First Principles: The Doctrine of Baptisms

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God…repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms…” (Hebrews 5:12, 6:1-2).

Just as every language has an alphabet and every sport has its fundamentals, God’s revelation—both Old and New Testaments—has first principles which are foundational to a correct understanding of God and His will. Hebrews 6:1-2 identifies six. Each will be given its own consideration.

Water baptism is essential to salvation (1 Peter 3:20-21). Discerning its action, identity, and purpose is a vital first principle of Christianity.

The Greek word baptizo has not been translated into the English language; it has been transliterated. This means the English letters of this word have been given for their Greek counterparts. (The same thing was done with “amen”.)

The Greek word baptizo and its root bapto mean “to dip, plunge, or submerge”. Because of this, there is a close relationship between these two words and the word “wash”. To get a plate or cup washed clean, the action needed would be a dipping or submerging in water. Therefore, in the Greek language, one could correctly talk about baptizing cups, pots, and bowls (Mark 7:4), in addition to humans (Acts 2:41). When the penitent believer Saul of Tarsus wanted to be cleansed of his sins, he was told to “arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16).

Because there are several baptisms found in the New Testament (in addition to the ones used by the Old Testament priests while serving at the temple—Hebrews 9:10), identifying the “one baptism” of Ephesians 4:5 requires honest and careful analysis.

John and his baptism for penitent Jews who were looking forward to the coming of Christ and His kingdom was preparatory. Its duration was limited. Those men in Ephesus who submitted to it after Christ’s kingdom had come were baptized again by the apostle Paul (Acts 19:3-5).

Jesus’ baptism of the Holy Spirit was promised by John the Immerser and was intended to demonstrate the uniqueness and supreme authority Jesus has (Mark 1:8). To demonstrate His coronation in heaven after His ascension and the fact that He has all authority in heaven and on earth, Jesus baptized the apostles with the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). This demonstration of His power and the apostles’ authority did not result in men speaking wild gibberish: “everyone heard them speak in his own language” (Acts 2:6).

The only baptism commanded for every creature in all nations was the one in water for the remission of sins given by Jesus just prior to His ascension (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15-16). This was the immersion Peter commanded the Jews in Acts 2:38 and the Gentiles in Acts 10:48. It is this baptism that saves through water (1 Peter 3:20-21).

This fundamental understanding of baptism’s action, identity, and purpose is an essential component of this elementary principle of Christ.

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Author: jchowning

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