“There is… one baptism” (Ephesians 4:4-6). When Paul wrote Ephesians there was one baptism. It is one thing (along with the one body, the one Spirit, the one hope, the one faith, the one Lord, the one God) that all Christians share and have in common and that binds us together in Christ. The one baptism is “the washing of water” mentioned by Paul in Ephesians 5:26 and commanded by Jesus Christ Himself in Matthew 28:19-20 and Mark 16:15-16.
One Baptism Among Many There is a great deal of confusion about baptism. Some of that confusion exists because there is more than one baptism mentioned in the Bible. The one baptism should not be confused with other baptisms you read of in the Bible.
There were several baptisms that came before the one baptism:
The flood of Noah’s day was a baptism of the entire earth which saved him and his family and serves as a type of the one baptism which now saves us (Gen. 6-9; 1 Pet. 3:20-21).
The baptism of Israel into Moses in the cloud and in the sea freed them from their bondage in Egypt and prefigures the one baptism into Christ which sets us free from the bondage of sin (Exo. 14-15; 1 Corinthians 10:1-2; Rom. 6).
The washings in the Law of Moses cleansed from fleshly defilement and symbolize the cleansing of our sins by the blood of Jesus in the one baptism (Heb. 9:9-14; 10:19-23; Acts 22:16). The one baptism of Ephesians is described by Paul as “the washing of water” (Eph. 5:26). This is an obvious allusion to the washings of the Law of Moses. Just as those washings cleansed the body from the defilement of the flesh, the one baptism cleanses the soul from the defilement of sin. This is only possible because Christ has paid for our sins by dying on the cross (1 Pet. 1:18-19; 2:24). He “loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood” (Rev. 1:5).
Naaman was commanded by God’s prophet to wash (lave, bathe) seven times in the Jordan River to be healed of his leprosy (2 Kings 5:1-14). At first, he did not want to wash in the river but after being persuaded to obey God he then dipped (immersed, plunged) seven times in the water just as the prophet said. It was only then that his flesh was restored, and he was clean (v. 14). Only when we submit to God’s command concerning the one baptism are we forgiven of our sins (Acts 2:38).
John’s baptism of repentance for the remission of sins restored Israel, preparing them for the coming Messiah and His kingdom (Luke 1:16-17; 3:1-14), until Christ did come (Acts 19:1-7). Now we must be baptized with the one baptism commanded by Him to enter the kingdom of God (Mat. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; John 3:1-7; Acts 2:38, 41, 47; 8:12, 16; 10:48).
Jesus was baptized by John (Mat. 3:13-17). At this time God bore witness that Jesus is the Son of God (John 1:29-34). Jesus was not baptized because he had sin and needed to be restored to God (Heb. 4:15), but to identify with us sinners, to point to His death for our sins, His burial and resurrection, and to give us an example of obedience. In the one baptism we identify with Him (Rom. 6:3-4). Surely, if Jesus obeyed God’s will concerning John’s baptism, we must obey God’s will concerning the one baptism He commanded for us (Mat. 7:21).
The baptism of suffering and death was experienced by Jesus at the cross (Mat. 20:22-23; 26:39,42; Mark 14:36; Luke 12:50; 22:42; John 18:11), by His apostles, and all His disciples who share in His sufferings, being persecuted for His sake (Acts 5:41; 12:2; Rom. 8:17; 2 Cor. 1:7; Phi. 1:29; 1 Pet. 4:13, 16; Rev. 1:9). Though this is an ongoing baptism, it is certainly not the one baptism Paul had in mind in Ephesians 4:5, yet it does point to our dying with Christ in the one baptism (Rom. 6:3-5).
Baptism in the Holy Spirit was a promise fulfilled not a command ongoing, administered by Christ not men, a miraculous event which revealed and confirmed the gospel for Jews and Gentiles, not the one baptism in water by which we are saved from our sins (Matthew 3:11; Luke 24:46-49; Acts 1:4-5, 8; 2:2-4, 16-21, 33, 38-41; 10:6, 22, 32-33, 36-37, 44-48; 11:11-18).
There is only one baptism, now:
There is one baptism (Eph. 4:4-5). It is “the washing of water by the word” (5:25-27; cf. 1 Pet. 1:22-25). It was commanded by Christ, is administered by men, continues until the end of the age, is for our salvation, and necessary to entering the kingdom of God (Mat. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; John 3:1-7; Acts 2:38, 41, 47; 22:16; 1 Cor. 12:13; 1 Pet. 3:21).
There is a baptism that is yet future:
Baptism in fire refers to God’s judgment administered by Christ on the wicked at the end of the world (Mathew 3:11-12; 25:41, 46; Acts 17:30-31; 2 Cor. 5:10-11; Revelation 20:10, 15).
Unfortunately, today baptism means different things to different people. Some have their babies sprinkled with water so that they can be forgiven of sin; sin supposed to have been inherited from Adam. Others are immersed as a mere outward sign of their salvation or in order to join a particular church. Still others see baptism as a spiritual experience that doesn’t involve water at all. So, we want to address some of these issues to identify more clearly the one baptism. We begin with…
The Subjects Of The One Baptism Is baptism for babies? Is it for the lost? Is it for Christians? Who is a proper subject for baptism?
The one baptism is for those who having heard the gospel of Christ, come to believe in Christ for their salvation (Mark 16:15-16; Galatians 3:26-27). Baptism is an act of “faith in the working of God” (Colossians 2:12). Without faith we just get wet!
The one baptism is for those who have repented of sin (Acts 2:38). Repentance is more than feeling sorry because of our sins. We must decide in our hearts to turn away from sin and to live for God in order that we might be saved (2 Corinthians 7:10).
The one baptism is for those who have confessed their faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God (Acts 8:37; Romans 10:9-10). If one is unwilling to declare his faith before others, then he is not ready to be baptized (Matthew 10:32-33).
The one baptism is for those who are “obedient from the heart” to the gospel of Jesus Christ (Romans 6:17, 3-6). It is not simply something that is done to a person but something to which that person submits of his own accord.
The one baptism is not for little children. They cannot believe, repent, confess or obey the gospel as is required for baptism. Furthermore, they do not need baptism for forgiveness because they are without sin. Notice…
There is no example of infants or small children being baptized in the Bible. Household baptisms such as those of Cornelius in Acts 10-11 (10:43-44, 48; 11:18), Lydia in Acts 16 (vv. 10-15), and the Jailor in Acts 16 (vv. 30-34) did not include little children, but those who heard, believed, repented, and obeyed the gospel.
They do not inherit Adam’s sin nor are they born sinners. That is a false doctrine known as “original sin” or “hereditary total depravity” which teaches that because of the sin of Adam we are all totally depraved sinners from birth. This comes from a misunderstanding of passages like Romans 5:12-21 and Psalms 51:5. In Romans 5 Paul was discussing how that the sin of Adam brought sin into the world and that we all are condemned by sin, but he expressly says that it is because we all have sinned. Just as Paul discusses how the obedience of Christ brought the justification of life, but only to those who obey the gospel. In Psalms 51:5 David was confessing his sinfulness regarding the incident of his adultery with Bathsheba (see title and vv. 3-4). He is not blaming his sinfulness on Adam, his mother, the world, or anyone else but acknowledging his own sin. His feelings of guilt are so overwhelming that he expresses his sinfulness as though he has always been a sinner from the moment of his conception. This is obviously a hyperbole or exaggeration. There are many examples of this in the Bible (e.g., Psa. 58:3; 22:6, 9-10; Job 31:16-18).
The Bible clearly teaches that sin is not inherited but committed. “Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness (or “the transgression of the law” – KJV)” (1 John 3:4). We are not held responsible for the sin of Adam or anyone else. “The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself” (Eze. 18:20). “So then each of us shall give account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:12).
Little children are innocent. They are not held accountable to the law of God when they “have no knowledge of good and evil” (Deu. 1:39) or before they “know to refuse the evil and choose the good” (Isa. 7:15-16). This is what Paul was talking about in Romans 7:9 when he wrote, “I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died.” As a child Paul was not responsible to the law; only when he came to know and to choose for himself, did he become accountable to God, as he wrote in Romans 4:15 “because the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression.” Jesus recognized the innocence of little children when He said of them, “of such is the kingdom of heaven” (Mat. 19:14) and “unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (18:3). If infants and little children are totally depraved sinners from birth, how could Jesus ever compare them to those who are of the kingdom of heaven?
The Mode Of The One Baptism We want also to consider the mode, manner, form, or pattern of baptism. Some practice the sprinkling or pouring of water upon a person as the form of baptism. Some immerse the person in water. While others view baptism as a spiritual experience that doesn’t involve water at all. There may be many different practices but there is only one baptism.
The one baptism is defined as an immersion (Eph. 4:5, Greek baptisma from baptizo). If you look up the word baptism in a standard English dictionary it will define it as a sprinkling, pouring, or immersion in water because that is how the word is used today. However, the Greek word originally used in the Bible (as in Eph. 4:5, baptisma from baptizo) was very specific. It is defined by all standard Greek lexicons as immersion. The concept of sprinkling or pouring had no connection with the word. There are other Greek words used in the New Testament for sprinkling (rhantizo) and pouring (cheo) but the Greek word translated baptism always refers to an immersion.
"Several baptistries for immersion have been discovered in ancient church buildings by archaeologists. It was likely due to a scarcity of water in places that led some church leaders to change the mode from immersion to sprinkling or pouring. This exception is found in the Didache (Teaching), a second century document: 'But if you have neither [running water or some other water], then pour water on the head . . .' (Didache 7:3). Instead of seeking out the means of obeying God, this writer made his own exception. This exception of pouring or sprinkling became the general rule in Roman Catholicism. The Greek Orthodox Church, however, still immerses (although the wrong subjects). They do so because Greek is their first language, and they know the true meaning of baptisma." [Excerpt from "What Is Christian Baptism?" by David Stewart]
The one baptism is described as an immersion (Mat. 3:5-6; John 3:23; Acts 8:38-39). You do not have to know Greek to understand how the Bible uses the word baptism because it is clearly described as an immersion in water. In the New Testament description of baptism, people came to the water because there had to be plenty of water for baptizing, and they got into the water (Mat. 3:5-6; John 3:23). This would not be necessary for sprinkling or pouring. John could have just carried some bottles of water to the people and sprinkled or poured some of it on them. But in the New Testament description of baptism, it is the person that is handled not the water. For example, in the case of the Ethiopian eunuch, both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, Philip baptized the eunuch and then they both came up out of the water (Acts 8:38-39). For Philip to have sprinkled the eunuch he would have had to be cut into many pieces. For Philip to have poured the eunuch he would have had to be melted. Philip could not have sprinkled or poured the eunuch, but he did immerse him as the passage reads, “he baptized him.” There was a handling of the eunuch, not the water. This can only describe immersion, not sprinkling or pouring.
The one baptism is declared to be an immersion (Rom. 6:3-5, 17-18; Col. 2:12). Baptism is explicitly declared to be a death, burial, and resurrection (Romans 6:3-5; cf. Colossians 2:12). It is our death to sin, burial of the old sinful self, and resurrection to new life. At the same time, it pictures the gospel, how “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:3-4). When a person is buried in the ground, a little dirt is not merely sprinkled or poured on him; rather he is completely covered up with the dirt. In the same way, when a person is baptized, he is “buried” in the water. It would make no sense to call baptism a burial if it was a mere sprinkling or pouring of water.
If you don’t think the mode of baptism matters, look at what Paul said about it in Romans 6 (vv. 17-18). It is in obedience to “that form of doctrine” that we are set free from the slavery of sin and become slaves of righteousness. The word translated “form” (tupos from which we get our word type) means “resemblance… a model… figure, form, manner, pattern” (Strong’s Greek). This is an obvious reference to the mode of baptism as a model of the gospel. If the mode is changed, then the gospel it was meant to model is changed. This is something Paul strongly warned against (Gal. 1:6-9).
The one baptism is an immersion in water (John 3:3-7; Acts 8:36-38; 10:47-48; Eph. 5:26; Heb. 10:22; 1 Pet. 3:20-21). Jesus taught that water was a part of the new birth which was essential to entering the kingdom of God (John 3:3-7). Verse five is an obvious reference to water baptism in which we are born of the Spirit (cf. Tit. 3:5). The one baptism is a spiritual experience, but it does require an immersion in water. This is also clearly seen in the baptism of the eunuch mentioned above (Acts 8:36-38). Water was explicitly mentioned in the baptism of Cornelius and his household, as well (Acts 10:47-48). Paul described the one baptism as a “washing of water” (Ephesians 5:26; cf. Hebrews 10:22 where our baptism is compared to the ritual washings in which the whole body was cleansed by water under the law of Moses; 1 Peter 3:20-21 where the baptism that saves us is compared to the flood of water that saved Noah; and that was much more than just a little sprinkling or pouring of water but rather an immersion of the entire globe in water above the highest mountains, Gen. 7:17-20). So, there you have it – water, water, water!
The Purpose Of The One Baptism Some view baptism as a mere outward sign or symbol of salvation, or as a rite to get into their church, while others see it as a necessary condition of salvation. Some believe baptism confers forgiveness, even without faith. Baptism may be administered by many for different reasons but there is only one baptism.
The one baptism is for the purpose of having our sins forgiven. This is explicitly taught by the apostle Peter at the beginning of the church of Christ (Acts 2:38). The word “for” here cannot mean because they were already forgiven, as some have suggested. The meaning of the Greek word (eis) translated “for” here, means “to or into (indicating the point reached or entered), of place, time, or (figuratively) purpose (result, etc.)” (Strong’s Greek). You don’t have to know Greek to see this, just look at the context. This answer was given to those who were asking what to do to be saved (v. 37) and were told to "be saved" (v. 40). They were told to repent and be baptized for forgiveness (v. 38). If repentance is necessary for forgiveness (and it is – Luke 13:3), then so is baptism, as they are both coupled together with the conjunction “and”. Also, notice that the phrase “for the remission of sins” used by Peter here in Acts 2:38 to explain why we are to be baptized is the exact same phrase used by Matthew to explain why Jesus shed His blood (Mat. 26:28). Jesus did not shed His blood because we are already forgiven but in order that we might be forgiven. So, we are to be baptized not because we are already forgiven but in order to be forgiven by that blood. This is also made clear in the case of Saul who obviously believed and repented, but still needed to be baptized to have his sins washed away (Acts 9:1-20; 22:16). Jesus “washed us from our sins in His blood” (Rev. 1:5), when we were baptized to wash away our sins.
People are baptized for many reasons but until one is baptized “for the remission of sins” he has not obeyed the commandment of Christ. For example, if you were to partake of unleavened bread and fruit of the vine without obeying the commandment of Christ to do so in remembrance of Him, you would not have partaken of the Lord’s Supper. You have only gone through the motions. In the same way, if you were not baptized for the purpose commanded “for the remission of sins” then you have not been baptized with the one baptism. You just went through the motions.
It is not enough to simply get wet; one must be baptized in obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ (Rom. 6:17-18). Those who don’t will “be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 The. 1:7-10).
The importance of being baptized for the proper purpose is emphasized throughout the New Testament. It is required for salvation (Mark 16:16), necessary for the reception of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38), causes rejoicing (Acts 8:39), gives newness of life (Rom. 6:4), and provides a good conscience (1 Pet. 3:21). The one baptism allows entrance into the kingdom of heaven (John 3:5). It unites us with Christ; puts us into Christ, into the death of Christ, buries, and raises us with Christ (Rom. 6:3-5; Gal. 3:27; Col. 2:12), and puts us into the one body (1 Cor. 12:13), the church of Christ (Eph. 1:22-23; 4:5; 5:23).
Baptism is an essential condition of our salvation (as is faith, repentance, and confession), but Christ is our Savior. The angel announced the birth of Christ with these words: “And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins” (Mat. 1:21). Peter declared this about Christ: “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Paul wrote, “…looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed…” (Tit. 2:13-14).
This is why baptism must be “in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 2:38). The word translated “in” is the Greek term epi which here means “on, upon” (Strong's Greek), that is relying upon the authority and power of Christ, having confessed one's faith in Christ (Rom. 10:9-10). This is why baptism is described as a “calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16; Rom. 10:13). This is why baptism is described as an act of “faith in the working of God” (Col. 2:11-13). We could never earn our salvation “by works of righteousness which we have done” (Tit. 3:4-7). This is why Peter reminded us that baptism saves us “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 3:21). You must get in the water so you can be forgiven by God, but the power to save is not of the water but of God. Baptism saves as a condition that must be met for our salvation, but it is not the basis of our salvation -- the Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.
Have You Been Baptized With The One Baptism? “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16).
Many have been immersed in water, but not for the reason Christ commanded. They need to be immersed in water for the forgiveness of their sins. They have never obeyed the gospel of Jesus Christ. The one baptism is an immersion in water of those who, having turned from sin and confessed their faith in Jesus as Savior, are trusting God to forgive them. Have you been baptized according to the Scriptures? If not, “Why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16).