It is always tempting for a preacher to pull out his Greek lexicons and read the definition of the original word translated “baptism” in the Bible. But I have never been quite comfortable doing this. The impression might well be left that one cannot come to any certain conclusion about this or any other Bible subject by merely appealing to an English translation. We do not believe this is true. We believe our translations are accurate enough to enable us to understand clearly what Jesus was commanding when He said, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16). Let's stick to our English Bible and see if we can't list some of the characteristics of baptism itself, as well as those who were baptized in the New Testament.
John 3:23 — And John also was baptizing in Enon near to Salim, because there was much water there: and they came, and were baptized.
Observation #1 - Baptism involved water; much water.
Mark 1:9-10 - And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in the Jordan. And straightway coming up out of the water,...
Observation #2 - Baptism took place in the water.
Acts 8:38-39 - And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they both went down into the water, both Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip...
Observation #3 - Baptism involved going down into the water and coming up out of it.
Romans 6:4 - We were buried therefore with him through baptism unto death: that like as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life.
Colossians 2:12 - having been buried with him in baptism, wherein ye were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.
Observation #4 - Baptism involves a burial and a raising. Matthew 28:19-20 - Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
Observation #5: Those to be baptized were capable of being taught.
Mark 16:15-16: - And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.
Observation #6: Baptism commanded to those capable of believing.
Acts 2:37-38 - Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Observation #7: Those capable of being convicted by the gospel and those capable of repenting.
Acts 8:12 - But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.
Observation #8: Those baptized were men and women, believers.
There are other passages that relate to the subjects of baptism. However, the information remains consistent with these we have read.
Combine these characteristics of baptism and then draw your own conclusion as to what it is. And if you can get “sprinkling” or “pouring” out of those passages, please explain to me how. Let us always attempt to “speak as the oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11).
The sum of the evidence is this: In the Bible, baptism involved much water, participants went down into the water, and a total immersion was involved. It was administered to people who could hear the gospel, understand it, believe it, be convicted of their own sins, and who were capable of repenting. If we limited baptism to the same categories of people today, we would not see or hear about baptizing babies or people in comas or otherwise incapable of making a personal decision. The practice of infant baptism, featured so prominently in various Creeds and churches, was unknown in the Bible.
- Bob West; Milpitas, CA