John 3:22-24, “After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he spent some time there with them and baptized. John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim because water was abundant there; and people kept coming and were being baptized…”
Context: This famous chapter explains what it means to be born again or born anew.
Analysis: This verse seems to say that Jesus baptized others. For some reason, it seems odd that Jesus would baptize people directly. Who should be so privileged that the Son of God himself would baptize them? Wouldn’t everybody rush to Jesus rather than the others for baptism? Then again, at this point, people may not have realized that Jesus was the Messiah. They may have thought He was on the same level as John the Baptist.
John 4:1-3, “Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard, ‘Jesus is making and baptizing more disciples than John’—although it was not Jesus himself but his disciples who baptized—he left Judea and started back to Galilee.”
Context: Jesus then goes on to speak with the woman at Jacob’s well.
Analysis: This verse seems to say that Jesus did not baptize people personally. Either way, it probably doesn’t matter too much.
We see from this verse and others that baptism was a huge part of both Jesus’ and John the Baptists’ ministries. This public expression of repentance and faith had its dangers, as it drew the attention of the disapproving leaders of the religious establishment. Then again, public expressions of Christian faith have been dangerous at many times throughout history. That may be part of why it’s so important that baptism be public. Taking such a risk is evidence of just how committed we are to Christ. If we refuse to express our faith publicly out of fear of the reaction of others, then we probably don’t have much faith.
Acts 1:4-5, “While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. ‘This,’ he said, ‘is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit many days from now.’”
Context: Luke opens Acts by picking up where the Gospels left off.
Analysis: Here, Jesus foretells the coming of the Pentecost. As we saw early in the Gospels, John foretold how his baptism would pave the way for Jesus’ baptism by the Holy Spirit. Here, the fulfillment of that promise is just days away.
Acts 2:38, “Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins will be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord God calls to him.”
Context: Peter speaks to the crowd on the original day of Pentecost.
Analysis: Yet again, the repentance comes first, and then the baptism. According to Peter, this baptism is to be in the name of Christ. Why repent and be baptized in the name of Christ? “…so that your sins will be forgiven…” Here’s the big question: Are we forgiven because we repent in Christ’s name, or are we forgiven because we repent and are baptized in Christ’s name? In other words, do we have to do both to be forgiven?
Of course, Peter goes on to say that those who do these things will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. That prompts the question: Must we first repent and be baptized before we can receive the Holy Spirit, or do we receive the Holy Spirit simply for believing in Christ, as many have said we do?
Notice that I’m not answering any of these questions. We have to look at the remaining baptism verses in the Bible before we can come to a conclusion.
Then Peter says that this promise is also for the children of those at Pentecost, as well as for those who are far away. This promise for the children tempts us to think that our repentance and baptism might cover our children as well as us, and that they don’t even have to repent and be baptized to be forgiven. However, the fact that Peter goes on to say that this promise is also for those who are far away negates this thinking, because it makes no sense that repentance and baptism of one person would cover random people thousands of miles away. Peter is saying nothing more than that his words to the crowd don’t just apply to them, but to all people.
Acts 8:13, “Even Simon himself believed. After being baptized, he stayed constantly with Philip and was amazed when he saw the signs and great miracles that took place.
Context: Simon was a popular magician who dazzled the people with his magic.
Analysis: There’s not much to analyze about baptism here. It’s simply another example of baptism following belief in Christ.
Acts 8:14-17, “Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.”
Context: In verse 18, Simon the magician tries to buy the gifts of the Holy Spirit from Peter and John and receives a strong rebuke.
Analysis: This passage delivers a blow to those who say that we receive the Holy Spirit immediately upon believing in Christ, because these Samaritans did not receive the Holy Sprit after believing. Also, they didn’t receive it immediately after baptism like Jesus or the people at Pentecost did. Does this mean that some who believe and are baptized never receive the Holy Spirit? Would these Samaritans have never received it had Peter and John never laid hands on them?
To answer these questions thoroughly, we would have to get into a deep discussion about the Holy Spirit. Contrary to popular theology, it’s possible that different people have different amounts of the Holy Spirit at different times. In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit comes and goes for people like Saul and Samson. Whenever Samson did something miraculous, it was because the Holy Spirit entered Him. Most theology today says the Holy Spirit that we Christians possess is constant. But it may be that all of us have enough of the Holy Spirit to believe in Christ, but that there are times that we receive heavy doses of the Holy Spirit in order to experience God’s power or to carry out His will.
Acts 8:36-38, “As they [Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch] were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, ‘Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?’ He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.”
Context: The Holy Spirit directs Philip to the eunuch just as he puzzled over a biblical text.
Analysis: As holy as baptism is, it doesn’t require any special kind of water. Many churches use so-called holy water. But Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch used the closest water available. Water is water. It all works the same. God has no desire to make us go through pointless, tedious rituals to acquire special water for baptism.
Acts 9:18, “And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.”
Context: The scales mentioned here covered Paul’s eyes after he had been blinded by the light during his conversion experience. Ananias then cane to him and baptized him.
Analysis: This passage gives us a sense of urgency in baptism, because Paul is baptized before he even bothers to eat. He’s weak from malnutrition (or from being struck down by God), yet his baptism is so urgent that he puts off eating so that he may be baptized first. Wow!
All of the baptisms we find in the Bible appear to occur the same day that a person comes to faith in Christ. Nowhere in the Bible is a believer’s baptism planned in advance, as baptisms are today. Biblical baptisms all appear to be spontaneous; they’re the equivalent of an alter call and baptism all-in-one.
Must we follow this same format for baptism today? It’s difficult to say. We can argue that we must conduct ourselves in the same manner as the early church, but the Bible never requires us to emulate the early church or anyone else (except for Jesus) in the Bible. It only requires us to follow the commands of God.
It’s possible that the disciples conducted same day baptisms because they were on the move and didn’t have churches established for people to come back to. Also, there were so many people coming to Christ simultaneously that scheduling everyone’s baptisms for the future would have been a nightmare. These scheduling difficulties may have discouraged new believers from being baptized. The disciples may have decided that the best time to baptize new believers was when they were right in front of them.
Would it really make any difference if we replaced pre-planned baptisms with same-day baptisms? Are pre-planned baptisms more effective than spontaneous ones? Would same-day baptisms discourage people from confessing Christ because they didn’t bring their swimsuits (it’s not like they knew they were going to believe in Jesus that day)? Of course, new believers in Jesus’ day didn’t bring swimsuits; they just went home in wet clothes. If we switch to same-day baptisms, it might all be pointless and discouraging to those who would believe in Christ and be baptized. Then again, maybe same-day baptisms are what God prefers. I can’t give a definitive answer on this one, but it’s an idea worth kicking around.
Acts 10:44-48, “While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, ‘Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing theses people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’ So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.”
Context: Despite Jesus’ earlier teachings, His twelve disciples still believed that He had come only for the salvation of the Jews and not for people of other nations and religions. Through a vision, God led Peter to Cornelius, a Gentile, who received the Holy Spirit out of faith in Christ, just like the Jewish Christians did.
Analysis: So much for the idea that we must first be baptized in order to receive the Holy Spirit. These Gentiles not only received the Holy Spirit before baptism, but they received a heavy dose of it, speaking in tongues, etc.
It was necessary, in this instance, for the Gentiles to receive the Holy Spirit in dramatic fashion as a sign to Peter that God had chosen them as Christians. Peter and the other disciples had believed up to this point that Jesus had come only for the Jews. The Gentiles speaking in tongues proved to him that Christianity was for people of all races and nations. Peter and the other disciples needed to understand this so that they would spread the gospel throughout the Roman Empire, rather than stay in Judea to preach it, as they had intended to do up to this point in time.
Acts 16:14-15, “A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.’ And she prevailed upon us.
Context: Paul and his counterparts travel from place to place on a missionary journey.
Analysis: Notice that Lydia’s household is baptized with her. This most likely means her children were baptized. What we don’t know is whether her children chose to believe in Jesus, or whether they were baptized because of their mother’s faith.
It’s possible that baptism may have been like circumcision in this regard. When a person committed to God’s Old Testament covenant, he had all of his sons circumcised as well as himself. Circumcision was a symbol of that particular covenant with God. In the New Testament, circumcision was no longer required, but baptism became the symbol of the New Testament covenant. Everyone who believed in Jesus was baptized as a symbol of that belief and covenant with God through Christ.
Since the descendants of Old Testament believers were circumcised as a result of their fathers’ decisions of faith, could it be that the descendants of New Testament believers were baptized as a result of their parents’ decisions of faith, too? If they were, were they baptized again as adults despite having already been baptized as children? Unfortunately, the Bible doesn’t answer these questions.