The Many Baptisms Listed in Scripture
The Bible speaks of many different baptisms. Some biblical scholars claim there are seven separate ones, while others claim eight, or even nine. Depending on one’s denominational persuasion, the number will differ; however, all will acknowledge seven basic baptisms. Out of those seven basic baptisms, four are considered “real,” and the other three “ceremonial.” This article will first examine the “real” and then the “ceremonial” baptisms that constitute the seven basic baptisms. From there, we will then examine the two other ones.
The meaning of baptism
The word “baptism” is the English form of the Greek noun “baptismos,” meaning ablution ( the washing of one's body or part of it - as in a religious rite)[i]. Its verb “baptizo,” means “to dip, immerse, submerge, to make clean with water, or (metaphorically) to make overwhelmed [ii].
While the word “baptism” is a New Testament English word, its Greek/Hebrew implication/usages were also se en in the Old Testament where purification by water was used. Baptism for cleansing for ceremonial purposes was a common ablution by God for any Old Testament Jew. Examples were with the high priest under Moses, washed himself in the laver each year before entering into the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement to be considered ceremonial clean. Once the temple was built in Israel, Jewish baptisms were also common for ceremonial purification as each Jewish head of household prepared himself to offer sacrifices and offerings to God at the temple. Many small stone baptismal fonts were strategically built around the temple grounds that were used for cleansing before entering the temple. Relics of them can even be seen today.
The idea of purification by water was important to all Old Testament and 1st century A.D. Jews, believing it was critical to the cleansing of their lives. So when the ceremonies of the baptism of John, Jesus, and ultimately that of Christian baptism began, the Jews were well familiar with what ceremonial purification meant.
In Hebrew 9:10, the Word of God speaks of the doctrines (or teachings) of baptisms, meaning there are several kinds of baptisms.
The idea of “real baptisms” in Scripture carries with it something that actually happens – it was a real event. It differs from ceremonial baptisms that was, and still is a requirement of one’s obedience to a real event. Let’s examine the “real baptisms” listed in Scripture:
1. The Baptism of Moses: God’s people, the Israelites, became identified with Moses as he led them out of Egypt, crossing the Red Sea and into the wilderness. In that, they walked through the water into a new life. God gave them instructions through their leader Moses of a new way of living as they developed their relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Moses heard from God and conveyed what he heard and passed it on to the Israelites. In addition, God guided them through the wilderness to their land of Canaan by a day-time cloud. In that, they were also covered with water. These were real events.
2. The Baptism of the Cup (or suffering): When Christ was crucified on the cross of Calvary, He became immersed in the sufferings of the sins of the world, becoming identified with those sins. When Jesus cried out to His Father in the Garden of Gethsemane saying, “…not My will, but Yours,” He made the choice to go to the cross and take on the sufferings of the world. As such, He took on all of the sickness, pain, and death of mankind. It was a “real” event. When God arose Jesus from the dead, He then won over all that He suffered. In that, mankind was set free, being victorious, but it could only come through Christ Jesus.
3. The Baptism BY the Holy Spirit: The Baptism BY the Holy Spirit should not be confused with the Baptism OF or IN the Holy Spirit. Being baptized BY the Holy Spirit is the becoming “one” with Christ, meaning when a person accepts Christ as his or her own, believing in Him as the Messiah to mankind, the Holy Spirit has been given entrance as God’s Spirit into that believer. That believer is then spiritually identified with Christ and placed within the Body of Christ – one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism with one God and Father above all. This is a “real event.” Old things have passed away, and a new life has begun.
Eph 4:4-6 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. NKJV
1 Cor 12:13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body - whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free - and have all been made to drink into one Spirit NKJV
2 Cor 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! NIV
4. The Baptism of Fire: The Baptism of Fire is for unbelievers. Those outside of Christ are identified (or immersed) with God’s judgment at the end of this age. This too will be a “real event.”
Matt 3:11-12 I (John the Baptist) indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire." NKJV
Matt 13:40-43 Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age. The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear! NKJV
5. The Baptism of John (the Baptist): This ceremony (or ritual) of water baptism by John the Baptist was Jewish, not Christian. It was a baptism for repentance for the remission of sins and the announcing of the coming Messiah and the Kingdom of God. For those who were baptized by John meant they pledged to separate themselves from the pollutions of sins to get ready to receive the coming Messiah who remits the sins of His believing people. Their baptism was an outward sign of an inward sorrow for sin. The “real event” was their sorrow for sin, and the water baptism was a “ceremonial event,” acknowledging the “real event” had already taken place in their life. Several of the twelve disciples of Jesus were baptized by John the Baptist for repentance for the remissions of sins.
Matt 3:1-3 In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying: "The voice of one crying in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the LORD; Make His paths straight.'" NKJV
Luke 3:3 And he went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. NKJV
Those who confessed and repented of their sins and were “ceremonially” baptized by John were thus obedient to his call to “make ready the way of the Lord.”
6. The Baptism of Jesus: The Baptism of Jesus differed from that of John the Baptist. With John’s baptism, John called for repentance and announced the Messiah to national Israel. Jesus came to be baptized by John; however, He was without sin, so He did not need to repent. He was the coming Messiah to the Jews as prophesied throughout the Old Covenant and was publicly proclaimed by John. This outward ceremonial act set Jesus apart from all others. As the ceremony of the water baptism took place, another real event took place. Jesus was immersed in water, and when He came out, God came down from heaven in the form of a dove and declared His Sonship and that He was that Messiah to national Israel. In that, God proclaimed, “This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased.” The Father declared His acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah, which meant He held the threefold office of prophet, priest, and king.
John 3:34 For since He Whom God has sent speaks the words of God [proclaims God's own message], God does not give Him His Spirit sparingly or by measure, but boundless is the gift God makes of His Spirit! AMP
Jesus had fulfilled the Jewish requirements to be consecrated into ministry. He was 30 years old - the age at which a Jew could begin his ministry. His upbringing was that of an orthodox Jew, trained in the Torah and the Tanakh, and from the age of 14 to 30, He was trained under a rabbi until his training was complete. By Jewish law, He was then able to step into ministry.
7. The Baptism of Believers (Christian Baptism): This kind of water baptism is a ceremonial baptism done as a public proclamation of the inward “oneness” with Christ. In other words, the believer has already experienced the Baptism OF the Holy Spirit, meaning the new believer has already become a believer, and through that belief gave entrance to the Holy Spirit coming into his or her life. The new believer is simply being obedient to the command of Christ to public proclaim his or her belief to those in the community of witnesses. Word generally spread fast regarding those who were publicly baptized. In 1st century communities where the people were either Gentilian or Jew, this kind of proclamation often meant abandonment from family and friends.
The 1st century Christians required the public proclamation and act of water baptism in order to enter into the Agape’ celebration, which was the Christian worship service in which Christians gathered together weekly.
During the time of Christ, the disciples did the baptizing of the new believers. That has never changed; disciples of Christ will continue to baptize new believers until the end of this dispensation.
Many interpretations and modes of ceremonial baptism
In the 1st century A.D. public water baptism was done by full immersion. Over the centuries, however, that has changed for many denominations. Today, widely differing interpretations and modes of water baptism exists among Christians.
There are three major positions on the nature of baptism that exist among Christian groups or denominations:
a. The symbolical view: This view was how it was practiced in the 1st century A.D. The water baptism carries with it no spiritual benefit other than obedience to the commands of Christ to publicly proclaim his or her beliefs in Christ as the Messiah and Savior of the world. It symbolizes an outward sign of the inner change which has already occurred in the believer’s life. One must first come to a personal and conscious decision of faith in Jesus as their Christ. Rather than the water baptism producing “regeneration” of faith, water baptism always comes after faith and the salvation that faith produces.
There are some churches that require water baptism for church membership. Generally, this mode of symbolic water baptism is full immersion similar to how it was done in the 1st century. Some denominations, however, practice sprinkling atop the head. This practice began only when full immersion was not possible due to weather conditions or lack of water. As such, the practice of sprinkling became an acceptable mode of water baptism throughout the centuries. It is still practiced by some denominations even today.
b. The covenantal view: Followers of the covenantal view of water baptism treat it as a sign and seal of their “covenant” with God. Believers who hold this view claim that when they become water baptized, it is a sign of the covenant God has with them, and that it is the means by which they enter into that covenant. In this view, water baptism serves the same purpose for New Testament believers that circumcision did for Old Testament believers.
For the Jews, circumcision was the external and visible sign they were within the covenant that God had established with Abraham. Converts to Judaism (proselytes) also had to undergo this rite of ceremony. For Christians who follow this covenantal view, circumcision no longer needed to be applied; however, the ceremony of water baptism was seen as its replacement.
c. The sacramental view: According to this belief, baptism is a means by which God conveys grace. It is seen more as a “real” baptism instead of a “ceremonial” baptism. By undergoing this ceremonial rite, the person baptized receives remission of sins, and is regenerated or given a new nature and an awakened or strengthened faith. Both adults and children are ceremonially baptized, and it can be done by full immersion or sprinkling.
Both Roman Catholics and Lutherans carry this view of the nature of baptism.
The Roman Catholic belief emphasizes the rite itself - that the power to convey grace is contained within the sacrament of baptism. It is not the water, but the sacrament, as established by God, and administered by the church, that produces this change. In the case of infants or children, it is the belief of the Christian parents that can bring their children to receive public water baptism. They would receive that same grace from God. This view believes that the act of baptism itself produces a change in the life of the believer. As such, it becomes a “real” and “ceremonial” baptism. It can be done by full immersion or sprinkling on top of the head.
The Lutherans concentrate on the faith that is present in the person being baptized. In the case of children or infants, however, it is the parents Christian belief that brings their children to receive public water baptism. Lutheranism also emphasizes the value of the preaching of the Word of God, believing the preaching awakens faith in a believer by entering the ear to strike the heart. In other words, the ceremony of water baptism is also considered a “real” baptism. When the Word of God is preached during baptism, it enters the eye to reach and move the heart[iii].
Both Roman Catholicism and Lutheranism misuse the scripture verse of John 3;5 Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God as their position that water btism and faith are required for eternal salvation.
Many other biblical scholars claim more than seven baptisms in scripture.
8. The Baptism OF (or IN) the Holy Spirit: This bapism is considered a 2nd act of grace, or 2nd experience after salvation. It is more than being immersed and identified with Christ. It is an immersion and identification of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives as well. Error occurs when some believers claim they received all of the Holy Spirit when they accepted Christ. That, however, is not true. When someone does not believe in the "fullness" of the Holy Spirit, meaning the Baptism OF or IN the Holy Spirit as a means of a 2nd experience after salvation, they miss out on many blessings that come with that baptism. If believers would study the Book of Acts, it becomes apparent that the Apostle Paul went around preaching the Holy Spirit to believers who earlier accepted Christ, but had never even heard of the Holy Spirit. When the apostle laid hands on them, which is that 2nd means of grace, they were then baptized (immersed) in the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other tongues. Their identification, while remaining in Christ, also became associated with the Holy Spirit as well.
9. Another kind of Baptism of Fire: There are some believers who affirm to another kind of Baptism of Fire, meaning God is testing His children by putting them through the fire of testing their faith. They often see the negative things that come upon them as something God has given them to test their faith. Those supporting this view use the same scripture that was used in #4 when God, at the end of this age, will divided the believers and unbelievers and then pour out His judgment on the unbelievers. Matt 3:11-12 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but He that cometh after Me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire. Sadly, they stop here and miss the next verse: Matt 3:13 Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.
This is a typical example of taking scripture out of its original context. The whole meaning got changed because the reader pulled a scripture out of its context before researching its intended meaning. They were trying to prove a point by using “pet scriptures.” Instead of God putting His children through the fire of testing, God is actually separating His children (wheat) from those of the world (chaff with unquenchable fire). So, the Baptism of Fire is for unbelievers - their eternal judgment.
All nine view on baptisms throughout Scripture have been examined in this article. Again, nearly all biblical scholars share the same view on the first seven listed. Then there are some biblical scholars who adhere to #8, and only a few will claim to #9. Depending on one’s denominational persuasion, there will be differences of opinions.
Hopefully, this article has been helpful to understand the various baptisms as listed in Scripture, along with its traditional teachings that have crept in through the centuries.