“… baptism, (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the request made to God for a good conscience,) through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 3:21)
This may seem like an unusual question, but baptism is a vital part of being a Christian according to 1 Peter 3:21. Baptism will not stop us sinning as the Apostle Peter makes clear, as we are imperfect, but in being baptized on the basis of Jesus’ resurrection we ask for a clean conscience, or a fresh start. In the first part of the verse of 1 Peter 3:21, comparing baptism to the Ark of Noah’s day, Peter said, “That which corresponds to this [the Ark] is also now saving you, namely baptism …” . It is therefore important and beneficial to examine the history of Christian Baptism.
We first hear of baptism in relation to when Jesus himself went to John the Baptist at the Jordan River to get baptized. As John the Baptist acknowledged when Jesus asked John to baptize him, “… “I am the one needing to be baptized by you, and are you coming to me?” 15 In reply Jesus said to him: “Let it be, this time, for in that way it is suitable for us to carry out all that is righteous.” Then he quit preventing him.” (Matthew 3:14-15).
Why did John the Baptist view his baptism of Jesus in that way?
The Baptisms performed by John the Baptist
Matthew 3:1-2,6 shows that John the Baptist did not believe Jesus had any sins to confess and repent for. The message of John the Baptist was “… Repent for the kingdom of the heavens has drawn near.”. As a result, many Jews had made their way to John “… and people were baptized by him [John] in the Jordan River, openly confessing their sins.”.
The following three scriptures show clearly that John baptized people in symbol of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
Mark 1:4, “John the baptizer turned up in the wilderness, preaching baptism [in symbol] of repentance for forgiveness of sins.”
Luke 3:3 “So he came into all the country around the Jordan, preaching baptism [in symbol] of repentance for forgiveness of sins, …“
Acts 13:23-24 “From the offspring of this [man] according to his promise God has brought to Israel a savior, Jesus, 24 after John, in advance of the entry of that One, had preached publicly to all the people of Israel baptism [in symbol] of repentance.”
Conclusion: The baptism of John was one of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. John did not want to baptize Jesus as he recognized that Jesus was not a sinner.
The Baptisms of Early Christians – The Bible Record
How were those desiring to be Christians to be baptized?
The Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:4-6 that, “One body there is, and one spirit, even as YOU were called in the one hope to which YOU were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all [persons], who is over all and through all and in all.”.
Clearly, then there was only one baptism, but it still leaves the question as to what baptism it was. The baptism was important though, being a key part of becoming a Christian and following Christ.
The speech of the Apostle Peter at Pentecost: Acts 4:12
Not long after Jesus ascended to heaven, the festival of Pentecost was celebrated. At that time the Apostle Peter went into Jerusalem and was speaking boldly to the Jews in Jerusalem with the Chief Priest Annas present, along with Caiaphas, John and Alexander, and many of the chief priest’s kinsfolk. Peter spoke boldly, filled with the holy spirit. As part of his speech to them about Jesus Christ the Nazarene whom they had impaled, but whom God had raised up from the dead he highlighted the fact that, as recorded in Acts 4:12, “Furthermore, there is no salvation in anyone else, for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must get saved.” He thereby stressed that it was only through Jesus that they could get saved.
The exhortations of the Apostle Paul: Colossians 3:17
This theme continued to be emphasized by the Apostle Paul and other Bible writers of the first century.
For example, Colossians 3:17 states, “Whatever it is that you do in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, thanking God the Father through him.”.
In this verse, the Apostle clearly stated that everything a Christian would do, which surely included baptism for themselves and for others would be done “in the name of the Lord Jesus”. No other names were mentioned.
With similar phraseology, in Philippians 2:9-11 he wrote “ For this very reason also God exalted him to a superior position and kindly gave him the name that is above every [other] name, 10 so that in the name of Jesus every knee should bend of those in heaven and those on earth and those under the ground, 11 and every tongue should openly acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” The focus was on Jesus, through whom believers would thank God and also give glory to him.
In this context, let us now examine what message about baptism was given to the non-Christians to whom the Apostles and early Christians preached.
The Message to the Jews: Acts 2:37-41
We find the message to the Jews recorded for us in the early chapters of the book of Acts.
Acts 2:37-41 records the later part of the Apostle Peter’s speech at Pentecost to the Jews in Jerusalem, shortly after Jesus’ death and resurrection. The account reads, “Now when they heard this they were stabbed to the heart, and they said to Peter and the rest of the apostles: “Men, brothers, what shall we do?” 38 Peter [said] to them: “Repent, and let each one of YOU be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for forgiveness of YOUR sins, and YOU will receive the free gift of the holy spirit. 39 For the promise is to YOU and to YOUR children and to all those afar off, just as many as Jehovah our God may call to him.” 40 And with many other words he bore thorough witness and kept exhorting them, saying: “Get saved from this crooked generation.” 41 Therefore those who embraced his word heartily were baptized, and on that day about three thousand souls were added.” .
Do you notice what Peter said to the Jews? It was “… Repent, and let each one of YOU be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for forgiveness of YOUR sins, …”.
It is logical to conclude that this was one of the things Jesus commanded the 11 apostles to do, even as he told them in Matthew 28:20 to be “… teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded YOU.”.
Did this message vary according to the audience?
The Message to the Samaritans: Acts 8:14-17
Just a few years later we find that Samaritans had accepted the word of God from the preaching of Philip the Evangelizer. The account in Acts 8:14-17 tells us, “When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Sa·marʹi·a had accepted the word of God, they dispatched Peter and John to them; 15 and these went down and prayed for them to get holy spirit. 16 For it had not yet fallen upon any one of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they went laying their hands upon them, and they began to receive holy spirit.”
You will notice that the Samaritans “… had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. “. Were they re-baptized? No. The account tells us that Peter and John “… prayed for them to get holy spirit.”. The result was that after laying their hands upon them, the Samaritans “began to receive holy spirit.”. That signified God’s acceptance of the Samaritans into the Christian congregation, including only being baptized in the name of Jesus, which up to that time had been only Jews and Jewish proselytes.[i]
The Message to the Gentiles: Acts 10:42-48
Not many years later, we read of the first Gentile converts. Acts Chapter 10 opens with the account and circumstances of the conversion of “Cornelius, and army officer of the Italian band, as it was called, a devout mand and one fearing God together with all his household, and he made many gifts of mercy to the people and made supplication to God continually”. This rapidly led to the events recorded in Acts 10:42-48. Referring to the time immediately after Jesus’ resurrection, the Apostle Peter related to Cornelius about Jesus instructions to them. “Also, he [Jesus] ordered us to preach to the people and to give a thorough witness that this is the One decreed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. 43 To him all the prophets bear witness, that everyone putting faith in him gets forgiveness of sins through his name.”.
The result was that “44 While Peter was yet speaking about these matters the holy spirit fell upon all those hearing the word. 45 And the faithful ones that had come with Peter who were of those circumcised were amazed, because the free gift of the holy spirit was being poured out also upon people of the nations. 46 For they heard them speaking with tongues and magnifying God. Then Peter responded: 47 “Can anyone forbid water so that these might not be baptized who have received the holy spirit even as we have?” 48 With that he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they requested him to remain for some days.”.
Obviously, the instructions of Jesus were still fresh and clear in the mind of Peter, so much so that he related them to Cornelius. We, therefore, cannot imagine the Apostle Peter wanting to disobey one word of what his Lord, Jesus, had personally instructed him and his fellow apostles.
Was baptism in Jesus’ name required? Acts 19-3-7
We now move on some years and join the Apostle Paul on one of his long preaching journeys. We find Paul in Ephesus where he found some who were already disciples. But something was not quite right. We find the account related in Acts 19:2. Paul “… said to them: “Did you receive holy spirit when YOU became believers?” They said to him: “Why, we have never heard whether there is a holy spirit.”.
This puzzled the Apostle Paul, so he enquired further. Acts 19:3-4 tells us what Paul asked, “And he said: “In what, then, were YOU baptized?” They said: “In John’s baptism.” 4 Paul said: “John baptized with the baptism [in symbol] of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.”
Do you notice that Paul confirmed what the baptism of John the Baptist was for? What was the result of enlightening those disciples with these facts? Acts 19:5-7 states “5 On hearing this, they got baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul laid his hands upon them, the holy spirit came upon them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying. 7 All together, there were about twelve men.”.
Those disciples, who were only familiar with the baptism of John were moved to get “… baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.”.
How was the Apostle Paul baptized: Acts 22-12-16
When the Apostle Paul was later defending himself after being taken into protective custody in Jerusalem, he related how he himself became a Christian. We take up the account in Acts 22:12-16 “Now An·a·niʹas, a certain man reverent according to the Law, well reported on by all the Jews dwelling there, 13 came to me and, standing by me, he said to me, ‘Saul, brother, have your sight again!’ And I looked up at him that very hour. 14 He said, ‘The God of our forefathers has chosen you to come to know his will and to see the righteous One and to hear the voice of his mouth, 15 because you are to be a witness for him to all men of things you have seen and heard. 16 And now why are you delaying? Rise, get baptized and wash your sins away by your calling upon his name. [Jesus, the righteous One]”.
Yes, the apostle Paul himself, also got baptized “in the name of Jesus”.
“In the Name Of Jesus”, or “In My Name”
What would it mean to baptize people “in the name of Jesus”? The context of Matthew 28:19 is very helpful. The preceding verse Matthew 28:18 records Jesus’ first words to the disciples at this time. It states, “And Jesus approached and spoke to them, saying: “All authority has been given me in heaven and on the earth.” Yes, God had given the resurrected Jesus all authority. Therefore, when Jesus asked the eleven faithful disciples to “Go, therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in” my name …, he was thereby authorizing them to baptize people in his name, to become Christians, followers of Christ and to accept God’s means of salvation that Jesus Christ is. It was not a formula, to be repeated verbatim.
A Summary of the pattern found in the Scriptures
The pattern of baptism established by the early Christian congregation is clear from the scriptural record.
- To the Jews: Peter said ““… Repent, and let each one of YOU be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for forgiveness of YOUR sins, …” (Acts 2:37-41).
- The Samaritans: “… had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.“ (Acts 8:16).
- The Gentiles: Peter “… commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.” (Acts 10:48).
- Those baptized in the name of John the Baptist: were moved to get “… baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.”.
- The Apostle Paul was baptized in the name of Jesus.
Baptism into Christ Jesus
On a number of occasions, the Apostle Paul wrote of the Christians “who were baptized into Christ”, “into his death” and who “were buried with him in [his] baptism”.
We find these accounts say the following:
Galatians 3:26-28 “YOU are all, in fact, sons of God through YOUR faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For all of YOU who were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor freeman, there is neither male nor female; for YOU are all one [person] in union with Christ Jesus.”
Romans 6:3-4 “Or do YOU not know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 Therefore we were buried with him through our baptism into his death, in order that, just as Christ was raised up from the dead through the glory of the Father, we also should likewise walk in a newness of life.”
Colossians 2:8-12 “Look out: perhaps there may be someone who will carry YOU off as his prey through the philosophy and empty deception according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary things of the world and not according to Christ; 9 because it is in him that all the fullness of the divine quality dwells bodily. 10 And so YOU are possessed of a fullness by means of him, who is the head of all government and authority. 11 By relationship with him YOU were also circumcised with a circumcision performed without hands by the stripping off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision that belongs to the Christ, 12 for YOU were buried with him in [his] baptism, and by relationship with him YOU were also raised up together through [YOUR] faith in the operation of God, who raised him up from the dead.”
It would seem logical therefore to conclude that being baptized in the name of the Father, or for that matter, in the name of the holy spirit was not possible. Neither the Father nor the holy spirit died, thereby allowing those desiring to become Christians to be baptized into the death of the Father and the death of the holy spirit whereas Jesus died for all. As the Apostle Peter stated in Acts 4:12 “Furthermore, there is no salvation in anyone else, for there is not another name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must get saved.” That only name was “in the name of Jesus Christ”, or “in the name of the Lord Jesus”.
The apostle Paul confirmed this in Romans 10:11-14 “For the Scripture says: “None that rests his faith on him will be disappointed.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for there is the same Lord over all, who is rich to all those calling upon him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 14 However, how will they call on him in whom they have not put faith? How, in turn, will they put faith in him of whom they have not heard? How, in turn, will they hear without someone to preach?”.
The apostle Paul was not talking about anyone else other than talking about his Lord, Jesus. The Jews knew of God and called on him, but only the Jewish Christians called on the name of Jesus and were baptized in his [Jesus] name. Likewise, the Gentiles (or Greeks) worshipped God (Acts 17:22-25) and no doubt knew of the God of the Jews, as there were many colonies of Jews among them, but they had not called on the name of the Lord [Jesus] until they got baptized in his name and became Gentile Christians.
Who did Early Christians belong to? 1 Corinthians 1:13-15
It is also interesting to note that in 1 Corinthians 1:13-15 the Apostle Paul discussed the potential divisions amongst some of the early Christians. He wrote,“What I mean is this, that each one of YOU says: “I belong to Paul,” “But I to A·polʹlos,” “But I to Ceʹphas,” “But I to Christ.” 13 The Christ exists divided. Paul was not impaled for YOU, was he? Or were YOU baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I am thankful I baptized none of YOU except Crisʹpus and Gaʹius, 15 so that no one may say that YOU were baptized in my name. 16 Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephʹa·nas. As for the rest, I do not know whether I baptized anybody else.”
However, did you note there was an absence of those early Christians claiming “But I to God” and “But I to the Holy Spirit”? The Apostle Paul makes the point that it was Christ who was impaled on their behalf. It was Christ in whose name they were baptized, not anyone else, not the name of any man, nor the name of God.
Conclusion: The clear scriptural answer to the question we asked at the outset “Christian Baptism, in whose name?” is obviously and clearly “baptized in the name of Jesus Christ”.
to be continued …………
Part 2 of our series will examine the historical and manuscript evidence of what the original text of Matthew 28:19 most likely was.
[i] This event of accepting Samaritans as Christians appears to have the use of one of the keys of the kingdom of the heavens by the Apostle Peter. (Matthew 16:19).