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John’s Baptism

When John the Baptist came teaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins in the coming of the kingdom of heaven he brought something unknown to the religious Jews of that day. They had never before heard of immersion for repentance for the remission of sins. In fact, baptism for this purpose or for any other was unknown to them. And the remission of sins was something altogether new as that concept was not a part of the Law of Moses. They knew of the sacrifice for sins and the atonement where the sins of the people were put off, but knew nothing of remittance. They knew of the kingdom of heaven and were awaiting the messiah, but they had a different notion of how all of these things would come about.

Yet they came out to Aenon to hear of these new things, and the word spread then that there was again a prophet in Israel. Multitudes were being baptized by John and were seeking to make right their lives in preparation for the coming of the kingdom.

Do you suppose they were being taught and believed that their sins were to be remitted when the Christ, who was to shortly follow, had come and had offered himself for the atonement, or do you suppose (as many do) that John could not quite get it right and that he could not put the good news out correctly or clearly and that many that heard him misunderstood what he had said and what he taught? Do you suppose that the baptism of John was of limited efficacy and that all who came under his baptism had to be baptized yet again once the Christ appeared (as those mentioned in Acts 19 had)?

Was it one water baptism for John’s disciples, another for the disciples of Christ, or yet even another to be saved? Will just one baptism do, and if so which one? Which one baptism is the one baptism that Paul later mentioned?

With these things noted, there are some that have put forward the notion that there was a difference between what John had baptized for and for what Jesus would later baptize. They then extract that those who were baptized by John or by his disciples must have had to be baptized again to be baptized “into Christ.” Therefore, in this essay, I would suggest that such notions move out of a scriptural world where less is really said than might be suspected, but where what is actually said is certainly more than enough for us to rest our faith and our salvation upon.

In looking into this it is recommended that you should read the first seven verses of Acts nineteen through at least twice. A second useful tool is to take a pencil or a highlighter (a pencil has been said to be one of the best of eyes) and circle or underline any word or phrase that strikes your attention during the readings. Finally, the last thing that might be useful is to write the intent of the passage out in a few short sentences, ensuring to identify what you might believe to be the major points. With these things accomplished some identifiable facts can be ordered.

The passage in question reads as follows:

“And it happened, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus. And finding some disciples he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said to him, “We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit. And he said to them, “Into what then were you baptized? So they said, “Into John’s baptism.

Then Paul said, “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied. Now the men were about twelve in all.”

With that read and re-read, let us see if you have noted some of the same words and phrases that I would note. First, the incidentals are that these events took place at Ephesus, and the men in the narrative are indeed called disciples. Second, Paul asked a question of them: “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed? He asked this and one other that is also recorded, but this first frames the inquiry around which the ensuing events turn. Their answer to the first question was, “We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit. When queried further they answered that they had been baptized “into Johns Baptism.” Paul proceeds to teach them correctly of Christ as is implied in the statement “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. Then the record states, “they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.”

At this point, and without identifying another detail, we can draw some quite specific conclusions.

With what we know of this situation, John’s baptism did not include, and was not a baptism of the Holy Spirit. We already know that John had said and taught just exactly that, but that notion is proven here, and just to keep things in order we must mention it. To continue, these men had never heard of the Holy Spirit and they stated that they were baptized “into Johns baptism.” They may not even have been Jews – the recipients of John’s efforts. We simply cannot tell. The next conclusion is much more important and powerful. That conclusion is that these men had never before heard of Christ. This is clear from Paul’s reply to their answer to the question “into what then were you baptized? They reported they had been baptized into John’s name and that they had never heard of the Holy Spirit. And you should have noted this in your study; he then replied, “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. This was the foundation to John’s mission in preparing the way of the Lord; this was the center of his message, and yet these fellows had no idea at all of who Christ was or what John had really taught. Further, there is no indication in the scriptures that John ever baptized in his name. In fact, that would contrary to everything we know of John.

Now the only legitimate end to this is, that for whatever reason, these men had never heard of Christ, and also that they had not either been taught or had not followed in the true teaching of John. This did not mean that they were insincere. But it does mean that although they were called disciples that they were following after the wrong things, just as we might do today if we were to be taught and then sent out improperly, and we were never to examine the truth of the proposal. It is also certainly and necessarily implied that they had been led astray by ignorant teachers who themselves did not know the truth, and that all of these, both teachers and learners, had been following a completely false and failed religion.

John had likely been dead for quite a while when these men signed on for this. John’s mission was to the Jews prior to the ministry of Jesus. And if John was dead (and he was) then “his” baptism was also dead — and in this case it certainly was, for they were not looking for, and they had not even been told of Christ. They had been without the central and overriding premise of the Good News, and so their religion was completely and utterly in vain. Whomever it was that had done the teaching had left out the premium points for success: that John “was not He,” and they had failed to note that you must believe that Jesus is the Son of God and you must be baptized in his name, and not in John’s, and that you must serve him in order to be saved and to have your sins remitted. This is how you know that John had not taught these men (nor had any other true disciple). And that is why they had to be taught Christ and had to be baptized, because they didn’t know Christ and they hadn’t been baptized for repentance for the remission of sins in the manner that had already some time ago been prescribed by God. They had not been baptized into Christ; they had been immersed into some unknown, false and fabricated religion.

This examination should dispel the notion that the baptism of John was somehow different from the baptism of Christ. Both baptisms were to the same end, the only difference being that one was to prepare believing Jews and looked to the coming of the messiah and the cross, and the other was for everyone, after the Lord’s death, looked beyond the cross. Without acceptance of this you will never come to a suitable explanation of why these men “had” to be baptized, but that Apollos only needed to be taught better (as recorded in Acts 18). This study should also dispel the notion of a baptism of the Holy Spirit being the baptism for salvation, for these were first baptized (in water, as is clearly implied) and then once accomplished they received the Holy Spirit through the laying on the apostles hands (which was the only way it was transferred by that time). The scriptures in no way or in any place pretend that a baptism of the Holy Spirit is necessary to anyone’s salvation, and it must be taken similarly with the notion of an indwelling of the Spirit being some signatory of discipleship.

You and I must be baptized into Christ, and we must all put on Christ. Once that is accomplished, we are then promised that we will all receive “the gift of the Holy Spirit” (as will ALL disciples) but that has nothing to do with some other worldly envelopment or internal invasion of the Holy Spirit. It has to do with being recipient to the gift of salvation, of which the Holy Spirit acted to confirm through the hands of the chosen apostles and disciples – it does not in this passage or in any other convey that ALL Christians will enjoy an indwelling of the Holy Spirit. And though you may try, you can never prove otherwise through the Word of God.

The Holy Spirit’s work in securing for all of humanity the gospel plan of salvation was fully and completely accomplished a long, long, time ago, as was the work of God Almighty, and the work of the Messiah, and through direct supervision of the Holy Spirit, the work of the apostles and prophets too.