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Baptism: Water and Spirit II

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Question #1: 

Hi again Doc!

My friend wanted to know if my bible teacher (you) negate baptism or the physical birth in your interpretation of John 3:3-7. I refer to you as my bible teacher because I've learned the most from you in regards to biblical interpretation and doctrine. I think he means if you believe that the John 3 passage does not refer to either physical birth or baptism when water is mentioned, although I'm not sure.

I've read several commentaries on John 3:5

Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. (John 3:5)

Some have said that the water refers to physical birth while some have said that it refers to baptism. John Macarthur said in a commentary:

"Through the years there have been a number of different suggestions. In America, just before a woman has a baby, there is an expression that we use, we say, "A woman’s water breaks." And I, when I was very young, used to hear people preach and say that "what it means is you have to be born twice." You have to be born of water. That is, you’re in that sac of fluid in your mother's womb, and that water breaks, which means you have to be physically born. So that Jesus was saying to Nicodemus, you have to be physically born first, and then spiritually born. The problem with that interpretation is twofold: one, why would he tell a grown man he needed to be physically born. It was obvious he already past that test. Secondly, the Jews didn’t call that "water." They didn’t have that colloquial expression for that fluid [that] we have, calling it "water." So you can’t read some kind of "Americanism" back into that. Others have said, it does refer to being baptized, but you have to remember that Christian baptism isn’t even instituted until Acts, chapter 2.

What does it mean? Very simply, it is a reference to the prophet Ezekiel. And if you remember, Jesus is talking to Nicodemus. Nicodemus is a teacher. He is a teacher of the Jews. In fact, in verse 1, it says, he's a ruler of the Jews. That would put him in a very preeminent place. In fact, I believe the definite article is there, "the" ruler of the Jews. And those who ruled over the Jews were in religious authority, not political or military authority. And so, how would Nicodemus have understood it? Would he have understood it as Christian baptism? No. Would he have understood it as the physical birth and the water breaking? No. How would he have understood it? Well, the answer goes back to Ezekiel.

There was a very famous passage in Ezekiel that every teacher in Israel knew, because it was the promise of the new covenant. In Ezekiel 36:25, God made this promise to Israel about a new covenant. He said, "Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all you idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes, and you will be careful to observe my ordinances or my commandments."

Now what Ezekiel is writing there is, that the day is going to come when the Lord will wash your heart, he’ll wash your life; he’ll wash your inner man. He’ll put a new heart in you and he’ll put his Spirit in you.

So when Jesus talks to Nicodemus and says, "you must be born of the water and the Spirit," Nicodemus knows immediately that he is saying, "I am come to bring the fulfillment of the promised new covenant, promised to and through Ezekiel." Okay? See his is a Jewish Old Testament context, and so it would be actually what the apostle Paul calls, "The washing of regeneration." The washing, the internal washing of regeneration, and the renewing that comes by the Holy Spirit, that’s Titus 3:5 where you have both the water and the Spirit. "

Is this interpretation correct? A Christian friend of mine who is well studied in the word actually holds to the physical birth as the water Jesus mentioned. He stated:

"Nicodemus asked Jesus how can one return to the womb of their mother. Jesus responds by referencing the born of water as being flesh and born of the Spirit as being Spirit. Jesus differentiates between the two:

5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh (water); and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

However the passage from Ezekiel is a tremendous truth in regards to spiritual regeneration. "

What do you think? and which is the correct interpretation? Thanks in advance!

Response #1:  

In John 3, when Jesus says a person must be "born again by water and Spirit", He is referring to the way everyone has always been saved, namely, by responding to the life-giving "water of the Word" as the Holy Spirit makes it understandable. To be saved, a person has to "drink" the water of truth; and the truth can only become real and meaningful to the person in question through the Spirit's ministry:

On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.
John 7:37-39 NIV

The Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" And let the one who hears say, "Come!" Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.
Revelation 22:17 NIV

Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.
Isaiah 55:1 NIV

As the Old Testament passage immediately above shows, these things should have been known to Nicodemus, had he really had any true understanding of what salvation truly was. For more on the metaphor of water for the Word of God, please see the link. There is also much more to say on this topic of Christian epistemology (i.e., how it is that sinful people can comprehend God's truth through the ministry of the Spirit) at the link: Epignosis, Christian Epistemology, and Spiritual Growth.

In John 3, Jesus is clearly not speaking about physical birth but about being born again; and, very importantly, He is also not speaking about water-baptism which is a ritual that does not produce salvation (many of the scribes and Pharisees were water-baptized by John but were most definitely not saved). Jesus is not talking about rituals but about the actual manner in which a person is saved. We know very well how that is too: "by grace through faith" (Eph.2:8-9), when we "believe on the Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 16:31). As was our Lord's manner throughout His earthly ministry, He often put a matter in a way which may be understood, but which may also be ignored if a person has a mind to do so. As with speaking in parables, it was important for His generation to have "plausible deniability" regarding the truth of His statements – generally speaking, Jesus only explained things to those who were already His disciples (as Nicodemus was not at this point). The true issue is one of faith as can be seen when Jesus tells Nicodemus directly afterward, "If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe . . ." (v.12). Nicodemus' ignorance stemmed from his unwillingness to believe at this point that Jesus was the Messiah – and that, of course, is the only way to be saved.

As to the Ezekiel interpretation, I do think it is fair to say that the idea of water = cleansing is certainly present in many Old Testament rituals (not that one ought to limit the idea to a single passage in Ezekiel as the Law is replete with this notion; e.g., Lev.14:8-9). However, Jesus' bringing in of the Spirit here, and connecting both water and Spirit to rebirth is very significant and makes the interpretation a much more particular and direct reference to salvation rather than just to cleansing. That is to say, the John 3 passage focuses entirely upon what the Ezekiel passage talks about only second: the result of cleansing or inner-rebirth. Cleansing, after all, is something that 1) may be for believers (i.e., in confession of sins), as well as for unbelievers who are becoming believers for the first time, and 2) is either a ritual or a metaphor based on the concept of washing.

Jesus certainly means His words here in John 3 to apply only to unbelievers being saved. The water represents the refreshment of the truth and this life-giving truth is mediated by the Spirit: both are necessary to be saved, that is, the gospel (water) and the means of understanding it (the Spirit). In the Ezekiel passage, cleansing precedes rebirth ("I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean"); inner regeneration follows ("Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you").

Whenever water is in view, therefore, we have to understand that either its refreshing-life-giving quality and the regeneration of salvation it provides when acted upon in faith or its cleansing quality which represents the result of repentance might be present. Where the purpose of the water is obviously external washing, then the cleansing that comes from repentance is most likely the focus; where the purpose of the water is the communication of truth and consequent transformation, then we are speaking of regeneration. Clearly, the two are closely related as the one always follows the other in the case of unbelievers who respond to the gospel (since true repentance and genuine faith are two inextricable sides of the same coin): the washing of repentance (symbolized by water-baptism) is always a reference to an external ritual which represents the fundamental change of mind in response to God; whereas the washing of regeneration is always an internal and actual transformation which is represented by the metaphor of the water of the Word of truth to which the person responds in faith. The connection of these two can be seen not only at John 3 and Ezekiel 36 but elsewhere in scripture as well:

... not on account of [any] works which we had done in [so-called] righteousness did He save us, but through the washing of rebirth and [our] new beginning from the Holy Spirit.
Titus 3:5

And it is this true baptism [of the Spirit] which saves you (lit. as an "antitype" or analogy to the ark's bringing of "salvation through water"). Not any [literal] washing away of filth from your flesh, but an appeal to God for a clean conscience through [faith in] the resurrection of Jesus Christ [resulting in Spirit baptism].
1st Peter 3:21

As these passages make clear when carefully considered, water cleanses by analogy, but it is also the element which refreshes and to which the person responds so as to be born-again in the first instance and to be regenerated in the conscience in the second.

The Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" And let the one who hears say, "Come!" Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.
Revelation 22:17 NIV

Your friend makes a good observation about the John passage; the Ezekiel passage (addressed as it is to Israel) is potentially true of believers who return to God as well as of unbelievers saved for the first time. Water refreshes and cleanses; water removes impurities and restores life. To a large degree, these are two sides of the same coin in biblical usage, but it is very important not to forget the refreshment/rebirth through response to the truth side of the equation by over-focusing exclusively on the cleansing from sin side – also in response to the same truth. Both forgiveness and regeneration are results of our response to the truth, the former being a function of our repentance, that is, our fundamental change of mind about our life-direction, and the latter being a function of our acceptance of the gospel; the former results in forgiveness, the latter in salvation. In truth, the two cannot be split apart. If a person truly repents at the giving of the gospel so as to be forgiven, that person will believe and be reborn; and if a person has genuinely believed so as to be born again, it is altogether certain that his/her repentance/change of mind was also genuine and effective for the forgiveness of sins.

When we respond to the truth in regard to sin it results in our forgiveness (the analogy of water as an agent of cleansing). When we respond to the truth as contained in the gospel it results in our restoration (the analogy of water as a life-giving agent of refreshment). Water is necessary for cleansing; water is necessary for life. The truth must be responded to in repentance for forgiveness (both at salvation and for believers after committing sin); the truth must be responded to in faith for spiritual transformation (both at salvation by believing the gospel, and ever after for believers in the process of spiritual growth). In both aspects of the water metaphor, however, water represents truth. For there is no forgiveness without response to the truth, and there is no transformation (either of re-birth or growth after re-birth) without believing the truth.

The biggest problem I see with all this is the potential confusion that may come from failing to understand that John chapter three is talking about the reception-by-faith of the gospel side of this equation, not the repentance-from-dead-works so as to be forgiven side of the equation. Jesus says, after all, "You must be born again", and not "You must repent" – which, while true, was not the point He was making to Nicodemus in telling him how to be saved. If this mistake is made, it is a but a small step to seeing water-baptism here (which as we have seen is not present at all), and then falsely making water-baptism an essential for salvation (as many groups erroneously do on the basis of this passage).

There is much more about all of these issues at the following link:

Bible Basics 4B: Soteriology

Thank you so much for all your encouraging words!

I will endeavor to be worthy of your trust.

In Jesus our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #2:  

Dear Dr. Lunginbill,

I was reading from your site, and you have so much excellent commentary on theological questions. I was doing a study on I Peter when I came across your site and it was very helpful. I do not expect to always agree with each person I study after, and when reading over your answers I was a bit concerned regarding your take on water baptism being basically "not a significant part of the N.T. teachings of the church". Though I totally agree that water baptism is not necessary for salvation since salvation is a work of the Spirit and a matter of the heart, it seems very evident to me that not only was it taught as a command it was clearly "practiced" by those who were closest to Christ and had the greatest "proximity" and exposure to His teaching. After reading your articles it seems as if you are saying that the early church just "made up" the whole idea or introduced it as some "tradition" out of ignorance of our Lord’s teachings on the matter and then later became enlightened to its lack of relevance. I find it hard to believe that God would allow this to be taught; practiced and written about repeatedly in the book of Acts if it were merely a "take it or leave it" practice. It simply cannot be placed in the same category as "the casting of lots" in Acts 1 or any other "vaguely" mentioned practice.

Though I believe the "baptism that saves" or the "One baptism" is definitely the "baptism into His body" at the moment of salvation (I Cor 12:13) I also clearly see the Baptism of the Spirit as an experience that was subsequent to salvation (Baptism into His body) for the purpose of "power" to be witnesses. The Baptism of the Spirit that was received in Act 2:4 and Act 8 and Act 10 and Acts 19 was all the same experience (Act 10:47 "they have received the Holy Spirit just as we have") I think it is "amiss" to say that the "Receiving of the Holy Spirit" "The Promise of the Father" "The Baptism of the Spirit" is the same event as "Salvation" (being baptized into His body).

I have learned a lot from reading your posts and will continue to do so, but I don’t think you treat the doctrine of "baptisms" with fairness when you try to lump them all together to be the same thing.

Sincerely,

Response #2: 

After reading your email, I wanted to thank you first for your mature Christian attitude. Indeed, if we really do care about scripture enough to read it for ourselves, the chances that we are going to agree with someone else's take on everything 100% of the time is virtually nil. Once a good source of teaching is found – and is found to be worthy and reliable – the best practice is to do just what you propose, namely, to put aside areas of objection which are not of an essential nature. If the ministry is one that is responsive and approachable on such matters of disagreement (as Ichthys strives to be), then your method of asking probing and respectful questions on issues of great concern is also to be applauded. We may not always agree, but exchanges of this sort can be beneficial to both sides, especially when carried out in a climate of love and mutual respect. In the process of engaging in this sort of discussion on baptism over the past two or three decades (albeit I have not always been met with this same measure of cordiality), my understanding of the issue – or at least my ability to explain what I believe to be the biblical position – has developed. The most recent offering on this postdates your email to me. Since many of the issues you bring up are treated either directly or indirectly in these exchanges, I would ask that for background sake you have a look at these posts if you find it convenient to do so:

John's Water-Baptism versus the Baptism of the Holy Spirit

One Baptism: the True Meaning of Peter's Words at Acts 2:38.

Baptism:  Water and Spirit.

The first point I should like to make is that baptism is a difficult issue for many reasons. Like many issues in eschatology, the information is present in scripture, but not in one place and often not in straight-forwardly doctrinal contexts: most of what is knowable about water-baptism comes from the book of Acts, a historical book which describes what actually happened in the early days of the apostles, not necessarily what we are commanded to do in the period following their departure from the scene. There are many such examples (casting lots is only one of them). We are told in Acts chapter four, for instance, that the early believers in Jerusalem "had all things common" (Acts 4:32 KJV), and that "distribution was made unto every man according as he had need" (Acts 4:35 KJV). While it is true that some groups and sects over the years have used these verses and this example to construct a model for Christian separatist communities, few Bible-reading, mature Christians would endorse the view that the Bible commands what amounts to a communistic method based upon this passage. I think most reasonable Christians would take the position that this was a transitional situation, and that Acts chapter four is merely describing what actually happened, not laying down a mandatory pattern that all good Christians and Christian groups must follow. At present, the idea seems foreign, and we have little trouble rejecting it, but had you or I grown up in some such separatist community, we might very well be troubled by cavalier rejections of this passage. After all, our Lord also told the rich young ruler to "sell your possessions and give to the poor" (Matt.19:21 NIV), and of course other supporting passages might also be easily adduced. In such a case, we would want an explanation for why Acts chapter four can be rejected out of hand. My response would be that this chapter is a description, not a mandate; that Jesus' command to the young man does not foresee or command any such approach as required for all to follow (and I would explain and debunk the use of any and all other misapplied scriptures). I would point out that there are plenty of other scriptures which are of a doctrinal nature which would be inconsistent with such a communistic approach (as in the observation that Christians, though not of the world, are not to contemplate separating from the world: 1Cor.5:10). And I would observe that later on in the book of Acts we see plenty of examples where this model is clearly not being applied. Finally I would observe that the real reason this passage is embraced by some as doctrine is not really for any scriptural reason but in fact has everything to do with tradition.

The situation with water-baptism is entirely parallel. If this were the 14th century, the position that full-immersion water-baptism of adults upon profession of their faith was unnecessary would hardly be uncontroversial. That is the case, of course, because the Christian churches of that time routinely practiced infant baptism by aspersion. Had we not grown up in a culture where adult water-baptism is ubiquitous, and where, even more importantly, the chorus of those who proclaim it necessary for salvation, or at least necessary for spiritual safety and obedience, and who load down their pronouncements with an unhealthy measure of guilt, then it is safe to say that when we read the Acts passages on baptism our reaction would be different from what it now necessarily is. So as far as the tradition of the early church is concerned, it should be kept in mind that for centuries these passages were read without drawing the conclusion that the practice as it is described in the book of Acts must be essential – precisely because that was not the custom of the day, there was no widespread cry proclaiming its necessity, and no one apparently felt any guilt about it (not, at least, until the Reformation). So beyond all argument the fact that we have the reaction of guilt (or whatever you wish to call it) if we read Acts and are not "four-square" behind water-baptism as it is practiced in most evangelical circles today is due entirely to the institution of this practice during the Reformation and to the traditional status it now has a result. Some, certainly not all, of the Reformers felt that it was mandated by scripture. In order to give a fair answer to the question, the actual scriptures alone, not emotion, not impression, not tradition (all three of which are actually inextricably intertwined in the case of this issue) have to be our guide.

The last possible instance of water-baptism recorded in the book of Acts occurs in chapter 19:1-7, and Paul is the one who performs "the baptism". I have argued elsewhere that water was not involved on this occasion: these individuals had received John's baptism before the Spirit had been given so Paul baptizes them with the Holy Spirit (i.e., it is a unique situation since most believers even at that time had become such after the Spirit was being universally given at the point of faith in Christ). However, even if we assume that water to be present here, it is quite clear that Paul's motivation is not to make up some lack in obedience (they had been water-baptized before) or grace (Paul certainly did not believe that water-baptism proffered any overt spiritual benefits), but precisely to bestow upon them the Holy Spirit which, in this transitional apostolic period, was sometimes given through the hands of the apostles (at least it was not apparently retroactively given to those who had believed prior to the first Pentecost of the Church as it would be latter on: Rom.8:9). But the critical thing to notice is that this baptism is the last one mentioned in Acts, and it occurs at the beginning of Paul's Ephesian ministry which would last for three years thereafter.

In other words, the last water-baptism of which we are told took place while Paul's work was just beginning, and it was at the very least a unique baptism at that. He probably had written the Thessalonian epistles in the two or three years prior to this event, but his entire ministry at Ephesus, his last trip to Jerusalem, his extensive imprisonment at Rome (along with his release and intervening work, if one accepts the two captivity hypothesis), and all of his other epistles, were yet in the future. In fact, besides those first two epistles (and the gospel of Matthew), none of the other New Testament books had yet been written when this last recorded (possible) water-baptism took place. Peter's ministry to Rome and John's to Asia minor were also future (as were most of the other apostolic ministries). The point is, that all the water-baptisms in the book of Acts occur within a very narrow space of time – probably less than ten years and even less than this is we take out the incident in Acts 19. This is only a fraction of the era of the apostles (A.D. 33-70). Furthermore, descriptions of actual water-baptisms during this earliest part of the apostolic period only occur nine times in the book of Acts (2:41, 8:12; 8:36, 9:18, 10:48, 16:15; 16:33; 18:8; 19:5). If we exclude Acts 19:5 (as I believe we should), of the remaining eight, only three occur outside of Palestine, a not insignificant point if one gives any credence to the persuasive hypothesis that water-baptism is John's baptism and that as such it was an important part of the giving of the gospel to the Jewish people (who accepted John but needed to be convinced about Jesus). However, once the gravamen of evangelization shifts to the gentiles, the reason and rationale for so emphatically tying in the message about our Savior to any remembrance of the work of His herald falls away – a fact which helps to explain the fading out of the early emphasis on water-baptism. After all, water-baptism is almost never discussed after the chronological mid-point of the book of Acts. Indeed, the three non-Palestinian water-baptisms which Acts records are performed by the apostle Paul, and we know definitively from the regrets he expresses about his continuation of that practice for the gentiles during that second-missionary-journey that he later had a major change of heart about engaging in it at all (1Cor.1:17).

The above tapestry was necessary to weave in order to demonstrate that the impression one may well receive when reading the book of Acts that "water-baptism is everywhere" is not really quite so secure. In fact, that supposition is an interpolation based upon only a few data points, all of which are subject to alternative interpretation. For example, Peter in Acts 10 only allows it as a kindness, and there are other places in Acts and elsewhere in the New Testament where conversions are described without the mention of water-baptism (e.g., 11:19-21; 13:48; 14:21-25; 17:4; 17:12; Phil.1:12-14). It is certainly possible to argue that this is because water-baptism is assumed, however it is equally reasonable to suppose that this is because water-baptism was an occasional rather than a universal practice once evangelization efforts spread beyond Jewish or predominantly Jewish-influenced areas and groups (where the linking of John the baptist whom they revered to Jesus of whom they may not have heard or in whom they had at least not believed was a necessary step in presenting the gospel).

Of course, the Bible only needs to say something once to be true. But does it ever actually command water-baptism in a way which makes it mandatory for the Church? Here we move to the final step in our parallelism with the false assumption of mandatory communism based on Acts chapter four. Water-baptism as a doctrine is a deductive interpolation from the historical, descriptive passages in the book of Acts, and where this deduction tends to be accepted it is because of the traditional way of thinking about it under which we in our present state of Christian culture necessarily labor (for this was not the case a millennium ago). However, none of the passages in Acts which deal with water-baptism are proscriptive (for Acts 2:38, please see the link above). That is to say, since they are merely descriptive of what happened, we are not within our rights to pronounce the ritual necessary without some sort of biblical justification, without some passage which teaches directly that water-baptism is something in which all Christians must take part. Naturally, there has been no shortage over the years of passages adduced by proponents to try to prove its necessity, but such claims are, in my view, very easy to debunk. That is especially so given the large body of proof we have on the other side, for example (and not meant to be a comprehensive list): 1) the clear connection of water-baptism with John's baptism coupled with the teachings in the epistles which counsel us to move away from Jewish rituals and toward grace instead (e.g., Gal.4:10; and passim in Galatians and Hebrews); 2) the absence of any positive doctrinal teaching about water-baptism anywhere in the epistles; 3) Paul's negative comments about the practice (1Cor.1:17); 4) the fact that the epistles emphasize the Spirit and never speak about water: the "one baptism" is of Spirit, not of water (Eph.4:5).

The last point above is really the starting point for gaining any correct understanding about the issue. The gospels have John, the herald who utilized the ritual of water-baptism as a God-given means of anticipating the Messiah and preparing for Him, as the one who said "I am baptizing you with water for the purpose of [your] repentance. But the One coming after me is more powerful than me and I am not worthy to carry His sandals. It is He who is the One who will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire" (Matt.3:11). And our Lord, who never water-baptized Himself (Jn.4:2), also makes it very clear that the apostles are to be concerned with the Spirit, not with water:

(4) And gathering them together [Jesus] commanded [the disciples] not to depart from Jerusalem, but to await the promise of the Father (i.e., the Holy Spirit) "which you heard about from Me. (5) For John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Spirit not many days from now".
Acts 1:4-5

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth".
Acts 1:8

Against this backdrop, it is very easy to read Matthew 28:19 as referring to the Spirit, not to water (as it indeed does; please see the link: Matthew 28:19-20). It is certainly true that the apostles were in "closer proximity" to our Lord than we are. But we must look to their proscriptive words in the epistles as greater proof than descriptions of their actions in the book of Acts. That is especially so when, as in the case of water-baptism, these actions are explainable in other ways. For one thing, as I often say, the apostles were not perfect (pace the R.C. church). Peter would never have even gone in to sup with Cornelius had not the Spirit taught him a very pointed lesson – and repeated it. Both he and Paul made substantive mistakes even after the reception of the Spirit (e.g., Gal.2:11; Acts 21:4). And I think we need hardly argue about the spiritual facility of the twelve before the cross; though they had been with Jesus three years, they "did not yet understand" that He had to die in our place and would rise from the dead thereafter (Mk.9:32). Certainly, they were better than we will ever be – they each have a foundation stone of the wall of New Jerusalem emblazoned with their names in their honor – but they were flesh and blood men, and they too had a "learning curve" to climb after the apostolic period began. In a period of transition from a Jewish-based Church to a world-wide Church largely independent of the Jewish national state, and with the rituals of the Law fading out fast, it was only natural that even the apostles would not immediately forgo those earlier rituals. Peter testifies that he only "remembered" or realized that Jesus had said "John with water but you/I with Spirit" after he saw what happened at Cornelius house (Acts 11:16). Paul made a vow at Corinth and sponsored animal sacrifice in Jerusalem; the former is questionable, but the latter was clearly wrong (and the sequel, along with his statements in the epistles, especially in Hebrews, make that crystal clear; please see the link: "Paul's Jerusalem Error").

If the greatest of the apostles is recorded to have had at least some "issues" with moving on from traditional Jewish practices, then the occurrence in the book of Acts of some water-baptisms of gentiles in the very early days of the apostolic period should not be seen as unusual – but it must also not be taken as betokening the necessity for water-baptism today. If continuing John's water-baptism which heralded the coming of the Messiah was still necessary now the Messiah has come and His mission has been completed, then we may be certain that we would have been told so in no uncertain terms. But such a passage does not exist. In its absence, and given that a careful analysis of the evidence in Acts paints a picture which is consistent with water-baptism being only a follow-on to Jewish ritual in a transitional role (meant to link John and Jesus for the purpose of evangelizing Jews of the generation to whom John witnessed), we are constrained to place the emphasis where the Bible puts it: on Spirit baptism, the "one baptism" which Paul taught, and the one baptism to which John and Jesus our Lord told us to look.

Thank you again for patience in awaiting this response. I would be more than happy to entertain whatever questions you may have about any of the above.

In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob Luginbill

Question #3: 

I was wanting to know, on the topic of baptism, Acts all the scriptures that reference baptism or mainly Act 2:38 and Mark 16: 15-16 and Mat 28:18-20, could you explain more plainly on how this was in reference to Spirit baptism and not water baptism? I believe for sure, that I was washed by the Word of God. I know that baptism does not save, nor is required for salvation. But I need a clear understanding of those scriptures I mention, because it appears that in Acts water was used.

Response #3:  

Water-baptism is an enormously emotional issue and one which, as I have often remarked, has caused an incredible amount of strife in the Church over the last two thousand years (not to mention the false salvation-by-works issues which it has engendered). There is much about this subject at the site (I will give you a full list of the links below in case you have not yet bumped into it all – many of these concerns are addressed in some detail but the information is not all in one place), and I am planning some major postings on the subject in the very near future as well. I don't believe that I have ever run into an issue which is more emotional for Christians than water-baptism. I suppose that is because it is so clearly wrong that genuine believers who care about the truth feel the negativity of it on a visceral level – and yet so many groups teach it as something essential (or if not essential, lay the guilt on so heavily for not doing it or re-doing it doing it "their way" that it amounts to the same thing). The most virulently nasty emails I have received over the years have mainly been about water-baptism. At seminary back in the early 80's, I was once accosted by a person (not going to seminary but merely "evangelizing") who aggressively told me and others that we were going to hell because we believed that baptism was not an issue in salvation. For me, the virulence and aggressiveness of those who take this sort of position is a sort of evidence: it is hard to imagine that it is "of God" when it is being used in this sense.

To get to the Bible verses you ask about, let's dispose of Mark 16:15-16 first. These verses are not a part of the scripture. There are a number of interpolations one finds in the older English versions (the KJV in particular) which are not a legitimate part of God's Word but were placed in the text during the middle ages by one group or another for one reason or another. Needless to say, adding to God's Word is a heinous sin. I realize that many people want to defend this and other interpolations of false material for a variety of reasons (often because they don't want to have to do the hard work of figuring out where these very few interpolations are), but those of us who put the truth at a premium want 1) all the truth we can get and 2) to throw out as quickly as possible anything that is not true. For more on this issue in regard to the Mark 16 passage and other major false additions to the Bible please see the link: Erroneous interpolations in the Bible.

The mention of baptism in Peter's Pentecost speech in Acts 2:38 does include water, but is not prescriptive for the Church (for reasons I will discuss below). Matthew 28:18-20 is critical, and the baptism there mentioned by Jesus is Spirit baptism, not water-baptism.

He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet [given]; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)
John 7:38-39 KJV

The verses above should be sufficient to show that even when water is mentioned by our Lord, literal water is not always meant. That is generally the case when the issue is salvation. We have to be born again to be saved – not a literal reentry and exit from the womb, but a spiritual rebirth. Likewise, the water that saves us is the water of the Word (i.e., the gospel) ministered to us by the Spirit who baptizes us into Jesus Christ when we believe (that is the sense of the "water" in Jn.3:5 as well, and very clearly so).

For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether [we be] Jews or Gentiles, whether [we be] bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.
1st Corinthians 12:13 KJV

The water we are "made to drink" is not literal; it is the Word of God which is ministered by the Spirit and is then believed (cf. Jn.3:5). And as the water which saves us is spiritual, not actual H2O, so also the baptism is spiritual, the placing of a believer "into Christ", and not a ritual involving literal water.

Then Jesus came over and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me, so go and make all nations my followers by baptizing them [with the Spirit] into the Person (i.e., "name"; cf. 1Jn.5:13) of the Father and [into the Person] of the Son and [into the Person] of the Holy Spirit, and by teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you."
Matthew 28:18-20a

The expanded translation above makes it clear what Jesus is actually saying. After all, even John had said,

"I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and [with] fire".
Matthew 3:11 KJV

The baptism Jesus would institute, John tells us, is Spirit baptism, not water-baptism (which is John's baptism); the latter was a ritual "unto repentance", the former a whole new empowerment for Christians which enters into union with our dear Lord Jesus.

Clearly, the disciples/apostles were not able to understand from the start everything about the new dispensation of God's grace that would define the Church Age. Indeed, Jesus told them "What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter" (Jn.13:7 KJV), and "When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me" (Jn.15:26 NIV), and "For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence . . . But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you" (Acts 1:5 and 1:8). The coming of the Spirit was necessary for the disciples/apostles to finally understand all the wonders and the mysteries of the Kingdom. And they did not figure it all out right away. As late as Acts chapter 10, for example, we see that Peter would never have gone to the gentiles, would never have gone into a Roman soldier's home, and would never have believed that God was going to pour out the Spirit on gentiles as well as Jews, had he not received a very vivid and repetitive "lesson" from God Himself along with a direct command to do what he did.

It is in this context that we need to understand Acts 2:38. Unless God had opened up Peter's head and miraculously poured in all the new teaching about the Church without effort (and because of Acts 10 and many other passages we know that He did not), why would Peter have not assumed that water-baptism was a natural thing for Jews to do in returning to God? After all, that was the whole point of John's water-baptism whose purpose was to "prepare" the people for the Messiah, Jesus Christ. The problem is that water-baptism is just that: John's baptism of [national Jewish] repentance anticipating the coming and the sacrifice of the Messiah-King. But Jesus has by now already come and died and been resurrected. However, just as the disciples/apostles and almost all of the early believers continued with Jewish rituals and with temple sacrifices – rituals and sacrifices which proclaimed a future Messiah even though Jesus' work had by then already been accepted by the Father – so they also continued with the herald's water-baptism past the point of its applicability. This was perhaps not so terrible a thing at Acts 2:38, since Peter's audience no doubt needed to understand the connection between John whom they revered and Jesus whom they in large part doubted, and directly linking John's water-baptism to his gospel appeal served to do so (correctly read, moreover, it is clear even from this passage that Jesus Christ is the object of faith whose Name provides forgiveness, not water-baptism; see the previous link). After all, John's baptism was often included as part of giving the gospel to Jews during these early years (Acts 13:16ff. esp. vv. 24-25: cf. Acts 10:37; 19:3-4; and also cf. Acts 3:25-26 which shows Peter's Jewish approach to baptism). Apollos, for example, understood only "John's baptism" so that he needed to be instructed "more accurately" as a result (Acts 18:25), in order to see that while John's baptism was indeed looking forward to Jesus, understanding the water ritual was insufficient: the important thing is Spirit baptism, the post-cross, post-resurrection reality which John predicted and to which Jesus' baptism by John pointed.

It is understandable, and we might wish that all of the apostles would have realized immediately the truth and the import of salvation now completed, as well as all that this entailed in replacing the previous rituals (which should not be engaged in by Christians who proclaim Jesus already come in the flesh). That would have been a lot to ask, however, and God did not ask it. He allowed Peter and Paul and the rest to learn the truth step by step just as we all must do. These men were among the greatest believers who ever lived, but they were not perfect and they were not able to understand and teach truth they had not yet themselves learned and believed.

The book of Acts reflects over and over again the progressive revelation of the dramatic change from pre-cross ritual to post-cross reality. When the Jerusalem council allows gentile believers to refrain from keeping the Law, they do so not on account of any new pronouncement from the Lord. They are adjusting their understanding from the past to the present, from the former rituals to the present reality. It is painful and it requires a crisis to produce the letter to the gentile believers at Antioch, but the council reflects just this sort of gradual adjustment to the truth. Water-baptism is just such a hold-over from pre-grace times, and that explains why it is figures in the book of Acts, but also why Paul eventually puts it aside.

One of the main problems of interpretation that many have when it comes to the book of Acts is the failure to distinguish between history and doctrine. The book of Acts accurately records what people, believers and unbelievers alike, said and did. We do not assume that when the people tell Herod in response to his speech "the voice of a god, and not of a man" that they are correct. It is "in the Bible", but what that means is that the people did say this, not that this was the truth. Peter's speech is what he really did say, and there is nothing morally wrong about. It was perfectly fine for him with his as yet imperfect understanding of these matters – the Spirit had just been given only hours before and it was less than two months since the resurrection – to say "let each of you be baptized" (by which he probably did mean "with water"); more important is what he adds: "in the name of Jesus Christ". For Peter at this point, doing what he and the others had done, namely, participating in John's baptism (only now clearly linked to Jesus Christ for his audience) was tantamount in his mind to an act of faith. Engaging in this ritual was not necessary and, as it turns out, for later generations would become a very large problem – through misinterpretation. Everything the scripture says about this event is absolutely true and everything Peter did was understandable and, on the basis of his as yet incomplete understanding of these matters, entirely defensible. That, however, is a far cry from taking Acts 2:38 to mean that Christians should engage in water-baptism, and far less taking it to mean that water-baptism is necessary for salvation.

Here is an example of this principle from the time when Paul and company were caught in a terrible storm on the voyage to Rome:

And when neither sun nor stars in many days appeared, and no small tempest lay on [us], all hope that we should be saved was then taken away.
Acts 27:20 KJV

But there was actually hope; Paul and Luke were delivered, along with all of the other passengers and crew. This verse is true because it represents the thinking/actions of those involved, and with absolute accuracy. Similarly, Peter actually said what he said and did what he did in Acts chapter two, and the same goes for the other instances of water-baptism in the book of Acts. None of those passages suggests that water-baptism is necessary for salvation, even in the thinking of those who continued to engage in this pre-cross ritual of anticipation of the Messiah ("for the forgiveness of sins" in Acts 2:38 is closely tied to repentance and to "in the Name of Jesus Christ", i.e., to a change of heart and to the faith in Christ which accompanies it for salvation); all of the water-baptism passages reflect early practice where, just as the following of the Law had not been entirely phased out yet (though it should have been), and just as the participation in the rituals and sacrifices of the temple had not been entirely phased out yet (though they should have been), so also John's baptism of [national Jewish] repentance had not been entirely phased out yet (though it should have been). Indeed, we should not be too hard on Peter and Paul and co. since, after all, most Christians today do not have the desire for the truth, or the intellectual honesty, or the courage of their convictions to put aside water-baptism even today two thousand years after the fact.

Confusing the accurate record of events in the historical books of the Bible with proscriptive doctrinal statements is the biblical version of the "documentary fallacy", and it has the potential of causing many problems. Paul had his hair cut off for a vow he made (Acts 18:18); not only is vowing and head-shaving not necessary for salvation, but it is not required of good Christians at all. In fact, I think it is very fair to say that if some person or group fixated on this passage (in the manner as is done with water-baptism) and suggested as much, it would do irremediable harm to the faith of many Christians. Paul did make a vow and did shave his head; he was Jewish and had been brought up in that pre-cross system; that explains why he did it; it is not, however, something we should emulate. Peter did say "let each be baptized"; speaking to fellow Jews he had in mind John's [Jewish] baptism of repentance; he had been a follower of that system even before he first laid eyes on Jesus; that explains why he said it; it is not, however, something we should emulate . . . because scripture nowhere requires water-baptism, and because water-baptism is very certainly a hold-over of the pre-cross Jewish anticipation of the Messiah. Being baptized in water is saying, in effect, "Christ has not yet come", just as continuing to participate in the temple sacrifices was saying, in effect, "Christ's work was not effective" (heaven forbid! cf. Heb.6:6).

The Messiah has come. He has received the gift of the Spirit, and He has poured that Spirit out on all who believe in Him. This is the "baptism" John Himself predicted would replace his own. Why, then, do we insist on going back to John's baptism of water and ignoring Jesus' baptism of the Spirit? Confusing that marvelous and important truth of Spirit baptism with a pre-cross ritual is a terrible thing to do. And if it confuses the issue of salvation, it can lead to perdition.

I do hope this is helpful. Here are those links I mentioned:

John's Water-Baptism versus the Baptism of the Holy Spirit

One Baptism: the True Meaning of Peter's Words at Acts 2:38.

Baptism:  Water and Spirit.

Baptism and following Jesus

The Baptism which now Saves You

Is baptism necessary for salvation?

Is water baptism required for Christians today?

Foot-washing, Bitter Herbs, Baptism, and Borrowed Faith.

The baptism of the Holy Spirit as distinct from speaking in tongues.

An Extended Conversation about the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Sin, Baptism, and the Book of Revelation.

Does baptism play a role in being born again? 

"The Great Commission" 

In our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ by whom we are saved through faith alone,

Bob Luginbill

Question #4:  

Hello Bob,

I've happened upon your web site several times, once recently and another time more than a year ago. One topic that I found to be quite interesting pertained to a response to another regarding the topic "Is water baptism required for Christians today?" I thought you made some very good points (e.g., the only imperative in Matthew 28:19-20 being "teach.") and, in the main, I tend to reach similar conclusions. I did much (but not all) of my own graduate work in theoretical mathematics, but do consider myself to be a serious student of the Bible.

There is one aspect of your response about baptism that differs with my understanding and I thought that I'd briefly mention it, thinking you might find it worth considering. I believe the key to understanding the meaning of "baptism" in Ephesians 4:5 and in 1st Corinthians 12:13 is the context. I believe the meaning is the same in both passages. The context of the first four chapters of Ephesians is the formation of one new body from Jew and Gentile believers. The Jews had received the baptismal outpouring of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost and the Gentiles received the outpouring of the Spirit at the conversion of Cornelius. Though there were two instances, it was the very same outpouring--a sign to the Jews that the Gentiles had been received on the same basis as the converted Jews. Thus, Paul could write that there was one baptism (viz., not two). The meaning in 1st Corinthians 12:13 is similar where the "all" is referring to converted Jews and Gentiles as groups. It isn't talking about individuals either then or now as being somehow placed into a church through some sort of baptismal rite, but a figurative expressing arguing that Jew and Gentile got the same thing, signifying they had been accepted by God on the same basis.

I've discussed the above with a little more detail in a paper that I've written and posted on a web site of my own should you wish to see more discussion on this idea and others similar to it. I'm attaching an Adobe Acrobat paper that provides abstracts and links to that paper ("The Future of Israel") as well as others that might be of interest. The discussion of baptism can be found in Appendix C of the paper "The Future of Israel" by clicking on the respective link in the attached Abstracts and Index paper. The attached index has links to my web site as well as links to other web sites that have asked to post some of my papers. However, the attached index has links to each paper that permits downloading them without going to any of the web sites. By the way, you might find other matters I discuss in "The Future of Israel" such as language issues of interest. However, it does appear that our eschatological understandings are quite different judging by some of your postings as compared with my conclusions.

There are probably other topics that I would benefit from discussions with you, but I'll wait to see if this spawns any interest from you.

You have my best wishes.

Arlington, TX

Response #4: 

Good to make your acquaintance. Thank you for your email and for your interest in the Ichthys Bible study ministry. Thank you also for your good observation about Acts 10 being, essentially, the "gentile Pentecost". That is a position with which I agree completely. However, as you may know from reading some of the studies at Ichthys, the sharp distinction which mainstream evangelicalism seeks to draw between Israel and the Church is one with which I vigorously disagree (a belief which, from what you have written, I think you may share). Not only is there not a shred of biblical evidence for this very popular position (usually originating out of hyper-dispensationalism; see the link) but adherence to it and application of it to doctrinal matters always results in theological error. So while I agree with just about everything else you have to say, I don't see any particular distinction between the two groups in 1st Corinthians twelve – just the opposite: the book is written to a mixed congregation of gentiles and Jewish believers, and chapter twelve itself is mostly concerned with the teaching of spiritual gifts which is, obviously, a Church-wide doctrine, with no appreciable distinction between believers on an ethnic basis. The "one body" metaphor throughout the rest of the chapter (and to the end of the book) gives no indication of a split that believers should take into account; rather, the whole emphasis is on the unity of the body and the need of every part (and the parts are many = individuals) for every other part. It is true that in verse thirteen Paul does say "Jews and Greeks", but he also says "slaves and free", so that the effect of the double elimination of distinction is to obliterate all distinctions whatsoever (precisely as at Gal.3:28).

This is a minor point in the case of your exposition. I think your overall idea of one baptism not having anything to do with water is entirely correct. I also agree with your logic (if not with the particular interpretation of 1Cor.12).

It is always encouraging to find serious believers who have come to the same conclusion through independent means. That is particularly true in the case of such an emotional subject as water-baptism. This is possibly the most difficult legalistic ritual to wean Christians away from. For a variety of reasons, the guilt leveled at those taking the contrary biblical position weighs heavily in the balance for many, and, very unfortunately, those willing to use that guilt like a club are many and hail from all manner of religious persuasions, including many of the evangelical stripe who ought to know better.

I am planning some major postings on the issue of baptism in the near future. I generally post email responses anonymously, but would like permission to include the link to your site for interested readers.

Thank you for your good work for our dear Lord Jesus.

Bob Luginbill

Question #5: 

Hello Bob,

Thank you for your reply to my email. Sometime I'd like to see if we can reach a common understanding of the 1st Corinthians 12:13 issue that you discuss below. It's not an urgent thing with me. We actually may not be so very far apart even though it may appear so. Your discussion, which in essence I agree with, suggests to me that I didn't do a very complete job of explaining my understanding. I'll try to respond later with some clarification. It might help if you could give me your understanding of 1st Corinthians 12:13, to wit, do you see it as literal or figurative. If figurative, could you explain the figure? Did you have an objection to my discussion of Ephesians 4:5 (one baptism)?

I'd be pleased for you to include a link to my web site (https://sites.google.com/site/davidmc41). However, I'm a bit surprised that you'd want to do so since my understanding is so markedly different from yours regarding some aspects of eschatology. However, you may be more like me than I would have suspected. I'm not one to be excessively bothered by differences in understanding. I'm certainly bothered by rancor and hostility that too often results from differences in understanding. I've experienced that more than a little. My paper "Some Things I Have Learned And How I Learned Them" gives some insight into that. I've always learned more from those who've differed with me than I have from those whose understanding is like my own. That paper, by the way, was composed as a means of being a help to some friends who are "trapped" in a very legalistic, coercive Christian community.

Bob, for over 15 years my Christian association was with a group of Christians who held to premillennial dispensationalism. I never bought into many of their understandings. Actually, I had a difficult time understanding many of their views (or at least the basis for those views). This was more than 20 years ago since my active involvement with them, although I still have very close friends who are connected with those groups. I did learn a lot from them, but not as they might have supposed. It was only after reading a copy of J. Dwight Pentecost's "Things to Come," a popular reprint of his doctoral thesis from the Dallas Theological Seminary that I found enough detail to understand the basis for the flaws I already come to recognize. It was their jargon (viz., their shifting of semantics through the treating of literals as figures and figures as literals that I came to see as much of the problem, even Professor Pentecost's problem). I wrote my "Future of Israel" paper as a means of refuting many of the fundamentals of dispensationalism. Even though I have some reason to think you will not like aspects of it, still you may find some benefit in considering it because I do provide detailed reasons for my conclusions so that others are able to prove things for themselves. The next major essay, "Understanding Important Biblical Prophecies" more or less picks up where the other paper leaves off. I expect there will be things about it that you won't like either, but again since I try to give supporting rationale, it probably reflects another viewpoint worth understanding. The "End of the Age" paper is a much shorter paper that abstracts some ideas from "The Future of Israel" and some ideas from "Understanding Important Biblical Prophecies," but doesn't include the volume of supporting details that are included in the much longer paper. The latter paper has supporting information in appendices that, for example, synopsizes the findings of secular history that support the interpretation given of the four kingdoms of Nebuchadnezzar's dream.

In the paper "The Future of Israel" beginning on page 5, I tell of an experience writing a letter to the editor of a local paper to take issue with another editorial contribution. I shared both editorial papers with a very dear friend (a dispensationalist from the group mentioned above. He is a Professor of Physics, Emeritus, and a very intelligent person.) My friend complimented me regarding how well my piece was written, but then proceeded to rebut each conclusion--I've included my friend's objections along with my own response (see page 5 ff). Another friend critiqued the whole paper (included in an appendix along with my response--because I felt both views were instructive and could perhaps be a help to others). To this day, I probably exchange more Bible related ideas with him than any other even though we now live in different states and though his association remains within an assembly of Christians holding to dispensationalism, largely due to family ties over 3 generations.

By the way I'll soon be 70, and judging from the date you began college I'm estimating you to be somewhere around 62 (I graduated from college in 1963). I served about 2 years in the Army after college.

Hoping that we may be able to continue communications, you have my best wishes,

Response #5:  

The words "literal" and "figurative" are often misunderstood and more often misapplied. The verb baptizo means "to dip", so that the verb itself is a metaphor unless literal "dipping" is in view. Often it is not. In English we say "I'll consider it", no doubt little realizing that "con-" means 'with' and "sidera" are stars. We do not really mean "I'll consult the stars about it"; the metaphor is "dead", but it is still, technically speaking, a metaphor. When Paul says at 1st Corinthians 12:13 that were "made to drink of the Spirit" there is no reasonable doubt but that he is using "drink" in a sense he expects to be taken as a metaphor (by "being given drink" he means the imparting of the Spirit "poured out" upon us as at Pentecost, though now without the overt effects). So we know from the extensive treatment of this issue in scripture that by "being given drink" Paul is referring to the gift of the Spirit that all believers receive at salvation.

"Baptized" is a bit trickier to classify, though the meaning is entirely clear. What Paul is saying here is that we have been placed into Jesus Christ in an analogous way to a dish placed into water. However, as we know from other uses of baptizo in secular Greek, the idea of identification of the thing baptized with the thing into which it is baptized often comes to the fore as the central idea rather than any idea of cleansing. Not that there is not an element of cleansing (we have been washed of our sins, and that is the original notion behind the water ritual in any case), but the key idea in saying that we are baptized into Christ is that we have been made one with Christ by being "put into" Him – identification rather than cleansing (the Spirit's action versus water's washing). Paul could have used tithemi or some other Greek verb; he uses baptizo because that is what John used of the gift of the Spirit (Matt.3:11). In doing so (throughout the epistles), Paul transforms water-baptizo ("I baptize you with water) into spiritual-baptizo ("He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit") just as we would expect based upon the promise of the Spirit. However, the important distinction between the two parts of the Spirit's baptism, namely, our reception of Him into our body and our positional placement "into the Body" of Christ (1Cor.12:13), is often missed (and often lies at the root of misunderstanding about these matters). If pressed, I suppose I would say that this "baptized into the Body" is figurative language, but that it is communicating a very real and literal (and blessed) truth, namely, the union with Christ which results now for all who believe, and which is accomplished by the Holy Spirit when we place our faith in Jesus Christ (and so receive the Spirit).

I despair of giving you a rundown of my positions on eschatology in toto (besides the email responses, there are two [nearly] complete series running over a thousand pages on this subject available at the site). Suffice it to say for now that I share your concerns about hyper-dispensationalism and have written quite a bit on the subject (start with the link "Dispensations et al."). The pre-millennial "rapture" position is incorrect, as any honest Christian with an English Bible should be able to determine with very little effort (see the links: "No Rapture" and "The Origin and Danger of the Premillenial Rapture Theory"). I do not, however, "throw the baby out with the bath water" in dispensing with eschatology as a whole : there is far too much in the OT and NT about the subject to assume it away. Roman Catholic theology essentially does dismiss eschatology (and on this point the Reformers did not get very far). However, the pre-mill rapture position does the same in effect, because by erroneously claiming that believers won't be present for the Tribulation, it reduces it to an academic and speculative subject.

I am happy to discuss the specifics of any of the above.

In Jesus our dear Lord,

Bob L.

Question #6:  

Dear Bob, I have read with great interest your article on the web entitled "Is baptism necessary for salvation?" I am a person who believes many of the same things as you have stated in your article, but have come to a different conclusion than you. If you are willing, I'd like to discuss -- hopefully in a brotherly way -- this matter via e-mail.

I have absolutely no interest in what some would call the "historical" or "personalities" side of this, i.e. what famous men have said, or as far as that goes, what any men have said, one way or the other about this. (One person's wild claims or outrageous statements neither confirms or negates one iota of Biblical truth.) I am interested in discussing only what the SCRIPTURES have to say about these things.

I'm going to give you an example of how I hope we can conduct this dialogue, giving response and questions to just a couple of the opening sentences in your article. I've copied and "pasted" them here. I will offer any comments or questions in the bold and italicized print I'm using in this sentence.

Salvation comes "by grace through faith" (Eph.2:8-9).

Amen! Who would try to deny it?

And whatever is of faith is by definition not of "works", that is, not as a result of something we have done (Rom.3:28; cf. Gal.2:16; Eph.2:9).

In the context of which Paul is speaking -- how he's using "works" here -- then yours is a perfectly true statement. But as I'm sure you know, there are other instances where the words "work" or "works" are used in a way, by Jesus, by James, and even by Paul that (taken out of their contexts) might appear to be a contradiction of Paul's teaching here. In John 6 Jesus stated that the "work" of God is to believe in the One whom He hath sent, i.e. Jesus. You would agree, I'm sure, that for any of us, both leading up to conversion and from then on, the whole process of coming to faith could, in one sense, be called work ... because it requires effort in the form of thinking, grappling with spiritual versus worldly principles, decisions, etc.

Likewise, would you dismiss REPENTANCE or CONFESSING OUR FAITH IN CHRIST as nonessential as readily as you (and many others also) do baptism? I hope not. I'm sure you are fully aware of Jesus' statements regarding the necessity of repentance in Luke 13:3, 5 ... as well as His teachings about confessing or acknowledging (or denying) Him before others in Matthew 10. And of course, there's an abundance of other statements regarding these responses of faith to Jesus elsewhere in the gospels, in the book of Acts, and throughout the epistles.

I have experienced firsthand, and heard many wonderful saints likewise speak of the great travail (work?) of genuine repentance. Could anyone seriously say that repentance is effortless? Or confession -- obviously we have to not only decide to do it, but there's whatever effort, regardless of how relatively small, in the very process of saying the words.

In light of this line of discussion, some have gotten themselves into the awkward position of saying something like, "Well, okay, repentance and confession are necessary ... but not baptism, because its a work!" (I wonder, seriously, who might include repentance and confession as essential, but absolutely not baptism ... I wonder if it's occurred to them that unlike repentance or confession, baptism is a completely passive act ... it's something you let someone else do to you???)

I'm aware that some people have heard it expounded dozens or hundreds of times that baptism is a work, and you can't be saved by works, so therefore baptism can have nothing to do with salvation. (I do believe that baptism can be misunderstood and become, in effect, a "work" if someone thinks of it in some legalistic, save yourself, take Christ out of the equation, "formulaic," or step-by-step process of salvation.) But I would welcome you or any other anti-baptism advocate to show me one (just one!) Biblical passage where baptism is called a work ... and I'll stand down.

Wouldn't it seem necessary, in the face of such adamant preaching about how much baptism is a work, for someone to be able to produce just one passage that identifies it as such?

Bob, I realize this is only a beginning of what could be a very challenging dialogue. But I'm willing; are you?

Response #6: 

Good to make your acquaintance. I am always willing to discuss the Word of God, to answer questions, and to defend what scripture really says and really means.

My objections to water baptism are by no means limited to the point that salvation comes by grace through faith and is not of works. This is a perfectly good argument against the mistaken notion that water baptism is necessary for salvation, but it is certainly not the only one. Not only does scripture never even suggest that water baptism is required for salvation, in my view it does not even require water baptism whatsoever. John baptized with water; Jesus' baptism is the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Confusion between these two lies at the root of all current misconceptions about baptism. Not that it should. We know from scripture that there is only "one baptism" (Eph.4:5), and if it were of water, where would the Spirit be? Still, people have confused what Jesus means in the so-called Great Commission and also have falsely applied examples from the book of Acts to support the need for or at least the desirability of water baptism. Much rarer is the idea that it is necessary for salvation. There is much to say on this topic. I haven't yet written it all down, but I am in print on plenty. Our discussion would be far more profitable if you were to read these materials first:

John's Water-Baptism versus the Baptism of the Holy Spirit

One Baptism: the True Meaning of Peter's Words at Acts 2:38.

Baptism:  Water and Spirit.

Baptism and following Jesus

The Baptism which now Saves You

Is baptism necessary for salvation?

Is water baptism required for Christians today?

Foot-washing, Bitter Herbs, Baptism, and Borrowed Faith.

The baptism of the Holy Spirit as distinct from speaking in tongues.

An Extended Conversation about the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Sin, Baptism, and the Book of Revelation.

Does baptism play a role in being born again? 

"The Great Commission" 

As to the issue of works, this is of course not a matter of mere semantics. Salvation comes through faith. If a person is depending upon something else, like circumcision, for example, or like membership in the Roman catholic church (or any other church for that matter), for example, and does not have faith independent of such mental reliance, then that person is not saved (and, by the way, I know of know scriptures which call circumcision or membership "works"; but cf. Gal.6:12).

That is really one of the main problems with continuing the defunct rite of water baptism, namely, it gives people who may not have saving faith a false sense of security. If everyone tells them "you're saved!" because they are willing to be publicly dunked, then they are likely to accept it, even if in fact they are not sure in their faith. So they may later drift away if weak in faith; or they may never come to Christ, if they are water baptized only but without faith, whereas if water baptism had not clouded the issue for them, they might actually have respond to their true status and come to (or back to) Christ. Your quotation from John 6:29 is perfect in this regard: "This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent" (KJV). That is, the only work needed for salvation is faith; any other "work" is salvation by works and does not, in fact, lead to salvation.

There may not be any passages which say specifically "water baptism is work" or "water baptism is not necessary for salvation" – scripture, as you no doubt realize, is not written this way. For that matter, I could just as easily challenge you to present a passage that says "you must be baptized with water in order to be saved". This is hardly an argument either way. The following passages, however, if properly understood, do teach the principle that it is the baptism of the Spirit which is important, received through faith in Jesus Christ.

I baptize you with water (i.e., physically) for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
Matthew 3:11 NIV

And it is [this true] baptism [of the Spirit] which saves you (lit. as an "antitype" or analogy to the ark’s bringing of "salvation through water": just as they were saved by being "baptized" into the ark, we are saved by being baptized into Christ). Not any [literal] washing away of filth from your flesh (i.e., a physical act or "work"), but an appeal to God for a clean conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (i.e., repentance and faith result in Spirit baptism, union with Christ and resultant salvation).
1st Peter 3:21

Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.
Galatians 2:16 KJV

Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?
Galatians 3:3

As to confession and repentance, confession is for believers (1Jn.1:9), and, as far as true repentance is concerned, that is the flip side of putting faith in Christ. The two cannot be divorced. True, biblical repentance is a complete change of mind resulting in and evidenced by a change of behavior (cf. Rom.10:5-11). For the unbeliever, repentance means recognizing that, in contrast to their old way of thinking, Christ is the only way to eternal life; salvation is the result when the person then accepts Him through faith. The former leads to the latter and one never has the latter without the former. Please see the link on this too: Repentance, Confession, and Forgiveness (in Bible Basics 3B: Hamartiology: the Biblical Study of Sin).

Yours in the truth of Jesus Christ,

Bob Luginbill

Question #7: 

I'll start with some cardinal points, and then you take a shot at refuting them with Scripture.

1. When Jesus introduced the doctrine of the new birth to Nicodemus, he mentioned the necessity of being born of water and of the Spirit. A fairly recent "interpretation" (no more than 200 years old now) has said the "born of water" is a reference to physical birth. All ancient and middle scholars always believed this was a reference to baptism. Nicodemus was the on confused about the physical instead of the Spiritual, not Jesus. Understanding that Jesus laid the foundation that being born again would involve water and Spirit really sets a pattern regarding all subsequent passages about baptism relative to salvation -- those spoken by Jesus, Peter, Paul, other ones led by the Holy Spirit, etc.

2. Yes, both John and Jesus promised that He would baptize with the Holy Spirit. A thorough study of this will show that this promise was made to and fulfilled upon the Apostles. Good textual work will quickly reveal that it was the Apostles, and not the throng of thousands later that received that "outpouring" (or baptism) by/from the Spirit. Peter referred to what the prophet Joel had said. Joel's, John's and Jesus' prophecies/promises regarding this were completed when the other part of "all flesh" (gentiles) was poured out upon Cornelius and his household (Acts 10). Peter and the others were stunned and kept saying, implying to me and many others, that this was not an ordinary, daily experience in Christianity, but was rather unique, just as it happened at the beginning.

3. Jesus set the pattern for including baptism as a direct part of the process of being saved in Mark 16:16. Peter followed the Master with his teaching on the Day of Pentecost, as did Phillip when he went to Samaria, and as did Philip again when he taught and baptized the Ethiopian Eunuch, as did Ananias when he spoke to and urged Saul (Paul) to be baptized and wash away his sins, calling on the name of the Lord. Who could seriously assert that either the Lord or the apostles or other ones being led by the Spirit were "confused" or "allowed" water baptism. Wouldn't it be more consistent with the nature of God -- the one who is not the author of confusion -- for us to see instance after instance of the apostles and others telling people it wasn't necessary to be baptized in water. Instead, we just see them baptizing people, encouraging people to be baptized, and writing about baptism.

4. Some have very erroneously concluded from Paul's comments in I Cor. chapter one that Paul was "anti-baptism," or at the least he dismissed baptism. That's utterly ridiculous, and human teachers take it upon themselves to make Paul out to be either a fool or a hypocrite. If Paul was so against baptism, then why did he mention the ones that he personally baptized? Paul's point in this passage, which I appreciate, is that his task was to do the preaching ... and he would let others do the baptizing -- not, as some have so wrongly taught, that baptism was unnecessary. His actions prove just the opposite of the point they are trying to make. And this makes especially good sense in the light of the overall discussion of how the Corinthians were dividing into following their various teachers. Paul had rhetorically asked the question, "were any of you baptized into Paul?" This is brilliant on Paul's part, making reference to what he would write at least twice elsewhere about being "baptized into Christ."

5. Was the Holy Spirit confused, or allowing confusion to reign when He had Luke record the various instances of water baptism being a clear and integral part of the presentation of the gospel -- with the eunuch? with Saul? with the Philippian jailor? with those who had previously had John's baptism?

6. Yes, approximately 30 years after Pentecost Paul wrote that there is "one baptism." If we followed the logic (or illogic) of some, we'd believe that this was only some kind of baptism by/in/through the Spirit, and that somehow the apostles allowed, or were in transition in their thinking to tolerate water baptism. Doesn't it make a whole lot more sense, isn't it more consistent to figure out that the "one baptism" to which Paul refers is the same one to which Jesus referred, the being born of water and the Spirit?

7. Finally, some teach the doctrine of "faith alone," although the Bible never teaches that as one's response to be saved. Some take us to Romans 10 and stress confession of faith. Some agree and others disagree that repentance is essential to salvation. Some erroneously include baptism (especially various so-called baptisms of infants) in a mechanical, faithless kind of way. Personally I believe one comes to faith in Christ by hearing the gospel, realizes they need to change from their ways to God's ways, i.e. repentance, confesses their faith in Christ as the Son of God and Lord, and is united with Christ in baptism ... the baptism that is for the forgiveness of sins and to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit ... the baptism of salvation taught by Jesus, Peter, Paul and others.

Thanks,

Response #7:  

I'll start with your cardinal points:

1. Water baptism is a physical act. Salvation is spiritual. Jesus is clearly telling Nicodemus (and us) that we need a spiritual re-birth (not a bath).

2. If you are a believer, you have been baptized with the Holy Spirit (at salvation). If you do not have the Spirit, you do not belong to Jesus Christ (Rom.8:9; cf. Jn.14:17; 2Tim.1:14; Heb.6:4; "for Christ in you" cf. Jn.14:20; 2Cor.13:5; Eph.3:17; Col.1:27).

3. Mark 16:16 is not part of scripture. It is part of an interpolation inserted later. This is manifest to anyone with a Greek New Testament (and I am happy to explain this in detail if you are interested).

4. Of course Paul baptized with water on occasion. What 1st Corinthians chapter one proves is that he didn't always do so, and that proves ipso facto that not only is water baptism not necessary for salvation, it's not necessary at all.

5. Acts does record instances of water baptism; but not every salvation experience related in Acts is accompanied by a statement that people were baptized with water (which it no doubt would do if baptism were the necessary act resulting in salvation). In fact, if one carefully plots out the instances of water baptism it is clear to see that there is a progression of moving towards Spirit only baptism. Water baptism was a transitional Jewish rite that was phased out along with other Jewish rites as the truth about grace become ever better understood (compare God's phasing out of many now no-longer-functioning gifts such as tongues). I am also happen to lay out for you the steps in the transition.

6. I agree – except that the "water" Jesus refers to is the "water of the Word" (cf. Eph.5:26). The Word of God is often referred to as water (happy to have that conversation too). We believe (drink the life-giving water) and we are baptized by God (Spirit). At best, water baptism is a symbol of the spiritual realities (but because almost no one who water-baptizes understands these same, the ritual has become a dangerous distraction from biblical truth).

7. I agree with everything you say here – you are not far from the truth – except of course the need to understand that the Spirit is what counts; the flesh "profits nothing". As 1st Peter 3:21 makes clear, bathing our physical bodies could not possibly do anything for us; it is the invisible, spiritual, supernatural change we undergo in our rebirth through faith that saves us (which does include and as I say cannot be divorced from a genuine change of attitude) as we respond to the clear clean water of truth:

And the Spirit and the bride say "Come!"
And let the one who hears say, "Come!"
And let the one who is thirsty come;
let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost.
Revelation 22:17

In our dear Lord Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #8:  

Thanks, Bob, for your continuing responses. I guess a pattern has been set for us to work, at least for a while, with what you called my 5 cardinal points. OK!

1. Yes, baptism is a physical act, no denial. Obedience to God (showing our love to him) involves mental processes, as well as physical acts. Both James and John (in 1st John) warn about making our religion so "spiritual" that it has no tangible (physical?) manifestation. Jesus was baptized in water, obviously not for salvation, but as an example. He also received the baptism, or anointing of the Spirit. Spiritual and physical; physical and spiritual -- not one to the exclusion of the other. Please kindly note that it was you, not me, that introduced the idea of anything in John 3 having to do with a bath.

2. I see in Scripture several references to the Spirit in reference to being baptized: Acts 2:38, I Cor. 12:13. Peter said in Acts 5:32 that God gives the Holy Spirit to those who obey him. I'm sensing that a major difference in our doctrines might lie in how we would define "obedience." I'm sure you are aware of the three times in Scripture the phrase "obeying the gospel" (or something similar in a different tense) is used, yet I hardly ever hear evangelicals talk about obeying the gospel. It's almost like they think that obedience is somehow contrary to faith, when Paul throughout the book of Romans shows clearly that faith and obedience are essentially the same thing.

3. My beliefs do not rest alone on Mark 16:16 (and it's in my Greek New Testament!). If you wish to remove Mark 16:16 as a way to try to negate the Biblical doctrine of baptism, then I wonder if you would do the same with Revelation 20:4ff? As I said in an earlier note, it concerns me the great lengths that those who are anti-baptism go to uphold their tradition. I've heard otherwise good Bible scholars suddenly slip into very poor exegesis trying to make passages like Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16, Romans 6:3, Galatians 3:27, I Peter 3:21, etc. and say, in effect, "these don't mean what they say!"

4. I'm sorry, but 1st Corinthians does no such thing! What it proves, if you're willing to take an honest look is that Paul did baptize some. But, as I explained earlier in the context of rebuking them about their division and "preacheritis," he deferred to let others do the physical baptizing while he would focus on the preaching. To try to turn this beautiful and poignant Scripture into something that tries to portray Paul as anti-baptism is a stretch beyond any credibility. If Paul thought baptism had no place in the conversion of some then why did he baptize the ones he mentioned? And why did his preaching to the Jailor, which started with talking about believing in Jesus, and then after "many words" ended up with the Jailor and his household being baptized in the middle of the night ... why didn't he just tell them baptism wasn't important? or that since baptism is an outward sign of an inward grace, they could do it later? He either baptized the jailor or was a happy witness because Paul knew, as is evidenced in various places in his writings, that baptism is an integral part of one's becoming a Christian.

5. I think you'd agree that baptism does occur in 7 or 8 of the major conversion stories of Acts, though you are correct in saying that it is not mentioned in a very few smaller references where in some very general way it says a certain group of people believed. But please be careful not to get caught up in some pointless game of "spiritual math," trying to outguess the Holy Spirit. In those seven or eight major conversion stories, i.e. the ones that go into any detail, belief is not always mentioned; repentance is mentioned in some but certainly not all; confession of faith in Jesus as the Son of God is mentioned I think in only one. Should I conclude then that because belief, repentance or confession of faith are not mentioned in every instance that any of them are therefore not a part of becoming a Christian? To do so, would be ridiculous. But if you or anyone else would insist on keeping track, then you'd also have to explain why baptism is mentioned in so many more of the stories than any other aspect of faith.

6. I don't disagree that the word "water" does serve as a metaphor or even synonym for a variety of important spiritual things, including the point you drew from Eph. 5. I'm thinking of how Jesus used the word water in talking about the Holy Spirit in John 7. But how would Nicodemus have

known that Jesus was talking about that ... and I know you might say, "How would he have known it meant baptism?" Since Christ's baptism into His death, burial and resurrection wasn't even possible yet, I believe Jesus was teaching Nicodemus (and the later readers of the gospel of John) about a truth that would be made abundantly clear from Pentecost on ... as I said before, Jesus' teaching of Nicodemus is 100% consistent with what Jesus would later say, and Peter, and Paul and all the others about baptism. The Scriptures never call baptism a symbol. It is a real thing, with its own meaning. One of the most false and misleading statements of all time is the popular "baptism is an outward sign of an inward grace." Some preachers prefer to quote that manmade phrase, while neglecting to quote something the Bible does say about baptism. By the way, I suspect you, like many others might get the symbolism point of 1st Peter 3 turned around backwards. Peter's point is not that baptism symbolizes the ark, but that the water that saved the 8 (by floating the boat), that water of old now symbolizes baptism, which he boldly states "saves you." (And I do not believe, as some are so eager to accuse, that anyone is saved by water. I know we are saved by the sacrificed blood of Jesus and all that's involved with that. But when and how we come under the saving power of that blood is more what we're really talking about here.)

7. I disagree with at least this part of your interpretation of 1st Peter 3:21. Peter is making the point that baptism is more than a bath. Sure water is usually used as a means of physical cleansing. But Peter is talking about salvation -- and he brought up baptism! I believe the Holy Spirit was leading him here just as he was on the day he was given the opportunity to be the first to announce in the church age how people were to respond to the message of Christ as it pricked their hearts.

Bob, thanks for reading and responding. I am not angry at you. I am distressed at what I think is a very prevalent and unfortunately very untrue doctrine ... the doctrine that tries to take baptism out of God's plan of salvation, one of the ways we respond in faith to God's grace. Negate the place of baptism and you have to somehow argue away the things these said about baptism, i.e. the results they attributed to it: Jesus -- saved; Peter - forgiveness of sins; Paul - into Christ and united with Christ; Peter - saves you. If I speak passionately about these things, it's not because I'm trying to shout at you. I am wishing this simple part of the will of God were being taught by all, instead of only a few.

Grace and peace,

Response #8: 

1. The point here is that Jesus is talking about a spiritual rebirth, so that physical water does not fit with what He is saying at all. The water is the "water of the Word" (as often; cf. Jn.4:13 - 14 NIV: "Jesus answered, "Everyone who drinks this [LITERAL] water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him [i.e., the gospel, or SPIRITUAL water] will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."). So, no, physical and spiritual acts are not mutually exclusive (true), but in John 3, Jesus goes out of His way to draw such a strong contrast between physical and spiritual that it would be more than odd if the water were not to be meant in a spiritual way (as it often is in John). Here Jesus is talking about the two elements of salvation: 1) belief in the truth; 2) the saving work of the Spirit. Both are necessary for salvation. Jesus doesn't tell Nicodemus to be baptized and doesn't baptize him or have a disciple do so, nor is there any mention later of this when Nicodemus reappears as a believer following Jesus' death. And as a well-meaning Pharisee, it is almost inconceivable that he had not been baptized . . . by John (as many were). In the history of the world, water baptism took place for the first time, as far as we know, only under John. Does that mean all before him are lost? Certainly not. His was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, looking forward to the Messiah. In Acts, this relic remains because the memory of John's baptism remains and because the early believers are mostly Jewish (and the apostles and their helpers are as well). Jesus' baptism is something else again. Jesus did not need to be saved; He did not need His sins washed away – literally or figuratively – because He was sinless. Jesus' baptism is a symbol of His death for us on the cross (going down into the water where all the sins were symbolically washed away; rising up again in symbolic resurrection). So Jesus' baptism is neither here nor there when it comes to the question of modern day water baptism, because, whatever it meant for Jesus, it can't mean the same thing for us.

2. The issue is not obedience. The issue is "what is the gospel?" On this please see the link: "The Gospel and the Kingdom". In a nutshell, the gospel is "the good news", that is, the proclamation of salvation for all who believe. The gospel is thus both the entry-level knowledge necessary for a faith decision in Jesus, and the entire truth of the Bible (from which this cannot be detached). "Obeying the gospel" focuses on the disobedience of the unbeliever, refusing to come to God through faith in Christ (Rom.10:16; 2Thes.1:8; 1Pet.4:17). Obedience thus means responding to God first in accepting Jesus as Savior, then responding to everything God calls us to do. All who respond (obey = believe) to the gospel, are saved and receive the Holy Spirit (e.g., Rom.8:10).

3. Everything after Mark 16:9 in any Greek New Testament is marked as spurious with copious notes as to the textual (and other) reasons why that is the case. There is no evidence that this false addition even existed until about 500 years after the canon was completed. This is demonstrably not part of the Bible (feel free to check the oldest manuscript for yourself at the link: Codex Sinaiticus). There really can't be any serious debate about that in my opinion. I do not wish to delete it because I have some ax to grind. I want the truth; the truth is that this false addition is not part of scripture. Believing things that are not true is no way to grow spiritually. I don't get your point about Revelation 20:4. As far as "other Bible scholars" are concerned, that is not an argument. You are dealing with me.

4. That Paul "deferred" to others is an assumption on your part. That would make more sense if the water baptisms that occurred in Acts were anything like what people do today. But in Acts, people are dunked immediately when they believe. In fact, I see no biblical justification for those who want to water-baptize today to do so any later than the moment of salvation. There is not one single incident of a person believing but not being baptized with water at the time then being water-baptized later on. So in your scenario, Paul gives the gospel to some Corinthians, they believe, but instead of doing what everyone does everywhere else in Acts when they are said to water baptize, he says, in effect, "I'm too busy; come back tomorrow and Timothy will get around to it". If it were so important, and particularly if it were necessary for salvation, Paul would most certainly have done the deed right then and there. In any case, a thesis which assumes that Paul was not even concerned with whether or not all of the believers in Corinth were water baptized does fit this passage perfectly (it is the clear sense of it without gymnastics), while the other view (because of the above and other problems) does not. If the apostles thought that water-baptism was so important and especially if they thought it necessary to be saved, it is very odd that they never say anything about that in all their epistles. If one only reads the epistles, one would never get the idea that it was any sort of any issue – in fact one would not realize that anyone ever water-baptized at any time! Finally, I have said repeatedly that there was of course water baptism in the early Church – in the first decade or so of the ministry of the apostles. That by itself cannot be taken to mean that it was necessary or necessary for salvation. That is like saying that because people often spoke in tongues when saved that speaking in tongues is necessary for salvation or necessary for obedience or something we all can or should do.

Today, if you believe, you receive the Spirit. But in very first years of the ministry of the apostles, it was not necessarily automatic and so occasionally had to be mediated by the apostles – in order to support their authority (cf. Simon Magus wanting to pay for that power). The Spirit is an unction just like water can be an unction. The Spirit enters us into Christ, and if there is any true symbolism in water baptism it is to demonstrate this same connection. Thus, in a context of Jewish converts (even in Greek cities, these were prominent among the first believers), the connecting of the baptism of the Spirit to water baptism by the laying on of the apostles' hands was a natural thing since they would all have had John's ministry in mind when confronted with the truth that Jesus was the Messiah whom John heralded. And we see the progression of the falling away of ritual throughout the book of Acts as the gospel spreads beyond the context of that one particular Jewish generation who knew about John first-hand. The original disciples get the Spirit without water. The Samaritans, whom one might characterize as "half-Jewish", did not automatically receive the Spirit upon hearing Phillip's teaching and being water baptized in the Name of Christ, and therefore the Jerusalem church sent the apostles Peter and John to them; these two then directly mediated the baptism of the Spirit by laying their hands on these new believers (i.e., without any additional application of water: Acts 8:4-17). We see a similar event in Paul's mediation of the Spirit to certain "Ephesian disciples" at Acts 19:1-7 where though often assumed, no water is specifically mentioned as present in this "baptism" which may have only consisted of the laying on of Paul's hands. The bottom line is that water baptism was frequent at the hands of the apostles in the first few years of the Church because it was in connection with this ritual that they often mediated the reception of the Spirit – in the very beginning. But as the case of Cornelius and his friends shows as early as Acts chapter 10, the time came when the Spirit fell even on gentiles without any mediation, just by hearing and believing the gospel. ***This is an important point. Acts 10:44-46 describes these new believers as having received the Spirit and praising God in His power. They are believers and they are saved, possessing the Holy Spirit. And yet we know that they have not yet been baptized with water because Peter then, in keeping with his tradition for the moment, decides to baptize them with water anyway (vv.47-48). If water baptism were necessary for salvation, it would have had to precede the gift of the Spirit. They are already saved before they even "hit the water".

5. What stories are you referring to, specifically? This seems to be your impression only.

6 &7. Jesus never says anything about water baptism. The Great Commission is talking about the baptism of the Spirit. Many points on this. For now, how about the formula? "into the Name/Person of" the whole Trinity. Do any of the cases in Acts use this formula? And what about the "into". This passage is, in fact, not relating a precise verbal formula at all (as most assume based upon present practice). The only way to "baptize someone into God" is by giving them the gospel so that they are entered into God through the baptism of the Spirit. Jesus puts this as a direct command in regard the apostles since they actually could and did mediate the baptism of the Spirit (and resultant union with Christ). As to 1st Peter 3:21, you are suffering from inaccurate translation. I gave you a correct translation last time. One more try on this:

(21) And it is [this true] baptism [of the Spirit] which saves you (lit. as an "antitype" or analogy to the ark’s bringing of "salvation through water": just as they were saved by being "baptized" into the ark, we are saved by being baptized into Christ). Not any [literal] washing away of filth from your flesh, but an appeal to God for a clean conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (i.e., repentance and faith result in Spirit baptism, union with Christ and resultant salvation).
1st Peter 3:18-21

The operative phrase here is "not washing". Water did not save Noah and his family, the ark did. The ark is a type of Christ. We are saved by being "in" Christ just as Noah and his family were saved by being "in" the ark. We get "in" Christ through the baptism of the Spirit, not through any "washing". If Noah and his family had ended up "in the water" they would have died like everyone else.

There is no passage which even suggests that water baptism has anything to do with salvation. Paul is talking about the baptism of the Spirit when he mentions baptism elsewhere (clearly enough; cf. "one baptism" in Eph.4:5), and as just covered above, Peter is as well; Mark 16:16 is a diabolical insertion that is not part of the Word of God (and that is easily provable); Acts 2:38: these commands to a Jewish audience repeat exactly the baptism of John, only add importantly "in the Name of Jesus"; that they "mean" for Peter "put your faith in Christ" is evident by the fact that he assumes Spirit baptism will follow their faith in Christ (and it is impossible without faith as even you admit). Please note that Peter's procedure here differs from other places; the procedure evolved as the apostles' understanding of the spiritual realities evolved and as the circumstances changed; i.e., Peter didn't immediately "know" everything at the moment of Pentecost any more than we do when we believe and receive the Spirit, and this is the last time in Acts that the gospel is given to an entirely Jewish audience. Peter, for example, had to have detailed instruction in Acts 10 in order to be made to understand that the gentiles too should be evangelized. Acts is a historical book, not an epistle. It contains an accurate narrative of "what happened". It records the good, the bad, and the in-between. It is a mistake to build doctrine on descriptions where there is no clear indication in said descriptions or from the rest of scripture that the actions taken were meant to be models of what we should be doing now. In many instances, that is simply not the case (e.g., casting lots, taking vows, engaging in the temple ritual, etc.).

If our sins were forgiven by water baptism, then the blood of Christ would be in vain, for it is by His (figurative) blood that we are washed clean, not by a literal washing with water.

"These are the ones who are about to come forth from the Great Tribulation. And they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb."
Revelation 7:14

I appreciate your spirit and your attitude. Please know that I am – if possible – even more distressed that this false doctrine is so powerfully influential in the Church today. It is inevitable that antichrist will make use of all such chinks in our armor to destroy our understanding of the Truth. This in turn undermines faith, and, unlike water baptism, faith is necessary for salvation. Depending upon a ritual for salvation cannot help but eat away at pure, unadulterated faith in Jesus Christ.

In Him,

Bob L.

Question #9: 

Hi Bob,

I plan to try to respond to your last 7 points of discussion. But first, I think I'll state, as succinctly as I can some of my beliefs, and you can tell me whether or not you wish to continue the discussion.

I absolutely believe in grace ... love to think about it, sing about it, teach about it. There is absolutely nothing any of us can do to "earn" our salvation. Even our believing in Christ, along with what I consider Biblical responses of faith -- repentance, confession of faith, and baptism -- none of those things have any saving power in themselves, except that by His grace God accepts them as our acknowledgement of Him, our predicament, and Christ as the answer.

So the idea of baptism saving, at one level, is no more preposterous than thinking that God owes me for doing anything in response to His grace, including believing (if we have the notion that God owes us salvation because we believe or obey any commandment).

That having been said, I still think there are a couple of areas where I see us disagreeing, possibly to a point of impasse. I think you are a sincere student. I don't mind admitting that I deeply wish I could convince you and many others like you to see something that I'm afraid has been ignored by many.

I honestly believe that you have been conditioned to have an anti-baptism bias. I appreciate the fact that you state and try to operate as an independent thinker -- that is good! But I believe this anti-baptism bias is widespread and deep-rooted in much of evangelical and/or fundamentalist thought.

It is both fascinating and sad to see you, and others like you, have to go to elaborate lengths, and do a lot of what I call "dancing around" certain passages in order to maintain the anti-baptism teaching. I must admit that you have thrown some new interpretations into this discussion that I have never heard. But all in all, I still see that deep within any and all of your logic is, for some reason, a determination to, in effect, eradicate any place or significance of what I call baptism, or what you call "water baptism."

It became apparent to me at some point in our discussion that you know the Scriptures well enough to have to admit that the apostles and others in the early church did, in fact, practice water baptism. But in all honesty, Bob, for you to lay this off as some kind of "learning curve" or "transition" phase in the apostles' thinking -- that strikes me as nothing but a sincere but misguided attempt to discredit the place of baptism in the conversion process.

Jesus made it clear enough in His last dialogue with his Disciples (John 15 and 16) that He was sending the Holy Spirit to them to "guide them into all truth." The notion that Peter and the others on the Day of Pentecost ... or Peter and John in Samaria ... or Peter at Cornelius's house when he asked the question, "Can anyone spare water, that these might be baptized?" ... or Paul's participation (and not rebuking) the baptisms at Philippi or of the 12 who had been disciples of John ... and then Paul's acknowledgement of those he baptized in Corinth, etc. ...

The crucial questions then become: (1) was the Holy Spirt not actually leading these men, as Jesus had said He would, and (2) if somehow they were "confused" about the role of baptism, and it was to be properly understood as baptism by the Spirit, then when and how did they learn this?

Obviously Luke, recanting the story of the Ethiopian Eunuch's conversion, includes baptism in water as a part of the whole story. Was Luke writing this Scripture under the guidance of the Holy Spirit? If baptism in water, as you suggest, has nothing to do with baptism, then why did Luke tell us this story, with that detail included?

And if baptism in water really has nothing to do with salvation, then why didn't Paul or Peter or one of the others clearly and unmistakably refute the whole notion in writing? (And please don't reference Paul's statement in 1st Corinthians about baptizing some, whom he named, and then wresting other parts of his statement as if he himself is anti-baptism. Anti-baptism advocated have to go to incredible lengths of misinterpretation to make Paul, of all people, have an anti-baptism doctrine!)

The truth is that I don't consider baptism any "greater" or "more important" that repentance or confession of faith ... any more than I could say that conception or gestation is any more important than a birth ... it's just a matter of sequence and process. Obviously Paul makes the point in both Romans 6 and Galatians 3 that baptism (of one kind or the other) puts us into Christ, that is where we are united with Christ, clothed with Christ. In Christ, according to Eph. 1:3 is where the spiritual blessings are, and that would include salvation, the gift of the Spirit, citizenship in Heaven, etc.

If that "baptism into Christ" is a birth from a watery grave (a reenactment of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus) -- compare the gospel defined by Paul in 1st Cor. 15:1-4, and Paul's description of baptism in Romans 6:3-5, which relates to what he said later in Romans 6 about how they had wholeheartedly obeyed the FORM, or pattern, of teaching to which they were committed -- then how can anyone purport that it is not a God-prescribed, Scripture-based part of the God's plan of salvation?

If that baptism referred to there and so many other places is an invalid practice, when do these water baptisms keep on occurring throughout the book of Acts (often under apostolic supervision and blessing) and for a long time in the first few centuries of the church's existence?

I know both of us believe that God is not the author of confusion, but of peace. If you or anyone else will open your eyes to it, then there is a logical and consistent pattern for the place of baptism in the whole scheme of faith as it responds to grace. But if baptism is unnecessary (and even worthy of the resistance and rebuff you and so many give it), then God's book has some glaring inconsistencies!

Sure, the Catholics have abused the whole doctrine of baptism in purpose, mode and candidates. Others have very much treated baptism as some kind of a legalistic step by which they complete a checklist and are saved. But those misunderstandings and misapplications do not, in reality, negate what the Bible says about the true place and purpose of baptism.

Finally (for tonight), I find a remarkable unity and development of the subject of baptism in the New Testament. John baptized a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus' disciples practiced some form of baptism, though it's exact purpose is not stated. Peter picked up on the Day of Pentecost right where John left off -- repentance and baptism for the forgiveness of sins, but with two new dynamics -- the gift of the Holy Spirit, and those who were being baptized being added to the church by the Lord. The pattern given by Peter and the others on Day of Pentecost is the pattern that keeps showing itself throughout the book of Acts, with no refutation in the epistles.

In all of the major conversion stories in the book of Acts baptism is mentioned: sometimes believing is mentioned; sometimes repentance is mentioned; sometimes confession of faith in Christ is mentioned; but in all of the major conversion stories baptism is right there. Only the most blinded of students would deny that.

That's probably more than enough for you to chew on for tonight. Thanks for listening.

Grace and peace,

Response #9:  

I certainly agree with your first paragraph. It seems to me that this should inform your approach – it certainly has mine. It is only since the Reformation that people began dunking believers. The prevailing approach during the middle ages was of course aspersion not immersion, and generally of infants, not adults. I wonder if you equate all these previous generations of the church as "lost". The larger point for our discussion is that a ritual with which you probably don't agree has been replaced by a ritual with which you do agree, at least by the majority of Protestants. Yet the New Testament is all about grace over law/ritual, and the Spirit over the flesh/physical shadows. In this respect, if water baptism were in fact a requirement, much less a prerequisite for salvation, it would be completely contrary to the whole tone and substance of the New Testament.

You and I differ also in our perceptions about current trends. In my view and in my experience, the present day church visible is in fact moving towards more ritual, not less of it. In the absence of truly seeking the truth directly from the scriptures, churches are scrambling to make themselves more relevant. Many people find rituals comforting. Rituals also give a sort of pseudo-substance to worship and a pseudo-authority to the church and church service which is replete with them. If I had to characterize contemporary Christianity into two major trends at present it would be the ritual revivers (more and more Protestant groups looking more and more Roman Catholic) and the hyper-contemporaries (you know, mega-church contemporary music, longer sermons but all pop-psychology and "focus on the family" stuff). Neither one teaches the Bible in depth and detail (which is the purpose of this ministry, Ichthys), and their approaches are not mutually exclusive. One mega-church near where I live places a huge emphasis on water-baptism. And frankly I see that as the overall trend. They may not go so far as to say that it is necessary for salvation, but for them it doesn't matter at all because 1) "Hey, we're baptizing anyway", and 2) they don't like to get into "heavy doctrinal issues" like what is salvation, exactly (?!).

I will give you this. At least your position is taking things from a biblical perspective and applying the logic of that perspective to faith and practice. I am sure that this is why you find yourself fighting against the current. But I assure you, everything about this ministry, Ichthys, is "upstream" – that is why it is on the internet and not in a brick and mortar setting. My cohort of like-minded seminarians who decided to put Bible teaching front and center and seek to learn and teach the biblical truth, come what may, are mostly not in churches today (with some rare exceptions).

I do hope that in the course of this discussion you won't dig your heels in so deep as to not have a look at the other materials at Ichthys. Even if we have to disagree on this issue, I hope you will see that this ministry has a lot to offer for someone like yourself who is genuinely interested in what the Bible has to say regardless of what institutions proclaim.

As to your second paragraph, I agree with you in principle, but the whole tone and substance of scripture is that doing less and believing more has always been God's way. Abraham believed in the Lord, and it was counted to Him for righteousness – circumcision came afterwards and did not bring salvation since he had already been saved for many years by then. We would all be happy to do the sort of works and penance the Roman Catholics proclaim as necessary to be saved – if that is what God wanted of us. The question is, what does God want us to do? And the simple answer I see scripture giving consistently is "choose for Him". That choice is a function of the free-will faith He gave us, the thing that makes us "different" from the animals, the thing that makes us "gods" with a small "g", because we have a "will" that can respond to God's "WILL" – or refuse to do so. The entry-level response is faith in Jesus, and it is as simple as that. Faith is the light switch that turns darkness into dawn. Once having believed, of course we are called to many things, but these can be resolved into spiritual growth (learning and believing the truth), spiritual progress (applying the truth to life and the tests that come), and spiritual production (ministering the truth to others according to the gifts we are given). And if our faith is real, it will produce the fruits of our repentance, change of mind, faith, belief, profession, et al. which in each and every case of genuine belief are always forthcoming (to some degree, at any rate). On the other hand, some who are water baptized may not be saved at all, and some who are believers may later fall away even though they have been water baptized (Lk.8:13). So that water baptism cannot be a perfect seal in any case. It is a very human thing to want to "do" something for salvation, and to want to set some kind of ceremonial seal on an occasion this important. So I understand why adult immersion water baptism was instituted (though, mind you, we should not forget that it is almost never done at the point of salvation as was the case in that first decade of the apostles in the examples you bring of Philip and the Ethiopian, Paul, and the Philippian jailor). But if we have real faith, then the knowledge of the Spirit's baptism of us, His unction and His uniting us with Christ, ought to be much more important and real to us. Faith-only is strong; faith relying on ritual is weak.

Clearly, the bottom line is what the scriptures have to say. I hope that you will at least agree that this issue has been a matter of great controversy in the Church since the days of the apostles (for we see a wide variety of practices in Acts), the later generation of so-called apostolic fathers, the various organized churches, Roman catholic in particular, coming down to the Reformation, and all the various and sundry approaches thereafter. Since it is a matter of such great dispute, that at least is evidence that the issue is not so clear in the Bible. And if the issue is not so clear in the Bible (i.e., you and I are convinced of our positions, but we can at least understand how the other and others have come to different conclusions, even if erroneous), then I have to say that this is a heavy burden against your view. Generally speaking, all of the other issues relating to salvation are not only extremely clear, in my view, but also treated extensively in the gospels, Acts, the epistles, and Revelation (not to mention liberally foreshadowed in the Old Testament). The Bible leaves us in absolutely no doubt about the Person and the work of the One in whom we are to believe, or the fact that to be saved we must believe in Jesus Christ and His work in dying for our sins. Why would scripture leave so little indication of a need for water baptism, if it were the requirement many say it is, and, even more so, the prerequisite you say it is? For it would seem to me that just by honestly "misunderstanding" the scriptures on this point (as beyond all question many must have done since so many disagree), many today and most of days gone by will have missed salvation because of nothing more than confusion, if what you say is true. But, in my view, if Christians would just start with John's polar differentiation between baptizing with water (pre-Messiah) and baptizing with the Spirit (the Messiah and afterwards), they would be heading down the path of truth at the start, and would have that truth confirmed in resounding fashion in the epistles and Revelation, regardless of the fact that they might not fully understand all of the descriptions in the book of Acts.

Your disquisition on Acts I think really gets to the heart of your belief, and I am glad you brought it back up because this is where many people get off track. You'll have to trust me on this (or you can find it everywhere in my writings on Church polity et al. at Ichthys) – my reasons for interpreting the book of Acts as I do are not at all based upon a desire to eliminate water baptism. First of all, I would be happy to do whatever the Lord told me to do. I was baptized as a baby by my dad in the Presbyterian church and confirmed with sprinkling as a teenager. Later, I was full-immersion dunked in a charismatic fellowship I attended because they told me it was necessary (although even they didn't suggest my salvation depended on it). I have come to the positions I hold today through careful study of the Bible over many years in spite of these past indiscretions.

I hope that you will see even from your listing of notable water baptisms in Acts (although, for example, I see Ephesians 19 as "dry"; this is a laying on the hands to give these "disciples", already believers, the Holy Spirit) that there are differences in approach throughout the book. That is really strange, isn't it, if water baptism always meant the same thing to the apostles? If we omit Acts, just for a moment, the gospels to the epistles produces a perfect transition, John's baptism to Spirit baptism, precisely as John suggests and with the same emphasis Jesus gives. In fact, Jesus always talks about the Spirit, never water. So what about Acts?

The most important point to understand is that Acts is an accurate historical account – but that does not mean that it is giving us a model for behavior. A few quick examples: 1) was Peter right to hold himself aloof from the gentiles? Clearly not since he is instructed in detail how to go about things by the Spirit Himself (at Acts 10). 2) When the Ephesians believe, they burn their books and confess their sins publicly. Are we required to do these things at salvation? I have never seen either so that if we are then we are not saved. 3) Paul is told not to go to Jerusalem "through the Spirit" on a couple of occasions, yet he goes anyway. Was he in the right? It's in the Bible.

It is not clear to me, personally, whether or not Jephthah actually sacrificed his daughter by slitting her throat and then immolating her on an altar. But scripture certainly suggests that he did, and he is called a great man in the book of Hebrews. Nevertheless, I would not recommend the practice of committing murder in order to fulfill a vow, although that is the sort of logical dilemma posed by assuming that all the examples of behavior of the righteous in the book of Judges are to be taken mandates for our faith and practice. David lied to Achish. Is it acceptable to lie? Or is this another example of historical accuracy in a historical book without necessarily giving divine approbation to the recorded behavior of an otherwise great believer? I think that in all of the historical books, Acts included, we have to make this distinction. If we do, we will see that the different approaches to water baptism make sense. This is what the apostles on the specified occasions actually did in the early days. What we should do now has to be answered by appeal to other scriptures. It doesn't mean what they did was "wrong" in any way, but it does mean that we do not necessarily have to follow suit (and in some cases, it might be much better if we did not). Seeing water baptism as a transitional retention of John's baptism also explains why there is no consistency in the meaning and method of water baptism in Acts and why almost no one today can explain or agree on what water-baptism means – very strange if it really did mean something independent of John's baptism but entirely explainable if that is what all true water-baptism really is.

If there were only one way water baptism was done in Acts, and if by the way it is done and described it meant one thing and one thing only, you would have a stronger argument. The reality is that it is not always present in the text, it is not always handled in the same way, and it is certainly not always described in the same way. So I would challenge you to provide me with something you have yet to do (though I don't blame you because as I said in an earlier e-mail no one seems to be able to answer this one), namely, tell me what the meaning of water baptism is. Surely, it has to stand for something, if it's at all necessary or required. But can you find that "something" in the book of Acts, consistently related and described, and consistently linked to the different variations of the practice in Acts?

I find it very telling that the two places where it seems to be spelled out, Acts 2 and Paul's second description of His conversion in chapter 22, both describe it as indistinguishable from the baptism of John (Peter: "repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins"; Ananias: "be baptized and wash away your sins"). But what does Paul later tell the Ephesian brethren? "John's baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus" – after which Paul baptized them "into Jesus", baptizing them with the Spirit. Q.E.D. Spirit baptism is the norm for the Church; John's water baptism looked forward to the Messiah; Acts presents a transitional period where there is water baptism for two major reasons: 1) tying into Jewish tradition and the well-known baptism of John to evangelize Jews, and 2) as a way to mediate the Spirit baptism at the hands of the apostles during the apostolic transitional period. It is not just water baptism that is transitional: the office of apostleship, the gifts of tongues and prophecy, the largely unstructured polity of the local churches often based on the synagogue pattern – everything, in fact, that has anything to do with local church functioning – was different at that time because there was at that time still no established church and, even more to the point, there was as yet no New Testament.

As to why Paul and Peter and John don't refute "baptism necessary for salvation", obviously, because no one at that time was claiming such a thing. More pertinent is why they never say it is necessary, if it were, since they do state the need for faith and faithfulness over and over again.

Baptism into Christ is the Spirit's work, not the work of a water ritual. The Spirit is the pledge of our "oneness" with Him, not the memory of some physical ritual that obviously could not have a spiritual result (let alone the premier spiritual result of union with Christ). Wherever Paul talks about baptism in the epistles, outside of denying its necessity in 1st Corinthians, he is talking about Spirit baptism. That is the "one baptism" of Ephesians 4:25 – unless one wishes to argue that the water ritual has outlasted the Spirit.

I understand where you are coming from in your focus on Acts. But if you take a critical look at the water baptisms (and supposed water baptisms) in Acts, I think you will see that 1) there is no pattern as to its meaning or its method or even its necessity (since it is not always present and never mentioned as required); 2) there is a definite progression of the ritual and that progression is clearly related to the baptism of the Spirit with which it is often connected; and 3) water-baptism actually ceases to be found fairly early on into the period of the apostles (i.e., Acts 19, even if one wishes to see it as involving water, happened a mere ten years after Pentecost, and this would then be the last time water-baptism is referenced in the New Testament except when Paul bemoans doing it in 1Cor.1).

Baptism is a very powerful emotional issue. In my experience, there are few other issues in contemporary Christianity which, for those few people who care about the Bible, have the potential to tie a person in knots. That is because of the guilt and fear factors. If I tell someone they have to be water baptized to be a good Christian, I stand a good chance of "guilting them into it" even if they don't really see it in the Bible, because there is water baptism in Acts, and even by a detailed reading a layman is not going to be able to come up with all the answers, especially when confronted by a pastor/group/activist who has all the talking points ready. So "when it doubt" better be water baptized, they may think, although only out of guilt. Or, if I tell someone they need to be baptized in order to go to heaven, I have a fair chance of "terrorizing them into it" even if in their heart of hearts they just don't see this anywhere in scripture. Because, Acts is unclear (at least without extensive study), so, when it doubt, better be water baptized, they may think, although only out of fear. In fact, all of the churches, groups, and cults I know who do water baptism, use it as a large "stick" to control members and potential members. Forcing them to do something they may instinctively see as wrong, makes them psychologically captive after the fact (and all the easier to manipulate). In this day of straying from the Bible, even on the part of those who really are Christians, having something so emotional to "do" is a wonderful thing, a way to demonstrate they really are "of Christ". But I have to tell, you, apart from all of the other arguments, there is something about this ritual as it is practiced today, especially whenever I see it done first hand, that "feels" completely out of touch with grace, and out of touch with everything that is good in the faithful following of our Lord. Water baptism as contemporarily practiced, understood and explained just does not pass the spiritual "sniff test". And we ignore these pangs of our conscience at our peril.

I am not, despite what you must be thinking if you are still reading this, anti-water baptism in principle. It was a ritual that pointed the way to the coming Messiah, and it was used by the apostles while they were learning the deeper truths of the Spirit. Without any argument, they didn't understand everything about the baptism of the Spirit (just to give one example) the moment they received it at Pentecost. But it is also clear to me that while this was a ritual that gave a person "something to do" immediately upon salvation that demonstrated for themselves and other that they had accepted Jesus Christ, and, if ever ideally explained, had entered into union with Him through the baptism of the Spirit, it clearly had its value for the Jewish believers of that day in linking Jesus as the Messiah to John His herald. At least is was done. I suppose it could be argued that water-baptism might have value today too, if done at the right time, in the right way, with the right symbolism – along the lines of keeping Kosher as long as it is understood to be a way of symbolically demonstrating the separation of God's people which has no actual spiritual value. But if any of these elements are lacking or understood legalistically (as they inevitably are in the case of both examples), then it is likely to do more harm than good, and that is the basis for my criticism. Once a person says it's necessary, or, worse, required for salvation, or once it becomes a requirement for membership, or once people are made to feel out of guilt that that should be water baptized if they never have been, even though they may have been true believers for many years, then the end is going to be nothing but manipulation in a bad cause. I have no doubt that antichrist's pseudo-Christianity will make water baptism a requirement.

Circumcision is a fine ritual for teaching biblical principles, but it is not required today. Yet in the early Church, there were plenty who tried to take this same sort of tack that you are doing with water baptism. Water baptism, the way it is used as a cudgel to enervate faith and grace, has become as currently practiced in my view a sort of modern day circumcision. This is where I see the abuse, and this is where I see the danger. So while I do not teach that water baptism is directly forbidden or claim that it was not commonplace in early apostolic days or even encourage people to desist, it is my responsibility as a teacher of the Word of God to bring out the truth, especially when the alternative is the serious undermining of faith, the production of spiritual vulnerabilities, and the opening up of my brothers and sisters in Christ to severe manipulation from those whose motives are nowhere near as pure as yours are.

In the One who endured the baptism of the cross that we might be baptized into Him by the Spirit, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #10:  

Dear Bob, I'll pick up where I left yesterday, in the 7th paragraph of your most recent treatise.

Ironically, we share a very similar religious history. I was sprinkled as an infant in the Presbyterian church, then (for some reason which I don't understand) had water poured upon me in the same church at about age 11 (after I had decided I wanted Jesus to be my Savior). Then during my freshman year in college I was taught things which I now believe (though I've deepened my understanding of them much during these subsequent decades) - I was immersed in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of my sins and to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

I see no inconsistency at all in the book of Acts. I see the conversion stories in Acts all being consistent with what Jesus taught Nicodemus in John 3:5, what Peter taught on the Day of Pentecost, and forward. Admittedly, the differences you are probably referring to are in regard to the measure of the Spirit given to various ones at various times -- but as far as baptism (immersion), I see remarkable consistency. As far as is revealed, all of the apostles in the book of Acts had the same view/understanding of baptism -- they taught and practiced immersion. Why omit Acts in our consideration? I have learned long ago not to create "hypotheticals" when trying to determine what the text actually says. Hypotheticals are often man's attempts to circumvent the truth. You and I disagree about Jesus never mentioning or having anything to do with water during his ministry. I think your conclusion has been deeply affected by your conditioning to disparage baptism. Jesus submitted to baptism, not because of sinfulness, but to "fulfill all righteousness" (which has most often been interpreted as to a positive example of submission and humility on His part). If John's baptism of water was to be it, and Christ's baptism henceforth was to be, as you suggest, only a baptism by/of the Spirit, then this would have seemed a perfect opportunity to make that transition. Why confuse things by Jesus Himself being baptized in water. You and I greatly disagree, but I very much see water in Jesus' teaching of Nicodemus (which is preserved for all of us to understand also). I appreciate everything that Paul is saying in Eph. 5:26, and I believe there is certainly a sanctifying and washing element to the Word. But to think that Nicodemus (or any average person since!) would understand some cryptic reference by Jesus to something that wouldn't be explained or referenced until 30 or so years later -- that's a real stretch! Jesus deliberately spoke in parables at time, to make sure people were really listening to His teaching. But when it comes to crucial matters of doctrine, especially salvation, I never know of Him speaking in riddles. NEXT POINT, AND THIS IS HUGE. Late in John 3 and early in John 4 we see the disciples, obviously there with Jesus, baptizing ... baptizing even more than John. The text clearly reveals that John is immersing people in water. Again, if Jesus is trying to make for them or for us some distinction between the mode of John's baptism and His own which was to continue throughout the church age, then this is another blown opportunity. Why wouldn't He have (if trying to accomplish what you say is true) have seized upon this opportunity to both teach and have them practice an entirely new baptism. No distinction is drawn between John's baptism at this point and the baptism being performed by Jesus' disciples.

[NOTE: This probably won't excite you, but our dialogue has, through the evidence of the Scriptures themselves, strengthened my belief in and ability to speak about immersion being the baptism that's mentioned in Acts and beyond. When Peter visited Cornelius and his family, the Holy Spirit was poured out on them as Peter spoke. From all that's said about this in chapters 10 and 11, this was obviously to impress Peter and the other Jews with him that God's message of salvation through Christ was for Gentiles also! I further believe, that this completed the "all flesh" part of Joel's prophecy about the pouring out of the Spirit so many centuries before. But then ... then! ... Peter calls for water so these people can be baptized. In fact he commanded them to be baptized. There are two big questions I think you have to answer from the Scriptures, if you can. Could Peter "command" them to be baptized if that baptism was done by the Lord whenever it was that they were saved? Wouldn't that kind of baptism that you're suggesting be at the Lord's behest, and not "commanded" by an Apostle or anyone else? But that then also begs the question of what Jesus directed his disciples to do in Matthew 28 ... he told them to go, make disciples, baptize and teach. Was this baptism he told them to do in the names of the Father, Son and Spirit ... was that going to be a baptism from the Lord, or from them. If you can please, please, see past your conditioning and start to see that the baptism practiced in the early church was just exactly what Jesus was talking about to Nicodemus: of water and the Spirit ... simultaneous ... not two separate baptisms or two separate things ... but the "one baptism" Paul mentions in Eph. 4.]

I certainly appreciate your spirit and your efforts as we continue in this dialogue. I am going to read through and respond, in sequence, to various things you said in your last correspondence. (For the purposes of clarity, I shall try to have my paragraphs occur in the same

sequence as your paragraphs.)

I'm a little amused and possibly saddened by your oft used expressing of "dunking" for baptism. This may not at all be your intent, but it almost strikes me as derogatory. For whatever it's worth, I prefer "immersion." Your statement about immersion during the church age is only partly correct. Obviously the church practiced immersion at the beginning. Then, as you said as the church apostatized into what eventually became Roman Catholicism, that practice was almost altogether abandoned for sprinkling or pouring. Some parts of the reformation restored the practice of immersion, while some clung adamantly to the long standing practice of "the church," i.e. Catholicism. Let it be noted that you, not I, raised the question regarding people being saved or "lost" during previous eras. I believe and teach that judgement, all judgement (who's lost; who's

saved) is God's domain and not ours. It's not always understood as such, but I try to speak about doing things the Biblical way without imposing at the same time some sense of eternal judgement with it. I agree that grace is the next and final step on this earth of God's "educational system for mankind," absolutely surpassing and supplanting the Law of Moses and all that went with it. I do not agree that baptism (which I consider an act of faith and obedience) any more violates the New Testament principle of grace than does belief, repentance, confession, using our gifts, etc.

I'm not sure I necessarily agree that Christianity (as a whole) is becoming more ritualistic or legalistic, as much as it is becoming "experiential" versus "factual. So much of the trends toward making worship into more of an entertainment event than the God ordained simple acts of worship, I think that says a lot. I'm hearing everywhere I go, and even in some small Bible study groups I conduct a lot more of "this is what I feel" instead of "this is what God's Word says, and here's how we should respond."

I appreciate your recognizing that I am trying to be first and foremost Biblical in my personal belief, and therefore (to avoid hypocrisy) in what I teach.

I only agree with you in part on your section about genuine faith being more believing and less doing. We've already agreed that God wanted His people to grow through the Law of Moses into a greater system of faith. But I reject the notion that believing and doing are anywhere close to being mutually exclusive. To downplay in any way our DOING the will of God is just as erroneous as saying that ALL DOING will be what saves us, a la the essence of Catholic doctrine. As you know in one set of verses Paul asserts we are saved by grace through faith ... and then not by works ... but created for works! I would never assert that being baptized is some kind of magic elixir that automatically and irrevocably puts one into Christ, or seals the deal for anyone. A baptism without faith would be powerless and pointless. So please don't assume or try to paint me

into a corner (that some could justifiably be said to be in) where anyone would make baptism more important than it really is. The point is not to try to prove that baptism is more important than belief, or repentance, or confession of faith in Christ ... but that they are all a part of the same thing -- faith! According to what I learn from the Scriptures, all of those things are essential parts of "obeying the gospel."

Yes, sadly baptism has been one of the most misunderstood and or mistaught doctrines of the Bible. I believe Satan is ultimately behind this and all other confusion and division that exists between believers. He uses ignorance, tradition and pride to cause people to move to and

then adamantly defend positions that are far from Biblical. [A little side note: I believe the most precious substance or commodity in the whole universe is the blood of Christ. Satan hates the blood of Christ because it is the absolute antithesis of his work and purpose. If he can discredit the blood of Christ, or more specifically keep people away from the saving and sustaining power of that blood, then he will kept people from God. As I read my Bible I find 4 specific ways in which a believer comes into contact, or under the power of that blood -- (1) by being united with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus in their baptism; (2) in the Lord's Supper; (3) in the church, which was purchased with His own blood; and (4) in the continual cleansing of the blood that occurs as the saved walk in the light. Now think about ... can you think of any four areas where Satan has created confusion or doubt than in the areas of baptism, communion, the church or ongoing forgiveness? I don't believe there's any shortage of passages (commands, examples and necessary inferences) regarding baptism in the New Testament. What I think there's a superabundance of is people with an anti-baptism bias that blinds them to recognize these passages for what they are. I'm sorry, but I have to state that I think our total differing view of what Jesus said about the New Birth is perhaps (along with a truthful view of the "great commission) absolute bedrock to this discussion. I think the notion that Jesus is telling Nicodemus about two different baptisms defies both the flow and logic of the verse, but ends up contradicting what the Apostles taught and practiced. The born of water and born of the Spirit are not an "either/or," but a simultaneous union of man's obedience and God's blessings. Immersion is a man's physical participation in a reenactment of Christ's death, burial and resurrection, while at the same time one is being baptized by the Spirit, i.e. thus bringing into play all of the spiritual blessings, including forgiveness of sins, the gift of the spirit, etc. That's key! "Born of water and the Spirit" is not two baptisms, but the "one baptism" later eluded to by Paul. This is why – as you referred to in another correspondence -- we see baptisms in the book of Acts coming at the same time as people came to faith. The idea of being saved at one point and then being baptized later to "show that you are saved" is totally human in origin. Bob, you have to admit that that's true. No where in the book of Acts do we see baptism being taught or practiced "to show something." The timing sequences themselves testify mightily to the significance and essential nature the Apostles put on baptism, just like on believing, repenting, and confession of faith. I implore you to consider that many have been told so often and with such vigor that baptism is a work (which is not in the Bible) and that baptism is "an outward sign of an inward grace" (which is not in the Bible) and that "baptism is to show that you are saved" (which is not in the Bible) ... they've seen and heard that so much, that they've begun to be blind to what the Bible says baptism is!

(Forgive me, but I have many other things to do today -- I want to "pause" right here, and will hopefully be able to continue responding to your letter at this point tomorrow.)

Grace & Peace!

Response #10: 

I'll await your reply on the other points – in fact, from here on in it might be more beneficial for us to keep to one essential point at a time (just a suggestion). But there are two minor and one major thing needing to be cleared up now (judging from what you have written in these two e-mails). First, Jesus never baptized anyone (John 4:2). Second, it is logically impossible for water baptism to be required for salvation (I've made this point, but it doesn't seem to have sunk in): in Acts 10, the new believers are filled with the Spirit and praising God before they are given the water. Since they are believers and have been accepted by God to the extent of receiving the Spirit, they are most certainly saved, and as this all happened before Peter could get around to baptizing them with water, therefore water baptism could not have been the means of nor any component in salvation, since they were already clearly born again before being water-baptized.

As to the major point, I need to spend a little time on John chapter three since your (pardon me) misunderstanding of what Jesus is saying and symbolizing here seems to figure large in all this. To begin, as a person who was genuinely seeking God, it is virtually certain that Nicodemus had been water-baptized by John and his disciples (as many Pharisees had been: Matt.3:7; i.e., it was only those among them who opposed Jesus rather than seeking Him out and eventually responding to Him in faith as Nicodemus had done who rejected John's baptism : Lk.7:30). Now there is no evidence that Peter or John or the other disciples were required to be or were water-baptized a second time. Why then would Jesus say that Nicodemus uniquely required a second water-baptism? And even if you do think that would have been necessary, consider that the formula "in Christ" used by Peter at Act 2 first occurs only then after Pentecost. If we say that a second water-baptism was necessary, therefore, it would appear that Nicodemus, even had he immediately responded in full faith (which faith is obvious before Pentecost in his faithful care of Jesus' physical body after the cross; cf. also Jn.7:50-51), he would then be in a sort of "limbo" until the "new water-baptism" was instituted (there is no indication whatsoever that Jesus' disciples were doing anything different from what John was doing and the idea of two separate water baptisms going on at the same time each symbolizing something different and each being required is prima facie an unworkable thesis). However, if we more reasonably assume that one water-baptism was enough, then consider: since Nicodemus did not need another water-baptism, and at this point only lacked faith, Jesus' words to him about what he now needs for salvation cannot then refer to water-baptism (since he had already participated in that rite; cf. verse 7: "you all [still] need to be born again").

As to what John chapter three really does mean, let me call your attention to verses five and six. Jesus tells Nicodemus that the new birth, salvation and eternal life, come "from water and Spirit". But then in verse six our Lord makes it clear that it is the Spirit who actually produces the new life; that is, it is the Spirit's action that sets the time, working in tandem with the "water", not the other way around. From this it is inescapable that water-baptism cannot possibly be necessary for salvation unless there is no salvation until the very point of water-baptism (but of course Acts 10 and numerous other passages, not to mention a plethora of examples from our own experience show decisively that such cannot be the case). Whatever the "water" here is, it acts with the Spirit at the precise moment of salvation. For the Spirit actually "begets" the new life, and therefore the "water" must be a contributory agent to that process of that begetting. If it is not literally "water" (which ipso facto because of the problem of sequence it cannot be), then the "water" must be symbolizing something else – i.e., the gospel, the water of the Word.

(11) [Jesus] came to what was rightfully His, but those who were His did not receive Him. (12) But as many as accepted Him, to them He gave the power to become children of God, [that is,] to those who put their faith in His Person, (13) [even those] who were not [born] of blood, or fleshly desire, or human will, but [who] were born of God (i.e., "born again").
John 1:12-13

Here we see that earlier in this same book John has likewise expressed that the new birth is the result of two factors, and while they are described in different terms, they are clearly referencing the exact same two things. In John chapter one we are born again 1) by the will of God (corresponding to the Spirit of chapter three), and 2) through faith (corresponding to the "water" of chapter three). If you ask how "water" and faith can represent the same thing, that is easily explained. Water refers to the Word of God (as you have allowed in the past), and the Word of God, both the written Word and the living Word, is the object of our faith.

Of his own will [God] begat us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
James 1:18 KJV

Here we find James saying precisely the same thing, only emphasizing the object of faith, the Word of truth / water of truth, rather than the act of faith in that truth.

But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved [1)] through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and [2)]through belief in the truth.
2nd Thessalonians 2:13 NIV

Again here in 2nd Thessalonians we see the same two essential elements of salvation: God's part, accomplished by the Spirit who actually births us anew, and our part, expressed here with both object and subject, i.e., [our] faith IN the truth [water of the Word].

For you have been saved by (God’s) grace through faith (in Christ); and this did not come from you – it is God’s gift. Nor did it come from what you have done, lest anyone should boast.
Ephesians 2:8-9

Again here we see the two elements, expressed as 1) grace (God's part, the Spirit producing eternal life in us), and 2) faith (our part: response to the Word of truth, the water of the Word).

Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.
1st Corinthians 4:15 NIV

Here too in our epistle where the question of water baptism comes up, Paul indicates two elements, "I became your father", apostolic mediation of the Spirit "through the gospel", which is of course the Word of God, the object of belief, the water of the Word.

May the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ be praised, who has in His great mercy caused us to be reborn to a hope which lives through Jesus Christ's resurrection from the dead,
1st Peter 1:3

Peter too shows us the two sides of the new birth. God has "caused us to be reborn", the action of the Spirit in quickening us, "to a hope which lives" in anticipation of resurrection. The second element here is clearly the gospel, for we believe in Jesus and His resurrection in hopes of our own resurrection. This is our part of the equation of rebirth, believing that promise from the Word of God, the water of the Word. Peter makes this crystal clear later in the same chapter:

Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.
1st Peter 1:22-23 NIV

Here Peter uses the seed metaphor for the Word rather than the water metaphor to express the precise same part of the equation of new birth as above: our part is faith in the Word which God has provide. It is that faith in the Word, whether symbolized by water or by seed or anything else, that leads to our regeneration by means of the regenerating ministry of the Holy Spirit for all who believe the gospel.

No one who has been born of God continues in [a life of] sin, since His seed (i.e., the Word of truth in which we believe) remains in him, and [so] he is not able to continue in [a life of] sin since he has been born of God.
1st John 3:9

John also uses the seed metaphor and again we see the two elements of salvation and rebirth. We are reborn "of God", the ministry of the Holy Spirit in begetting us anew, and we have as a result, the "seed" remaining in us as believers, that is, the seed of the Word in which we put our faith for new, eternal life.

As is the case in John chapter three, all of these other passages where regeneration is also taught have in common two elements in the process of rebirth, namely, the ministry of the Spirit and our response to the gospel truth, the water of the Word. That is what Jesus means when He tells Nicodemus, to be saved he must be "born again of water and of Spirit". As in all of the passages above, these are two inseparable parts of an instantaneous event, the salvation and regeneration which takes place immediately at the point of saving faith in Jesus Christ, the living Word of God, by the agency of the Holy Spirit: "of water" the gospel we believe, and "of Spirit" the Holy Spirit regenerating all who put their faith in Jesus Christ.

Water very often has this connotation in scripture (e.g., Is.55:1; Jn.3:5; 3:8 [Greek]; 4:10; 4:13-14; 7:37-39; 1Cor.10:4; Eph.5:26; Heb.10:22; 1Jn.5:8 [Trinity]; Rev.7:17; 21:6; 22:1; 22:17; cf. Ex 17:5-6; Num. 20:8; Ps.42:1-2; 63:1; 84:5-7; Is.41:17; 44:3). It often symbolizes the Word of God as the object of our faith, and with no water-baptism in sight.

And all of them (i.e., the Exodus generation) drank the same spiritual drink (i.e., divinely provided water). For all of them drank from the spiritual[ly significant] Rock which followed them – for that Rock was Christ.
1st Corinthians 10:4

The water here comes forth from the Rock, Jesus Christ. It is His Word, and we drink that Word (a picture of faith, not of washing or baptism or repentance) in order to be saved.

Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."
John 4:13-14 NIV

"If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.
John 7:37-39 NIV

In each of the passages above, the act of drinking very clearly represents the act of faith, the result of which, very shortly after the time Jesus spoke these words, would be the indwelling of the Spirit, the same One who produces the new birth. Just to be very clear, in the passage immediately above, Jesus equates the thirsty person drinking in the first sentence in verse thirty-seven with "whoever believes" in the second sentence. Therefore water in the gospel context, and in John's gospel in particular, is something to be drunk; it is the water of the Word which one drinks/believes in which, in tandem with the Spirit, produces the new birth, not through a later ritual observance, but through an immediate supernatural process as the result of which we receive the Holy Spirit before we could ever even get around to being water-baptized, whether or not we feel that is necessary or essential. Since this is how John himself teaches and explains the water/Spirit partnership in the same book, and since this explanation is consistent with all of the rest of scripture, there is no reasonable brief for inserting water-baptism in place of the water of the Word in John chapter three.

In the Word of God Himself, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #11: 

Bob, I really appreciate the great effort (and obvious time) you've put into answering my questions. But I can't help but feel that we are possibly very much at the point of an impasse -- I don't think you're going to convince me, and I don't think I'm going to (though I truly wish I could) convince you of some basic things that I think are important. If you'd like to continue I will ... but it seems that we are operating off of a different "base." I believe in patterns in the Bible. Paul told Timothy to hold to the pattern of sound teaching. He also reminded the Romans that they had obeyed from the heart the pattern that was committed to them.

I do not intend to be mean-spirited or rude, but I believe that my beliefs regarding grace-faith-obedience all being essential are the Biblical (New Testament) pattern. Obviously, you follow a different pattern. I wish I could convince you that the pattern I see is consistent, and your is not ... and I'm sure at this moment at least that you'd say the same, only vice-versa.

I don't want these to come off as "parting shots," but I feel I must say two things as we wrap up, at least this phase, our discussion:

1. In your last letter you said something to the effect that we derive the truth from the Word, and from our experience. Gotta be honest with you; that scares me. I honestly feel like that one of the biggest challenges at the moment in all of Christianity is a movement toward "experiential" truth versus the absolute truth of Scripture. And I further believe that if we begin to interpret the Scriptures based upon how we feel about it, or what we've experienced, then we simply open the door for every kind of subjective interpretation of Scripture that there can be! Maybe, in fact, that is exactly what's happened to bring us to such a divided state of understanding today.

For example, a few years ago I had a brief (one letter each way) exchange with a very well known evangelical theologian and author. (I don't do this all the time, honest -- yours is the first ongoing discussion like this I've ever had via the Internet.) Something this man had said in his book caught my attention, because (without going into details) he, it seemed to me, very obviously contradicted himself in the first chapter of his book ... and it was on the matter of salvation. So I wrote him, and asked him a few simple questions about why he said what he said, and I included (along with other things) a query or two about baptism. Well, he responded with what I took to be anger and bombast, saying he would not further answer me and "please don't write again," and then proceeded to give me the typical evangelical arguments that try to dismiss baptism's having any significance to Christianity. Among his many statements was something like this: "And we know that baptism doesn't have anything to do with salvation, because Dwight L. Moody was never baptized!"

Personally, I had no idea whether or not Mr. Moody had or hadn't been baptized, and the state of His soul, as far as I'm concerned, is in the hands of the Lord, and neither me nor this popular author. But I was struck that this supposed scholar (he has a Ph.D. from somewhere) had equated Mr. Moody's response to baptism as having equal bearing on the matter as what the Scriptures say about it.

I wouldn't have thought you would go along with that thinking until this last statement about "what our experience has taught us about it" (or something to that effect).

2. There's one question that I have long wished I could ask people, like yourself, who pretty much take what I call an "anti-baptism" approach to their understanding of New Testament doctrine. At this point in our dialogue, I feel like this may be my best change to ask it. I'm not trying to be a smart aleck or anything like that, I just honestly wish someone could answer this for me.

WHY DO YOU GO TO SUCH LENGTHS TO TRY TO PROVE THAT SO MANY PLAIN STATEMENTS IN SCRIPTURE ABOUT BAPTISM DON'T MEAN WHAT THEY SAY?

We've already covered some of this, but what I'm asking about specifically are such things as these:

When it comes to John 3:5 and Jesus mentions water, I think he means water -- you say that's not what He meant.

When it comes to Acts 2:38 and Peter says that repentance and baptism are for the forgiveness of sins (and the gift of the Holy Spirit) I think Peter (being led by the Spirit) said what he meant -- but you say it doesn't mean what it seems to be saying.

When it comes to Acts 22:16 and Ananias told Saul (Paul) to rise immediately and be baptized, washing away his sins, calling on the name of the Lord, I think Ananias (under the leadership of the Spirit) said exactly what Paul needed to hear -- but you would say, no it doesn't mean what it appears to say.

And finally (there could be other examples) when we get to 1 Peter 3:21 and Peter (being led by the Spirit to write this Scripture) says, using the Old Testament things that symbolize baptism, that baptism "now saves you," you hustle to show that it doesn't really mean what he said, but something else.

In other words, Bob, it seems like you and so many others do a lot of circumventing, or as I like to say "dancing around" to make so many of these passages mean something other than what they plainly say. As I have stated before, I read that God is not the author of confusion, but of peace. I can't buy the theory that God had "veiled meanings" in all of these places, and that the truth is something other than what is plainly stated.

In all honesty I believe my understanding can take any and all passages about baptism and make them all fit together in one unified and coherent pattern. But I just as honestly feel like that your understanding leaves some incredible gaps for which you cannot offer any answers -- it's like you say baptism no longer matters, but then can't quite tie off all of those (Biblical) loose strings about it!

Please think about it.

Response #11:  

I really don't mind the effort, and I certainly hope that it hasn't been entirely in vain. I hope some day you may come back to some of these things I have written for you and see that there is substance here.

First, I always put scripture first, and I believe what I discover through diligent study, once I have properly understood it, even if my eyes tell me different. Baptism is a perfect case in point. Your experience should be sufficient for anybody to show that literal water is very easily found in places where with careful study it turns out not to be. To see and believe the truth, it takes a faith strong enough to go with that truth instead of and in spite of what the emotions and the crowds are saying (so please let's dismiss your point #1 as a mistaken impression on your part – I would hope that our very long biblically based conversation should earn me that, at least).

As to your point #2, what is clear and obvious and straightforward to you is not at all so to me, at least in this case. I am very comfortable with the conclusions shared with you for they came about over a very long period of time with much study and careful reflection; they are based upon a careful exegesis of the Greek, expressed in careful argumentation, buttressed with many other passages, and fit carefully into a systematic approach to God's truth as it is expressed overall. I am happy to stack all this up against your all-caps rhetorical question. You are entitled to your opinion. It is not, however, a convincing argument, at least to me.

Jesus does not mention baptism in John chapter three; this is only an assumption on your part. If we have to "understand" baptism by the word "water", I am not sure how understanding "truth" by the word water is somehow a conclusion of an entirely different sort. My extensive arguments for doing so seem to me to be better than your impression to the effect that it is "just obvious".

In Acts 2:38, nothing in the language here can be taken to show that baptism is required for salvation. Repentance, the flip-side of faith as I have said, is what results in forgiveness and salvation through faith "in the Name of Jesus" (followed in turn by the gift of the Spirit). The key part of the "be baptized" here is "in the Name of Jesus Christ"; the water-baptism of these potential Jewish converts would thus indicate their repentance and faith in Jesus, and it was that repentance and faith in Jesus which saved them, not the act of being dunked. Why were they dunked? We have discussed by now the reason for water-baptism on the part of the apostles in the early days of the Church several times at least, and I have shown repeatedly that it is directly connected with the mediation of the Spirit which demonstrated the apostle's authority, especially in connection with Jewish or Jewish-area audiences. The Spirit's coming is the event in context here on the day of Pentecost, and Peter is promising his listeners the same gift that brought them together to hear him in the first place; that gift will be mediated through the laying on of the apostles' hands during water-baptism. So Peter commands their water baptism on this occasion to spread the gift of the Spirit, not as a requirement of salvation. The passage does not say that; the passage does not mean that; and that is not the scriptural truth (please refer to the arguments of the prior e-mails).

Peter does not mention water in verse 21 of 1st Peter chapter three, and he very specifically states that he is not talking about water-baptism when he speaks of the "baptism which now saves you" because he very deliberately says "Not any [literal] washing away of filth from your flesh, but an appeal to God for a clean conscience through [faith in] the resurrection of Jesus Christ". So we have to be talking about the Spirit's ministry here and not water-baptism.

Diligent study and proper exegesis are required to unlock the true meaning of any scripture. And if there is anything veiled here, well, it is only veiled to those who are not interested in seeing. The true meaning of these passages may disturb people who find them inconsistent with their predisposed ideas – even when these ideas are in turn inconsistent with the whole tone and tenor of myriad passages of scripture which argue to the contrary of any need for water baptsim, passages and arguments I see that we have now dismissed without refutation, by the way. But correctly understood, these passages you find troublesome are completely consistent with the rest of the Bible. If I am "hustling" here, it is in a right and righteous way, in the power of the Spirit, and for the glory of my Lord Jesus Christ. Water baptism as it is traditionally understood and applied has become a sort of legalism, and all the more so to the extent one thinks it necessary.

It would be easier course, the path of least resistance, to forget the Bible and start dunking. But I am committed to the truth, wherever it leads, and it has led me clean away from water baptism and all such legalistic behaviors. I receive all manner of e-mails from people who tell me that we ought to be celebrating Passover or other festivals, keeping the Sabbath, and indulging in all manner of ritual from the Old Testament and/or from the Apostolic period (everyone, it seems, has their own "hobby-horse" when it comes to these sorts of issues). But the Bible tells me "water and Spirit", truth and the ministry of the Holy Spirit, grace and faith, over and over again. I decided long ago (after many mistakes) not to compromise my principles any longer just because others have become enslaved to one ritual regime or another. Like Paul, I decided the best way to please my Lord was "not to yield to them for one moment" (Gal.2:5), and that approach has always paid dividends.

In hopes that you too will one day be able to tear yourself free from this false approach.

In the love of Jesus Christ and the power of His Spirit,

Bob L.

Question #12:  

Thanks Bob! You state your beliefs in a straightforward and courageous way, and I appreciate that.

We disagree completely. If it weren't so serious, I would almost find it amusing how you and I can look at the same verse and draw such a different conclusion. Just one brief example: what I was trying to say (whether I said it very well or not, I don't know) is that in John 3:5 the word water means water. From John's baptism, including the baptism of Jesus, the baptisms done by Jesus' apostles, and the baptisms that occur throughout the book of Acts -- it seems entirely consistent to believe that when Jesus used the water, He meant water. In similar fashion when He used the word Spirit, I would be just as literal in believing that was a baptism by the Spirit, as is mentioned by Paul in 1 Cor. 12:13. As you said, "water and Spirit." If He's referring to the literal Holy Spirit, then why not to literal water. Oh, well!

You are certainly full of surprises. For example, while you were sharing thoughts about Acts 2:38 (with which, as I'm sure you might suspect, I totally disagreed!) I was quite surprised ... well, let me ask instead of assert ... did you say that the "gift of the Spirit" is salvation? You see, I believe the gift of the Spirit was/is the indwelling Spirit (presence of God) that abides in all true Christians, a la Romans 8. As I'm sure you know Acts 5:32 says that Spirit is given by God to all who obey Him. But you gotta remember -- I'm a faith/obedience guy, not a faith only guy. ("Trust and obey, for there's no other way" the famous hymn so elegantly states.) I think that's something I'd challenge you to consider in your ongoing studies -- to see how Paul, especially in the book of Romans puts so much emphasis on obedience. Most evangelicals don't like obedience, down play it, especially through expunging baptism from their teaching. Unlike Martin Luther, I like the book of James, and have absolutely no problem seeing a great correlation between what Paul teaches about grace and faith, and what James says about faith and works. Of course, the use of the word work(s) in James is talking about an altogether meaning as the way Paul uses it in Eph. 2:9 -- but more like the way he uses it in Philippians 2:12 "work out your salvation with fear and trembling." Paul didn't preach works salvation in one place and refute it in another!

Also in your comments about Acts 2:38, could I have possibly misunderstood -- it seemed that you were saying that their physical baptism mediated the same gift as was poured out on the Apostles in 2:1-4 -- surely not! If yes, then that sets off a whole wave of new questions in me! I would be totally confused by you if you were saying that water baptism mediated the 3,000 receiving an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, prophesied by Joel, and completed on the Apostles (Jews) and Cornelius' household (Gentiles). Sorry, Bob, but this is the kind of patchwork inconsistency that I referred to in my last letter. Baptism meaning one thing at one point, and then something else the next time, and then something entirely different the next time -- that would truly be "authored" confusion! I will state one last time what I've been trying to say all along -- the "one baptism" referred to by Paul in Eph. 4 is the same obedient act of faith, all the way through Acts, and referred to numerous times in the epistles. Baptism into Christ is so very similar to John's baptism -- a baptism of repentance, in water, for the forgiveness of sins -- the two big differences being that John's couldn't be into the death, burial and resurrection of Christ (as Paul teaches in Romans 6), and of course the "gift of the Spirit" we've been talking about.

And, oh yes, one last thing about Acts 2:38 -- your breaking repentance (the flip side of faith?) and baptism (salvation?!) into two separate things violates all the basic rules of grammar in both the Greek and English. The conjunction "and" puts those two words on equal footing. The people had asked "what shall we do?" Do, Bob, do! You would say if they already believed, they'd have to do nothing, right? Peter should have forever set the record straight right there, plainly stated that "you don't have to do anything, you're already saved!" But no (and I would figure he was about as directly under the Spirit's influence at that moment as anyone could be!) ... he told them what they needed to do -- repent and be baptized -- and praise God, that's what 3,000 or so did! The same Peter of course commanded Cornelius and his household to be baptized (Acts 10) -- by the way, I'm just remembering your assertion that they were already saved (and you suggested I add meaning to the texts!). When it came to being saved, Peter told the people in Acts 10 the same thing he had told them in Acts 2 -- they already believed, but what did they need to do? ... repent and be baptized. Consistency: Paul taught and practiced the same thing. So did Phillip. So did Ananias when Paul had his sins washed away.

I just reminded myself of one question I've been dying to ask you -- I'd be curious at this point to see how you try to make this passage mean something other than what it plainly says. When were Saul's (Paul's) sins forgiven? Some like you would say when he saw the light on the road to Damascus. Others would say that the falling of the scales from his eyes symbolizes salvation. But the Holy Spirit directed Luke to record precisely what the God-sent preacher said to Paul, "and now why do you tarry? Arise and be baptized, washing away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord." Paul had been a believer, and no doubt repenting for three days. (Anyone who says that belief alone saves has to deliberately ignore what James says about the demons who believe in Jesus.) And if you hold to your arguments that most or all salvation producing baptisms in the New Testament are baptism by/in/with the Spirit, then why was Paul told to arise??? Would you go so far as to suggest that Paul wasn't baptized in water at that time, and by so doing was "calling on the name of the Lord?" My parents had me sprinkled. I had water poured on me in the same church. Later I was "taught the way of the Lord more perfectly" and as a penitent believer who had just confessed (professed) my faith in Jesus as the Son of God, I (in effect) called on the name of the Lord by being united with Him in baptism. In so doing, I received all of the same blessings and benefits we read with all of the major (detailed) conversion stories in the book of Acts -- my sins were forgiven, or washed away (by the power of Jesus' blood as I was baptized into His death) -- I received the gift of the Holy Spirit -- I was added by the Lord to His church, etc.

I really didn't mean to write this much, but since I figure this is the last time I'll be writing you, I have just been thinking of all the unsaid things I've been wanting to share with you for your consideration. One last thing! I think you are a smart and sincere man. May I ask you to not to embarrass yourself as so many evangelicals do when they are trying to negate baptism. Please don't butcher the text in Acts 18:8ff where it says that Crispus and his household believed in the Lord, and many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptized. In their eagerness to discredit the proper place of baptism, I've heard many evangelicals (either in ignorance or as a deliberate fraud) say, "See, see -- that proves it! Some were saved without baptism, while others were baptized." They either ignorantly or conveniently forget that Crispus was one of the very ones that Paul says he baptized (1 Cor. 1). But then those same anti-baptism proponents will turn around in another situation and terribly distort that same passage in 1st Corinthians, terribly taking the verses out of context and try to make it appear that Paul is against baptism. (A question which I asked you before, but don't remember is you answered is "if Paul was so much against baptism, then why did he practice it on Crispus, Gais and the household of Stephanus? or why did he stand by and let the Philippians jailor and his household be baptized in the middle of the night (!), if it didn't have anything to do with salvation?)

I really believe that you anti-baptism folks have a lot of gaps in your doctrine, friend! And you being as studious and sincere as you are, I pray that someday it will all snap into place in your thinking ... that to teach the whole counsel of God, you must include in one's simple obedience of the gospel (death, burial, resurrection) the penitent and confessing believer reenacts the gospel in his own baptism into Christ, by being baptized united with Christ (and all of the spiritual blessings that brings).

Thanks for reading!

Grace and peace,

Response #12: 

You are very welcome. You are worth it to the Lord, that is for sure. I don't think it can be overemphasized just how potentially debilitating to faith and spiritual progress being on the wrong side of this issue can be – not to mention the degree of responsibility if and when any others are led astray.

Back to John chapter three. You seem to be missing the point here. You say, "water means water", but by that statement what you really mean is "water means water-baptism". Water no more automatically meant baptism in our Lord's day than it does today. Water is used for many things besides baptism. You don't seem to realize that you are making a huge logical leap here, one that may seem "natural" to you, but which is certainly not present in the Bible. If Jesus meant "baptism", why didn't He say so? We both agree that our Lord, "meant what He said", but your assertion that because He said "water" He necessarily meant "baptism" without seemingly even being able to acknowledge that you are making an assumption makes me despair of getting anywhere in this conversation. When I say "water", the most "natural" thing that people think of today is "drink", and that was certainly also true in our Lord's day. Even in a salvation context, "drinking" is more common in scripture than "washing". That was true in the Old Testament (e.g., Is.55:1, "come to the waters, all you who are thirsty"); that is true in the New Testament (e.g., Rev.21:6, "To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life."). So when I "assume" that the water Jesus is talking about is the water of the Word, I have several things going for me: 1) the more normal and natural meaning of water (i.e., something to drink); 2) the more common biblical use of the word symbolically (i.e., truth); and 3) an interpretation which lines up with what scripture says everywhere else about salvation (i.e., faith + the object of faith are what salvation requires). Your interpretation, on the other hand, 1) requires us to understand "water" to refer to something that is not in fact the natural association that the average person hearing this passage for the first time would assume (in contrast to the plethora of passages where it means something to drink, is there even anywhere else in scripture where "water" by itself means baptism without the word for baptism being present?); 2) assumes that Jesus is expecting Nicodemus to make this connection without using the word "baptism" as a cue, even though Nicodemus, based upon Old Testament usage, would naturally assume that Jesus was talking about something to drink, and 3) necessitates that we see Jesus leave out all of the other "stages" of salvation you have assumed, namely, repentance, confession, and whatever other works you feel are necessary. In short, this passage cannot be evidence for water baptism being necessary for salvation, because no one would ever get that from this passage on their own; at best, that interpretation has to be imposed on it after one has already become convinced of that (erroneous) belief.

*Apropos of the above and deserving its own paragraph is the fact that you have never answered one of the key, fatal objections to your theory: if salvation and the consequent gift of the Spirit require prior water baptism, how do you explain Cornelius and his comrades receiving the Spirit before they were water baptized? It's not "an assertion" as you later claim. Does God give His Spirit to unbelievers?

Finally, your second objection is actually another point in favor of the above. Jesus does not actually say "Holy Spirit" in John. He says "spirit". The word "spirit" is the Greek pneuma (from which we get pneumatic), and the word can variously mean in the Bible "[Holy] Spirit", "[human] spirit", and also "wind". In fact, "wind", the very analogy Jesus uses here to explain those "born of the Spirit" (same exact word), is the first thing a Greek speaker (or a Hebrew speaker; the word ruach has the same double meaning) would think of when hearing pneuma. So here we have Jesus using two words, neither of which can be properly understood without figuring out what they refer to. Whether "water" is referring to something we use to wash or to something we drink, we have to make that connection; and whether "wind" refers to our spirit of the Holy Spirit, we have to make that connection. In the latter case, we agree that the most logical connection is the Agent of salvation. Why then, do you have trouble agreeing that the most logical connection for the former is the Object of salvation, namely, the word of truth about Him who is the Word of Truth in whom must put our faith to be saved, i.e., the gospel?

The baptism "of" the Spirit comprises two parts, a "with" part (i.e., the unction) and an "into" part (i.e., the union with Christ as in Matt.28:19); these parts are inseparable in practice today. In the early days of the apostolic age, however, the baptism was mediated by the laying on of the apostles hands often, though not always, in conjunction with water baptism. This tended and trended away into the "by faith" baptism that is now automatic upon belief; mediation by the apostles became less and less important as the canon grew, and less and less practical as Christianity grew (i.e., after the first few years and the expansion of faith to the gentiles, there often wouldn't even be an apostle present when the gospel was given, and often not even one of their "team"). We see the divergence of Spirit baptism from water baptism most clearly in Acts 8, 10, and 18.

On James and works et al., this is probably a part of the discussion we should have gone into more detail about earlier on (though I had thought I had made my position clear on this). "Work" is used in a variety of ways in scripture. The traditional evangelical insistence on seeing every occurrence as negative is indeed misplaced as you correctly point out. There is/are good work/works, and there is/are work/works with which God is unimpressed. The distinction between them is entirely whether or not we are following the will of God and being obedient to what it is He has called us to do.

Jesus answered, "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent."
John 6:29 NIV

True faith always results in works with which God is pleased; even the most marginal believer will have something to show for his/her life when summoned before Christ's judgment seat (i.e., we will all at least have earned "interest" on the "talent" with which we have been entrusted). However, I would be careful about equating faith in terms of salvation (which is absolute – i.e., either we have faith in Jesus or we do not) and obedience (which by definition refers to our behavior after salvation), since that is never going to absolute in a positive sense. Even the greatest believers in the Bible were not sinlessly perfect (no one can be), and even the worst believers are not disobedient in an absolute way. Well before approaching that point, faith dies out (see the link: Apostasy and the Sin unto Death).

As to your question about Pentecost, as I say, there is only one baptism of the Spirit, whether or not it comes with the obvious manifestations as at Pentecost. I see no "patchwork" in anything I've said (or taught elsewhere) and no grounds for your confusion. Maybe you should make your specific objections more clear.

As to Ephesians 4:5, I fail to see your point. There is "one baptism" and only one (just as there is only one Lord, one Spirit, one Father). Since there is only "one", it either has to be "water" or "Spirit", and since scripture consistently points to the superiority of the reality of the Spirit over the symbol of the water, surely the "one baptism" which is important is that of the Spirit. Q.E.D.

"I baptize you with [ Or in] water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
Matthew 3:11 NIV

On Acts 2:38, it has become clear by now (or should have) that your desire to place the yoke of water baptism on all believers and, more than that, to tell them that it is essential for their salvation, stems from this passage most of all. First, you make a number incorrect statements about other passages in Acts and elsewhere in attempting to support your interpretation.

1) Peter does not tell the believers in Acts 10 to repent. Instead, what he says in verse 43 is "All the prophets testify about him (i.e., Jesus) that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name" [NIV]. It is directly after Peter says this that the Spirit falls upon these new believers: "everyone who believes receives forgiveness of sins". They believe; they receive the Spirit; water baptism is a ritual after-thought in this passage, and clearly was not the means of their salvation nor even of their reception of the Spirit since we are told here very specifically by the Word of God that their belief and that their reception of the Spirit had already occurred before Peter even mentioned water-baptism.

2) Paul never even mentions water baptism, except to say how grateful he is that he omitted the ritual with most of the Corinthians.

3) Philip does not say anything about baptism to the Ethiopian eunuch. He baptizes him with water only at his request (after belief).

4) Paul's sins were "washed away" by faith, not water baptism. As Ananias says, "wash away your sins by calling upon His Name" (Acts 22:). Calling on the Name of Jesus is an expression of faith (cf. Rom.10:9). That is what washes away our sins and what washed away Paul's, not the ritual of water baptism.

The only thing that all of these passages have in common is not any indication whatsoever that water baptism is necessary for salvation, not any call to repentance as a necessary first step, not any demand to confess sins, no, the only thing all of these passages have in common is FAITH.

"Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved".
Acts 16:31

So before you assume that your particular interpretation of Acts 2:38 is the last word on what salvation requires, it would be good to consider that the method you are using puts Peter in direct contradiction with these other passages you allude to as being essentially the same in meaning. And while you with your position and approach cannot possibly reconcile these divergent approaches in a way that would satisfy anyone but yourself, seeing FAITH as the common, essential element in them all, and the ONLY element that we need supply for salvation, is in fact the ONLY genuine way that they (and all of the other myriad passages that you have dropped from the argument as "inconvenient") can give us a coherent and consistent message.

For God loved the world so much that He gave [up] His only Son, [with the purpose] that everyone who believes in Him should not be lost [forever], but have eternal life [instead].
John 3:16

Notice, not who confesses and believes, nor who repents and believes, nor who confesses and repents and believes, and certainly not who is baptized and believes, but everyone who believes is saved. If baptism were necessary, this verse would ipso facto be untrue.

I have explained Acts 2:38 to you several times now. I have explained the conflation of John's baptism with that of the Spirit (and how that died out). I have explained the issues of mediation of the Spirit and the Jewish context. And I hope I have explained how that the ritual of water baptism is merely representing faith here. In Peter's thinking, if an individual does really repent and is willing to be water baptized, well, that probably means that he/she has believed. But I guarantee you that if Peter did not at this point (i.e., five minutes after Pentecost when he still had a very lot to learn; cf. your quote of Acts18:26) understand that water baptism without faith does not produce salvation but that faith without water baptism does, he certainly did soon thereafter (and he certainly does now). Only faith would motivate the actions Peter calls upon the crowd to undertake, and with that faith this ritual was a mere expressions of that underlying faith that saved them, not the putting off of bodily filth through washing, but calling upon God for a clean conscience through the forgiveness that is in Jesus Christ by faith. Finally, as I say, the practical reason for saying it here like he said it doing it here like he did was to mediate the Holy Spirit to those who had assembled upon hearing the outpouring of the Spirit on the first day of the gift of the Spirit: this was a unique situation with a unique audience and was never repeated in this same way ever again (at least these words and this procedure are not anywhere else in scripture).

Thank you for sharing your personal experience, but as you yourself point out, it is the Word of God upon which we build our doctrine, not what we have experienced. I have repeatedly said that the apostles did on occasion (and more so early on than later) use water baptism as a ritual that hearkened back to John and that mediated the Spirit in the interest of connecting the herald and the Messiah for Jewish audiences. I am not an apostle, and neither are you. I do not have the ability to mediate the Holy Spirit by laying my hands on people and neither do you. If we evangelize others, we are not going to be dealing with a largely Jewish audience well acquainted with John's water baptism and associating it closely with the Messiah and His herald (or with those whose frame of reference to these things of God was Judaism, even if gentile). In those days, these people who are the normal audience being evangelized in Acts would have known all about John's baptism as pointing to the Messiah now being preached to them, and would have expected the water in spite of what John had said ("He will baptize you with the Spirit). In short, not only is there not a shred of evidence in the Bible that can reasonably be made to suggest that water baptism is necessary for salvation, even the reasons for it have now disappeared entirely. The reason most people who do it today do it are 1) tradition, and 2) psychological manipulation (the worst species of which is to say you can't be saved without it).

Finally, your closing statement is very interesting. You say "the penitent and confessing believer reenacts the gospel in his own baptism into Christ, by being baptized united with Christ (and all of the spiritual blessings that brings)". But this is what the baptism of the Holy Spirit does, and you are attributing instead these things to dunking in water! Beyond all argument, water baptism and Spirit baptism are two different things. The Spirit is not given to the Samaritans in spite of the water, and He is given to Cornelius' household before any water. Just as John said, "I baptize with water . . . He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit". It is this baptism of the Spirit which is the "one" baptism which matters (Eph.4:5). Your interpretation has to conflate the two to be able to morph around all the passages that contradict it.

In hopes of your reassessment and acceptance of the truth in Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #13: 

SECOND PARAGRAPH - I'm intrigued for both of our sakes with your statement that "no one would ever draw that conclusion (baptism) from this passage." I agree! Just as I think they (Nicodemus then, or most people since) wouldn't see "the washing of the Word" from it either. Let's be honest. Jesus coined several phrases here: "born again," "born of water" and "born of Spirit" that either never occur again, or are rarely used (certainly not like other oft-used phrases by Paul or others). So I agree with your point that I see baptism in this more or less "after the fact," i.e. as I have been impressed with the purpose and mode of baptism from other Scriptures, THEN I can also see that in what Jesus said. I don't think that's bad, or faulty interpretation, or anything of that sort. Hey, we all know that many passages that seemed vague or even beyond our understanding have become much clearer with additional (later) Scripture.

I obviously didn't make myself clear on one point, as I should have. Yes, I believe water means water, and Spirit means the Holy Spirit. But the phrase of key concern, in my understanding, should be "born of water." Don't know that it ever occurs again, and as I said above, its meaning was to become clear in light of later teachings and practice. However, I'd be interested in knowing what you think this "born of water" is referring to. I hope you don't go down the especially lame path taken by some anti-baptism adherents of trying to (very poor scholarship) fabricate it into physical birth, as in the breaking of a mother's water. As I hope you know that phrase is never used anywhere else in all of Greek writings, scared or secular, to describe physical birth. Yes, I believe the "born of water" is a reference to baptism, which will become clearer with the writing of more Scripture and/or the practice of the Apostles in the book of Acts.

THIRD PARAGRAPH - My apologies if I have not spoken about your question re: Acts 10. I was not deliberately ignoring it. I think that question -- as to whether or not Cornelius and his household were saved prior to or even at having the Spirit poured out on them as occurred upon the Apostles in the early part of Acts 2 -- the plain fact is that the Scriptures don't say! Either way, it's an assumption. I believe God's purpose in this was a very unique occurrence that, more than anything else, was a completion of Joel's prophecy to pour out the Spirit on "all flesh" -- the traditional interpretation that I've heard from all camps on that one is that the all flesh part was completed first on the Apostles (Jews) and then on Cornelius and household (Gentiles). (The whole point of the big retelling of the event in chapter 11 seems to bear out first the surprise and then the acceptance of Peter and the others about Gentiles being recipients of God's grace.) Bob, I like consistency, not gaps. Not to be insulting or redundant, I honestly believe my interpretation of how and when salvation occurs is a lot more consistent that yours. Here's why I say that. If they were saved before or at the outpouring of the Spirit, then why did Peter immediately command them to be baptized. (In all honesty I think an answer to that from you is as or more needed than the question you asked me!) But first, could God pour out His Spirit on unsaved people? Sure, if He wanted to. Why not? In one way what would be the difference in that and any manifestation or revelation of Himself that he's ever made on or before unbelievers? My point would be that because they needed the same things that Peter addressed in Acts 2 (forgiveness of sins & the gift of the Spirit, the abiding indwelling of God's presence in their lives) that this same Peter gave them, right then and there, right in the face of this other awesome occurrence, to be baptized!

FOURTH PARAGRAPH - Bob I am not a Greek scholar; perhaps you are? Like a lot of folks, I look at a host of translations, including a Greek/English Interlinear, and try my best to do some work with a Lexicon. But honestly, I've never heard anyone suggest, or found in any of the major translations (including especially the ASV or the NASB, which I hear people constantly extolling as the most and second most literal and accurate English translations we have) ... I've never seen this translated as anything but Spirit with a capitol S. (I know about upper and lower case in Greek, and that when translating the translators make that call based upon context and other factors.) I realize your point to me was in reference to baptism, but (like with other things you and other evangelicals do) it seems that you are chasing a lot of rabbits to try to discredit baptism ... even though, I realize, that you did not necessarily say that this wasn't the Holy Spirit.

FIFTH PARAGRAPH - As I've said before, I think this phrase and idea of yours, "mediation by the apostles" is just plain false and misleading. I believe when Jesus promised them He would send the Spirit to lead them into all truth, that's exactly what He meant! To be perfectly frank, I see this as just another clever contrivance by some to substitute manmade doctrines, trying to excuse away the pattern that incudes baptism as a part of faith's response to the grace of God. Saying the apostles were confused, or trying to reach back to John, or making a graceful transition, or whatever other fancy dodge one might invent is sure a swell way of negating some otherwise clear examples of what the apostles actually did ... and on purpose! Like I've said before (and you've said the same to me!), I believe your presupposition is coloring your interpretation ... and that is always a dangerous thing. Again: if Peter, John and Paul taught and practiced baptism as a part of numerous conversion stories, to try to lay that off to their not having come to some fuller realization of the truth ... I would consider that an affront to what Jesus promised the Spirit would do in them.

Also your reference to divergence from baptism and the Spirit in Acts 8, 10 and 18 -- you seem to be completely ignoring, or somehow trying to blend into some ill-defined conglomeration of three different ways the Spirit came upon or was introduced into a person. Actually there may be a 4th, or even a 5th!

1. Before His departure, Jesus "breathed" the Holy Spirit onto the Apostles. Admittedly, this is shrouded in a bit of mystery, because we're given so little other information, and there's nothing recorded about such a thing before or afterwards.

2. The outpouring of the Spirit on first the Apostles and then later Cornelius and his household, as already referenced. (Interesting, but unlike so many Pentecostals or Charismatics would like for us to believe, I don't think the phrase "baptism of the Holy Spirit" ever occurs in Scripture. Please correct me if I'm wrong.)

3. The gift of the Holy Spirit that Peter promised when asked "what must we do" by the pricked-in-their-hearts hearers of his sermon. I believe that this gift of the spirit is given to all today who believe, confess, repent and are baptized in Jesus name. (I'm not crazy about the phrase, but this is what some refer to as the "gift ordinary," I guess in contrast to the more extraordinary or spectacular manifestations of the spirit in other ways.)

4. People receiving of the Spirit (miraculous? or ability to speak in languages they've never studied or other miracles?) that was given through the laying on the Apostles' hands. This is clearly referenced in Acts 8 and 19. (By this interpretation, both the Samaritans and the former disciples of John would have both already received the "gift ordinary" as they were baptized, and then additionally received the laying on of the hands of an apostle.)

5. There's a general sense in which people are impacted and influenced, then and now, by both Spirit-led teachers like John, Jesus, the Apostles, New Testament era prophets, etc. and/or the emerging and now ongoing influence of the Spirit through the pages of Scripture. (No I don't believe that Spirit is bound up today within the pages of the book He inspired -- I believe I have received the gift of the Spirit when I obeyed the gospel -- Acts 2:38, 5:32 -- but not some of those other ways, since I think the Joel prophesied outpourings of the Spirit ended with Cornelius' household, nor has an Apostle laid hands on me. I do have the Word, and ever thankful for the God-breathed truth it is!)

REFERENCE TO EPH. 4 PARAGRAPH - As I've stated to you before, I believe the "one baptism" here is the same one referred to by Jesus in John 3:5, "born of water and the Spirit," as well as what Peter, John and Paul taught and practiced. No inconsistency there. Where the inconsistency comes is by Pentecostals who claim that everyone who becomes a Christian does so with an Acts 2 type pouring out of the Spirit, or ones like you who claim that most baptisms referred to in Acts or the epistles are baptisms by the Spirit. (Doesn't it just irk you guys that those supposedly Holy Spirit led apostles were so sloppy and confusing towards the rest of us, by continuing to baptize people in water!) How much simpler and straightforward to take the teachings of the New Testament at face value, and when it says baptism, know it's talking about the baptism Peter commanded in Acts 2 and Acts 10.

PARAGRAPH ABOUT ACTS 2:38

(1) I am pretty sure that I made the point before, but I will gladly make it again: in all of the conversion stories we have the apostle or other teacher giving (it is recorded) different parts of an answer that seems to be fully understanding by combining all the parts into one whole. (In some instances the text shows that more was taught, but we only have a portion of it.) If you wanted to be ridiculous with it, you could come up with about a half a dozen different variations on what exactly people were told to do to become Christians. I hearken to that wonderful statement by Paul, "God is not the author of confusion, but of peace." I honestly hope, Bob, that someday you see that the beautiful act of baptism is just as much a part of God's plan as repentance and confession of faith. All of those are acts of faith. All culminate in one's new birth, i.e. being born of water and the Spirit (baptism into Christ).

(2) The interpretation you and many give to these statements by Paul in I Cor. 1 is a true example of what Peter said about "twisting the Scriptures." Please take this warning. I hope you have enough intellectual honesty to admit that Paul is addressing the matter of division in the church -- division over following preachers -- he has already raised the rhetorical questions "Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?" It doesn't take a genius to figure out that Paul had figured out that his doing the actual baptizing might somehow contribute to this division. But (and please be warned) to take his statement and try to make them prove that Paul was in any way anti-baptism ... that is just a gross mishandling of the text! I could almost say you had a point, except for the point that Paul mentions those he did baptize. So was Paul a hypocrite? Was he telling the Corinthians that baptism is no big deal, and then admit that he had nonetheless baptized some? Is it impossible for you to see (are you so blinded by your anti-baptism bias?) that you can't see that Paul was saying he will do the preaching, and let others do the baptizing? Your zealous and sincere (I'm sure) but false treatment of this passage makes Paul look like a fool, and would give any Bible critic lots of ammunition to say the Bible is full of contradictions.

(3) Again, it looks like your anti-baptism bias has blinded you to the obvious. So what if the Ethiopian asked first about baptism? (Surely you don't think that's really significant!) The text shows that starting with the passage in Isaiah, Philip has been teaching him that the passage was teaching about Jesus. Common sense and sound logic would dictate that somewhere in that teaching he had already taught him about baptism. Thus, when they come to water, the seeking Ethiopian asks if he can be baptized. What a beautiful story. What a clear indication of how things are supposed to happen in a conversion ... until someone likes you takes the story and tries to turn it inside out or, as the saying goes "stand it on its head!" If Philip had done according to what you believe, this would have been a perfect opportunity to correct the Ethiopian, tell him that baptism in that body of water would have nothing to do with salvation, and that ... (from there you can go off into the plethora of substitutions you folks have invented to replace baptism: "asking Jesus into your heart," "Accepting Jesus," and of course the biggest evangelical lie of all time, "the sinner's prayer." Please be warned about what you are doing to this New Testament teaching.

(4) There's nothing about your interpretation that's anything but a not so thinly veiled to expunge baptism from the story. Did the preacher tell Paul to arise immediately so he could call on the name of the Lord? Oh, how I just wish you would see that everything the Holy Spirit wanted to be in that verse, He put in the verse! And like with all of these other attempts to discredit the place of baptism, if Paul is going to be saved without baptism, then are you saying that this baptism was a baptism by the Spirit, and now baptism in water?

The second paragraph of part 4 is, in my opinion, a very dangerous statement for you or anyone else to make. By what authority or "power" can you summarily dismiss any or all of God's commands given through Christ's apostles, or any Spirit-led preacher in the accounts. This somehow vaguely reminds me of that silliness associated with Joseph Smith, who claimed he found magical glasses by which he could translate certain plates of hidden Scripture that he had found. I'm being conspicuously facetious, but do you have some special glasses by which you can look at Scripture and tell which commands are to be followed and which are to be ignored? It also reminds me of a story I heard once about a story that came out of some door-knocking evangelism that occurred years ago. A young man, who would from what I heard share similar beliefs to mine, found an older woman sitting on her porch reading her Bible. They began a conversation and before long got around to the matter of salvation. At some point the young man made the statement that baptism was a command of God just like believing, repenting, and confessing. The woman replied "that's not in my Bible!" The young man, as politely as he could said, "Ma'am you may not know that it's there, but it is in there" to which she promptly replied, "Not in my Bible, it isn't!" So he asked to see her Bible, and sure enough, there wasn't anything in it about baptism. She had taken her scissors and cut all of those passages out! I know you wouldn't do that. But I think you have used logic and misinterpretation to, effect, cut baptism out of your teaching. And I don't even blame you -- I don't think you are a bad person with evil intentions. And I don't necessarily blame the human teachers who somewhere along the way took the liberty to depart from simple Biblical truths that are very plain and easy to see, and took it upon themselves to substitute their own thinking. I ultimately blame the Father of Lies. Of course he doesn't want people to be baptized into Christ!

isinterpretation of Acts 16:31 and the verses that follow is one of the most egregious examples I can think of how those with an anti-baptism bias either ignorantly or purposely mislead people about how to respond to God's grace. The jailor asks the question. Paul starts giving his answer with the statement you quoted. If that had been the end of the conversation, all that Paul told him, then you would have absolutely shown my teaching to be totally wacky! But please be honest with the text. That was the beginning of Paul's answer, not the sum of it! Why don't you and teachers like you, in allegiance to the text, just continue to read and teach what it shows? "Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and all the others in his house." In other, we have the introduction, but the bulk of the teaching from Paul to the jailor is not recorded in detail for us. (You wouldn't be so bold, would you, to say that whatever that teaching was -- I think I know what much of it had to be! -- that it was irrelevant or unnecessary. And just like with the non-detailed parts of Philip's teaching of the Ethiopian, some of this teaching must have been about the other parts of responding to God's grace.

There are two possible interpretations of what Paul taught the jailor and his household that night:

(a) He started by telling them to believe in Jesus, continued with more teaching, and at some point later (we don't know exactly how long) after the jailor compassionately tended to their wounds, immediately (straightway, KJV) the jailor and his family were baptized.

(b) He completely answered their question about how to be saved with his first statement. The additional teaching of the word of the Lord, at best, was extraneous to their salvation. And then for some reason, we really can't know why, they were baptized then, in the middle of the night! (Or worse yet, you could say there was no baptism in water at all, that it was a spiritual baptism ... but oops, according to your doctrine that should have happened the moment they were saved!)

I love John 3:16, quote it and teach from it all the time ... in fact I often start with it as a part of teaching people about God's love and how to be saved, culminating in their repentance, confession of faith and baptism into Christ for the forgiveness of their sins. But your assertions about what all's not there is a really poor hermeneutic. It would be just as flawed to say that there's nothing said about believing in 1 Peter 3:21, and trying to conclude from that statement alone that surely belief has nothing to do with being saved. And I wish you anti-baptism (anti-obedience) folks would be as eager to point out the truths of John 3:36 as you are with John 3:16. (check out 3:36 in the Greek, or the RSV or ASV)

I have to tell you that a manmade phrase like "mediation of the Spirit" has no sway over my thinking at all. Give me the Bible. But I'm sure that there are many lazy or biased people who love fancy talk like that, thinking that such high-falootin' words must signify correctness.

Finally (skipping over some of your winding down statements). In response to my telling of my own experience, you assert that it is by baptism of the Spirit that we experience (participate in, I guess) the death, burial and resurrection of the Spirit. If it just said that anywhere, then you'd have a really solid point. Again, your interpretation gives itself to greater misunderstanding of the Bible, because you espouse spirit baptism instead of baptism in water at a number of places. But you can't do it all the time, because there are then those "ornery" (from your perspective, I'm sure) passages where water baptism is undeniable. You don't quite know what to do with those passages, do you Bob? Is that the problem that led some misguided individuals to come up with another of the evangelicals' off the wall dogmas about baptism ("baptism is an outward sign of an inward grace")? Is that why so many falsely teach today, completely inconsistent with the Scriptures, that they are baptized "to show that they are saved?"

I had no idea this response would be so long. But since I figure my chance to get all of these things said to you -- and I do so want you to come to what I believe is the truth of this matter -- it just went on and on. And I realize that on a number of points I spoke very pointedly, not to be insulting, but to try to jar your thinking. That was my purpose. I hope at some point down the road it makes a difference.

You're welcome to respond to anything I said today, or anything else you want to say to me ... or it will be fine if we leave it right here for a while.

Grace and peace,

Response #13:  

1) Water: It's about drinking, not washing. Drinking (as in the communion cup) is a picture of faith throughout scripture. Drinking is what we do with water most often and the natural connection Nicodemus (or anyone) would make. Once we drink (believe), then we receive the Spirit:

"But those who drink the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life."
John 4:14 NIV

We are born again when we drink (not when we are bathed). That is why the listeners in Acts 10 have the Spirit from faith apart from baptism.

And how do you answer this verse on this score?

For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
1st Corinthians 12:14 NIV

You see, it is drinking that Jesus was referring to. The drinking of the water of truth and the gift of the Spirit are consistently linked in scripture, with no water baptism in sight. Please don't miss the significance of this passage and overlook it too.

Acts 10: It is not an assumption. You cannot have the Holy Spirit, praise God and prophesy in the power of the Spirit, unless you are a believer. If you are seriously going to suggest that these people could have still been unsaved at this point, there's not much point in continuing the conversation. God can do anything He wants, yes, but beyond all argument He doesn't do certain things, like send the saved to hell or allow the unsaved into heaven. As I have said all along, this passage is not answerable for those who claim baptism is necessary for salvation. Indeed, you are going to have to send Abraham and the prophets to hell too, because they weren't baptized with water either.

Yes I am a Greek scholar (as a matter of fact; see the link: Current CV). And, yes, pneuma means "wind". It only means "Holy Spirit" in the New Testament, and only then when we are sure of our context. There are a number of places in the NT where versions vary between "spirit" and "Spirit", for example, because it is all the same word. But you are missing the point. Of course "Spirit" is correct for the word usually meaning "wind" here; but by the same token, "water" means "water" normally; it does not normally mean "baptism", even in the New Testament. "Water", when a symbolic meaning is understood as it clearly is here whether we think that symbol is baptism or truth, often means "water of truth . . . for drinking", but as I said before and still wait to see, it never on its own means "water . . . for baptism" where that word "baptism" is not found in the immediate context.

The word "Trinity" does not occur in the Bible. Yet it is not a "man-made doctrine". Rather, it is a correct description of what the Bible teaches. So with the case of mediation of the Spirit. The counsel at Jerusalem sent the apostles Peter and John to Samaria so that they could put their hands upon these new believers for them to receive the Spirit. You are free to call this anything you want; my term merely uses less ink, but it is an accurate description of what took place in Acts.

Once again you are jumping to some unwarranted conclusions. You say (maybe you still assume? hard to understand after pointing these things out with scripture so many times), that "Peter, John and Paul taught and practiced baptism as a part of numerous conversion stories". That is patently false. None of them ever "taught baptism". And as far as the sometimes mentioned practice is concerned, that in itself does not allow us to conclude either 1) that baptism was necessary or that 2) it has anything to do with salvation. The apostles during this period engaged in quite a number of practices that went back to the Law. By this reasoning, we should be teaching circumcision, Sabbath keeping, and any manner of defunct rituals as required and necessary for salvation.

As to the "affront", beyond all question the apostles had a "learning curve". Jesus does not promise them that will automatically know everything when they receive the Spirit. It doesn't happen that way. He tells them that the Spirit will "lead them into all truth". It takes time to get from point A to point B, even if we are perfect (and even they were not perfect). For example, Peter would never have gone to Cornelius' house in the first place if he hadn't received additional, detailed instructions, illustrations and commands from the Spirit to do so. Clearly, in Acts 10 he still hadn't figured out the coming of salvation to the gentiles, which, after all, is the major development of the whole Church Age! I don't blame Peter at all. You just have to understand that the learning continued through Acts, that it is a historically descriptive book and not a doctrinal confession, and that this is reflected in the mistakes, conflations, and changes that the apostles and others make over time.

And, honestly, your next paragraph really serves to prove my point here. "Five or more different baptisms of the Spirit"?! There is "one baptism". And only one. You are just demonstrating what I have been saying, namely, that there are multiple descriptions of the same thing and the descriptions are different. So to correctly discover what is the "ground truth", one has to find the common element in all, rather than picking the one passage a person favors and ignoring the rest. The only thing that all these passages have in common is that salvation comes by grace through faith, and is accompanied immediately by the gift of the Spirit for all who are "of Christ" (Rom.8.9). Personal experience is fine, but when it deviates from the scriptures, we have to go with the Bible.

What you are missing in regard to Ephesians 4:5 is that when Jesus spoke His words to Nicodemus, "the Spirit had not yet been given". So the "Spirit" in John 3 is not the baptism of the Spirit (which Nicodemus would have no means of accessing yet), but the salvation ministry of the Spirit in cooperation with the faith of the individual in question (drinking the "water" of truth).

Your (1): but you do just this in the "five or six types of baptism"; I have supplied you with a thesis that works for all of the passages in Acts and meshes with the gospels and the Epistles. That is what genuine Bible teaching and orthodox systematic theology are all about. All the data have to be considered, and one cannot just camp out on a favorite passage then draw serious conclusions.

Your (2): there is no contradiction. You are setting up a straw man argument. I have never said that Paul didn't water baptize. The question in 1st Corinthians 1 is whether or not you can make this passage say that because he baptized some, that 1) baptism was required, and 2) that it was necessary for salvation. Clearly, things are quite to the contrary. It "doesn't take a genius" to read this passage and understand that Paul is certainly not singing the praises of water baptism. His language is very strange if he believed either 1) or 2) above. In fact, it would be odd for this passage to be in the Bible the way it is if baptism were required or necessary. In fact, the language here is completely consistent with a thesis that says, the apostles did it, but not necessarily always; that some, perhaps many, were never water baptized, and that the apostles never taught necessity or requirement (because they don't, ever actually do so anywhere, including in Acts 2:38).

Your (3): besides the fact that this is a description not a commandment, the Ethiopian is not an apostle (and in your theory not even a believer when he says this). Coming from Jerusalem and with a holy scroll, he was certainly a proselyte which means he knew all about John's baptism. This is important: John's baptism is the natural place to start the gospel story for all of that day with Jewish backgrounds, because that ties in with the prediction of the Messiah. It would be a natural thing for people of that background in that day to want to have John's baptism (and that is just what Peter is tying into as well at Acts 2:38). So it is incorrect to jump to the conclusion that baptism was required or necessary or that Philip said that it was. It certainly isn't in the Bible.

Your (4): Your statement is unclear and unresponsive. Paul was saved before he hit the water. See point three above.

There is no command for us to be baptized – anywhere. The apostles are commanded to mediate the Spirit to us in Matthew 28:19 (and we do that now when we give the gospel rather than laying on hands). Even Acts 2:38 does not say "you must be baptized to be saved". It says "Repent!" (a command), and then "let everyone of you be baptized" (which is not at all the same thing; cf. 1Cor.7:2, "let everyone have his own wife" does not mean we have to get married).

This begs the question I've been asking repeatedly again. If water baptism is so important, why is it entirely absent from the epistles (except in the disparaging context of 1Cor.1)?

Talk about scissors – how about paste, glue and erasers! Paul never says in Acts 16 "you must be baptized" or anything of the sort. This is what you assume, but it is not there in the text at all.

In all of these passages, we see that your argument is merely a collection assumptions, not actual biblical mandates. That is fine for you; but I don't share them. I prefer what scripture actually says. If that makes me "lazy" or "ornery" or "biased" or "high-falootin", so be it.

Finally, on the contrary, not only do I "know what to do" with all the passages dealing with water and Spirit baptism in scripture, I have given you detailed and comprehensive answers to them all. You, on the other hand, are attempting to strain out the gnat with this over-focus on an optional ritual, and are doing so in such a way as to swallow down the camel of legalism. Never being water baptized is no sin, no crime, and presents no disadvantage whatsoever to a true believer in Jesus Christ. Denying the grace and the power of God for the sake of a personal interpretation of a bygone ritual, however, is quite another matter indeed.

In our dear Lord in whom we believe and through whom we are saved as a result.

Bob L.

Question #14:  

Dear Bob,

First -- just to get it out of the way: I hope it was simply a misread on your part. I did not say there were five different baptisms by the Spirit, as you quoted back to me and addressed. I said (and I am quoting directly) -- some ill-defined conglomeration of three different ways the Spirit came upon or was introduced into a person. Actually there may be a 4th, or even a 5th! -- and then I mentioned 5 things. Clearest example, contrasting the pouring out of the Spirit (Acts 2 and 10) and the laying on of the Apostles' hands (Acts 8 and 19). Surely you wouldn't say those two things were the same thing!

Maybe that's the limitation of this medium of communication, as compared to a face to face discussion.

I am not going to write you again for a while. As I have said several times, I appreciate the time and effort you've made to answer my questions or make your points.

I don't know I exactly expected when I began this conversation. But I have one lasting impression from it, if I may share it. If someone were to ask me either "what must I do to become a Christian?" or "what place does baptism have in being saved?," I would take them to a series of verses (not that many, really) and let them read the Bible. What they could read with their own eyes would tell them what they need to know. I believe that's the way it should be -- straightforward, uncomplicated -- what is says is what it means.

However, in contrast to that, I have found you to be willing and eager to take most or all of those same passages and have to give me complicated and detailed, sometimes even lengthy answers as to why each of those passages doesn't actually mean what it says. I sincerely hope that someday you'll realize what I have just said is true.

Thanks again,

Response #14: 

OK, fine with me. Maybe this is for the best. I've always have my doubts about "debating" when I receive e-mails such as yours. It is very rare to find someone who is really open to the truth, not just intent on ramming home his/her position. This ministry is all about finding and teaching the truth of the Bible, regardless of the consequences. I have always been happy to teach those eager for the water of the truth. I have never sought out others whom I find "misguided" and attempted to "instruct them" against their will.

Please remember – you came to me. And I have to believe that God led you to this ministry for a reason.

Since you began the discussion it is only fair that I have the last word; I'll make it brief. I would urge you not to hide behind the claim that your interpretations are "simple, uncomplicated, and straightforward". Even if true, that doesn't make them correct.

I stand by everything I have said. I find no scriptural support for requiring water-baptism.

Let's serve Him as He wants to be served, "in Spirit and in truth".

Your brother in Christ,

Bob L.

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