Water Baptism

Is It For All Christians?

MANY WHO FOLLOW JESUS may not want to be His disciples at all.

Does that surprise you?  We read in Mark’s Gospel that many followed Jesus who were not his disciples: “While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him” (2:15, NIV).

And when Roman soldiers were leading Jesus to crucify him Luke writes “a large number of people followed him” (23:27), but hours earlier we read of people shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” (23:20).

What does it mean to follow Jesus? To avoid confusion on the matter Jesus proclaims the truth quite plainly in Matthew’s Gospel:

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone

 would come after me, he must deny himself

 and take up his cross and follow me. For

whoever wants to save his life will lose it,

but whoever loses his lifefor me will find it”

 (16:24,25, NIV).

Yes, many would follow Jesus, but Jesus warned, “Anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27).

Jesus referred to His cross as the “cup” that he must drink.  “Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” (John 18:11, also Matthew 26:39).  The cross of Jesus represented a life of complete obedience to the Father’s will regardless of the consequences. Like a sheep led to the slaughter He accepted the world’s judgment of rejection and hate.   He “humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8).  The cross of the disciple then calls for willful, voluntary renunciation of self to follow Jesus in the same direction.

There is no middle ground.

All disciples are followers of Jesus, but not all followers are His disciples. Discipleship costs.

This issue is most important when talking about WATER BAPTISM.  Water baptism is commanded in Scripture.  It forms part of the Lord’s last words to His disciples.  After His resurrection, the Lord Jesus gathered His disciples together to give them what has now come to be known as His “Last Commission.”  Here is how Matthew recounts the final event:

Jesus came to them and said, “All authority

in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations,

 baptizing them in the name of the Father and

of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching

 them to observe everything I have commanded

 you.  And surely I am with youalways, to the

very end of the age” (28:18-20).

We learn from the text what is involved in the task of making disciples:  (1) “baptizing them” and (2) “teaching them.” This twin-task is to be carried out worldwide under the full authority of the risen Christ who promised His presence “to the very end of the age.”


Obedience and Water Baptism

The early Believers obeyed the command of Jesus.  We learn that baptism involve at least three things: (1) the one who baptizes; (2) the one to be baptized (baptizand); and (3) water.

For instance, John (“the Baptist”) baptized by the river Jordan where there was “plenty of water” (John 3:23). For his part Luke records a baptism in the early Church where Philip the evangelist baptized the Ethiopian eunuch in a body of water:

As they travelled along they came to some

 water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is

 water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?” And

 hegave orders to stop the chariot. Then

 both Philip and the eunuch went down into

 the water and Philip baptized him

(Acts 8:36-38).

“Look, here is water,” the Eunuch pointed out.  “Why shouldn’t I be baptized?” Exactly. Why do you think did the Eunuch connect a body of water with water baptism?  Now observe how this baptism was executed: “Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him.”

The Greek noun baptidzo (“baptism”) means “to immerse,” that is, to put something or someone under water.

The verb form bapto means “to dip” or “to dye.” Bapto corresponds to the Hebrew tabal, which also means “to dip.”

So as a rule, we go to some water for purposes of water baptism.

Later, the apostle Paul would use “baptism” to speak of the believer’s own dying and rising to newness of life in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Don’t you know that all of us who were

 baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized

into his death? We were therefore buried

with buried with him through baptism into

 death in order that,just as Christ was

raisedfrom the dead through the glory of

theFather, we too may live a new life

(Romans 6:3,4).


Is There a Baptismal Formula?

Did Jesus intend to prescribe a baptismal formula using the words “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”?  That is, are we required to say the exact same words over the baptizand at baptism?

Baptism “in the name of…” is a prepositional phrase that also occurs in four (4) other places in the Book of Acts. See for yourself if the early Christians adhered to a set of words in their baptisms:

2:38 –     “Repent and be baptized, every one of

you, on the name of (Greek: epi to

onamati)Jesus Christ for the forgiveness

of your sins” (2:38).


8:16 –   “…the had simply been baptized into

 the name of (eis to onoma) the Lord



10:48 –“So he ordered them that they be

baptized in the name of (en to

onamati) Jesus Christ.”


19:5 –  “On hearing this they were baptized

into the name of (eis to onoma) the

Lord Jesus.”


Note the various ways in which the individual texts express the prepositional phrase “in the name of”:

 epito onomati

eis to onoma

en to onomati.

(The Greek prepositions epi, eis and en mean “on” “into” and “in,” respectively. The Greek for “name” is onomaOnomati is “name” in the dative, that is, the baptism is performed in the interest of that which is named, Jesus Christ.)

Clearly, Luke does not give the form of words to be used.  But the early Church was Jewish and the Hebrew leshem (“in the name of”) is what lies behind the usage of the Greek eis to onoma (“in the name of”) in New Testament water baptisms.  Therefore, the important thing is to know how the Jews understood the usage of “in the name of” (leshem) in their ceremonial washings.

The Hebrew term mikveh refers to “a gathering of waters or bath for the ritual of immersion.” That is, a mikveh is a receptacle that contains water “for the ritual of immersion.”   The Hebrew leshem (“in the name of”), when used in Jewish washing or baptism, is a Jewish rite of purification or conversion in which the baptizand is bathed or baptized in the interest of that which is named, is dedicated to it or is committed to its purpose.

For instance, when the Jews immerse something in a mikveh they do it “in the name of,” followed by the name for which the rite was performed.  That is, when they immerse an article (i.e., cup) in the mikveh “in the name of the altar,” the article henceforth exists to serve the altar’s purpose. And when they immerse someone “in the name of the commandment,” the proselyte henceforth is a disciple of the Law.  The proselyte understands baptism as something that commits him to a lifetime of obedience to the Law. From that point on he lives for the purposes of the Law.  In short, the proselyte begins to represent the Law by the way he lives.

A Jewish brother expresses the significance of Jewish baptism in succinct terms: “The person enters the mikveh, and once immersed is considered to have ‘died.’ He emerges from the mikveh ‘reborn.’”

Thus, we find the principle of dying and coming back to new life present even in early Jewish baptisms.

Consequently, what is in view here is a complete change in life’s interest and purpose! This is what Christian baptism symbolizes: the one being baptized “dies” and emerges “reborn” to newness of life.  The baptism is performed in the interest of Jesus and no one else.  Baptism “in the name of the Lord Jesus” commits one’s life to His purpose as His representative in the world. For after all, wasn’t Jesus also baptized in the river Jordan by John?  Jesus explained to John why he submitted to water baptism:


Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do

this to fulfill allrighteousness (Mat 3:15).


This then is what it means to be baptized “in the name of Jesus.” Following Him in water baptism has something to do with the cross we carry as His disciples.  We “die” in the waters of baptism: we are no longer our own. We are “raised up”: we belong to Him in newness of life. We follow His teachings and example. We represent Him in the world.


And surely I am with you always, to

the very end of the age” (Mat 28:20).


Water baptism is a decision one makes to bea disciple of Jesus.

There were no unbaptized Christians in the early Church.


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