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Does baptism play a role in our salvation, or is it just a symbol of our salvation? Should it be mentioned when sharing the good news of what Jesus did for us? Is it just an act of obedience on the part of the Christian who has already been saved? What is the historic Christian view on this topic? But most importantly, does the Bible say baptism is needed for salvation? These are a few of the questions I have asked, and I'm sure many of you have also wondered. It is my prayer that at the end of this article we can reach a conclusion on these questions.
First things first, a little background on me. I wasn't always a Christian. In a previous hub page article I wrote titled Meth, Madness, and Miracles / 333 Fears, I explain how Jesus radically saved me. After 16 years of drug addiction, alcoholism, and many other toxic addictions, I was set free by Jesus. After getting a new chance at life, He set a fire in my heart for Him, unlike anything I've ever known before. I realized there was nothing more important than telling other people about Him and seeing other lost souls like myself saved from the fires of hell. I thought to myself, if He poured this much love upon me and was willing to forgive me, there was no one He wouldn't forgive.
I realized the importance of studying the Bible. Not only was this a way for me to draw closer to Him and learn more about Him, but I thought to myself, if I wanted to tell other people about Jesus and share the gospel with them, I must make sure I understand it myself. God also led me to do an online school for Biblical evangelism. This helped immensely and really enhanced my knowledge of the Bible and how to share my faith. Throughout the past six years, as I would study the Bible, I realized just how many different viewpoints are taught throughout Christianity. Just in my conversations with other Christians, I realized just how different many things people believed were from what I was reading in the Bible. A recent poll in 2021 showed data that only 6 percent of those who identified as Christians have a Biblical worldview. This is so incredibly sad.
Today in modern evangelical Christianity, many would say that baptism is important, but it doesn't save you. You are saved when you repent and put your faith in Jesus's death on the cross. It is an act of obedience and a symbol that we have been saved—an outward sign of an inward change. I used to believe this. I mean no disrespect to the many teachers who hold this view. Many people I greatly respect think this.
I've noticed in my Christian walk that I have never found a teacher or a denomination with whom I 100% agree. I think everyone can have blind spots. That's why I believe it is unwise to only listen to one specific teacher. We can find ourselves in an echo chamber of our own viewpoints, and their blind spots can become ours. I have made it a point to listen to various teachers to help me understand Christianity better. I will often even listen to viewpoints I don't believe are accurate. If I believe something, I want to know why I hold to that view and the alternative beliefs regarding the topic.
Throughout my digging for the truth, I stumbled upon something priceless. About two years ago, I discovered the writings of the early church. This completely changed my life and gave me a very good understanding of the roots of the Christian faith. When I say the early Christians, I'm referring to the Christians who lived during the period of (A.D.100-325). So, if we're going to talk about the important topic of baptism, let's go all the way back to the beginning and see how the earliest Christians viewed it.
Have you ever played the game of telephone as a child? You whisper something into someone's ear, and then everyone goes around in a circle and whispers that thing, and by the end of it, you usually end up with something quite different than what originally was spoken. If we're going to study something as important as the Christian faith, it would make sense to go to the earliest documents we have. We can then trace it back through time and see where it changed and why. The most important document we have, of course, is our Bible. I'm not saying the Bible changed. God has preserved that for us. Thank you, Jesus! The problem is so many different teachers have different interpretations of what the Bible says. Also, many of us when we get saved enter a church or go to a Bible study, and before we ever get a chance to read it for ourselves, we have people telling us what it says. Even though many of them had good intentions, unfortunately, we can be put off track right from the beginning.
This is where the writings of the early Christians shine. We can go to the writings of the early Christians as a very valuable commentary. I'm not saying that their writings are inspired and to be viewed at the same level as Scripture; however, they can be a useful tool in seeing how the earliest Christians interpreted the Bible. Then we can know if what we have been taught is what Christians have always believed.
Writers like Clement of Rome and Polycarp personally knew the Apostles. Another early Christian writer Irenaeus was personally discipled by Polycarp, a student of the Apostle John. So, he was literally one link removed from John, who wrote five books of the Bible. When reading their writings, you quickly realize how devoted they were to Jesus. They were not lukewarm in their devotion to God. Many of them also died faithfully as martyrs. Another beautiful thing is how they were united in their beliefs. The church hadn't broken up into thousands of different denominations back then. When it comes to how they approached topics like salvation or baptism, they all held one belief. Throughout this article, we're not going to be looking at Richard's view on baptism. We will be looking at the historical early Christian view on baptism.
First things first, I will go through a few of their quotes on baptism to clarify what they believed. Then we will go through Scripture and see if the Bible supports this. Because at the end of the day, if it's not supported in the Bible, it really doesn't matter what they believed. Before reading some of their quotes, I would like to look at a significant Bible verse. These are the very words of Jesus, and this is a verse commonly quoted by them. It is also a prime example of what I was referring to before about when people first get saved, they go to a Bible study, and they can be put off track right from the beginning. Let's go ahead and read it, and then we can discuss it a little bit.
John 3: 3-6
3 Jesus answered and said to him, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."
4 Nicodemus said to Him, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?"
5 Jesus answered, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit.
So, we would all agree that being born again is essential for salvation. Just a basic reading of the text seems to imply water baptism; however, in many branches of Christianity, they would say that isn't correct. They would say that being born of water refers to amniotic fluid. They would say this verse has nothing to do with baptism. The problem is when you trace it back, none of the early church fathers believe this. They all referred to it regarding baptism. One of the things that really opened my eyes was some of the quotes from Irenaeus. Like I was saying earlier, he was a student of Polycarp who was a student of John, the very person that wrote the Gospel of John. Did he get it wrong and the entire early Christian Church? I suppose that is possible but very unlikely. It just seems logical to go with his words over some man in a commentary almost two-thousand years later. That being said, let's get into it and see what the early Christians believed.
Early Christian Father Quotes
Blessed are they who, placing their trust in the cross, have gone down into the water….We indeed descend into the water full of sins and defilement. However, we come up, bearing fruit in our heart, having the fear [of God] and the trust in Jesus in our spirit.
Barnabas (A.D. 70-130), Ante- Nicene Fathers vol.1. Pg. 144
At our birth, we were born without our own knowledge or choice, but by our parents coming together…. In order that we may not remain the children of necessity and of ignorance, but may become the children of choice and knowledge, and may obtain in the water the remission of sins formerly committed, there is pronounced over him who chooses to be born again, and has repented of his sins, the name of God the Father and Lord of the universe….And in the name of Jesus Christ….and in the name of the Holy Spirit.
Justin Martyr (A.D. 160), Ante Nicene Fathers vol. 1 pg.183
[Scripture says], “And he dipped himself seven times in the Jordan.” It was not for nothing that Naaman of old, when suffering from leprosy, was purified upon his being baptized. Rather, this was a symbol for us. For as we are lepers in sin, we are made clean from our old transgressions by means of the sacred water and the invocation of the Lord. We are spiritually regenerated as newborn babes, just as the Lord has declared: "Unless a man is born again through water and the Spirit, he will not enter into the kingdom of heaven."
Irenaeus (A.D. 180) Ante- Nicene Fathers vol.1 pg. 574
"Unless a man has been born again of water and Spirit, he will not enter into the kingdom of the heavens." "These words have tied faith to the necessity of baptism. Accordingly, all thereafter who became believers were baptized. So it was, too, that Paul, when he believed, was baptized.
Tertullian (A. D. 198) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol. 3 pg. 676
Regeneration did not take place with John (the Baptist). However, with Jesus, through His disciples, it does occur. What is called the bath of regeneration takes place with renewal of the Spirit. For the Spirit, as well, now comes. It comes from God and is over and above the water. Yet, it does not come to all after the water.
Origen (A.D. 228) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol. 9 pg. 367
"Unless a man has been baptized and born again, he cannot attain unto the kingdom of God.” In the gospel according to John: "unless a man is born again of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God."
Cyprian (A.D. 250) Ante- Nicene Fathers vol. 5 pg.542
What Happens? Three Things
1. Prior sins are washed away
2. We are born again (water and Spirit)
3. We become members of the body (citizens of the kingdom)
John 7: 28-30
28 For I say to you, among those born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.
29 And when all the people heard Him, even the tax collectors justified God, having been baptized with the baptism of John. 30 But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the will of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.
The job of John the Baptist was to prepare people's hearts to receive Jesus. The Pharisees rejected God's will for themselves. By refusing to identify with John's baptism, they were refusing to identify with Jesus and His mission. The Pharisees knew that baptism was a direct fulfillment of messianic prophecies.
Ezekial 36: 25 -27
25 Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.
We often quote the part about receiving a new heart and having new desires when we are born again but fail to read the verse before it referring to being washed by the water.
Stumbling Blocks For People
1.) Cornelius (Received the Holy Spirit before baptism)
2.) Thief on the cross ( Was never Baptized)
These are not the standard but special occasions. God can ultimately do anything He wants, and He is not bound in a box. But he has laid out clear passages and instructions on baptism in His word. We see that salvation had not yet come to the Gentiles before Cornelius was saved. The Jewish people didn't even feel comfortable eating with the Gentiles let alone to go baptize a Gentile. God made his point clear when he showed Peter that he was opening salvation to the Gentiles as well. When Cornelius was given the Holy Spirit, this was made clear. Cornelius then immediately does get Baptized. When viewing the rest of the Scriptures regarding baptism, we see this was a special occasion and not something to now make the new standard.
The same notion applies to the thief on the cross. The thief had no way he could get baptized. He came to salvation right before his death. He had nails in him preventing him from being baptized, and God made a way for him to still be saved. We shouldn't take this unique circumstance and use it to ignore all the clear verses about baptism.
The early Christians believed the thief on the cross went through a baptism. They believed he received a baptism of blood. They also thought similar things about Christians who were martyred before they had a chance to be baptized. They used the following verse to form this opinion.
Mathew 20: 22- 23
22 But Jesus answered and said, "You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?"
They said to Him, "We are able."
23 So He said to them, "You will indeed drink My cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with; but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared by My Father."
Here Jesus is referring to the death He was about to go through on the cross as a type of baptism. Thus, we need to ask ourselves, is the thief on the cross the pattern we should look to, or is there another pattern laid out in Scripture?
Paul Is The Pattern
1 Timothy 1: 12-16
12 And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, 13 although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. 14 And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. 15 This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. 16 However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.
Acts 9: 9-18
9 Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.
3 As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. 4 Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?"
5 And he said, "Who are You, Lord?"
Then the Lord said, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads."
6 So he, trembling and astonished, said, "Lord, what do You want me to do?"
Then the Lord said to him, "Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do."
7 And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no one. 8 Then Saul arose from the ground, and when his eyes were opened he saw no one. But they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9 And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
10 Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and to him the Lord said in a vision, "Ananias."
And he said, "Here I am, Lord."
11 So the Lord said to him, "Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold, he is praying. 12 And in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him, so that he might receive his sight."
13 Then Ananias answered, "Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. 14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name."
15 But the Lord said to him, "Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children] of Israel. 16 For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name's sake."
17 And Ananias went his way and entered the house; and laying his hands on him he said, "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit." 18 Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized.
Acts 22 1-16
22 "Brethren and fathers, hear my defense before you now." 2 And when they heard that he spoke to them in the Hebrew language, they kept all the more silent.
Then he said: 3 "I am indeed a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, taught according to the strictness of our fathers' law, and was zealous toward God as you all are today. 4 I persecuted this way to the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women, 5 as also the high priest bears me witness, and all the council of the elders, from whom I also received letters to the brethren, and went to Damascus to bring in chains even those who were there to Jerusalem to be punished.
6 "Now it happened, as I journeyed and came near Damascus at about noon, suddenly a great light from heaven shone around me. 7 And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?' 8 So I answered, 'Who are You, Lord?' And He said to me, 'I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.'
9 "And those who were with me indeed saw the light and were afraid, but they did not hear the voice of Him who spoke to me. 10 So I said, 'What shall I do, Lord?' And the Lord said to me, 'Arise and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all things which are appointed for you to do.' 11 And since I could not see for the glory of that light, being led by the hand of those who were with me, I came into Damascus.
12 "Then a certain Ananias, a devout man according to the law, having a good testimony with all the Jews who dwelt there, 13 came to me; and he stood and said to me, 'Brother Saul, receive your sight.' And at that same hour I looked up at him. 14 Then he said, 'The God of our fathers has chosen you that you should know His will, and see the Just One, and hear the voice of His mouth. 15 For you will be His witness to all men of what you have seen and heard. 16 And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.'
Paul asked what he needed to do, and Jesus told him to go into the city, and He was going to send someone to tell him what to do. To doubt what Ananias said is to literally doubt Jesus. Also, I want to point out that when things are repeated in Scripture, it usually means they are quite important and to take notice. We get Paul's salvation account three different times in the book of Acts, and I think it's essential we pay attention to the details. Now that we see how Paul was saved, let's look at another pattern laid out in Scripture regarding baptism.
The Pattern of Baptism in Acts
Acts 2: 22-38
In verses 22-36, Peter preaches the gospel to the jews. They ask in verse 37 "what shall we do".
37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?"
38 Then Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
When Peter was asked what to do to be saved, did he tell everyone to close their eyes and raise a hand up if they wanted to accept Jesus into their hearts? As you can see, he did not. He simply told them what He was taught and I think it's foolish of us to think after all that time he spent with Jesus that he dropped the ball when asked about salvation.
Acts 8: 5-13
5 Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them. 6 And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did.
In verse 12 we see they responded to the Gospel message with baptism.
12 But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized. 13 Then Simon himself also believed; and when he was baptized he continued with Philip, and was amazed, seeing the miracles and signs which were done.
Paul and Silas
25 But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone's chains were loosed. 27 And the keeper of the prison, awaking from sleep and seeing the prison doors open, supposing the prisoners had fled, drew his sword and was about to kill himself. 28 But Paul called with a loud voice, saying, "Do yourself no harm, for we are all here."
29 Then he called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 And he brought them out and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?"
31 So they said, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household." 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized. 34 Now when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them; and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household.
Baptism Throughout The Bible
26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
5 not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit,
Hebrews 10: 22
19 Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21 and having a High Priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.
1 Peter 3 18-21
18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, 19 by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, 20 who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. 21 There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him.
Peter compares baptism to the ark of Noah, and he also clearly says baptism saves us. It sort of blows my mind that people can read this and think nothing of it.
1 Corinthians 10: 1-11
10 Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, 2 all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. 5 But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.
6 Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted. 7 And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, "The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play." 8 Nor let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell; 9 nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents; 10 nor complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer. 11 Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.
Here is an important question. Were the Israelites saved from Egypt before or after crossing the Red Sea? They were in the process of escaping. We know it was God who provided the way of escape. However, it was their act of obedience and faith that led them to get to the other side. Paul compares this to baptism and says this all happened to serve as an example for us.
Mathew 28: 18-20
18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Amen.
Mark 16: 15-16
15 And He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.16 He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.
Why did Jesus add the part about baptism if it wasn't necessary? You might be thinking that the critical part is the belief and not the being baptized part. We know Jesus was very intentional in words He chose to use. If He said something, there was a reason for it. I would like to point out that if you don't believe, you will never be baptized in the first place. The baptism part is our act of obedience stemming from our belief.
1 Corinthians 15 1-4
Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures,
Paul lays out how the gospel is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. In Romans Paul explains how in baptism we die, are buried, and are resurrected into new life. Paul also assumes that you have been baptized if you are a professing Christian.
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? 3 Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
Colossians 2: 11-13
11 In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. 13 And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses,
Paul explains how baptism is like the circumcision of the New Testament. In the Old Testament, we find a verse saying God was about to kill Moses if he didn't circumcise his son. Now I'm not saying God will kill someone for refusing to get baptized. But it is interesting to see the importance God put on circumcision.
Exodus 4: 24-26
24 And it came to pass on the way, at the encampment, that the Lord met him and sought to kill him. 25 Then Zipporah took a sharp stone and cut off the foreskin of her son and cast it at Moses' feet, and said, "Surely you are a husband of blood to me!" 26 So He let him go. Then she said, "You are a husband of blood!"—because of the circumcision.
Given this, we can see how serious God took circumcision. If circumcision has been replaced by baptism, how much more seriously should we take it as believers today? The following verses are a few of the verses the early church fathers believed foreshadowed baptism. We will read the scripture verse then I will give you the quote.
55 "Ho! Everyone who thirsts,
Come to the waters;
And you who have no money,
Come, buy and eat.
Yes, come, buy wine and milk
Without money and without price.
But there is no other [way] than this: to become acquainted with this Christ; to be washed in the fountain spoken of in Isaiah for the remission of sins; and for the rest, to live sinless lives.
Justin Martyr (A.D. 160) Ante -Nicene Fathers vol. 1 pg.242
Pool of Bethesda
John 5: 5 -9
5 After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 2 Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew,]Bethesda, having five porches. 3 In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water. 4 For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had. 5 Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, "Do you want to be made well?" 7 The sick man answered Him, "Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me." 8 Jesus said to him, "Rise, take up your bed and walk." 9 And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked.
[The waters] that used to remedy bodily defects, now heal the Spirit. The waters that used to bring temporal health, now renew eternal health. The waters that set free but once in a year, now daily save people en masse, death being done away through washing of sins. Once the guilt is removed, the penalty is, of course, removed as well….It is not that in the waters we obtain the Holy Spirit. Rather, in the water, under the angel, we are cleansed and prepared for the Holy Spirit….Thus, too,does the angel, the witness of baptism, “make the paths straight” for the Holy Spirit. For He is about to come upon us. The paths are made straight by the washing away of sins, which faith obtains, sealed in the father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Tertullian (A.D. 198) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol. 3 pg. 672
Pool of Siloam
John 9: 1-7
1 Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth. 2 And His disciples asked Him, saying, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"
3 Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him. 4 I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world."
6 When He had said these things, He spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva; and He anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay. 7 And He said to him, "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam" (which is translated, Sent). So he went and washed, and came back seeing.
Man, with the respect to the formation which was after Adam, having fallen into transgression, needed the bath of regeneration. Therefore, the Lord said to [the blind man] after he had smeared his eyes with the clay, “Go to Siloam and wash.” By this means, he restored to him both confirmation and that regeneration that takes place by means of the bath.
Irenaeus (A.D .180) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol. 1 pg.543
13 Jesus answered and said to her, "Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life."
By baptism, the Holy Spirit is received….The Lord speaks to the Samaritan woman, saying, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again. But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will not thirst forever.” By this, He signified the very baptism of saving water, which indeed is once received and is not again repeated. ...The Lord, when He came, manifested the truth of baptism ...in commanding that this faithful water-the water of life eternal-should be given to believers in baptism.
Cyprian (A.D. 250) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol. 5 pg. 360
The quotes I have shared with you are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the quotes we have from the early Christians. Just for fun, I counted the quotes just discussing the meaning of baptism and I counted eighty-five of them. I have a very handy book titled A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs written by David Bercot. (More about him later in this article) I didn't just hand-pick ones to make my case and ignore the rest. Sadly, this is often standard practice in Christianity when discussing certain doctrines. This should never be the case. We don't have to be afraid of our Bibles. God is not the author of confusion. Sometimes we just must put a little work in when it comes to understanding difficult passages. That's why I love the early Christian writings. When it comes to any topic, they took The New Testament in its entirety when understanding it.
During the period of the early Christians, there was, however, one heretical group that disagreed with the church on the meaning of baptism. The group I am referencing is the Gnostics. It is crazy the amount of Gnosticism that has found its ugly head into Christianity. The Gnostics believed that the flesh was evil and all physical matter, so they denied baptism seeing how it was a physical act. Gnostic means Knowledge. Gnosticism was one of the biggest heresies the early church had to fight against. The Apostle John calls them out in Scripture and says they are of the Spirit of the antichrist. The Apostle Paul goes as far as to say that those professing Gnosticism have swerved from the faith. Here are a couple of verses, then we will look at a couple of quotes regarding the Gnostics and their view on baptism.
1 John 4: 2-3
2 By this you know the Spirit of God: Every Spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, 3 and every Spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the Spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.
1 Timothy 6: 20 -21
20 O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called "knowledge," 21 for by professing it some have swerved from the faith.
When we come to refute them [the Gnostics], we will show in its proper place that this class of men have been instigated by Satan to a denial of that baptism which is regeneration to God. Thus, they have renounced the whole faith….For the baptism instituted by the visible Jesus was for the remission of sins.
Irenaeus (A.D.180) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol. 1 pg. 346
But there are some of them [Gnostics] who assert that it is unnecessary to bring persons to the water. Rather, they mix oil and water together, and they place this mixture on the heads of those who are to be initiated….This they maintain to be the redemption….Other[heretics], however, reject all these practices, and maintain that the mystery of the unspeakable and invisible power should not to be performed by visible and corruptible creatures….These claim that the knowledge of the unspeakable greatness is itself perfect redemption.
Irenaeus (A.D.180) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol1. pg. 346
How Has Christianity Lost This?
Roman Catholicism did a lot of damage to Christianity. It is not actual authentic Christianity but paganism with a veneer of Christianity. That whole topic could be a whole other article entirely. When things are abused, they can many times be thrown out. As the famous saying goes, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Following the reformation, many Christians overreacted to the mechanization of many of the sacraments. I'm sure this was easy to do, seeing how much Rome had twisted and distorted Christianity. Rome tried to baptize entire nations. This produced tons of false converts who were never actually saved. Rome also forced baptisms with the sword. Baptism only truly saves when the person comes to it repentant and willing to turn from their life of sin. If it is just an empty ritual, it does absolutely nothing for us. It must come from the heart.
During the great awakening, the revivalists placed all the emphasis on the conversion experience. Here was the situation. Everyone was already baptized but not actually saved. They changed "new birth" to the conversion experience. The altar call became the new standard for many preachers. It's understandable how this happened, and I'm not blaming them. However, it is very unfortunate that this crucial aspect of salvation has been lost.
But What About 1 Corinthians 1:17 ?
Remember earlier, I was talking about how we shouldn't have to hide any verses of Scripture to prove our point. There would be no honest way to talk about baptism without mentioning 1 Corinthians 1: 17. This verse has been wrongly used many times to make the argument that baptism isn't necessary. I saved it for the end because I wanted you to really hear out the matter before dismissing it entirely because of a misunderstanding. At a surface level, this verse appears to be saying baptism isn't necessary; however, in the Corinthian passage's proper context, the people were divided up over who they were following and who was baptizing them. Paul's point is that it doesn't matter who baptizes you, it only matters that you were baptized by the authority of Jesus. I've included some of the previous verses so we can look at it in the proper context. Let's look a little deeper. After that, I found a great article explaining this passage.
1 Corinthians 1: 10-17
10 Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. 11 For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe's household, that there are contentions among you. 12 Now I say this, that each of you says, "I am of Paul," or "I am of Apollos," or "I am of Cephas," or "I am of Christ." 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 lest anyone should say that I had baptized in my own name. 16 Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas. Besides, I do not know whether I baptized any other. 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect.
Though I do not agree with everything the following authors believe when it comes to different topics regarding the faith. The below article does lay out a clear and straightforward argument for baptism which I do believe. The below article is copyrighted by The Gospel of Christ and its authors.
In 1 Corinthians 1:16-17 Paul maintains that baptism (immersion) is essential for salvation for the following reasons:
First, such is consistent with the fundamental facts about immersion: (1) you cannot preach the gospel/Christ without preaching the necessity of immersion, Mark 16:15-16; Acts 8:35-39; 10:48; 22:16; (2) it is essential for someone to administer the immersion in order to obey the Great Commission/make disciples, Matthew 28:18-20; (3) Saul/Paul was immersed to wash away his sins, Acts 9:6; 18; 22:16 ("be immersed" and "wash away" are imperatives); (4) Paul immersed others, including some Corinthians, Acts 18:8; 1 Corinthians 1:14, 16; (5) the conversions where Paul preached involved immersions, Acts 16:14-15, 33; 18:8; 19:4-5; (6) Paul wrote more on immersion into Christ than any other non-Gospel writer of the New Testament, Romans 6:3-4; 1 Corinthians 1:13-17; 12:13; Galatians 3:27; Ephesians 5:26; Colossians 2:12; Titus 3:5.
Second, such is consistent with the fundamental facts of 1 Corinthians 1:13 where Paul teaches two actions which must occur before you can rightfully follow Jesus: (1) Jesus (not Paul or another) must be crucified for you; and (2) you must be immersed in the name of Jesus (not in the name of Paul or another), Acts 2:38; 8:16; 10:48; 19:5; Romans 6:3; Galatians 3:27.
Finally, the meaning of 1 Corinthians 1:16-17: Paul utilizes a figure of speech (ellipsis) where the first element in the sentence is not negated, but only toned down (by omitting an implied word) to put emphasis on the second element. The following are examples of "not...but" phrases that purposely omit the word "only" to emphasize the second element: John 6:27, "Do NOT [ONLY] work for the food which perishes, BUT for the food which endures to everlasting life"; John 12:44, "He who believes in Me (Jesus), believes NOT [ONLY] in Me, BUT in Him who sent Me"; 1 Corinthians 1:16-17, "Yes, I (Paul) also baptized the household of Stephanas. Besides, I do not know whether I baptized any other. For Christ did NOT [ONLY] send me to baptize, BUT to preach the gospel" (other passages: Acts 5:4; 1 Corinthians 15:10; 1 Timothy 5:23; 1 Peter 3:3-4). Keep in mind that the main emphasis of immersion is not on the one immersing (the administrator of the immersion) but the one being immersed so that his or her sins can be washed away in the blood of Jesus (Acts 2:38; 22:16; etc.).
At baptism, sins are washed away, and we are reborn. We are renouncing Satan and the things of this world and entering another Kingdom. It is literally a change of allegiance. This doesn't automatically happen like some magic ritual. You can't force baptism on someone. The person being baptized must have decided from their own free will. Salvation only occurs when a person has truly repented and has made a genuine commitment to Jesus Christ. We can in no way save ourselves. It is God who does the saving. He does His part, and He tells us our part. Our part is to respond to the gospel message with repentance and faith and meet Him in the waters of baptism. I would also say that it is still fine if the person baptizing you doesn't fully understand this and believes it is just a step of obedience. A lot of the church is still confused about this issue. The main point is that you are baptized and sincere in your commitment to Jesus. I also want to point out not to judge your pastor or the person who is baptizing you. He is just doing the best he knows to do and is trying to follow God's will. As I said earlier, many great men of God I highly respect don't have this knowledge.
Thank you so much for going on this journey with me. I want to take the time to thank the people who have helped me along my journey on this topic. If you are interested in learning more about what the early Christians believed, I have a few resources for you. There is a man named David Bercot who has faithfully spent the last 30 years helping others understand the early church's writings. There is a goldmine of valuable information, audio teachings, books, and other great resources available at scrollpublishing.com. David has a youtube channel called ScrollPublishing. He also has a wonderful youtube channel called Sound Faith. One book I would highly recommend is titled Will the Real Heretics Please Stand Up.
Secondly, I would like to give a shout-out to Omega Frequency. I've talked a lot about them on my youtube channel and in my testimony. The host of the channel's name is Bdk. He is a very strong Christian and has a huge heart for Jesus and the things of the kingdom. If it wasn't for him and Phil Baker, I might have never started looking at the writings of the early church. Phil Baker has a wonderful book titled New Wineskins and the Simple Words of Christ. I would highly recommend reading it if you would like to know more about the early church. You can find more about him at Phil.baker.com. He also has a fantastic podcast titled Reclaiming the faith.
I can be reached at email@example.com. I also have a youtube channel. You can find me at Eyes2see. There are a few different people who have that name on youtube. My channel has a picture of me with black dreadlocks. On my channel, I also have a playlist from Scroll Publishing addressing What the early Christians believed on various topics. The top four videos I would suggest are down below. I have also included links to the books I have suggested.