leviticus 9:9, Leviticus 14:6, 16 & 51, Numbers 19:18, Deuteronomy 33.24, Joshua 3:15, Ruth 2:14, 1 Samuel 14:27, 2 Kings 8:15, and Job 9:31.
21. New English Bible.
22. Five of the seven groups of Scripture references include the one mention in the plural, Hebrews 6:2. That reflects my idea of which immersions the writer to the Hebrews had in mind.
23. Here are all the direct references to the immersion of John (except direct citation of his name as “John the Immerser”): Matthew 3:6,7,11,13,14,16, Matthew 21:25, Mark 1:4,5,8,9, Mark 11:30, Luke 3:3,7,12,16,21, Luke 7:29,30, Luke 20:4, John 1:26,28,31,33, John 3:23, John 10:40, Acts 1:5,22, Acts 10:37, Acts 11:16, Acts 13:24, Acts 18:25, Acts 19:3,4.
24. Since we have decided to say what the words mean, not just repeat Greek sounds—and “John the Immerser” is what the New Testament actually calls John the Baptist—we will use his recovered name here.
25. Here are all the direct references to water immersion: Matthew 28:19, Mark 16:16, John 3:22,26, John 4:1,2, Acts 2:38,41, Acts 8:12,13,16, Acts 8:36,38, Acts 9:18, Acts 10:47,48, Acts 16:15,33, Acts 18:8, Acts 19:3,5, Acts 22:16, 1 Corinthians 1:13-17, Hebrews 6:2, 1 Peter 3:21.
26. Here are all the direct references to immersion into Jesus Christ: Romans 6:3,4, 1 Corinthians 15:29, Galatians 3:27, Colossians 2:12, Hebrews 6:2.
27. Here are all the direct references to immersion into the sufferings of Christ: Matthew 20:22,23, Mark 10:38,39, Luke 12:50.
28. Here are all the direct references to immersion in the Holy Spirit: Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, John 1:33, Acts 1:5, Acts 11:16, Hebrews 6:2.
29. Acts 17:10-11.
30. Matthew 3:1-6.
31. Luke 1:17, 76-77; Matthew 11:14.
32. The Greek word translated as repentance is metanoia. “Meta” signals a change or exchange, and “noia” is a way of thinking, closely related to the word for mind, nous.
33. Joel 2:13. (King James Version) Joel expresses repenting as “returning” (the verb shuv) to the Lord in this passage. The commonest Hebrew word for repentance is t’shuvah, a “return” to the Lord.
34. Matthew 3:11.
35. Luke 3:3.
36. Here are all the direct references to water immersion: Matthew 28:19, Mark 16:16, John 3:22,26, John 4:1,2, Acts 2:38,41, Acts 8:12,13,16, Acts 8:36,38, Acts 9:18, Acts 10:47,48, Acts 16:15,33, Acts 18:8, Acts 19:3,5, Acts 22:16, 1 Corinthians 1:13-17, Hebrews 6:2, 1 Peter 3:21.
37. Acts 8:38.
38. John 4:1,2.
39. Mark 16:16.
40. Matthew 28:19,20.
41. 1 Peter 3:20,21.
42. 1 Peter 3:21.
43. Acts 19:2-6.
44. Acts 2:38, 41.
45. Acts 10:44-48. The multiple passages that refer to the promise of the Father are discussed below in connection with immersion in the Holy Spirit.
46. Acts 8:16.
47. In general, Matthew, more than the other Gospel writers, emphasizes specific references, relationships and fulfillments of prophecy in the Law and the Prophets. A Jew well-schooled in the Hebrew Scriptures might well have recognized a reference to Isaiah 48:16 and other similar Scriptures, such as Deuteronomy 6:4, which declare the God Who is perfect unity, rather than perfect singleness.
48. Here are all the direct references to immersion into Jesus Christ: Romans 6:3,4, 1 Corinthians 15:29, Galatians 3:27, Colossians 2:12, Hebrews 6:2.
49. Author’s translation of Romans 6:2-12.
50. Literally, “co-live” with Him.
51. Or “lusts,” translating epithumia.
52. In the oldest traditions of grafting plants, the host tree is slashed open in a long cut at a shallow angle to the its bark, forming a long, very narrow “V”-shaped cut or wound in the tree trunk. The master gardener cuts the lower end of the branch to be grafted into a long, flat, tapered end that slides right into the “V.” Then he binds the cut and the grafted branch together, and lets them grow together. The graft begins to take the life-giving sap from the tree, and the two become one ever after.
53. Author’s translation.
54. Author’s translation.
55. Here are all the direct references to immersion into the sufferings of Christ: Matthew 20:22,23, Mark 10:38,39, Luke 12:50.
56. Here are all the direct references to immersion in the Holy Spirit: Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, John 1:33, Acts 1:5, Acts 11:16, Hebrews 6:2.
57. John 16:7-8.
58. Luke 24:45-49.
59. Joel 2:28-32. (ESV
60. Acts 2:16-18, 32-33, 38-39. (ESV
61. Two passages describe immersion in the Holy Spirit as “the gift of the Holy Spirit”: Acts 2:38 and Acts 10:45. Hebrews 6:4 appears to do so as well, although the exact phrase is not used there.
62. Acts 19:2.
63. Some people may have gone to this very passage, where Paul writes, “one immersion”, and wondered if it challenges the distinct existence of all the variety of immersions examined in this study. Far from doing that, the passage focuses instead on the essential need for unity among the members, in place of factions and divisions. He speaks of maintaining unity as being immersed in one body, moving in one and the same Holy Spirit, begotten of one and same heavenly Father, saved by trusting one and the same Savior.
64. It is worth remembering that Scripture gives at least four distinct pictures of the Church, “the Assembly:” Christ’s Body, the living Temple, the New Jerusalem, and the Bride of Christ. One may think of them as views of one and the same Church from different perspectives, much as a palace may be viewed from north, south, east and west to get a fuller appreciation of it. Each is true and wonderful, but the marvel of God’s wisdom expressed in the Church (described in Ephesians 3:8-10, for example) surpasses any single picture of it.
65. For example, Paul’s blessing and prayer in 1 Thessalonians 5:23 addresses the three in order. Another key verse is Genesis 2:7, in which God breathed (a common picture of spirit) into Adam’s body formed of clay, “and man became a living soul,” as this verse literally reads. For an excellent Bible study of how we are put together, see Soul and Spirit, by Jessie Penn-Lewis.
66. John 4:24.
67. In 1 John 2:27, the anointing (another picture of the Holy Spirit being poured out) teaches believers the truth, and helps them to abide in Jesus.
68. Ephesians 3:10.
69. Author’s translation.
70. Author’s translation.
71. John 17:21-23.
72. John 17:20-26.
73. 1 Timothy 2:5 emphasizes Jesus as the Mediator, who is God and Man. Here are some of the references to Jesus: As Son of God, Matthew 14:33, 26:63, 27:43, Mark 1:1, 15:39, Luke 1:35, 22:70, John 1:34, 10:36, 20:31; as Son of man, Matthew 11:19, 12:40, 16:27, 20:28, 26:64, Mark 8:31, 14:62, Luke 9:26, 18:31, John 3:13, 6:27, 12:34.
74. John 14:16-17.
75. See Ephesians 2:21 and 1 Peter 2:5-6, for example.
76. 1 Corinthians 12:14-18; Ephesians 3:6; Ephesians 4:16, 25.
77. This passage is quoted from the New International Version (NIV), except for “teaching of immersions.” The NIV has “instruction about baptisms,” which seems to imply more of tutoring than of handling matters of truth. The original phrase is baptismon didaches, literally “immersions’ teaching.”
78. Ephesians 4:13, author’s translation.
79. Luke 24:32.