I am about to begin a series of blog posts on the topic of baptism as it appears in scripture. This is a subject that has provoked not a little controversy among Christians over the years. My purpose in addressing this topic is not to stoke more controversy, but perhaps to get back to basics. So much has been written about baptism, and I am loath to waste words on something that not only was said already, but was probably said better than I could manage.
Therefore, it is my primary intention to focus on an exegesis of those biblical passages that deal with the subject of baptism. I do not intend to carry out an exhaustive examination of how the theology surrounding baptism has developed over the years or how traditions were handed down. Perhaps this will cause some to accuse me of Biblicism, which I assure you would not be a compliment coming from them. However, please rest assured that I mean no disrespect to the many eminent theologians over the centuries who have wrestled with these issues and whose interpretations of the text have no doubt influenced my own. I am not suggesting that we should ignore all of that when considering baptism. I simply cannot do everything, and in any case, my only academic training that is at all pertinent is in the field of biblical literature, not historic theology. I will thus attempt to do what it is I do best, or at least what I should do best.
My goal is rather simple: I will describe the various types of baptism mentioned in scripture, outline the theological significance of each of them, and then make such applications to Church practice as I believe are thoroughly warranted by the biblical text. I will attempt to avoid any definitive conclusions that are not explicit in the text, or which do not become clear upon examining all passages in concert with one another. What does that mean? Well, for one thing, it means I’m not going to tell you exactly how much water is meant to be used in a baptism. Sorry to disappoint.
Notice that I mentioned more than one type of baptism. This is one of my primary conclusions from studying scripture. There are at a minimum three types of baptism mentioned in the Bible, and it may actually be possible to establish a fourth. As we go along, I will define each of these types of baptism and make the case for why I believe it is clearly taught in scripture – with the exception of the fourth, where I feel unable to make a definitive judgment.
At this point, I should note that in the conversations between Christians of different denominational backgrounds, particularly those of the Reformed and Reformed-ish (or Particular) Baptists, this debate often begins with an examination of the various covenants in scripture and then reaches secondary conclusions about baptism. I fully acknowledge the connection between one’s views of covenant theology and baptism. However, my purpose here is perhaps to work in the opposite direction. I am not meaning to divorce baptism from these broader theological categories, but once again, my time and energy are limited, so I am narrowing my focus to that which I feel would be most beneficial at this time.
Here is an outline of the essays I plan to write:
- John’s Baptism, Part I – Purpose, participants, and differences from New Covenant baptism
- John’s Baptism, Part II – The unique example of Jesus Christ’s baptism
- Baptism with the Holy Spirit
- Baptism and Union with Christ
- Baptism under the New Covenant, Part I – Theological significance
- Baptism under the New Covenant, Part II – Scriptural examples
- Three Difficult Passages – 1 Corinthians 10, 1 Corinthians 15, and 1 Peter 3
Unfortunately, I have been suffering from an undiagnosed illness for most of four months. This has severely curtailed my writing. I do not know how long it will take me to finish all of these essays and post them, but I thank you for your patience as I continue to battle through pain. I sincerely hope that this examination of the biblical text will be beneficial for readers of all denominational backgrounds. My aim is to at one point or another cover pretty much every reference to baptism that occurs in the Bible, with the exception of those in the synoptic gospels that essentially repeat one another. This process has already been beneficial for my own thinking about this important sacrament (or ordinance, if you prefer), and I hope that others will be edified by it as well. Keep a look out for new essays being posted on Facebook and Twitter in the coming weeks.