On John the Baptist and the Baptism of Christ

The passages listing the details to the baptism of Christ as recorded in the gospels are the point for the first appearance chronologically of the word baptism in any of its various forms. Without some instruction in the meaning given this word it could be defined only through a diligent search of scripture and not without some difficulty. Of course, the learner would not be left wanting as such a search would in time pay its dividends, for we should know that God has given to us “all things which pertain unto life and godliness,” and so as with anything else the word and concept of baptism can therefore be clearly defined in scripture without any external assist.

Yet out of a desire to facilitate study on this important topic, in the next set of essays I plan to present what Gods book of instructions has to say about baptism and the various ways that the word is used in the scriptures, to comment upon the concept involved in each use and what should be known and considered by Christians in each case.

I will note here that baptism was not a word in the English language until it was first coined and given to us by William Tyndale in his early Bible translations into Middle English (in the mid 16th century) and later by the translators of the King James Version (1609 – 1611). It is a transliteration of a Greek word that means to whelm, to cover, to submerge, to engulf (the root word in the Greek transliterates as bapto). It has never had a meaning of effusion, but has always been used to indicate immersion, as it still is used today in the Modern Greek.

John the Baptist came teaching repentance and baptizing, teaching that the kingdom of heaven was “at hand.” This is recorded in considerable detail in the gospels. It should be understood that the correct transliteration of the name and title would be John the Baptizer, and the correct translation would be John the Immerser. Further, this is the only Baptist you will ever read about in the word of God – as the title and therefore the word is only found in the singular, with John only the object of the narrative for but a few lines in this immediate context. It has been said that everything written about John as listed in the scriptures can be transposed onto a common index card.

Some people make a lot of Johns teaching and that it was just as harsh as Jesus would soon become (see Matthew 3:10). He said that the one which should come after him “…shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” Some of these would have us to be baptized just that way, with both the Spirit and (only sometimes) with fire. So it is useful to examine what John had to say and what the scriptures teach concerning baptism.

Does this statement or any like it found in the Bible mean that all in every age must be baptized with the Holy Spirit as teach the Pentecostal brethren and most mainstream denominations? And if so, then wouldnt all have to also be baptized with fire to be saved as well? Or, is the Spirits baptism for one purpose, the baptism of fire for another, and baptism of water to yet a third?

I would suggest that the correct answer is that “all” must be baptized in the Spirit and by fire only after the same fashion that “all” shall be saved. And I will begin to set forth the arguments surrounding that and any other conditions found in the scripture in the next essay.

But to keep it simple, the word of God speaks numerous times of “all” with regard to the gift of salvation, but in every case there yet remains the condition and requirement of obedience in order to gain salvation. You must in fact do something, as doing nothing will avail you the same. Simply stating that you believe will leave you stuck with a very short suit. It is only those who are obedient and follow and do what has been prescribed that shall in that day be saved (see Matthew 7:21, 22). So says the book of God (from end to end) and so must I state and instruct.

I would suggest also that there is no foundation for the doctrine of baptism of the Holy Spirit (or fire too) being a prerequisite to salvation found anywhere in the scriptures and I will offer the proof of that here in days ahead. In fact I know of no instance where either baptism of the Holy Spirit or even an indwelling of the Holy Spirit was ever found to be necessary to anyones salvation in the numerous examples given in the word of God.

The simple point of it all is that if Jesus saw fit to be baptized in water (not in his case for remission of sins, but “to fulfill all righteousness”) then why should any person refuse it or believe it to be unnecessary? And why would we think that some other form of baptism must be had in its place? To do so is to drink hard from a cup of contention. If Jesus came purposefully to the waters of baptism, why should I resist? But there will be more on that in time.

John began his ministry teaching the same lesson taught by all men and women of God since the beginning of recorded time: repentance. Note he taught then that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. As an aside, that means that there is no good way to excuse the abuses of the language by any modern religionist who portrays the phrase “at hand” to mean something still distant and off dimly in the future, out on some far and undefined page of time, as is particularly found in most modern interpretations of scripture and in particular in what is taught concerning the signs found in the book of Revelation.

Further, John did not teach about starting churches, about assemblies or men bearing his title or of being a figure of authority. He did not found anything, he did not follow his own course and he did not do his own thing.

In John 3:30, John stated this of Christ “he must increase, but I must decrease.” I believe that means he recognized that he was soon to be going out of the prophesy business. In Acts 13:25, the Apostle Paul stated, “And as John fulfilled his course, he said whom do you think that I am? I am not he.” This tells us that John knew that he was not the anointed one and that is how he taught. It also indicates that he had completed his duties by the time of his death (with no record of a church bearing his title until the 17th Century), and by his own word he was not the one that should be followed, though he was followed both in his own day and even now into ours.

But to return to the center of this, John was the first to baptize; else there would be no reason behind the title and his having been known and identified as “the Baptizer” or “the Baptist.” There is no evidence of any immersion practice in the Hebrew religion or Judaism prior to Johns time such as this; and his title literally means the person who immerses. The reports of the historians who say Johns baptism and then Christs baptism are founded in Jewish ceremonial or proselyte baptism are based on a thin vapor of conjecture. There is no historical reference or tradition, and there are no such baptisms ever mentioned, alluded to, or recorded in the Law of Moses. Ceremonial washings for the cleansing of leprosy are as close as anyone can ever come to an immersion in the Old Testament, and the tradition of the washing of vestments much later is all that one can find and the relationship there is tenuous at best. Yet even so with just that, the notion of ceremonial cleansing was not altogether foreign to the Jews of that time.

John was the first to immerse for repentance for the remission of sins, and this is exactly what is stated in the narrative in both Mark and Luke. This is also widely overlooked by many as it presents them some unwanted difficulty in explanation, and we will look into this as well.

There was no church to be added to when John (or for that matter when Jesus) walked the earth, so the notion that baptism is an ordinance required to gain membership into the body of Christ is faulty and without foundation in the word of God. Baptism in a sense, does serve to place us into the body of Christ (actually it is full obedience that accomplishes that), but its central purpose is primarily as a token of our obedience or as Peter put it, “the appeal of a good conscience toward God.” Notice that I did not use the phrase “the answer of a good conscience” as most modern versions have this worded. Dr. Vine noted this of the word usage in 1 Pet. 3:21, “(It) is not, as in the KJV, an ‘answer.’ It was used by the Greeks in a legal sense, as a ‘demand or appeal.'” Baptism is therefore the ground of an “appeal by a good conscience against wrong doing.”

If Jesus had begun immediately not only to teach the Kingdom of heaven but also to baptize, the Jews might perhaps have seen too much of a departure from the traditions of the Temple and might not have been so receptive and tolerant early on. But it is John, the preparer, the received and recognized Jewish prophet that introduces baptism for the remission of sins.

John was no populist preacher. He was cast in the mold of Elijah the prophet both doctrinally and by his appearance (see Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1 and 3:5, 6).

Some have misquoted what the Lord said when John for a moment deferred to baptize him. They would have him to have said “and thus it becomes to fulfill all scripture,” when what he said was “and thus it becomes to fulfill all righteousness.” The Lord was baptized to complete all that moves in the direction of being or doing right. If we are not baptized for that same reason, that is, to the completing of all that the Lord has given for obedience sake in order to gain our salvation and (in our cases) for remission of our sins, what would be the reason to be baptized at all?

In a passage so brief as that found in seventeen verses in Matthew chapter three, in but eleven sentences in Mark chapter one, and a mere 23 verses in the longest passage of record, which is found in Luke three, we can find substantiation for some of the things we may be adhering to and which we practice, and evidence to offer against some incorrect notions and traditions, and as such there is found much controversy. Yet things are able to be defined and set through Gods word. And the closer we come to evidencing and in bearing through our own examples what God gave us in word and by its instruction, the better our stance before the judgment bar of God Almighty and of his Christ when we pass from this frame.

In the next essay Ill take up the question of what constitutes baptism of the Holy Spirit and who were the recipients of that baptism, and who should be the recipients of baptism for the remission of sins.