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Particulars of Christianity:
309 Baptisms


Necessity of Water Baptism: 3 Common Arguments

Preface for Baptisms Article Series
Baptisms: Introduction and Historical Background
Original Proclamations about Baptism
Two Baptisms Occurring Separately
Baptizo: Two Baptisms, One Greek Word
Synonymous Phrases: Baptism in the Holy Spirit
Water Baptism in Jesus' Name
No Record of Paul's Water Baptism
Is Baptism Essential to Salvation?
Acts 1: Parallel Account of the Great Commission
Necessity of Water Baptism: 3 Common Arguments
Survey 1: Baptisms in Acts
The Baptism of Crispus (and Assuming Evidence)
Survey 2: Baptism from Romans to Revelation
Baptism and Hebrews 10:22
Conclusions: When and How Are We Reborn?
Survey 3: Baptism and the Ante-Nicene Authors
Closing: Water Baptism for the Right Reasons



At this point, we will take a few moments to dispel the main arguments used to assert that water baptism was the more prominent baptism for the early Church.

When it comes to the presumption that water baptism was the more prominent baptism in both practice and significance to the early Church, proponents of water baptism often point to three main indicators.

1. The apostles continued to practice WATER BAPTISM after the ascension and after Pentecost. Why would the apostles continue this practice unless they understood this was the command of Christ Jesus at the Great Commission?

2. There were occasions when groups were first baptized with the Holy Spirit and afterward the apostles INSISTED THAT THEY STILL GET BAPTIZED IN WATER. Why would the apostles insist on water baptism for these men after they had received the baptism in the Holy Spirit, unless water baptism was essential to salvation?

3. There were occasions when INDIVIDUALS WERE CONSIDERED BELIEVERS AFTER THEY HAD RECEIVED WATER BAPTISM, BUT BEFORE THEY HAD RECEIVED BAPTISM IN THE HOLY SPIRIT. How could baptism in the Holy Spirit be considered necessary if men were considered believers before they had received it?

On the surface, these may seem like very convincing arguments. However, there is one simple problem with this approach. The very same points can be made concerning baptism of the Holy Spirit. All of the following statements are accurate concerning baptism in the Holy Spirit.

1. The apostles continued to practice BAPTISM IN THE HOLY SPIRIT after the ascension and after Pentecost. Why would the apostles continue this practice unless they understood this was the command of Christ Jesus at the Great Commission?

2. There were occasions when groups were first baptized with water and afterward the apostles INSISTED THAT THEY STILL GET BAPTIZED IN THE HOLY SPIRIT. Why would the apostles insist on baptism in the Holy Spirit for these men after they had received the water baptism, unless baptism in Holy Spirit was essential to salvation?

3. There were occasions when INDIVIDUALS WERE CONSIDERED BELIEVERS AFTER THEY HAD RECEIVED BAPTISM IN THE HOLY SPIRIT, BUT BEFORE THEY HAD RECEIVED WATER BAPTISM. How could water baptism be considered necessary if men were considered believers before they had received it?

Now we will examine each of these 6 claims to establish its validity. Each of these claims was constructed using the same pattern. First, we stated a premise. Second, we asked a question related to that premise. Each question was designed to illustrate what the premises theoretically indicate. We'll start with the 3 claims supporting the prominence of water baptism.

Premise 1 states that the apostles continued the practice of water baptism after the ascension and Pentecost. This is absolutely true. Water baptisms are clearly recorded in Acts 8:12-17, 8:36-38, and Acts 10:47-48.

Premise 2 states that the apostles insisted on water baptism for individuals after those individuals had received the baptism in the Holy Spirit. This is also true, although it occurs only one time. Acts 10:44-48 records the first Gentile conversion. These Gentiles first received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Peter's words in Acts 11:15-18 confirm this. Then Acts 10:47-48 record clearly that Peter proceeded to have them water baptized.

Premise 3 states that individuals were considered believers after they had been water baptized but before they had been baptized in the Holy Spirit. This statement is based upon Acts 19:1-7. This statement is highly controversial. The key is Paul 's question in Acts 19:2.

Acts 19:1 And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples, 2 He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost. 3 And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John's baptism. 4 Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. 5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied. 7 And all the men were about twelve.

Paul asks these men what they were baptized into when they believed. Now, first of all, Paul does not directly call these men believers, but by saying they "believed," he implies that they were.

Three things are evident from his question. First, when he asked, Paul did not know which baptism these men had received. Since Paul did not know whether or not these men had been baptized in water or in the Holy Spirit, he is actually calling them believers regardless of which baptism they had NOT received. In other words, from Paul 's frame of reference, these men may not have been water baptized at that time and so he applies the term "believer" to them even if they had not been water baptized.

So, this text itself invalidates the conclusion of Premise 3. The conclusion of Premise 3 is that if individuals were considered believers before they received the baptism in the Holy Spirit, then baptism in the Holy Spirit must not be necessary for salvation. However, Paul's question assumes these men were believers no matter which baptism they had not received, water baptism included. So, this passage actually proves that individuals could be considered believers before they had been water baptized just as much as it proves they could be considered believers before they were baptized in the Holy Spirit.

So, while Premise 3 is true, its conclusion is not true. Premise 3 does not prove baptism in the Holy Spirit was unnecessary for salvation.

Second, Paul's question in Acts 19:2 is significant because it applies the term baptism equally to both forms of baptism. This proves that for Paul, it is perfectly normal to refer to someone receiving the Holy Spirit as being "baptized." This is significant because it further demonstrates that the term "baptism" was used by the apostles to denote both forms of baptism.

Third, we don’t want to pass through Acts 19 too quickly because it actually contains a very strong proof that baptism in the Holy Spirit was the baptism the apostles expected for new converts, at least as far as Paul understood. Notice Paul’s follow-up question after the men announce in verse 3 that they hadn’t even heard “whether there be any Holy Ghost.” Paul could have simply said, “OK, then I will baptize you in the Holy Spirit now.” But instead, Paul expresses surprise that these men could have been baptized in anything other than the Holy Spirit. When they say that they had not heard “whether there be any Holy Ghost,” Paul says, “what then were you baptized into?” Paul’s words do more than reveal his expectation for new converts to receive a baptism in the Holy Spirit. Paul’s words actually undermine any expectation for new converts to necessarily receive water baptism. If Paul had understood water baptism to be necessary for salvation, there would be no place for him to ask these converts, “Unto what then were ye baptized?” because Paul would have easily assumed they were baptized in water.

Ultimately, Paul’s comments show an unequivocal expectation that baptism in the Holy Spirit, not water, was the baptism received by new converts. When we examine 1 Corinthians 1 later on we will find additional evidence confirming that Paul did not associate his commission to preach the gospel with a commission to baptize with water.

Now, Premise 1, 2, and 3 are true. But, as we have said, they can only be used to support a pro-water baptism position IF the same cannot be said of baptism in the Holy Spirit. And we will now show that the same can be said of baptism in the Holy Spirit, starting with Premise 1 of the second three premises.

Premise 1 states that the apostles continued the practice of baptism in the Holy Spirit after the ascension and Pentecost. This is absolutely true. Baptisms in the Holy Spirit are clearly recorded in Acts 2:38, 8:15-17, 9:17, 19:1-7.

Premise 2 states that the apostles insisted on baptism in the Holy Spirit for individuals after those individuals had received water baptism. This is also true. Such accounts can be found in Acts 8:12-17 and Acts 19:1-7.

Premise 3 states that individuals were considered believers after they had been baptized in the Holy Spirit but before they had been baptized in water. Not only have we partially demonstrated this from the text of Acts 19:1-7, but further evidence of this can be found by the accounts of the first Gentile conversion as recorded in Acts 10:44-48, Acts 11:15-18, and Acts 15:7-9. Mark 16 and 1 Corinthians 12 also indicate that these first Gentile converts would have been considered believers before they were baptized with water. Acts 10:46 says these Gentiles spoke in tongues and that is how it was known that they were filled with the Holy Spirit. Mark 16:17 lists tongues as a sign that follows believers. 1 Corinthians 12:13 tells us that having been baptized by the Holy Spirit, we are members of the body of Christ. So, these Gentiles had to be considered believers and members of Christ’s body before they were baptized in water.

At this point, we have demonstrated that both water baptism and baptism in the Holy Spirit were continued in practice and insisted upon. We have also demonstrated that individuals could be considered believers before they were baptized in water and before they were baptized in the Holy Spirit. As such, these arguments do nothing to indicate which form of baptism was commanded by Christ in the Great Commission and considered essential for salvation by the apostles and the early church.