The doctrine of baptism is essentially the belief that in order to be saved you must be baptized. Adherents to the doctrine usually prescribe a particular mode or method of being baptized and advertise it as the one true baptism; whereby if one is not baptized in that one particular way, they are not saved.

In modern times, the controversy has been toned down, but there are still denominations teaching not only that their particular understanding of baptism is the right one, but also that adherence to it is a requirement for salvation, or at least membership in their church.What is the True Baptism, Truth or Tradition Many think much of themselves, because they are baptized in water, partake of bread and wine, &c. And many think much of themselves because they avoid them and suppose they see beyond them.Scott, John, The baptism of Christ, a gospel ordinance being altogether inward and spiritual p. 164

Causes for Doubt

  1. What special power is in the water that makes it the determining factor whereby we are saved?
  2. Why didn't the apostles themselves ever get baptized with water?
  3. Why didn't Christ baptize with water any himself?
  4. Did Christ come to institute a religious rite?


Ritual washings were frequently practiced by the Jews to purify the body in accordance with Mosaic law.

The ordinances of purification in the Levitical law relate especially to the removal of legal uncleanness connected with child birth, death, and other pollutions.Primitve Culture p. 440

These ritual washings were common place by the time of John the Baptist who first used them as a call to reformation 1.

... John, that was called the Baptist: for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism; for that the washing [with water] would be acceptable to him, if they made use of it, not in order to the putting away [or the remission] of some sins [only], but for the purification of the body; supposing still that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness.Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiqities 18. 5. 2.

After the death of Christ, the use of ritual washings as a call to reformation evolved into the initiation rite of baptism and were further mystified.

Water baptism seems not to have been insisted upon at first but in the second century greater importance appears to have been attached to it... [and] about the beginning of the third century we find water baptism first called a sacramentJ. H. Moon, Water baptism p. 54-55 ...both the positive institutions of Christianity, baptism and the Lord's supper, were converted into mysteriesPriestley, Joseph, An History of Corruption on Christianity p. 87 Initiation is a rite of passage marking entrance or acceptance into a group or society... Examples of initiation ceremonies might include Hindu diksha, Christian baptism or confirmation, Jewish bar or bat mitzvah, acceptance into a fraternal organization, secret society or religious order, or graduation from school or recruit training.Initiation, Wikipedia

Later groups used other monastic religious rites along with baptism to ensure that the initiate was “prepared”; this had the net effect making the initiation more severe.

But before the baptism let the baptizer fast, and the baptized, and whoever else can; but you shall order the baptized to fast one or two days before.Didache 7:4 Laboratory experiments in psychology have shown that severe initiations produce cognitive dissonance. Dissonance is then thought to produce feelings of strong group attraction among initiates after the experience, because they want to justify the effort used. Rewards during initiations have important consequences in that initiates who feel more rewarded express stronger group identity. As well as group attraction, initiations can also produce conformity among new members. Psychology experiments have also shown that initiations increase feelings of affiliation.Initiation, Wikipedia

First Arguments

Following Christ

As justification for the continued use of water baptism it is not uncommon to hear the follow Christ argument. Here stated,

  • Jesus Christ was baptized in water 2
  • We should follow Christ's example 3
  • Therefore we should be baptized in water

It would seem on the surface to be a sound argument however that same argument could be applied to everything that Jesus did during his lifetime and still be valid. In other words, the idea that we should follow Christ in everything, is very vague and not technically possible. For example, Christ migrated from Egypt to Israel during his lifetime, should we not then all follow his example and all move to Israel? If I wanted to promote my own doctrine called the doctrine of migration to Israel, I could use this same argument and it would be valid - that because Christ did it, ipso-facto it is now required by all of us to do. Christ followed all the Mosaic laws, shall we follow them all too?

Precautionary Approach

Many times the prevailing mentality about baptism is a better safe than sorry one; that is, it is better to be safe and get baptized then to remain unbaptized and to be damned. Such an approach to problem solving utilizes the precautionary principle: defined as “caution practised in the context of uncertainty”. When the mind chooses to take a precautionary action, it is based on uncertainty rather than on any truth. In other words, a precautionary approach relieves the mind of the believer from having to gain a deeper understanding about the problem at hand.

The Command

Another argument often made in favor of water baptism is that Jesus commanded his apostles to water baptize.

Matthew 28:19

The most prominent command to go forth and baptize is found in what is referred to as the great commission:

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.Matthew 28:19-20 NKJV

However, the authenticity of Matthew 28:19 is disputed.

In his Literal Translation of the Bible, Dr. Robert Young placed the Trinitarian names of Matthew 28:19 in parentheses, thus indicating the words to be of doubtful authenticity.Constantine wrote Matthew 28:19 in your bible It is the central piece of evidence for the traditional view of the institution of baptism by Christ. If it were undisputed, this would, of course, be decisive, but its trustworthiness is impugned on the grounds of textual criticism, literary criticism, and historical criticism.Encyclopedia of Religion And Ethics 1964 p. 380

Textual criticism

Matthew 28:19 was quoted over 21 times in the writings of an early church father named Eusebius which point to a text that omitted the baptismal formula and the command to baptize. Interestingly enough, it wasn't until after the First Council of Nicaea, in which the doctrine of the trinity was first promulgated, that Eusebius' writings quoted Matthew 28:19 more closely inline with the traditional wording.

Literary criticism

No other gospel quotes Jesus as commanding baptism in the trinitarian formula as Matthew 28:19 does. Had the wording of the commission been of great importance and necessary for salvation then one would imagine it would have been preserved in more than one gospel.

Historical criticism

All of the baptisms in the book of Acts where a name was explicitly mentioned were in the name of Jesus Christ and not in the triune names commanded by Matthew 28:19.

But we may take notice, that neither this, nor water baptism, was “into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” No there is not one instance of this form of words in all the Bible, in the use of water.Scott, John, The baptism of Christ, a gospel ordinance being altogether inward and spiritual p. 127 Scholars generally agree that 9:5, which speaks of baptism “in the name of the Lord,” represents an earlier tradition that was gradually replaced by a trinity of names.Didache, Wikipedia

Had Matthew 28:19 been a command given by Jesus to his apostles then it would stand in judgment against them as they never obeyed it by baptizing in the manner prescribed.

Although Jesus was baptized by John, he makes little mention of it, and never requires it of his disciples. He sends forth the Twelve without including it in the instructions given to them. The one passage which commands the eleven disciples to go forth and baptize in all nations “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” betrays its later origin by using the language of the next century. Certainly those who maintain that this is a genuine command of the Master and that no baptism is valid without this Trinitarian formula, must be prepared to accept the logical conclusion of their premise, -- namely that few if any of the Apostolic baptismal services were valid.Reccord, P. Augustus. Baptism and the Lord's Supper p. 5

Additional resources

  1. Go ye, and make disciples of all nations in my name
  2. A. Ploughman - A Collection of the evidence for and against the traditional wording of the baptismal phrase in Matthew 28:19
  3. Fred C. Conybeare, The Hibbert Journal - Three Early Doctrinal Modifications of the Text of the Gospels
  4. Clinton D. Willis - A Collection of Evidence Against the Traditional Wording of Matthew 28:19
  5. Kirsopp Lake - Baptism (Early Christian)

Mark 16:16

Beyond Matthew 28:19 the only other place in the entire scriptures where Jesus is said to give a command to baptize is in Mark 16:16:

He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.Mark 16:16

However, the oldest ancient manuscripts do not have anything after Mark 16:8 and of the manuscripts that do there are at least 5 different known endings 4. It probable that the end of Mark 16 is a later interpolation taken from Matthew 28 of what might have been written.

Luke 24:47

Given that both Matthew 28:19 and Mark 16:16 are of a questionable or later authenticity, it leaves the book of Luke as the remaining source about what Jesus might have said to his disciples during this time.

and he said to them -- “Thus it hath been written, and thus it was behoving the Christ to suffer, and to rise out of the dead the third day, and reformation and remission of sins to be proclaimed in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem”Luke 24:46-67 YLT

Luke does not mention anything regarding baptism, but he does mention simply the proclamation of the gospel in the name of Jesus to all the nations. If we take that along with what Eusebius originally believed Matthew 28:19 to be, we can come to a proper conclusion about what Jesus said.

Go ye, and make disciples of all nations in my nameThe Church History of Eusebius, Book III, Chapter V

These two statements when considered together are good evidence that the words of Jesus were simply to the spreading of the gospel. To become a disciple and to be water baptized may have been viewed synonymously by parts of the early church, but they do not have the same meaning nor does one particularly necessitate the other.

When therefore the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples)John 4:1-2 ASV And did not Jesus himself wholly avoid baptizing any in water, on purpose that it might plainly appear that there is another?Scott, John, The baptism of Christ, a gospel ordinance being altogether inward and spiritual p. 137

The scriptures don't furnish us with any record of Jesus having water baptized anyone nor do they furnish us with the water baptisms of the disciples. Had water baptism been hierarchical in nature and of a saving power then the scriptures should have included such records. Not surprisingly, water baptism is absent from Jesus' own mission statement which mentions only preaching.

and he saith to them, “We may go to the next towns, that there also I may preach, for for this I came forth.”Mark 1:38 YLT

In real world terms, preaching is necessary for spreading the gospel and making disciples, water baptism is not. The great commission given by Jesus was not a command to institute a new religious rite but was a command to spread the word.

There is a multitude of rites of the Old Testament, but we believe in every instance that the person, the time, and the mode, are rigorously defined. Whatever be the rite in question, it is stipulated who is to perform it, who is to be the subject, at what time, in what place, and with what attendant circumstances, it is to be observed... Do we ever find, during the economy of the Old Testament, that men fell into endless discussions about the time, place, and manner of any one of the rites? Is it to be supposed that the same Spirit who laid off the ordinances in such a manner in the one dispensation as to prevent mistakes, would leave them thus vague and indefinite in the other?Wishart's theological essays, MacNair. Robert, Christian Baptism, Spiritual not Ritual, pp. 264-265


The book of Acts describes several instances where converts were baptized and these are often used as arguments for the continued use of water baptism. It should be noted however that not all instances specify the substance that the convert was baptized in. The traditional view of baptism has been to imply water to these instances even when it isn't explicitly stated. If we broadly look at baptism in Acts, what can be clearly seen is a transformation from a baptism of water to a baptism of spirit and from a baptism meant only for the Jews to a baptism meant for the entire world.

The baptism of John gradually decreases and the baptism of Christ gradually increases.

He must increase, but I must decrease.John 3:30 NKJV


The four gospels begin with the baptism of John; conversely, the book of Acts begins with the baptism of Christ in which his apostles are commanded not to depart from Jerusalem but to wait to be baptized with the Holy Spirit 5.

And being assembled together with them, he commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, [saith he,] “Ye did hear of me; because John, indeed, baptized with water, and ye shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit -- after not many days.”Acts 1:4-5 YLT


After the apostles receive the gift of the holy spirit, Peter preaches for the first time to his fellow Jews in Jerusalem that they might also receive the gift of the holy spirit.

and Peter said unto them, “Reform, and be baptized each of you on the name of Jesus Christ, to remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, for to you is the promise, and to your children, and to all those afar off, as many as the Lord our God shall call.”Acts 2:38 YLT

The next time Peter is seen preaching he mentions nothing about baptism.

Reform ye, therefore, and turn back, for your sins being blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the LordActs 3:19 YLT

This could indicate that Peter meant for them to be baptized but that the scriptures don't explicitly state it or that it wasn't explicitly stated in the scriptures because the point of Peter's messages weren't to be water baptized.

To reconcile both messages together,

It is also possible to take the clause “and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” as parenthetical. Support for that interpretation comes from that fact that 'repent' and 'your' are plural, while 'be baptized' is singular, thus setting it off from the rest of the sentence. If that interpretation is correct, the verse would read “Repent (and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ) for the forgiveness of your sins.” Forgiveness is thus connected with repentance, not baptism, in keeping with the consistent teaching of the New TestamentIs Baptism Necessary for Salvation Second, the immediate context of the verse shows that only repentant faith is needed to gain divine forgiveness. Earlier in his message, Peter quoted from Joel (Acts 2:16-20) and concluded with that Old Testament prophet's evangelistic appeal: “And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (v. 21). In the Old Testament period, people became saved by calling upon Jehovah-God. They acknowledged their sinful need, believed that only God could deliver them, and placed their trust in Him. They did not submit to water baptism. If Peter meant that baptism was essential to salvation, then why did he quote from Joel? The reference would be irrelevant.\ Third, the greater context of the Book of Acts reveals that only repentant faith is the basis of securing divine forgiveness. Later, in his sermon at Solomon's Porch within the Temple, Peter appealed to the crowd; “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out” (Acts 3:19). There is no mention of water baptism here as a requirement for the removal of sins.Is Water Baptism Necessary for Salvation in Christ

The consequences of interpreting salvation in such a formulaic manner is that the gift of the holy spirit then becomes conditional upon being water baptized. Such a conclusion is contradictory to later events, such as those concerning the household of Cornelius, which show that water baptism is not conditional to receiving the gift of the holy spirit. To view water baptism as a condition upon which a man is saved is to make the work of God subservient to the work of men.

In those dark ages the clergy affected to keep the people in ignorance, and in a state of dependence upon themselves, and wished to make them think that the whole business of reconciling men to God was in their hands.Priestley, Joseph, An History of the Corruptions on Christianity p. 119


In Acts 10:48, Peter gives an order that all of Cornelius' house be baptized in water.

While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, “Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days.Acts 10:44-48 KJV

Before Peter gave the order to have them water baptized he appealed to the reason of the men who journeyed with him when he said, “Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized...?” In other words, Peter was unsure about whether or not Cornelius' household should be water baptized. Often it is inferred that Peter knew what should have been done in that instance and that his question was only rhetorical, however there is nothing to lead us to believe that was the case. It is possible that Peter had Cornelius and his household baptized in water because he still believed them to be unclean.

What can be taken away from these events was what Peter summarized to those who were in Judea; namely that God had also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life and that came through the gift and not the water.

Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost. If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God? When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.Acts 11:16


In Acts 8:27-39 Philip meets an Ethiopian who had just come to Jerusalem to worship:

Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus. And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?... And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.Acts 8:35-38 KJV

When Philip went up to the Ethiopian it was not with the intention to water baptism him but to shared with him the good news about Jesus. In fact, the request to be water baptized was that of the Ethiopian who asked Philip, “See, here is water, what doth hinder me to be baptized?” That the Ethiopian had just come from Jerusalem accounts for why he thought he needed to be water baptized.


In Acts 19, Paul comes across some disciples who had never heard there was a holy spirit.

And it came to pass, in Apollos' being in Corinth, Paul having gone through the upper parts, came to Ephesus, and having found certain disciples, he said unto them, “The Holy Spirit did ye receive -- having believed?” and they said unto him, “But we did not even hear whether there is any Holy Spirit;” and he said unto them, “To what, then, were ye baptized?” and they said, “To John's baptism.” And Paul said, “John, indeed, did baptize with a baptism of reformation, saying to the people that in him who is coming after him they should believe -- that is, in the Christ -- Jesus;” and they, having heard, were baptized -- to the name of the Lord Jesus, and Paul having laid on them [his] hands, the Holy Spirit came upon them, they were speaking also with tongues, and prophesying, and all the men were, as it were, twelve.Acts 19:1-7 YLT

The passage is clear that to be baptized in the name of the Lord was simply to believe on the Christ. Nothing is mentioned about the usage of water or of Paul performing an act on these men other then telling them about Jesus and laying his hands on them.

Calvin views the words, “They were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus,” as pointing to the baptism of the Spirit, and then adds, 'Nor is this interpretation inconsistent with what is stated afterwards, that “when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them.” For Luke does not rate two different things, but follows a mode of narration familiar to the Hebrews, who first propose a subject generally, and then unfold it in more details.MacNair, Robert, Christian Baptism, Spiritual not Ritual p. 93

It should come then as no surprise when Paul later wrote that Christ did not send him to baptize; similarly Christ did not send his twelve apostles to their cities to baptize either -- but only to teach and preach6.

For Christ did not send me to baptize, but -- to proclaim good news;1 Corinthians 1:17 YLT


There were a number of superstitions that arose regarding baptism.

Use of a Name

In the course of the early church when the people saw the apostles perform wonderful acts in the name of Jesus, it was supposed that there existed a sanctifying virtue in the name being used. In other words, the acts being done were attributed to the words being said rather than to the actual performer of those works; as if the apostles were magicians casting spells.

The apostles did works in the name of Jesus but did not always use the the words “in the name of Jesus” when done. To do acts in the name of did not necessitate the verbal declaration of the name in which they were done. Even Paul stated that every Christian should do all in the name of Jesus.

whatever ye may do in word or in work, [do] all things in the name of the Lord Jesus -- giving thanks to the God and Father, through him.Colossians 3:17 YLT

Certainly he could not have meant saying the words “in the name of Jesus” after every single thing done -- it would have been impractical. It is more probable that when Paul said to do all in the name of Jesus he simply meant to glorify Christ in all that is done.

[to] glorify, then, God in your body and in your spirit...1 Corinthians 6:20 YLT

When the words “in the name of...” were spoken it specified by what power and authority a particular action was being done. In those ancient times, a solider might have used the same words to announce by what authority he came or in who's authority certain actions were being orchestrated.

It is believed that on Pentecost over 3000 persons were baptized in water in the name of Jesus.

Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.Acts 2:31 NKJV

If we suppose that is the case then it becomes equally unlikely and impractical for Peter and the other apostles to have said the words, “I baptize you in the name of Jesus,” three thousand times in one day.

The gospels reveal no instance where it is recorded that words were explicitly spoken over those being baptized. The closest thing we have to a depiction of a baptismal event is when Philip baptized the Ethiopian in Acts 8. Even in that instance there is no mention of the Ethiopian being baptized into any name or of any name having been spoken over him during the course of it. Most other instances in the scriptures only ever provide whether or not a baptism took place or not and in some cases it explicitly states the purification agent.

That baptism was not always practiced by saying, “in the name of Jesus” can be further seen from the dispute that arose in Corinth in which Paul stated:

For it has been declared to me concerning you... that there are contentions among you. Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, lest anyone should say that I had baptized in my own name.1 Corinthians 1:11-15 NKJV

Had those of Corinth been baptized by a baptizer speaking the words, “I baptize you in the name of Jesus”, then it is unlikely that there would have been such a dispute. It is more plausible that if such words were spoken during baptism then they were spoken inconsistently by those that baptized in the early church.

Saving Power

It was also supposed in the course of time that in the waters of baptism there existed a sanctifying virtue that was able to wash away sins. The use of water baptism as a call to reformation and remission of sins turned into water baptism as the power whereby sins are remissed.

In the age immediately following that of the apostles, we find that baptism and regeneration were used as synonymous terms; and whereas, originally, the pardon of sin was supposed to be the consequence of that reformation of life which was only promised at baptism, it was now imagined that there was something in the rite itself, to which that grace was annexed; and in general it seems to have been imagined that this sanctifying virtue was in the waterPriestley, Joseph, An History of the Corruptions on Christianity p. 170 .. along with other superstitious notions, they got the idea of the efficacy of baptism as such to wash away sins, and consequently of the peculiar safety of dying presently after they were baptized, before any fresh guilt could be contracted.Priestley, Joseph, An History of the Corruptions on Christianity p. 167 (We) become children of choice and knowledge and obtain in the water the remission of sinsAnte-Nicene Christian Library, Vol. II, p. 59 When once it was imagined that a person newly baptized was cleansed from all sin, it is no wonder that many persons deferred this sanctifying rite as long as possible, even till they apprehended that they were at the point of death. We find many cases of this kind at the beginning of the third century. Constantine the Great was not baptized till he was at the last gasp, and in this he was followed by his other sons, Constantine and Constans, were killed before they were baptized.Priestley, Joseph, An History of the Corruptions on Christianity p. 171

From this notion it is not hard to imagine where the belief came from that baptism was necessary to salvation if sins were necessarily washed by it.

After this we are not surprised to find (and it appears as early as the second century) that both baptism and the Lord's supper were thought to be necessary to salvation.Priestley, Joseph, An History of the Corruptions of Christianity p. 7

Conversely, Paul in his letter to the Romans states that the true power unto salvation is in the gospel.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.Romans 1:16

Two Baptisms

There are two baptisms mentioned in the New Testament: the baptism of John and the baptism of Jesus.

I [John] baptize you with water, but he [Jesus] will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.Mark 1:8 NIV [^7] but I [Jesus] have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I pressed till it may be completed!Luke 12:50 YLT Water-baptism is connected with the name of John, the baptism of the Spirit with the name of JesusMacNair, Robert, Christian Baptism, Spiritual not Ritual pp. 14-15

John's baptism was a baptism of the law and Jesus' baptism was of liberty8.

The righteousness of that ordinance of water baptism, was at best but under or during the law of outward commandments.Scott, John, The baptism of Christ, a gospel ordinance being altogether inward and spiritual p. 19 Thus some who begin in the Spirit, turn about and seek to be made perfect in the flesh, or outward ordinances.Scott, John. The baptism of Christ, a gospel ordinance being altogether inward and spiritual p. 26

Many of the outward ordinances of the Old Testament were types that have their proper anti-type in the New Testament. In other words, the ordinances of the Old Testament were merely shadows of what was later to be revealed - so too with baptism. When Jesus was baptized, he was baptized in both water and spirit; in one man both the type and the anti-type met.

Now therefore cometh Jesus to be baptized of John in the Jordan; for it was now time those knew him, who were thus prepared for him, that they might receive him. His thus coming to John, and being first baptized in the type, and then in the antitype, the Holy Ghost from heaven, confirmed John’s knowledge of him.Scott, John, The baptism of Christ, a gospel ordinance being altogether inward and spiritual p. 30

The apostle Peter came to understand the distinction between the baptism which puts away the filth of the flesh and the baptism which puts away the filth of the mind.

also to which an antitype doth now save us -- baptism, (not a putting away of the filth of flesh, but the question of a good conscience in regard to God,) through the rising again of Jesus Christ1 Peter 3:21 YLT (not by works that [are] in righteousness that we did but according to His kindness,) He did save us, through a bathing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy SpiritTitus 3:5 YLT In short, water baptism and Christ’s are plainly type and anitype; and accordingly Peter, speaking of the baptism which now saves, uses the Greek work antitypon.Scott, John, The baptism of Christ, a gospel ordinance being altogether inward and spiritual p. 7

The scriptures go on to state that there is one baptism 9; but they don't explicitly state which baptism that one baptism is.

Holy Spirit

Ancient Hebrew and Greek made no distinction between uppercase and lowercase letters therefore when it is written in our English bibles Holy Spirit, and is capitalized as such, it is done at the preference or bias of the translator. The notion that the holy spirit is an actual person or ghost of God that inhabits men is rooted in superstition and mysticism. The holy spirit is the personification of the spirit of someone who believes in the holy one of God -- that is, in Christ.

It was thought during Jesus' time that humans could be inhabited by spirits from supernatural realms; these were the philosophies of the day or the superstitions of the age. Men of that age determined whether or not an individual was possessed based on what that individual said and did. A man who appeared mad was characterized as having a spirit of madness and a man who appeared charitable was characterized as having a spirit of charity. Out of the ordinary traits were attributed to out of the ordinary causes. It was what men said and did after hearing the gospel that caused them to be characterized as having had the holy spirit come upon them.

It is a common idiom among the Jews, to put spirit before any quality ascribed to a person, whether it be good or bad, mental or corporeal. Thus the spirit of fear, the spirit of meekness, the spirit of slumber, the spirit of jealousy, are used to express habitual infirmity...Balfour, Walter, Three Inquiries p. 102 Mankind have always been [very ready] to ascribe the unknown cause of extraordinary appearances to something to which they can give the name spirit.Priestley, Joseph, Disquisitions relating to matter and spirit p. 210

Today, a mad man would not be classified as having a demon inhabiting him but rather would be classified as having a mental disorder. In a like manner, a man with the holy spirit should not be classified as having a spirit from God inhabiting his body, but rather should be classified as having a belief in God or in his Christ.

Hence the reason why Paul could truly say that he came not to water baptize but to preach the gospel; because the preaching of the gospel was what stirred individuals to have a spirit of holiness.


The outward baptism is good to the purifying of the outward man and his flesh while the inward baptism is good to the purifying of the inward man and his spirit. The outward cleansing is of the body through the water and the inward cleansing is of the mind through the word. The baptism of man is that outward cleansing and the baptism of the holy spirit is that inward cleansing.

Then the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees make the outside of the cup and dish clean, but your inward part is full of greed and wickedness. Foolish ones! Did not He who made the outside make the inside also? But rather give alms of such things as you have; then indeed all things are clean to you. But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass by justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.”Luke 11:39-42 NKJV

The cleansing of the entire constitution of man, both inward and outward, is figuratively of water and spirit.

Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.John 3:5 KJV We shall no more be born of material water than we shall be baptized with material fire.Moon, J.H, Water baptism p. 40}

To cleanse human nature is to take up divine nature; and the nature of the divine is to love one another.

Let not therefore him who is outwardly baptized, suppose he has therein something that belongs to the gospel; neither let him who rejects it, either Quaker or other, think he therefore has something; for outward baptism is nothing evangelical, and the mere rejection of it is nothing – The new creature, the living faith of the operation of God, working by love, is all in allScott, John, The baptism of Christ, a gospel ordinance being altogether inward and spiritual p. 33 Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.1 John 4:7 KJV And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.”1 Peter 4:8 NKJV

After Thoughts

I tried to find the most defensible position to be taken on baptism but the truth is that no where in the scriptures does it clearly define what constitutes baptism. All that exists in the scriptures are inconsistent or insufficient depictions of baptismal events. Perhaps the lack of a scriptural treatise on baptism is exactly what has given rise to all the dogmas concerning it.

Further Reading

Water baptism (1902) by J. H. Moon is a well laid out treatise on baptism that hits all the major points.

What is True Baptism by Truth or Tradition asks whether or not baptism necessarily implies water.


1. Luke 3:3
2. Matthew 3:13
3. 1 Peter 2:21
4. Wikipedia. Mark 16 - Versions
5. Acts 1:5 YLT
6. Matthew 11:1
7. Matthew 3:11
8. 2 Corinthians 3:17
9. Ephesians 4:5

Additional Quotes

The baptism of Christ a gospel ordinance

It is “the ingrafted word which is able to save” the soul, James 1:21. Christ sanctifies and cleanses the church “with the washing of water by the word,” Eph v. 26. This “ingrafted word,” this sanctifying “washing of water by the word” is all inward and spiritual. It is the antitype of the divers washings under Moses, and equally so of water baptism, in every form. This cleanses the soul, as outward water does the body, and puts away the filth of the spirit, as that does the filth of the flesh.Scott, Job, The baptism of Christ a gospel ordinance p. 7-8 He did not breathe on his disciples, and baptize them with the Holy Ghost, to qualify them to baptize others in water.Scott, Job, The baptism of Christ a gospel ordinance p. 12 John had, as he baptized the people, diligently preached the kingdom at hand, not yet fully come, and taught them to look beyond his outward, to Christ’s inward and saving baptism.Scott, Job, The baptism of Christ a gospel ordinance p. 16 The Father Almighty, in his unlimited goodness, and good will to men, took special care that John, the preparer of his way, in the power and spirit of Elias, should be expressly sent before him, baptizing in water, as a lively resemblance and representation of his great work, in thoroughly cleansing the floor of the heart.Scott, Job, The baptism of Christ a gospel ordinance p. 21 And hence I think it generally holds good, that those who are very tenacious of them, most zealous in their use, urge them the most pressingly on others, and most liberally censure and condemn those, who, believing them to be no gospel ordinances, conscientiously decline them; are less livingly sensible of the life and substance.Scott, Job, The baptism of Christ a gospel ordinance p. 25 Paul told the Galatians, “if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing,” Gal v. 2. This must amount of thus much at least, that in proportion as they relied on, or were taken up with attention to that outward performance, they were diverted from Christ – and this is just as true of water baptism, and every other outward symbol.Scott, Job, The baptism of Christ a gospel ordinance p. 27 And I am sorry to perceive such numbers of professing Christians striving so hard, as I think they do, to make these things serve as a substitute for that which is saving. They evidently substitute water baptism instead of Christ’s; for they do not scruple to call it the one baptism of the gospel. They expressly maintain it to be Christ’s, and apply it to many texts which evidently speak of far deeper matters; as baptism into Christ, into his death, &c. and that which speaks of the baptism which now saves us, although the text itself declares it is not the putting away of the filth of the flesh (the proper work of water) yet they insist it is water; and so make it out, if they substantially make out any thing by it, that a figure saves us.Scott, Job, The baptism of Christ a gospel ordinance p. 27-28 Having seen that Christ’s baptism in the figure could only be suffered; seeing the figures precede, point to, but belong not to the gospel, and that now, before the figurative dispensation was abolished, was the only proper and acceptable time for it.Scott, Job, The baptism of Christ a gospel ordinance p. 30 Paul says, “circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing,” 1 Cor. Vii. 19; and it holds equally in outward baptism, and the supper – If one shadow were any thing in the gospel, another might as well be something – Circumcision would be as much something as baptism – The gospel excludes them all.Scott, Job, The baptism of Christ a gospel ordinance p. 33 What can all the shadows, of the good things to come, do for those who possess and enjoy the good things themselves.Scott, Job, The baptism of Christ a gospel ordinance p. 51} For this baptism was now so evidently dispensed through Peter’s preaching , that he immediately remembered this precious promise of our blessed Lord – which had been very illy applied by him to the Holy Ghost falling on themScott, Job, The baptism of Christ a gospel ordinance p. 54} Indeed the very query, “can any man forbid water?” &c. Acts 10:47, is an appeal to men, and bespeaks a state of hesitation, or uncertainty.Scott, Job, The baptism of Christ a gospel ordinance p. 55} we do not read, that, “finding fault”, with the rites, figures and ordinances of the first covenant, God ordained water-washing, and eating and drinking bread and wine, as more permanent and perpetual institutions of the new or second covenant - Nay, verily, he finds fault equally with all things in their own nature equally partaking of the same weaknessScott, Job, The baptism of Christ a gospel ordinance p. 78-79}} Why then continue a baptism that was expressly unto repentance, for the remission of sins, if we have obtained remission?Scott, Job, The baptism of Christ a gospel ordinance p. 81 We read expressly, that he directed one to go and offer for his cleansing “the gift that Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them,” Mat. viii. 4. Another he ordered to “go wash in the pool of Siloam,” John ix. 7: but not an instance of any one ordered by him to be baptized by another in water. But had water baptism been his, or any part of his gospel, it would have been a strange thing indeed had he never vouchsafed once to administer it, nor order it done on any of the multitudes that believed on him, or out of whom he cast devils, or whom he healed.Scott, Job, The baptism of Christ a gospel ordinance p. 95 Nor did Christ, when he came, ever once, that we read of, call that of water his baptism.Scott, Job, The baptism of Christ a gospel ordinance p. 97 And yet this sensible author will not allow any thing at all in it, or to be understood, or even implied in it, but what Christ fully and plainly declared his mind about: and then queries, “where has Jesus Christ declared his mind, and declared it fully and plainly, that infants are to receive Christian baptism?” Now, serious reader, let us just vary the terms of this question, and ask, “where has Jesus Christ declared his mind fully and plainly - nay, where has he declared it at all, that adults are to be baptized in water? or where has he ever declared material water to be his baptism?” I believe the text where he has declared this is not in the Bible, any more tan the other.Scott, Job, The baptism of Christ a gospel ordinance p. 108 But he goes on, and asks, “is not our Savior's commission far from declaring fully and plainly in favour of children's baptism, perfectly silent on this head?” And I ask, is it not as perfectly silent about water?Scott, Job, The baptism of Christ a gospel ordinance p. 108-109 But prejudice has such a powerful influence, that many texts are read and quoted in support of elementary water, which speak only of the spiritual water of the word.Scott, Job, The baptism of Christ a gospel ordinance p. 111 Now there is but “one Lord, one faith, and one baptism,” belonging to the Christian dispensation -- but here this author, three times, mentions expressly both the baptism of the Spirit, or Holy Ghost, and the baptism of water, as distinct things, as two baptisms, and urges them, being both used in the case of Cornelius, as proof that water baptism belongs to the gospel -- Will he say, Christ instituted two baptisms? If not, as here where two are mentioned, it is plain one only of them was Christ's. If Christ's is but one and that one be not Christ's, but, as the Quaker says, was John's. On the other hand, if Christ's is but one, and the one be immersions in elementary water, then that of the Holy Ghost is not Christ's -- So that this instance, instead of proving water baptism to be Christ's proves quite the contrary.Scott, Job, The baptism of Christ a gospel ordinance p. 114-115 Ananias was sent to Paul expressly, Acts 9:17, that he might “be filled with the Holy Ghost.” Then surely he instrumentally dispensed or ministered it to him, or (which is the same thing) baptized him with it.Scott, Job, The baptism of Christ a gospel ordinance p. 122 Some contend against baptizing spiritually by teaching in the power of the gospel, and urge that the gift of tongues always attended baptism of the Holy ghost. If so, who have this baptism in our day? Will it be granted that none are now baptized with the baptism of Christ?Scott, Job, The baptism of Christ a gospel ordinance p. 122-123 Is water baptism once called Christ's in all the Bible? Is it once called a gospel ordinance? Did Christ ever practice it? Was John's baptism Christ's? If not, were Christ's twelve disciples ever baptized with Christ's baptism, or not? If Christ's is water, and yet not the same of john's, who baptized these Apostles, seeing Jesus baptized none in water?Scott, Job, The baptism of Christ a gospel ordinance p. 135 If Christ had ordained water baptism, he would have administered it to those he sent to administer it to others. And I rest firmly persuaded he never did ordain it, but that all the water baptism now practiced among Christians is derived from John, or else is altogether, unauthorized in the New Testament. And why do those who now use it, use a form of words never once used by any of the Apostles? If they say Christ commanded it, then why did not his Apostles obey his command?Scott, Job, The baptism of Christ a gospel ordinance p. 138 It is urged by some, that putting on Christ, which all do who are baptized into him, Gal iii. 27, is giving up their names to Christ in water baptism: but of those baptized into Christ, in the Apostle's sense, he here declares, “ye are all in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ's then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise,” 28, 29; that is real heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ. This certainly is not true of as many as are baptized into water, though it certainly is true of as may as are baptized into Christ. Putting on Christ is therefore plainly thus, “put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof.” Rom. xiii. 14.Scott, Job, The baptism of Christ a gospel ordinance p. 138 ...and Israel's passage through the sea is a figure of that figure; or that the Apostle, in his assertion here, that they were baptized, only had an allusion to that figure, I see not how he could positively in truth say, they were baptized.Scott, Job, The baptism of Christ a gospel ordinance p. 145 At any rate, and turn it every way, will not the result be, either that Paul did not mean as he said, that they really were baptized, but only that their passage resembled baptism, and may bear an allusion to it, or that he meant an outward baptism, without either dipping or sprinkling, or that he meant an inward and spiritual baptism?Scott, Job, The baptism of Christ a gospel ordinance p. 146 Thus men by attachment to rituals, are liable to have their minds veiled, from beholding the obviously inward and spiritual meaning of scripture, or at least turned to seek or suppose an outward signification, where none seems necessary or intended, but that which centers in the life and substance.Scott, Job, The baptism of Christ a gospel ordinance p. 166 He was for the life; they the letter. He for the substance; they, the symbols.Scott, Job, The baptism of Christ a gospel ordinance p. 172

Christian Baptism spiritual, not ritual

The idea which is here brought out as common to the outpouring of water and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, is evidently a reviving or life-producing power.MacNair, Robert, Christian Baptism spiritual, not ritual p. 12 But on further examining the passages adduced, we find that the object is not to draw out an analogy between water and the Holy Spirit, but to set forth spiritual truths under the figure of the natural...MacNair, Robert, Christian Baptism spiritual, not ritual p. 14 The time for administering water-baptism was then present; the time for administering spiritual baptism was then future.MacNair, Robert, Christian Baptism spiritual, not ritual p. 18 How is it that with all the pains they have been at to tell us water-baptism is not the only baptism, we still understand them by the simple word baptize to refer to water-baptism? For this reason, that they are speaking of baptism as an existing fact, and their own narratives teach us that of the two kinds they had mentioned, water-baptism was the only one which then had a being. Till the time when the Spirit is given, they are safe in using the word baptism, even without an adjunct, as equivalent to water-baptism.MacNair, Robert, Christian Baptism spiritual, not ritual p. 19-20 Now, if we read the passage in the text in like manner, it will be, the prophets and the law prophesied until John, he being the last prophet under the old economy, not the first of a new.MacNair, Robert, Christian Baptism spiritual, not ritual p. 27 When asked why he [John] baptized though he was not the Christ, his justification he bases upon this, “I baptize with water.”MacNair, Robert, Christian Baptism spiritual, not ritual p. 37 John’s baptism must include both of these characters, and might therefore be expressed thus, a baptism with water, in which the subject is called upon to exercise repentance.MacNair, Robert, Christian Baptism spiritual, not ritual p. 37 We find in the use of language, that words often acquire secondary meanings, in which all trace of the original idea is lost sight of. Supposing that the word baptism meant originally cleansing, but that this cleansing was ordinarily effected by immersion, it would not be unparalleled to have a new application of the word, in which the idea of cleansing was dropped, and only that of immersion appeared.MacNair, Robert, Christian Baptism spiritual, not ritual p. 40 The experiment of ritual worship has been tried on a large scale. It answered the purpose for which it was established, but it has failed to effect a radical change in human nature… “For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did”… God has offered man a spiritual religion. But he longs for a ritual.MacNair, Robert, Christian Baptism spiritual, not ritual p. 49 But the very same circumstances which have rendered the sign of sacrifice obsolete render every other sign of a similar texture inappropriate. The sign of sacrifice was a testimony to the fact of an atonement not yet effected. The sign was a witness that the thing signified was yet future, and loses its meaning when this becomes present.MacNair, Robert, Christian Baptism spiritual, not ritual p. 54 He adds that [the word] religion was once used predominantly “for the outward service of God”.MacNair, Robert, Christian Baptism spiritual, not ritual p. 58 The man who is sealed with the Spirit, who worships God in the spirit, who is circumcised in heart, is the man who has been initiated into the Church of Jesus Christ.MacNair, Robert, Christian Baptism spiritual, not ritual p. 60 But yet believers were to do greater works than Jesus had done. How? I answer, by baptizing with the Spirit, which he had not done when he spake these words.MacNair, Robert, Christian Baptism spiritual, not ritual p. 82

An History of Corruption on Christianity

It was natural therefore, for the apostles, and other Jews, on the institution of baptism, to apply it to infants, as well as to adults, as a token of the profession of christianity by the master of the family only; and this they would do without considering it as a substitute for circumcision, and succeeding in the place of it, which it is never said to do in the scriptures, though some have been led by some circumstances of resemblance in the two rites to imagine this was the case.Priestley, Joseph, An History of Corruption on Christianity p. 71 There is this difference with respect to the corruptions of the rite of baptism, and those of the Lord's supper, that though they both began about the same time, and those relating to baptism were perhaps the earlier of the two, and the progress of superstition in consequence of this corruption, was rather more rapid in the first century of christianity, it was by no means so afterwards.Priestley, Joseph, An History of Corruption on Christianity p. 79 Wycliffe thought baptism to be necessary to salavation. “The priest,” he says, “in baptism administers only the token or sign, but God, who is the priest and bishop of our souls, administers the spiritual grace.” And Luther not only retained the rite of baptism, but even the ceremony of exorcism.Priestley, Joseph, An History of Corruption on Christianity p. 91 Those of the early Fathers who ascribed the least to the rite of baptism, supposed that by it was done away whatever inconvenience mankind had been subjected to in consequence of the fall of Adam; so that they made a great difference between the case of those children who died baptized, and those who died unbaptizedPriestley, Joseph, An History of Corruption on Christianity p. 200

Christadelphian Forums

No, men desire others to make a fair shew in the flesh constraining them to be water baptized that they might glory in their flesh. Galatians 6:12-13 KJV - As many as desire to make a fair shew in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised; only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ. 13 For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law; but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh. Yes, the Galatians were being constrained to be circumcised just as today men constrain others to be water baptized. The why it is the same\~that they may glory in your flesh. Baptism in Romans For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. Galatians 3:27-28 KJV For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. Neither male nor female? I don't see anyone coming up out of the water neither male nor female. It is a baptism (identification) into Christ's death (Romans 6), baptized into Christ. It is BY one Spirit into one body. It cannot be accomplished by water. You cannot just put water in everytime you see the word baptism. There is more than one baptism in the Bible too. Baptism in Romans

Other Books

The Christians had an initiation ceremony – baptism.McDowell, Josh, New Evidence That Demands A Verdict p. 257 The ordinances of purification in the Levitical law relate especially to the removal of legal uncleanness connected with childbirth, death, and other pollutions. Washing was prescribed for such purposes, and also sprinkling with water of separation, water mingled with the ashes of the red heifer. Ablution formed part of the consecration of priests and without it they might not serve at the altar nor enter the tabernacle. In later times of Jewish national history, perhaps through the intercourse with nations whose lustrations entered more into the daily routine of life, ceremonial washings were multiplied.Tylor, Edward B, Primitive culture p. 440 Can water, externally applied, destroy internal moral turpitude? If human vices could be cured through this channel, the more rational efforts for the renovation and improvement of our character would become unnecessary. But it is clearly discernable, that as vice is a violation of moral law, the way to remedy the mischiefs resulting from this violation, is not to pour water on the face, which can have no possible influence on the mind, but to return to uniform conduct, consistent with the primary principles of moral virtue.Palmer, Elihu, Principles of nature p. 45

Other Places on the Internet

Regarding 1 Peter 3:21, the notes in the The Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible (pages 1539-1540) explains, “The expression ‘baptism doth now save’ should be understood in light of verse twenty: ‘eight souls were saved by water.’ KJV’s “by water” is incorrect; the Greek is “through water (di udatos)” per (NKJV, NIV, NASB, Green’s Literal Translation, NRSV).Faith Facts, 101 Reasons Why Water Baptism is Not Necessary to be Saved Acts 22:16 says, “Now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.” According to the John MacArthur study Bible, “Grammatically the phrase, ‘calling on His name,’ precedes ‘Get up and be baptized.’ Salvation comes from calling on the name of the Lord (Romans 10:9, 10, 13), not from being baptized.”Faith Facts, 101 Reasons Why Water Baptism is Not Necessary to be Saved 66. The Holy Spirit is the seal of the believer’s salvation (Eph. 4:30; 2 Cor. 1:22; Rom. 8:9), not water baptism. Indeed, we are sealed by the Holy Spirit when we believed (Eph 1:11-14), and even before at the foundation of the world (Eph 1:3-12).Faith Facts, 101 Reasons Why Water Baptism is Not Necessary to be Saved 101. And finally, for the record, the word baptism does not necessarily always mean immersion. For example, in 1 Corinthians 10:1-4 the Israelites were baptized by only getting their feet wet, while it was the Egyptians who got immersed. Luke 11:38 is a reference to the washing of hands, not of total body immersion. In Mark 7:4 baptism is described as washing of vessels, which is not necessarily immersion but could be pouring or scrubbing. Hebrews 9:10 speaks of “various ceremonial washings.” The word here is baptismos. The ceremonial washing, or baptisms, that follow are rites of purification in the Old Testament (cf. Heb 9:13-31). In all of these ceremonial washings, the method of application was sprinkling. In fact, all Old Testament purifications or washings were by sprinkling (Numbers 8:7, 19:19, Lev 14:7, etc).Faith Facts, 101 Reasons Why Water Baptism is Not Necessary to be Saved Some proponents of baptism for salvation at this point will assert that the means of appropriating salvation are different before and after the cross to try and discount these examples of Christ. There is no scriptural evidence at all that the means of appropriating salvation changed after the death and resurrection of Christ. In fact, scripture strongly concludes that the mode of salvation has always been through faith.Shimer, Ted, Why Baptism is not Necessary for Salvation

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