By Charles H. Welch
According to Galatians 3:27-29, baptism was a levelling and a unifying incorporation of the believer into Christ, whereas, the history of the professing Church shows that the question of baptism has been the cause of much bitterness, strife and division. The Evangelical rightly repudiates the Ritualist, yet both find ‘texts’ that appear to justify their contrary opinions. We believe that much of the disputation that has torn the Church, has arisen out of the failure to discern the dispensational differences that mark the several ministries of the New Testament.
In the consideration of this subject, sufficient attention to the Old Testament does not appear to have been given, and to commence our examination with the Baptism of John, is like attempting to decipher an inscription with the first half of the alphabet unknown. The word baptizo is found in the LXX of the Old Testament twice and of the Apocrypha twice also, namely in 2 Kings 5:14, Isaiah 21:4, Judith 12:7 and Syrack 34:27. Bapto occurs eighteen times, and baptos once, namely in Ezekiel 23:15. The earliest reference is in the book of Job where he speaks of being ‘plunged’ into a ditch (Job 9:31), and the latest references are found in Daniel, where we read that Nebuchadnezzar’s body was ‘wet’ with the dew of heaven (Dan. 4:33; 5:21). The two occurrences of baptizo are of interest. One is used of Naaman when he ‘dipped’ himself in Jordan (2 Kings 5:14), the other is a figurative use of the word that anticipates the Saviour’s statement concerning His own baptism of suffering (Isa. 21:4), where the A.V. ‘fearfulness affrighted me’ is rendered by the LXX ‘transgression overwhelms me’, literally ‘baptizes me’.
The word bapto is found nine times in the law of Moses, where it is used of dipping in blood, or in oil, or in water (Exod. 12:22; Lev. 4:6; 14:6; Num. 19:18 and Deut. 33:24). While the references in the New Testament to Pharisaic traditions do not take us back to any Old Testament passage, they do indicate that baptism is in no sense a New Testament rite or custom (Mark 7:8, Luke 11:38), and the inquiry by the Pharisees of John the Baptist was not to ask the meaning of baptism, but why he baptized if he were neither Christ, Elijah nor that prophet? (John 1:25), which again shows clearly that baptism was no new thing.
However, there are three references to the Old Testament that must be considered before we can hope to handle the New Testament references with any certainty.
Peter’s employment of the waters of the flood and the antitype, baptism, presents in any circumstances a difficulty, but this is magnified if we approach Peter and attempt to interpret him as though he were Paul.
‘The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us’. After making all allowances, Peter will still be seen to affirm that ‘baptism saves’. Now if we turn to Acts 2, we shall find Peter saying to his hearers: ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you ... for the remission of sins’ (Acts 2:38). While Peter’s words are difficult to square with the gospel of the grace of God as preached by Paul, they are in entire harmony with the commission of Mark 16.
We have no warrant to reverse the Divine order here. An evangelical Baptist believes and teaches, that faith is followed by salvation, and that it is a command to the saved believer, that he be baptized. This teaching whether true or false cannot be identical with Mark 16. Moreover, the command concerning baptism is followed by a promise ‘these signs shall follow (not may follow) them that believe’; which signs did follow during the period covered by the Acts but do not follow to-day. While baptism provided an initiatory rite, enabling a convert from either Judaism, or from Paganism to make his conversion evident, we do not read either in the Acts or in the epistles, of anything comparable to the baptism of infants, or the baptism of believing children. There must have been many families of the faithful that had believing children during the period covered by the Acts, yet no instance is found of the baptism of those who were already in the atmosphere as it were of the Christian faith, and no instruction is found to guide either parents or ministers in this matter. This but emphasizes the initiatory character of the rite, and speaks against its perpetuation. In connection with Peter’s preaching on the day of Pentecost, it is natural to connect Acts 22:16 :
While Paul here told his Jewish hearers, speaking in the Hebrew tongue, what Ananias told him to do, there is no indication in the actual record of Acts 9, that Paul obeyed. In Acts 9 Ananias is called a disciple, but here, because of the fanatical character of his hearers, Paul tells them that Ananias was ‘a devout man according to the law, having a good report of all the Jews which dwelt there’ (Acts 22:12). Now Ananias was both a disciple and a devout man according to the law, but the official and inspired record written by Luke in Acts 9 omits all reference to this side of his character. Paul was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, as we know, but there is no record or hint anywhere that he obeyed the suggestion of Ananias. Had such a baptism formed an integral part of Paul’s commission, we should have found it in Acts 9 or in one of the references he makes to that epoch-making experience. The crossing by Israel of the Red Sea is the occasion of the second New Testament reference to the Old Testament.
Here is an Old Testament baptism often overlooked in controversy, a baptism from which ‘water’ was rigourously, nay miraculously excluded.
This baptism was ‘unto Moses’, even as in its fuller sense, the baptism of the New Testament was ‘unto Christ’ but 1 Corinthians 10:1,2 prefigures the baptism of the spirit, not immersion in water, for as we have already seen the Scripture seems to go out of its way to impress upon us the absence of water at this time. The third reference to Old Testament usage of baptism is in Hebrews 9. There the tabernacle and its service is reviewed, and the conclusion is ‘The Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing: which was a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience; which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation’ (Heb. 9:8-10).
The divers ‘washings’ are ‘baptisms’ and include the many specified washings of the priests in the performance of their duties, the washings at the purifying of the leper and others who contracted any form of defilement. These ‘baptisms’ are summed up under the heading ‘carnal ordinances’ and they were ‘imposed until the time of reformation’. One such ‘baptism’ is immediately considered in fuller detail, and the contrast is made between ‘the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean’, not with a better, that is to say Christian ordinance of baptism, but with ‘the blood of Christ’ (Heb. 9:11-14). Among the words of the beginning of Christ, which these Hebrews were exhorted ‘to leave’ not ‘lay again’, are ‘the doctrine of baptisms’ (Heb. 6:2), these being among the elements that were to be left behind as the believer pressed on unto perfection.
The New Testament teaching concerning baptism is distributed thus:
Baptism in the epistles of the Mystery is either that which unites the believer with the death and Resurrection of Christ (Col. 2:12) or by which the believer becomes a member of the Church which is His body (Eph. 4:5).
Owing to the failure on the part of expositors and teachers to discern the change of dispensation consequent upon the setting aside of Israel at Acts 28, there has been a failure to discern the extreme difference that exists between baptism as taught in the earliest part of the New Testament, or even in the earlier epistles of Paul and as it is taught in the epistles of the Mystery.
The following diagram may help the reader to visualize the movement observable throughout the New Testament in connection with this subject of baptism.
Galatians 3:19 asks a question: ‘Wherefore then serveth the law?’ and the answer is: ‘It was superadded’ (prostithemi). The Galatians were turning back to the weak and beggarly elements of the ceremonial law. ‘Now that this law was not promulgated in the first instance to the Jewish people, but was a superaddition to the antecedent moral law is a matter of universal notoriety. It is well-known (says Whitby) that all these ancient fathers were of the opinion, that God gave the Jews only the Decalogue, till they made the golden calf, and afterwards He laid the yoke of ceremonies upon them’. ‘The law was superadded (assuming the translation which is most suitable to Charin) in behalf of transgressions being ordained in the hand of a mediator’ (Glynn).
The Christian Church has fixed its attention so much upon these superadded carnal ordinances and have modelled their doctrine of baptism so much upon these things which were imposed until the time of reformation that they have given little or no place to the one great baptism, which was not added because of transgressions but was an integral part of the Redemption of the nation, namely the baptism of the whole nation unto Moses at the Red Sea. That is the type that remains for us today, all others are carnal ordinances that have no place in the present economy of pure grace.
The baptism of Colossians 2 is not likened to anything that was introduced into the Aaronic priesthood or tabernacle service, it is likened to the initiatory rite of circumcision. Now in Colossians 2 this circumcision is the spiritual equivalent of that practised by the Jew, it is explicitly said to be ‘the circumcision made without hands’, and repudiates ‘the body of the flesh’ (sin is not in question, the revised text omits the words ‘of the sins’), and this is accomplished ‘by the circumcision of Christ’. Now until it can be proved that the circumcision here emphasized is the literal carnal ordinance, the consequential burial by baptism will have to be understood of the spiritual equivalent too, and finds its type, not in the many baptisms of the ceremonial law, but in the one baptism of the whole nation at the crossing of the Red Sea. This ‘one baptism’ forms an integral part of the Unity of the Spirit, which those who are blessed under the terms of the Mystery are enjoined to keep. The seven parts of this unity are so disposed, as to throw into correspondence the One Baptism in the One Spirit, thus:
This sevenfold unity is composed of seven units - and to tamper with the repeated word ‘one’ is to deny inspiration and to destroy the apostle’s insistence. We can no more believe that ‘one’ baptism means two, i.e., ‘water and spirit’ than we can import plurality into the realm of faith, hope or the Lordship of Christ. It is the custom of those companies of Christians who stress baptism in water, to call themselves ‘baptized believers’. It is also, unfortunately the habit of many who see the spiritual nature of baptism in Colossians and Ephesians to allow this claim, but such are wrong. Members of the One Body are ‘baptized believers’ for without this one baptism membership of the One Body is impossible. To speak otherwise is to magnify the carnal ordinance that pertains to the ceremonial act, above the spiritual reality. The truth is that no company in the New Testament. has ever known what true baptism really is, except that Church where baptism in water is absent and unknown.
While much more could be said, the articles in this alphabetical analysis are necessarily limited, but we believe every essential feature has been considered so that the reader can pursue the matter in detail with every hope of attaining unto fuller light. The special relation of baptism with the enduement of supernatural gifts, will be considered together with 1 Corinthians 12 as a whole under the heading MIRACULOUS GIFTS, to which the reader should refer.
Explanatory note on Baptism, written by Charles H. Welch and originally
published in Part 4 of An Alphabetical Analysis.