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Baptism: Water and Spirit III

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Question #1:

Dear brother in Christ

I truly enjoyed your writings on water baptism. I pastor a church here in Houston, Tx., and teach this as you wrote it. It is a blessing to find someone who believes in salvation through the blood of Christ only.

While our view may not be widely accepted do continue to teach the truth

God bless

Psalm 17:15

Response #1:

You are most welcome,

It's always encouraging to hear from others who have come to the truth through scripture, especially on issues where they must do so in spite of all manner of tradition which opposes the Bible.

The entire guiding principle of the Church Age is that of spirituality: the Spirit over the shadows of the past, the inner power of the truth over the rituals of the Law: e.g., the moment by moment Sabbath of faith-rest over day observance, the circumcision of the heart vs. literal circumcision, the remembrance of Christ in communion vs. animal sacrifice, the spiritual priesthood of all believers vs. the tangible Levitical priesthood – and of course the baptism of the Spirit over the ritual of water-baptism (one should also add the cessation of "sign-miracles" and "sign-gifts" after the passing of the apostles inasmuch as many believers today are fixated on such things for their entertainment value – in spite of the fact that they are not actually genuine for a Church that has now "grown up" and should be focusing on the Bible: 1Cor.13:8-10). This is the essence of the New Covenant (truth and Spirit replacing shadow and ritual), and it is powerfully sad that so many putative Christian groups miss this point entirely and instead fall into all manner of legalism and counterproductive practices.

"This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, 'Know the Lord,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest .For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more." By calling this covenant "new," he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.
Hebrews 8:10-13

There is no substitute for the truth and nothing better than standing firm in it and with it regardless of consequences.

Do feel free to write any time. Here are some of the links where this subject is treated at Ichthys:

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: Water and Spirit II

In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob Luginbill

Question #2:

On baptism. I read part of an article on baptism at your site. Is water baptism necessary to die to your sins with Jesus and rise alive without sin with Jesus (being saved) ? Peter says so twice (Acts 2 and 1Peter 3). Ananias rushes Paul to have his sins washed away (Acts 22). To me it seems as though this holds true, being as there is only one baptism and the indwelling Spirit is effectual at baptism (as opposed to the outdwelling signs of the Spirit, like in Acts 8). In Acts 19, Paul connects receiving the Spirit with baptism and belief. If there is only one baptism then the Spirit and the water baptism are one and the same. If not then Paul was never shown as "Spirit baptized" since in his conversion he shows that at baptism is where he received the Spirit (Acts 9 and 22) and Paul teaches that (Acts 19). If just the "Spirit baptism" when does someone attain the forgiveness of their sins, if only at the same water and Spirit baptism, entering the Kingdom (John 3)? Acts 10 seems to be a sign for Peter, since he didn't even fully finish his sermon as he explains it in Acts 11. Listening to scholars who take exegesis, hermeneutics, history, etc into consideration, this seems Biblically true. In 1Corinthians 1 Paul says that he was glad he didn't baptize people because he didn't want them to follow him, but in Chapter 12 verse 13, he says we are baptized by one Spirit! If Paul never had the "Spirit baptism" that means that he would contradict his statements in Romans 8 about having the Spirit. Paul was water baptized and taught that is how one has their sins washed away, entering the church by one Spirit (Acts 19; 1Cor12) and becomes alive with Christ (Romans 6). The Patristics stand on this same truth on water baptism!

Response #2:

Let me point out to begin with that your arguments are almost all based upon the erroneous assumption that there is some intimate connection between the baptism of the Spirit and water-baptism. But the New Testament epistles assume throughout that all believers have the Spirit (e.g., Rom.8:9; 1Cor.3:16; 6:19; 2Cor.1:22; Gal.3:2,3,5,6, 14; 4:6; 1Thes.4:8; 2Tim.1:14; Heb.6:4; Jude 1:19), and Acts chapter 10 demonstrates conclusively that no such necessary connection exists. The Spirit comes upon these believers before they are later water-baptized as an afterthought ("Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have" Acts 10:47 NIV) – and this happened before Paul had even been converted.

This point is fundamental to the argument in every way. For if forgiveness had to come through water, how is it that these people became believes and were given the Spirit without any water? If water were necessary for salvation, how is it that these people were saved without water (they couldn't have been given the Spirit as unbelievers). If sins were washed away through water, how is it that these people are deemed holy so as to receive the Holy Spirit without water?

As you must know if you have read the extensive links at Ichthys on Spirit versus water baptism (for the one of the more recent, see the link: Baptism: Water and Spirit II), all of your points have been addressed and set straight in the context of the Spirit being the Lord's baptism in contrast with John's water baptism:

"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

(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

Then I remembered what the Lord had said: 'John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.'
Acts 11:16 NIV

Beyond question, water and Spirit baptism are not the same at all; the former was for Israel (e.g., Acts 13:24; Heb.9:10); while it is the latter that is important in the Church – according to John, Peter and our Lord – not the former (all water-baptism cleans the outside, not the inside: Heb.6:2; 9:10; 1Pet.3:21).

As to your points, Peter says no such thing in either passage. Paul is saved and filled with the Spirit before Ananias baptizes him with water. Since Spirit and water baptism are not the same and the former is what counts, the "one baptism" in Ephesians has to be Spirit baptism. Forgiveness of sins is based upon the blood of Christ and is received at salvation which comes through faith by grace. And all the references in the epistles are to Spirit baptism, except the two passages where Paul regrets it and Peter tells us that he is in fact not talking about water but Spirit. Finally, the Church Fathers were on every side of every issue and are only important for faith and practice for Roman Catholics and other long dead denominations (and only selectively so even then).

You can find all these points addressed in detail with all the scriptures and exegesis at the link above which will lead you to many other links. I am happy to rehearse all of these particular with you again, but having dealt with these issues so many times already, the ground rules will have to be "one issue at a time" for the sake of clarity. So first, if interested in continuing, please answer the critical point about Acts 10 and the Spirit baptism which precedes and is clearly independent of any water baptism.

Yours in the Lord Jesus Christ in whom we are saved through faith alone by the grace of God,

Bob Luginbill

Question #3:

Hey Bob,

Thanks for your response. I just don't see how the Greek Scriptures confirm 1Peter 3, without the symbol of water! I never said water saves, but it is actually your faith in what Jesus has done. When you are immersed in water with the faith, it is like you are buried with Christ and raised up with Christ. This is what Paul taught in Colossians 2:9-13. There is no evidence that Paul received the Spirit before baptism. In Acts10, Corners and the Gentlest were allowed on as clean to show Peter (the Apostle to the Jews) that even Gentiles can be converted. It was like the Apostles, who were deemed clean by Jesus (in the book of John) and then received the Spirit in Acts2. God was showing Peter that even Gentiles could now be CLEAN!

In the Old Testament the Spirit used men like King Saul who wasn't necessarily right with God to speak oracles (only by the Spirit can oracles be spoken). The Spirit can use anyone to do God's will and that is what happened in Acts10 to show the Apostle Peter.

Because the Spirit uses you doesn't mean that you are right with God; even Jesus said many will do amazing things and will not enter the Kingdom (Matthew7). Because the Spirit uses you that doesn't mean your sins are forgiven. That is why Peter calls them to be baptized.

Putting all biases aside, I once thought that the moment you believed that you are saved, but Jesus says that that's not enough in John8:30-34. You obviously have to repent and be baptized also (Acts2). I studied and struggled with the Scriptures for a while and had to go by what the Bible says. What does BE baptized mean!?

To clear the air, John's baptism is Old Testament (Covenant), Jesus' baptism is New Covenant. Thats why one is water baptized into Christ now. The lead Apostles (Peter and Paul) say so. Sound exegesis of those many Scriptures prove that water was definitely what BE BAPTIZED meant. In not giving credit to the water but to what Jesus did. Thats the difference between the Old traditional Jewish baptism (removal of dirt; Matthew 15&Mark7) to receiving the Spirit at water baptism because of your faith and the power of God (Acts19; Titus 3; Col2; etc).

Have you ever read "How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth" by Fee and Stuart. Its a good read and they speak on some of these exegetical topics. Even Francis Chan has changed his views in the past years on water baptism. The Patristics before the 3rd Century are not Catholic, although Catholics claim they are. Their beliefs would flash modern day Catholicism with indignation.

Please explain Acts 19 where he says "be baptized"; or Acts 2 "each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins"; or Acts 8 (which shows the eunuch getting water baptized). Even Peter says water in Acts 10, which shows that people were water baptized into Christ! From what I see, water baptism is how you die and rise alive with Christ (Romans 6; Ephesians 2), how we ATTAIN the forgiveness of our sins (which means saved) (many NT Scriptures), and how we become children of God (Gal 3:26-27).

Lastly to say that baptism is a work (which would be not by grace) is taking the power of the working of God out of the water baptism (Col2:8-10). Obviously you need to do your part to be saved (like believe which is a work - John6:29; repent; be baptized.. This "work" is not Old Testament work, which is the issue of the New Testament when they say "not by works" of the Law.. We can't just stand stiff like a pole and say we are saved. We have to do something to be saved. Again which is believe, repent and be baptized).

Response #3:

You're very welcome. Let me point out that all of your objections are addressed in the links previously provided (and discussed at great length – so please do have a look if you are genuinely interested in discussing this and learning something). As I say, I don't mind going over this ground again, but there has to be some order to the progression. You have brought up a number of issues here, but for simplicity sake I will try to keep to the main points.

(43) All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name." (44) While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. (45) The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. (46) For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said, (47) "Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have."
Acts 10:43-47 NIV

Please answer these specific questions about this passage:

1. Doesn't verse 43 state that forgiveness of sins follows faith in Christ (and without adding anything like water-baptism to it)?

2. In verse 44, doesn't the Holy Spirit "come on all who heard" this gospel message of salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone?

3. In verse 45, aren't the Jewish believers astonished that these gentiles receive "the gift of the Holy Spirit" who has now been poured out "even on the Gentiles"?

4. In verse 46 and also in verse 45, is there anything in this language that even remotely suggests that theses gentiles do not have the actual gift of the Spirit which only believers share? Is there anything here that suggests they are merely temporarily being used by God for some alternative purpose but are not believers or are not saved? Doesn't any honest and straightforward interpretation of the language of these two verses have to admit that they have believed and received the gift of the Spirit as a result? Do you know of any instance where an unbeliever praised God from the heart and legitimately spoke in tongues as these gentiles did?

5. Most importantly, in verse 47 doesn't Peter say that what these gentiles experienced is precisely what he and his Jewish companions experienced ("They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have")? And if there is no distinction between the gift in the case of these gentiles and the gift in the case of Peter and company, how can the latter be saved but the former not yet saved?

6. Finally, doesn't all this happen – the giving of the gospel, the response of faith, and the pouring out of the Spirit – independent of any water-baptism (which only happened later)?

(13) He (i.e., Cornelius) told us how he had seen an angel appear in his house and say, 'Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. (14) He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.' (15) "As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. (16) Then I remembered what the Lord had said: 'John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.' (17) So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?" (18) When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, "So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life."
Acts 11:13-18 NIV

1. In verses 13-14, doesn't Peter report that Cornelius was told by an angel of God to send for him in order to be brought a message "through which you and all your household will be saved" – that is, the gospel message, not any rite of water-baptism.

2. In verse 15, doesn't Peter say that the Spirit "came on them as he had come on us at the beginning", equating what happens to these new believers with what happened at the first Pentecost? So if these gentiles are not yet saved wouldn't that cast doubt upon the salvation of Peter and his company who at that time had not had any new "Jesus-water-baptism" according to scripture but had only had the baptism of John?

3. In verse 16, doesn't Peter say that he saw this as a fulfillment of Jesus' words? Jesus said, "you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit", speaking to and of the eleven just before His ascension. Was Peter wrong about this?

4. Doesn't Peter equate the gift of the Spirit with salvation through faith in Christ, the gift being given to believers, when he says "God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ"?

In short, to understand the truth of this issue one only needs to read English, albeit carefully. There is no way to square these two accounts with a need for water-baptism by believers or with some necessary connection between water-baptism and the gift of the Spirit or with a teaching of mandatory water-baptism (whether for salvation or whatever – your position is somewhat unclear to me on this), not, at least, without ignoring the very plain meaning of the Word of God.

I have answers for all of your objections (see the previous links), but there is no reasonable answer or set of answers that will explain away Acts 10 and 11: salvation comes through response to the gospel message when a person puts his/her faith in Jesus Christ, just as it did for Cornelius and company, just as Peter explains it so very plainly. Whether the ritual of water-baptism is or is not even legitimate for Christians to perform today is another question. It is not. You are correct that water is John's baptism but mistaken in assuming that there is some other "Jesus-water-baptism" – a position which is not only not taught in scripture but which directly contradicts the scriptures:

"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

(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

Then I remembered what the Lord had said: 'John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.'
Acts 11:16 NIV

Engaging in water-baptism today would merely be an unfortunate curiosity if it were not for the fact that it is one of the main weapons in the evil one's toolkit for ensnaring otherwise good-hearted believers into a life of legalism, one which completely neutralizes their Christian witness, their spiritual growth, and their potential production for Him in the process.

In hopes of your timely escape for this terrible trap,

In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior in whom we have salvation through faith in His Name.

Bob L.

Question #4:

Hey Bob,

The link that you gave me didn't work, so I didn't get a chance to see what your points were. Maybe I should have mentioned that earlier! I now understand where you stand. From what I perceived on this end, was that you think there is no more water baptism? Jesus in Matthew's gospel and any scholar with good exegesis would disagree with that, if that is what you meant (that there is no more water baptism).

To Acts 10:

Acts 10 was to show Peter that the Gentiles could enter the Kingdom! Answers to your questions:

1) The only way you can be forgiven is by your faith. But faith is not alone as merely head knowledge. Many know Jesus is Messiah, but they will not enter the Kingdom. Faith in Jesus, faith in repentance, faith in baptism (water) all are components of faith.

2) That is virtually what V44 says besides what was added from Ephesians 2.

3) Yes

4) You are equaling have the Spirit as being saved. The Spirit can work through people who aren't right with God (i.e. Saul or the donkey who spoke). Oracles of God weren't always spoken by people in a right relationship with God, but that is evidently the Spirit!

5) The Apostles were clean before the New Covenant! The Gentiles were not. Acts 10 doesn't specify if they were saved=forgiveness of sins before or after baptism. The truth is we see Peter says forgiveness received is at water baptism in Acts 2. In Acts 10 Peter didnt even finish his message as he explains in Acts 11, but they began to speak languages which astonished the Jews with Peter. Acts 10 was for Peter to understand that God accepted all! Its hard to base a doctrine on things that are not black and white. If they are gray, then you will have to explain off why you are correct. Its impossible to go around the typology of 1Pet3 (water like Noahs time, baptism, saves, because of Jesus...all in conjunction, an antitype of Noah's Ark). The same Peter said Acts2:38, after asked "what shall we do"? Its hard to go against all the New Covenant water baptism examples and explain that off.

I tried to look from both ends of the spectrum, but its hard to go against what's so obviously there on water baptism. The only reason i say "water" is so that we can communicate without any confusion. I would typically just say baptism like the Bible does without having to be tediously over-specifying everything.

6) No.. Acts 2 is out example. "What shall we do?" Repent and be Baptized in Jesus' name to be saved.

Thanks for your points, but they are on gray areas and assumptions.

Jesus preached belief and metanoia, not just belief. Jesus said go baptized people. Jesus said teach them to obey the King! That is where I stand. We have examples (conversions in Acts) and Epistles teaching us more. We are to be obedient to the Apostles teachings as well (John 17). Peter and Paul taught (repentance, water baptism, living by the Spirit, and following the examples of Jesus; faith is in all of these and self explanatory). The reason Jesus spoke so much on belief was for Israel to believe God's Abraham and David promise, which Jesus was representing as the obedient Son of God (Hos 11); another typology. We have to believe but repent and be baptized! What do you think?

Response #4:

Dear Friend,

1) Here's the link again (the full one so you can paste it in even if your email program is acting up):


There are over 100 single-spaced pages on this issue at Ichthys and this link cross-reference you to most of them (you can also consult the Subject Index for "baptism" if this doesn't work for whatever reason).

2) If Matthew 28:19 involved water-baptism, the contradiction between this verse on the one hand and Jesus' words, John's words, and Peter's words on the subject of distinguishing between "John baptizing with water" and "Jesus baptizing with the Holy Spirit" on the other would be incomprehensible. But there is no problem because Matthew 28:19 is not "wet" but completely "dry": Jesus was speaking there of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. You state "any scholar with good exegesis would disagree with that"; whether I am a scholar may be open to debate, but I do hold a Ph.D. in Greek and Latin Classics as well as an M.A.B.S. in Hebrew Old Testament studies, among other degrees (see the link: Current C.V.). Most of the English versions of which I am aware mistranslate this verse (ASV does have it right, and ESV and NIV have footnotes which provide the correct rendering) – precisely because they assume a priori (and incorrectly) that Jesus is talking about water-baptism (in other words, their interpretation is traditional and this has directed their translation – a very common source of error).

Let me make this point perfectly clear. Water is not mentioned in this context, and in fact there is a critical grammatical point which makes understanding this as water-baptism impossible, namely, the preposition our Lord uses to describe the baptism. Jesus actually says "baptizing them into the Person (the meaning here of "name") of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy" – not "in" 'the name' (as some mere formula). No human being can put another into union with the Trinity by any physical means, including water-baptism. If a verbal formula were meant here, the preposition could not have been what it is (the Greek eis is what we have here, not en – which we would have to have if this were a mere ritual formula). This union with Christ can only be accomplished indirectly by giving the person the gospel so that the Spirit then accomplishes the spiritual union – through the baptism of the Spirit. This is precisely parallel to what Jesus says in the next verse "by teaching them". Together, these two actions constitute "making a disciple", namely, giving them the gospel whereby after they believe and are subsequently baptized into Christ (indeed, into the entire Trinity), and then by teaching them all the other doctrines of scripture so that they may follow Christ: both actions are spiritual (as befits the Age of the Spirit); neither involves ritual action (as would befit the now defunct age of shadows; cf. Heb.8:13). Trying to make this baptism in Matthew 28 water-baptism is grammatically impossible and directly contradicts Jesus, John, Peter – and of course Paul, who tells us that there is only one baptism (Eph.4:5), which is indisputably Spirit baptism, especially since Paul, in all his emphasis on the Spirit never mentions water-baptism except one time to disparage it. More details will be found at the Ichthys links.

3) I was hoping that a close reading of this passage which demonstrates the absolute impossibility of seeing these new believers in Acts 10-11 as anything but believers would cause you to take another look. These gentiles respond in faith, are filled with the Spirit, and are identified as believers by Peter – all without any ritual act of water-baptism yet taking place. Indeed, it is in Acts 11 in commenting on this passage that Peter says he "remembered" that Jesus had spoken of just this distinction between John's now defunct water-baptism and Jesus' New Covenant Spirit baptism. Repentance is the flip-side of faith (see the link: Biblical Repentance): you cannot believe unless you completely change direction in your heart; and if you believe you have first to have changed your heart-disposition away from the world and towards God.

I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.
Acts 20:21 NIV

Turning this biblical repentance into some sort of self-flagellation or equating it with physical works like being dunked in water takes the grace entirely out of salvation and renders it null and void. Anyone who assumes they are saved because they were water-baptized is likely not saved at all because that person is relying on something he/she did instead of what Christ did. When you say "water-baptism is a component of faith", I hope you only mean "I believe it to be a command and all believers ought to follow all of God's commands". I would agree with that principle while disagreeing vigorously that water-baptism is commanded. But if you mean in any way that a person cannot be saved without water-baptism, then you have wandered far from the truth indeed.

4) Peter says twice in both Acts 10 and 11 that what happened to these gentiles when they believed was precisely what happened to him and the other Jewish believers. Therefore this is the same baptism of the Spirit. Since the Spirit comes upon both groups equally when they believe, there is no basis for distinguishing between the two. And if John's water-baptism is different from some "New Covenant water-baptism", then Peter and company were just as unclean as these gentiles since they also had not been re-baptized. But if re-baptism was not necessary for those who had experienced John's water-baptism then there is no distinction between water-baptisms at all – and in fact there is not. Spirit baptism has replaced John's water-baptism just as he prophesied.

5) Only believers have the Spirit, and all believers have the Spirit (e.g., Rom.8:9; cf. Jn.7:38-39; Jn.14:17; 1Cor.3:16; 6:19; 2Cor.1:22; Gal.3:2,3,5,6, 14; 4:6; 1Thes.4:8; 2Tim.1:14; Heb.6:4; Jude 1:19). Comparing this ineffable gift to Balaam's donkey is nonsensical.

6) Cleanness in the sense of sanctification is a spiritual matter, especially since the fulfillment of the Law. We are cleansed by the Spirit when we believe. It's called being "born again" (see the link), and it has nothing to do with water.

7) You will find the correct explanation of 1st Peter 3:20-21 at the following link:

1st Peter 3:18-21

Please note here that Peter says "not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience" (NIV); Peter is therefore not taking about ritual cleansing but of the baptism of the Spirit which results in cleansing the conscience (being born again) when we pledge our faith in Jesus Christ. That is why in the previous verse it says "saved through water", not "by water". Noah and family were brought through or delivered from the waters of judgment and saved physically; similarly, we believers are brought through or delivered from the judgment of sin when we believe: they were saved physically by being "in the ark"; we are saved spiritually by being "in Christ", and the latter is brought about by the baptism of the Spirit, not by water-baptism.

8) Peter does not equate forgiveness with water-baptism at Acts 2:38 but with response to the gospel (which he calls "repentance" – the flip-side of faith as discussed above). The infinitive is to be linked with the imperative "repent", not with the jussive which is spoken as an aside in the Greek ( – and let each be baptized – ). This is another good example of where close attention to the Greek is essential since a verse which is misunderstood on account of the language barrier is going to do damage to the truth every time (and most versions miss this badly).

9) Finally, that Jesus taught the coming of a regime of Spirit baptism directly in contrast with water-baptism is, as we have seen, very clear and incontrovertible, especially once Matthew 28:19 is correctly understood. Paul never teaches water-baptism and all of the examples of water-baptism in the book of Acts . . . a) come within the first decade or so of the first Pentecost; b) are never explained as obligatory; c) are always done for Jews or Jewish proselytes (or those in communities where the Jewish remembrance of and witness to John's water-baptism was still strong). But there are many places where faith comes without water-baptism, or sometimes where it is added as a notable additional event (e.g., Acts 18:8), curious things if water-baptism were necessary or even critically important in some way (it is not).

It was not without value for the apostles to make clear the connection between the Messiah's herald and Jesus as the Messiah to Jewish and Jewish-influenced audiences by referring to John, the great celebrity of his day, and his baptism of repentance which was meant to prepare for the coming of the Messiah. Paul, for example, occasionally circumcised (Acts 16:3) even though this was against his better judgment (Gal.2:5), and the issue of whether or not to continue that clearly unnecessary part of the Law into the Church was still not resolved by the time of Acts 15:6. None of this is an excuse for us today to continue a rite which potentially does such great damage to faith. The recipients of the book of Hebrews are castigated for "crucifying the Son of God afresh" because of their continuation of rituals which proclaimed the work of Christ as still to come. Why do we think God's opinion of a ritual (water-baptism) which likewise looked forward to a Messiah who would soon come and die for our sins would be any different? There is only one water-baptism in scripture: John's water-baptism which anticipated the coming of the Messiah. Continuing with that today is like saying that Jesus hasn't yet come and died for us, and that is the case even for those who wish to put a different interpretation on it. There is no evidence anywhere in scripture for any other water-baptism or any other interpretation of it than the one John and Jesus and Peter and Paul put upon it: anticipation of the Messiah and the preparation of the people for His arrival:

(2) [Paul] asked them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" They answered, "No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit." (3) So Paul asked, "Then what baptism did you receive?" "John's baptism," they replied. (4) Paul said, "John's baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus." (5) On hearing this, they were baptized into the name [Person] of the Lord Jesus. (6) When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.
Acts 19:2-6 NIV

Note: Paul expects that everyone should "receive the Holy Spirit when they believe". He tells these individuals straight out that John's water-baptism was focused on the "One coming after him". Hearing this they are baptized by the Spirit (into the Person [name] of Jesus). And they then begin manifesting the same signs of having the Spirit (just as the Acts 10 new believers do) as soon as Paul puts his hands on them: which means, of course, that they have not been "re-water-baptized" by Paul because the Spirit comes upon them immediately. Therefore "baptized into" in the previous verse has to be the Spirit (as at Matthew 28:19) because you can't baptize someone with water without touching them and this touching by Paul only comes after they are "baptized into Christ".

In hopes of the rapid shining through of the truth.

Bob L.

Question #5:

Dr. Luginbill,

I have been called, by God's grace, to be a teacher. It's a responsibility and a position I love, yet also take very, very seriously. I want to ensure what I teach is directly from God's Word.

Recently God has been leading me to deeply study the gospel message. Not just "know it", but "examine it". Through this study, I came to the topic of baptism. I realized in all my studies, I had never examined baptism without preconceived ideas, without looking at it purely through the lens of the Holy Spirit. I had relied on tradition, what I was taught, and the experience of those that were teaching. I had always held the view that it was purely symbolic, had no merit of salvation, but was purely an act of obedience.

I've recently realized that often times we look at Scripture as learned men, not learners. Jesus said He did not come to call the righteous, but sinners. If we don't acknowledge ourselves as sinners, then the Gospel message isn't for us. It's why Jesus didn't go to the Pharisee's; they counted themselves as righteous. The same idea applies to studying His Word. When we study the Scriptures, we need to come as learners, not as learned men. How can you teach someone that doesn't think they need teaching? That's the thought process I went through as I began studying baptism. I studied the Word as a man needing to be taught.

As I started my study of Baptism, God was putting on my heart that something was wrong with water-baptism. I prayed deeply that the Holy Spirit would reveal to me the Truth of His Word. I went through literally every single passage on baptism, and studied it all in the Greek and in context. Through my studies, God revealed to me that baptism by water should have ended long ago. Baptism by water, i.e. John's baptism, pointed to Jesus and the baptism (of the Holy Spirit) He would perform the moment you put your faith in Him as Lord and Savior. It makes so much sense to me, and fits with every single Scripture. There is no more confusion with certain passages; it all makes perfect sense.

I've come to realize that there are others who hold this view (like yourself), and finding your site this week and your various studies and email responses on water baptism has encouraged me. I wanted to thank you for the encouragement, and give glory to God for His work through your ministry.

I do have one question; how far do you take your teachings? I am burdened by this knowledge; it's freeing to know the Truth of His Word, but at the same time, it burdens me that so many are lost and have a false hope in this ritual. God is weighing this on my spirit daily.

I have considered going to my Church and 'sharing' my studies with the elders, but I doubt I am received eagerly. I have no fear in doing this, but I also doubt the good that would come from it. I have also tasted the anger that comes from those who consider themselves learned men (and women), when you try and show them, in love and with His Word, something contrary to their beliefs. Do you still attend a Church that follows some form of baptism by water? How do you approach this subject with others? I teach multiple weekly Bible studies, and can't see myself withholding this teaching.

I look forward to your response.

Grace be with you,

Response #5:

Good to make your acquaintance. Thank you for this very thoughtful email and for your good words of encouragement – I appreciate them very much. It is always a boost to hear when someone, especially another teacher of scripture, has come to similar conclusions on an important topic such as this. It confirms what we all say we know, namely, that the Bible will always lead us to the truth when we are genuinely willing to listen to what the Spirit is telling us, and when we keep on "knocking" until it is "opened unto us". So-called simple and/or traditional answers are acceptable only if they are correct. I also very much appreciate your spirit of humility and thoughtfulness in this process of seeking God's truth. It is what we all should have, though I personally often find it to be lacking in our time, late in the final Church era of Laodicea (link). Ideally, if we truly are highly motivated to learn all of God's truth contained in all of scripture, we will be led by the Spirit to continually revisit areas where we have doctrinal "rough spots" until finally and eventually everything is put into place. If the entire Church militant were doing this, teachers doing the digging, other members of the Body doing the vetting and accepting when convinced by the Spirit and the Word, where might we be spiritually as God's people! As it is, most Christians today seem largely disinterested in the substantive teaching of the Bible or in truly living a Christian life that draws closer to Jesus day by day (beyond lip-service, that is), while most with the gift of pastor/teacher are not truly interested in developing the tools, methods, research and teaching approaches necessary to be a genuine benefit to the Body – and those who do usually find themselves unwelcome in "real churches". On the other hand, most of the "zeal" I find out there in the church-visible today comes from false teachers or at least from marginal believers who are zealous in espousing some false position or other (as in the necessity of water-baptism or, worse to tell, that it has something to do with salvation).

The above informs how it seems to me I should answer your question. All of my experience with contemporary American Christianity over the past four to five decades suggests to me that no church is going to be happy with you bringing to their attention that they are wrong about anything – and especially not something like water-baptism. That is to say, they might tolerate you for a while if you were teaching post-Trib even if they are mired in the pre-Trib rapture fallacy – because that is just "doctrine" – but water-baptism is "something they do". More than that, water-baptism is as close a thing to a cult-indoctrination ritual that mainstream Christian churches have: the fact that it is so palpably wrong makes it that much more important to their organization and makes them that much more unlikely ever to be willing to even reconsider it (which may seem counter-intuitive but is nonetheless true). There is something about watching an adult water-baptism in particular which has always sent a chill of revulsion down my spine: I used to suppress it; now I fully understand it. Paul says to the Corinthians about speaking in tongues that any non-Christian viewing their odd behavior would be likely to "say that you are out of your mind" (1Cor.14:23). If that is true of an (at that time) acceptable practice done in a wrong way, what then about a no longer acceptable practice done in a wrong way and for wrong reasons? To my mind, making water-baptism a centerpiece of the way churches actually run has historically caused many unbelievers to stay away unnecessarily and has also caused many who did enter the church to assume that water-baptism was in some way a mechanism of salvation (some churches, of course, actually teach this abomination). Of course God is in control, and it is certainly possible that most of the former would never have accepted Christ in any case and that most of the latter may have been saved in spite of the false message water-baptism gives, but that is hardly any sort of recommendation. Further, the ritual has become a joining ritual of the cult sort as mentioned above. Getting someone to do something they otherwise would never do – and do it publicly – is a classic cult technique which helps 1) to sever connections with everyone else outside of the group and 2) to cement the tie between the convert and the group – and the odder and more emotionally taxing the ritual is, the stronger the bond and the greater the difficulty involved in going back, both mentally and physically.

Now of course most churches who teach and practice water-baptism are not cults and are most likely are truly Christian, but that was probably also true to a greater then eventually lesser degree of many of the churches in western Christendom during the 1,000 years which preceded the Reformation. Given the many doctrinal problems and inconsistencies, and what seems from our perspective the low-level of spiritual growth generally back then, that is also not something to brag about. The point is that most brick and mortar churches in our era are not really interested in the Bible, regardless of how good a game they talk (even the "successful" mega-churches seem to me more interested in entertainment for the sake of money and numbers than anything else – and water-baptism often plays an important role here too). There may be some in a given church who do love and seek the truth, but in general they are in the wrong place to actually be able to find it. Your situation is a good case in point. I think you have correctly discerned that if you decide to teach the truth about this very important issue – a critical one in fact because in my view it is impossible to break completely free of legalism as long as this false doctrine continues to be embraced – you are very soon going to find yourself persona non grata. Now what does that say? A truly Christian church should have as its central, essential and nigh-on exclusive priority the seeking out and teaching of the truth of the Word of God. But a church which is predisposed to running anyone who opposes their false teachings out of town on a rail is in truth not much of a church. It is for that very reason that this ministry is on the internet and deliberately and unabashedly not connected with any denomination (see the link: About Ichthys).

Finally, as to your situation and potential courses of action, well, this is always a personal and difficult issue to face. I faced it many years ago when after much soul-searching I decided to forgo on grounds of conscience the potential security of a traditional pastorate in a mainline denomination and trust in the Lord instead to find me another way forward. That He did, and I have never ever regretted the decision – it was not an easy one, mind you, and I would always counsel anyone who is contemplating putting truth over tradition to do what our Lord said and "count the cost" first. For there is a steep price to pay in making truth and a genuine, uncompromising walk with Jesus Christ the top priority in one's life. It will cost traditional fellowship; it will cost many longstanding relationships; and it will bring considerable invisible opposition – and make no mistake about this: the devil certainly knows how to "throw a punch". If a person is not willing or able to take the punishment, better to let well enough alone and "settle" for second best. But for any believer who truly does want to "follow the Lamb wherever He leads", the rewards are also substantial – not monetarily, not in terms the trappings of ecclesiastical authority or approbation or worldly security, but in the satisfaction that comes from knowing that we are doing what Jesus really wants us to do (rather than merely playing at it), and in the confidence of an eternal reward that will put every earthly sacrifice in the shade on that wonderful day of days.

"But you, be strong and do not let your hands be weak, for your work shall be rewarded!"
2nd Chronicles 15:7 NKJV

In Jesus Christ who is the only way, the only truth, and the only means of eternal life.

Bob Luginbill

Question #6:

Dr. Luginbill,

I pray that God is using you, protecting you, and guiding you in your work for Him. First, thank you for your response on water baptism and the encouragement. But I must inform you that my ‘seeking you out’ actually caused some spiritual turmoil. Eventually this led to spiritual growth and ever-reliance on the Lord.

As I stated before, when I searched the scriptures daily (actually for months) on baptism, I tried to throw out every pre-conceived idea, tradition, and reliance on any person or sect. I wanted to go into God’s Word as a learner, not a learned man. How can the Spirit teach me when I’ve already taught myself, or I am not studying the scriptures in order to be taught? God blessed me through it, and I gained more fellowship with Him and increased my faith in Him and Him alone. But therein lies the problem; I sought out approval or confirmation from someone else. When I had found your site and found you shared the same beliefs on baptism that I shared, I took comfort or pride in your belief and your credentials. My boasting in the Lord switched to boasting in myself and to you. This led to some very rough spiritual discipline from the Lord.

After confirming my beliefs on baptism through your site, I began reading other teachings on your site. I discovered that we didn’t share all the same doctrine (big surprise, hmm?) and that caused great distress. This is where God’s discipline came in. For many days I was distressed about it all, and through prayer God enlightened me to my sin. As stated earlier, I was boasting in myself and you, and not in the Lord. It was humbling, but once I recognized it and confessed it, the spiritual distress was lifted.

So now I have been going through your site and teachings, and it’s been good (iron sharpens iron). I’ve been going over our "doctrinal rough spots". One of these is eternal security. What I have discovered is we believe nearly the exact same thing; we just have different ways to express it. I actually think your expression is more biblical.

I believe that as long as you continue in faith in Christ, you are eternally secure. This doesn’t come about by saying a prayer, or by being water baptized, or by belonging to a specific church, but comes from genuine faith in Christ as Savior and Lord.

I don’t teach others they are saved, because I don’t know their hearts. I teach them the Gospel. I cannot declare them saved; the Spirit testifies to their spirit they are saved. If I were to declare them saved, this could lead to a false sense of assurance. My firm belief is the only assurance of salvation is endurance and perseverance, through the power of the Holy Spirit. It’s conquering until the end. In my view of scripture: The greatest evidence that you have genuine faith isn’t that you repented at one time; it’s that you are continuing to repent today. It isn’t that you believed and trusted in Christ as Savior and Lord at one time; it’s that you are continuing to believe and trust today. It isn’t that you once abided with Christ; it’s that you continue to abide with Christ today. I think this is your view as well from reading your all of your lessons and email responses.

I think where we differ is that I believe the power to continue in the faith comes from the power of the Holy Spirit, given at genuine belief. It doesn’t come from my own indomitable will. Those that fall away (and stay away) never had genuine faith to begin with. They were never sheep, only wolves masquerading as sheep. They were the first three seeds of the sower.

However, in looking at how you express our walk of faith, I realize that just using the term ‘eternal security’ can bring about false security. The dangers you list about this false doctrine are indeed true and you can see this everywhere in the ‘church’ today. People rely on their institutional security and their ‘one-time’ pronouncement of faith or ‘one-time’ prayer to eternally secure them to salvation. The number of lost people that are in churches today has actually been on my spirit as of late, and I’ve realized how satanic it all really is. What makes it worse is that they believe they are indeed saved, which makes it that much harder to teach them the Truth.

It is very similar to water baptism. There are numerous beliefs on the matter and in discussing this with close Christian friends, they plea one final argument: "Why wouldn’t you get water baptized? We know it doesn’t affect faith or salvation, but what does it hurt?" I’ve tried to express to them that it does hurt; it hurts those who don’t know any better; it gives them a false sense of security and salvation. I tell them that they may see it as just an ‘act’, but others don’t understand it and follow with this act because they think they are required, which in turn removes the work that Christ did on the cross. If we put our faith in anything at all but Christ, or lead others to put their faith in anything at all but Christ, we are preaching a different Gospel.

Thank you for your work in the Lord. Stay humble and ever-reliant on Him and Him alone. May He use us in whatever way gives Him glory.

Response #6:

Good to hear from you again, and thanks so much for this thoughtful and detailed email. Working through these issues is never easy. I suppose we might lament the fact that this sort of exercise is still necessary some two millennia after the New Testament was written. On the other hand, I have no doubt but that in my case it has resulted in strengthened faith and a deeper understanding of these matters than most likely would have been the case if all these things had been handed over on a silver platter from the start. In all things, God has planned it perfectly, even perfectly taking into account spiritual dysfunction and using that for good and for growth for those who really are interested in the truth.

As to specific doctrine, I think you phrase and frame these things very well indeed, and I am happy to know that these materials have been useful to you in seeking the Lord and His truth – that is the only way to grow and to make oneself fit for fighting the fight we are in and helping others do likewise. We are all members of one Body and equally important one to the other. I praise God for those of us who have been given to recognize all this here on earth before it becomes undeniably obvious when standing before the Lamb.

What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe – as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.
1st Corinthians 3:5-7 NIV

Your fellow Christian warrior in the faith of our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #7:

Hi Dr. Luginbill,

I am involved with someone who firmly believes that water baptism is part of the plan of salvation. I did not grow up believing that, but since my involvement I have attended a church that teaches that, and somewhat believed it myself. However, it didn't ring true to me, although I originally saw the logic based on verses I thought were referring to water. Over the past month, I have scoured your site for your writings regarding water baptism. At first, I read it for your knowledge of Greek and completely dismissed your contention that water baptism was never commanded for us as a symbol. However, I'm no longer willing to dismiss that - you are quite convincing. I want to thank your for your site. It has opened my eyes and helped me understand things that I never did before. I am firmly convinced that water baptism IS NOT part of the plan of salvation, and I finally have peace that I am not ignoring scriptures to do this.

I have a few clarification questions for you. (I have also read numerous other writings regarding water baptism, so if I have attributed some views to you, I do apologize.)

1. My understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit is that there were 3 parts to its work - 1) Putting us into union with Christ (salvation) 2) dwelling in us 3) miraculous gifts. When you talk about the first part of Acts, though, it seems like you're saying that the apostles had the ability to unify people with Christ, and that doesn't seem right. Are you saying that at that point, people had to be touched by the apostles to be unified with Christ? Isn't the unification with Christ the part that saves us? What part of the Spirit happened when they believed? Isn't it more likely that they had the ability to give the indwelling part which was sometimes accompanied by miraculous gifts?

2. When you talk about the epistles, you say that the Paul only references water baptism in a negative light (not being sent to baptize, thankful that he didn't baptize). How do you know these are references to water baptism as opposed to Spirit? It could be that they knew that some part of the Spirit was given by the laying on of Paul's hands, and he was saying he didn't want to do that to all of them - he just wanted to preach.

3. Acts 22:16 - you said that Ananias tells Paul to be baptized because Ananias didn't fully understand. I've also read (and here is where I can't remember if it was your site or another) that in that verse, the Greek commands are "Arise", "Be baptized", and "Wash away your sins" and that "calling on the name of the Lord" should be connected with "wash away your sins. In other words, wash away your sins is not telling us what baptism does - it's a separate command, and can't be taken as an explanation of how to wash your sins away. What do you think the Greek supports here?

4. Where Paul is talking about divisions and baptism, does that tell us anything about denominations? Are those passages telling us that denominations are wrong? (Saying we follow a person?) (This has nothing to do with baptism, but it's another issue with the church I currently attend.)

Thanks again for your work. It has blessed me immensely.

Response #7:

Good to make your acquaintance, and thank you for your encouraging words and testimony.

As to your questions . . .

1) The Holy Spirit is most definitely the One who places us into union with our Lord Jesus. I often speak of the baptism of the Spirit as having two parts: a) by the Spirit, wherein He makes us one with Jesus, entering us into His Body, the Church, and b) with the Spirit, wherein He takes up residence within us – the blessed empowerment of the Christian life. Spiritual gifts are a facet of the baptism generally (as explained in 1st Corinthians chapter twelve), with every believer in every era of the Church receiving a gift or gifts as He gives them "just as He determines" (1Cor.12:11 NIV; cf. 1Cor.12:7). All of this is "miraculous", of course, but during apostolic times, many of these gifts were obviously and undeniably supernatural and powerful in their effects (such as healing, prophesy, and tongues, sometimes known therefore as "sign-gifts" and/or "sign-miracles"). The difference in the nature and type of the gifts being distributed then and now is one of only two differences between what happened then and what happens now. Today, in addition to the gifts we are given being focused on the work of the teaching and distribution of the gospel, the truth of the Word, it is also the case that the baptism of the Spirit happens now without any sort of mediation. During very early apostolic days, God occasionally provided for the baptism to be initially mediated by the apostles in order to build up their authority. This was not a universal thing and was only temporary (there are only a few examples of it in Acts where, as at Samaria, the Spirit is given following the laying on of Peter's hands: cf. Acts 8:18). You may be referring to the Matthew 28:19. In this passage, Jesus is telling the apostles – and all of us – to make disciples by "having them baptized" – by the Spirit, not with water. For the apostles, this would occasionally, in the early going, entail the laying on of their hands as they mediated the baptism (literally "baptizing them" with the Spirit), but in the vast majority of cases then and all cases since the early days of the apostolic era, this "baptizing" is actually accomplished by God (the last known instance at Act 19:1-7 is Paul's mediation of the Spirit to some Ephesian believers who had believed through John, before Pentecost, and who were not present in Jerusalem at the first Pentecost: Peter didn't even have time to think about it before it happened for Cornelius' and his group in Acts 10). Our role in this now is simply to give the gospel. That is our "baptizing". The Spirit then does the rest. The truth being accepted in faith is what results in being "baptized" into union with Jesus Christ (and into the Persons of the Father and the Spirit as well). At Matthew 28:19, Jesus lays the emphasis on the apostles to whom He is speaking and who are the agents of evangelism and will actually be doing this "baptizing with the Spirit" in the early going, but nowadays when we "baptize" someone in the biblical sense, we give the gospel and the Spirit comes upon them when they believe, entering them into union with Jesus Christ.

2) I think the answer to this is that Paul could never have regretted the baptism of the Spirit which was for him as it is for us the epitome of the Christian blessings we possess on earth and which makes our age different from everything that went before. Given what he has to say about the wonders of the Spirit's spiritual gifts in that very book, and of His ministry to us in Galatians 5 and Romans 8 and in virtually every chapter of every epistle he writes, I think it would be hard to argue that Paul was regretting any part in seeing to the distribution of this most wonderful gift upon which the growth of the Church depends.

3) It's a very good observation about Acts 22:16. Understood in this way, Ananias' words have the virtue of being true, even if he didn't understand everything there was to understand yet about the nature of John's baptism versus the new baptism of the Spirit (as our Lord told the apostles just before His ascension: "John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit": Acts 1:5 NIV). Of course in this context of Acts 22 Paul is relating the story to a hostile Jewish crowd and is putting matters in a way these unbelievers will understand. Here is what I read when the incident is treated historically earlier in the book of Acts:

Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, "Brother Saul, the Lord – Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here – has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit." Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul's eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized.
Acts 9:17-18 NIV

Since these verses speak of the laying on of the hands "so that you may . . . be filled with the Holy Spirit", and of an immediate "baptism" which (in the Greek) may be near simultaneous with "arising", I would not rule out the possibility that water was not involved at all. It may well have been (verse 18 can certainly mean that), but the laying on of the hands and the mediation of the Holy Spirit by Ananias is clearly the critical part in any case. If water was involved after this, first and foremost it was unnecessary either to Paul's salvation or to his reception of the Spirit; Ananias may not have clearly understood all of the aspects of grace (Acts, as I have often remarked, is a historical book and accurately records what people said and did whether they were right, wrong, or neither). Certainly, if Ananias laid on hands for Paul to receive the Spirit, Paul received the Spirit – which means he had not only believed in Jesus but now had the Spirit as we all do who have faith in Jesus Christ. Further, he also regained his sight – before any water-baptism since these verses are describing a sequence. For these reasons, the best that can be said of Ananias' water-baptism of Paul is that 1) it followed salvation; 2) it followed the gift of the Spirit (and union with Christ); 3) it followed Paul's recovery of his sight in a miraculous way (which shows he had saving faith); and, critically, 4) it was for these reasons theologically unnecessary: John's baptism was a baptism of repentance for the Jewish nation looking forward to the coming of Christ. Christ had already come and died for the sins of the world at this time, and the Spirit had now been given since He was now glorified. Paul had already repented – he had already been saved, filled with the Spirit, and restored to sight. Anything more would have been a ritual only, and an unnecessary one at that. In Ananias' defense, when he says "wash away your sins calling on the Name of the Lord", this is a gospel appeal that quite naturally would have accompanied John's call to repentance, and the ritual meaning of his water-baptism meant for the Jewish people is the spiritual washing way of sins following repentance represented by the water. So Ananias is combining the old with the new – quite understandable for someone who had lived through both the old and the new (and as I have also said possibly necessary in evangelizing Jews of that day who had likewise done so in order to connect clearly the Messiah directly with His famous herald). The problem today is that many have misunderstood both the old and the new and have, worse to tell, twisted the true meaning of the new in favor of their own esoteric interpretation of the old.

4) There is certainly nothing in the Bible which commends or recommends denominations which are, of course, a purely human development. There is quite a lot in the New Testament, not just here, about Christian unity (see the link: "Christian Unity and Divisiveness"), and in my view it is a fair point to say that structured divisions are hard to defend biblically. The New Testament had churches which, in the absence of apostolic leadership and authority today, would all be independent in a perfect world (in my view) – and of course they would also look quite different what we currently see (see the link, for example: "Church: The Biblical Ideal versus the Contemporary Reality.").

Yours in the Lord who died for all of our sins and washed them away with His blood, Jesus Christ the Righteous.

Bob Luginbill

Question #8:

Dr. Luginbill,

Thank you for your response. I appreciate it.

As I said, I'm involved with someone who believes that water baptism is part of salvation. How would you respond to this logic:

When we are baptized in water, we are baptized into Christ by the Spirit. 1 Peter 3:21 says that it's not the water that saves us, but our pledge of a good conscience - i.e. we show our faith in Christ's work on the cross and His resurrection by being baptized in water as He commanded in Matthew 28:19 - that's how we get into Christ's body. Jesus' contrast of baptism with water vs. baptism of the Spirit is contrasting the "gift" part, which had never been poured out before. Since the apostles couldn't technically put them into Christ, they were to baptize in water, and the Spirit would put them into Christ.

So in Acts 2:38, Peter told them to be baptized in Jesus name to be put into Christ (by the Spirit), and that they would also receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (with the Spirit). And in Acts 22:16, Paul had his sins washed away by water baptism and received the gift of the Spirit afterwards (healing wasn't necessarily a sign of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit - Jesus at times healed people whether they had faith or not.)

And in Acts 8:16, they had been baptized in water into Jesus, but just hadn't received the gift of the Holy Spirit yet.

When Peter went to Cornelius, God gave them the gift of the Spirit to show that Peter should baptize them in water to put them into Christ, otherwise Peter wouldn't have known. So after they start speaking in tongues, Peter says who can forbid them to be baptized in water (so that they can be in Christ). Peter says that this is the point at which he remembered that Jesus used to say that John used to baptize with water, but that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit.

Even after the Gentiles are "in," the apostles continue to baptize with water. Why didn't they stop if it wasn't what Jesus commanded?

So then in the epistles, when Paul says for as many of you were baptized into Christ were baptized into His death, he's referring to water and spirit both (obedience in water baptism is what caused the Spirit to baptize them into Christ). And when he speaks of all believers having the Spirit, and receiving the Spirit when they believed, he is referring to belief that led them to show it in water baptism.

I know that was all pretty rambling, but that's the type of logic that I'm likely to encounter. I don' t think it all holds together logically (for example, with Cornelius, I don't see how the Holy Spirit could dwell in someone who was not in Christ), but to a certain extent, I can see a point. It's been compared to depositing a birthday gift check - you don't "work" or "earn" your salvation by accepting it, just like you don't "work for" or "earn" your salvation by depositing that check.

Thanks again for your work for the truth. I hope my questions are not a bother - I want to be equipped to talk to my friend in a way that he can see the truth.

One more "follow up" to that last one - another part of the argument would be that since the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches (old churches, plus Greek Orthodox with the knowledge of the Greek language) practice water baptism for salvation, doesn't that make it seem like that's what was being taught by the apostles? Even if the R.C.'s baptism of infants does no good because they don't believe, they did it based on the teaching that water baptism was for salvation. Just because it's hard to believe that almost no one was saved for that long period of time doesn't mean it's not true - if it doesn't match up with the Bible, then that's how it is.....

Just thought I'd add that one in there.

Response #8:

You are not a bother at all. I appreciate your determination to find the truth and stand with the truth. As Paul says:

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: [it is] the gift of God: not by works, so that no one can boast.
Ephesians 2:8-9

If water-baptism were required for salvation then the work of water-baptism would be what brings salvation about, and grace would be rendered null and void, because the person in question would then have done something beyond having faith specifically in order to be saved. Not only that, but many people who have no faith would also be saved without faith, because they would have submitted to water-baptism. In the passage above, by definition faith is not a "work" since Paul says "by grace through faith . . . not of works". Faith is non-meritorious and doesn't require us to do anything except to accept Jesus' as our Substitute, our Savior for the forgiveness of our sins and salvation (it's all about choice; see the link: "God's Plan to Save You"). If we did something in order to be saved, whether joining a church, or giving money, or climbing a mountain on our knees – or submitting to water-baptism – then our salvation would depend upon what we had done "for God" and not upon what Christ has done for us. Moreover, if we think that any of these things or something like them is the reason we are saved, then we are not acting in faith but out of a transactional analysis; absent pure faith, we are not saved. So the story is actually more dire: anyone who believes he/she is saved by having been water-baptized absent which ritual in their thinking they would not have been saved without works is not saved – because said person does not really believe in salvation through faith in Christ but salvation through works done "for God". Now there are plenty of groups out there which do not teach that water-baptizing is necessary for salvation but that it is necessary for all believers to engage in. This view does not call salvation into question (by making salvation dependent upon something we do "for God"), but it is a highly legalistic point of view and does hinder and can seriously damage spirituality: groups and individuals who think like this tend to bind themselves to ritualistic and legalistic behaviors which are not biblical and which sap the life and the grace out of any and all efforts to advance spiritually so as to live for Jesus Christ – instead they end up living for the group/"church" as if that were the same thing.

On that note, it will be helpful to take up first the question in your second email. In doing so it will also be helpful to leave out the Greek Orthodox church and focus upon Roman Catholicism (the former have their problems but in my view are not nearly as bad as the latter). Many serious R.C.'s in the past and even some today have lived very dedicated lives and have engaged in all manner of self-sacrifice and scrupulous attention to that church's teachings – and yet were not saved. After all, many of the Pharisees of our Lord's day were even more dedicated to the Law (which is at least based on a biblical standard instead of a set of teachings invented by a tradition over a long period of time) – but were not saved. The great "prize of grace" here is the apostle Paul (1Tim.1:15-16).

For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh – though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.
Philippians 3:3-9 NIV

If we too would "worship by the Spirit" and "put no confidence in the flesh" then we too must consider all "legalistic righteousness" as "rubbish". That is the only way to be "found in Him, not having a righteousness" of our own that comes from legalism but instead "the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith". For what is engaging in ritualistic behavior for salvation if not legalism, if not attempting to work and strive for our own salvation by carrying out rituals which are supposedly contained in scripture as a means to being saved? At least Paul and the Pharisees were "closer" to achieving this to the extent that their standard was actually in the Bible to some degree – but relying on water-baptism and other things which are nothing like the code contained in the Torah is doubly foolish:

For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law.
Galatians 3:21b NIV

But righteousness does not even come through the Law (e.g., Gal.2:21), the perfect standard given by the Lord Himself, and so how much less through an inferior system of rituals however defined! Righteousness, the seal of our salvation which comes from God, is a result not of any works or rituals, but solely by grace for all who believe (basing that faith on Jesus and not on any works they have done):

If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about--but not before God. What does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.
Romans 4:2-5 NIV

This theological foundation is very important to keep in mind in all such discussions, because individuals and groups who have fallen from grace to the point of actually believing and teaching salvation by works are usually past the point of rational discussion on such matters: it is no longer a question of "what does this or that passage say or mean", it is now a fundamental question of "the Lord knows who are His" (2Tim.2:19).

As to the point that the R.C. church teaches baptism for salvation, well, they also teach non salus extra ecclesiam, that is, only R.C. members in good standing are saved. And it is fair to point out the monolithic R.C. church did not spring up over night. There was decentralization of power before ca. the seventh century and the first real "pope", Gregory the Great (despite R.C. revisionistic history to the contrary). But what about all the Jews who lived before John? Were they baptized? I cannot find anywhere in scripture that Abraham was baptized. Certainly, the saved gentiles like Noah who lived before Abraham became the first Jew were not baptized. At the resurrection the entire Church will rise up together, from Adam and Eve to the last person saved in the Tribulation, and no doubt many of these will not have undergone water-baptism. And of those who have, the vast majority both in the R.C. tradition and also in traditional Protestantism will have been sprinkled as babies entirely apart from their own free will. So it would seem that water-baptism is a necessity for salvation only for a relatively small number of individuals during this and the last one or two centuries – unless no one was saved before John and then again until the Reformation (after the age of the apostles came and went).

Another important point to keep in mind before tackling the questions in your first email is that John's water-baptism was "a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins" (Mk.1:4; Lk.3:3) designed to prepare the Jewish nation for the coming of the Messiah (Acts 19:4):

Before the coming of Jesus, John preached repentance and baptism to all the people of Israel.
Acts 13:24 NIV

So before the coming of the Messiah, water-baptism was appropriate for the Jewish nation. But is water-baptism "for the Church" different? How would it be? After all, the eleven were water-baptized by John – but they were never water-baptized again. And there is no record and no indication of anyone who had been water-baptized before Pentecost being required or otherwise undergoing water-baptism a second time. Therefore beyond all argument water-baptism is John's baptism and no other water-baptism exists. So when Jesus tells us after His resurrection that "John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 1:5), He is most certainly drawing a distinction between what was and what will be. Further, when Peter recalls these same words at Acts 11:16, it is in the context of the Spirit coming upon the assembled gentiles in Cornelius' household when they heard and believed Peter's giving of the gospel message (Acts 10:44) – and, critically, without yet having been water-baptized – he is testifying that at that point he finally "got" the difference between the prospective water-baptism of John which looked forward to the coming of the Messiah and the powerful Spirit baptism which defines the Church Age and is "given" because Christ has wrought salvation and has now "been glorified" (Jn.7:39).

There is water-baptism after Pentecost in the book of Acts (and only in the book of Acts), but there are four points that need to be kept in mind before our survey of the passages you ask about:

1) Chronologically speaking, the last definitive water-baptism (I see no water at Acts 19:5) is described at Acts 18:8 and occurred in Corinth during Paul's second missionary journey ca. A.D. 52. This was roughly half-way through Paul's career as a believer and took place before he had written a single epistle. Therefore in terms of chronology, there is no water-baptism occurring in scripture for the entire second half of the age of the apostles. That is important to consider since many people form the impression that "the apostles were water-baptizing all the time" whereas that is not what scripture actually shows. Further, we also know that Paul came to regret precisely this last round of water-baptism, for it is to these very Corinthians that he later says "Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel" (1Cor.1:17 NIV) in the context of decrying the false divisions there based upon "who water-baptized you?" (1Cor.1:10-16). And we also see from that other passage that Paul apparently even at that stage didn't even think that water-baptism was essential – let alone necessary for salvation – because he does not remember clearly whom he had baptized (1Cor.1:16 NIV: "I don't remember if I baptized anyone else"). Whereas one would think that if it were important there would be some record keeping involved along the lines of what is often practiced today, and that Paul would have made it a great point wherever he went to make absolutely positive that all had been water-baptized if it were obligatory – and especially if it were an issue in being saved.

2) The second critical point to remember which marks out the apostolic era as being different from today is that the target audience for the first generation of believers in the Church was largely Jewish, because "It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you [Jews] first; since you repudiate it and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles (Acts 13:46 NASB)". Since Jews were prominent among the early recipients of the gospel, and not just that but Jews who were in the main alive when John the baptist was conducting his ministry of heralding the first advent, and moreover since these Jews were well aware that this was John's purpose in water-baptizing, namely, that it was a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins that would "to make ready a people prepared for the Lord" (Lk.1:17), i.e., the Messiah, under such circumstances not conducting a water-baptism in the manner of John would have sent entirely the wrong message by divorcing the Messiah from His herald in the minds of the Jewish listeners. By connecting Jesus with John as the apostles often did (e.g., Acts 10:37), a Jewish audience was much more likely to accept that Jesus was the fulfillment of the prophecy of the Messiah which John preached. By engaging in water-baptism for the sake of all those who were aware of John's ministry and purpose, the apostles strengthened the gospel appeal for that single generation who had known of and had been touched by John's ministry of proclamation in a way that would not be true of following generations.

3) On the age of the apostles, it is also true that there are many unique things which are not repeated later. This is the only era of the Church where there are apostles (see the links "The Apostles" and "The Seven Eras of the Church"), for example, and that is highly significant for water-baptism. That is because the mediation of the Spirit through the apostles was, in addition to the consideration of connecting John's ministry to Jesus for potential Jewish believers, a unique feature of the early days of the Church. The Church started from a mere handful of believers and rapidly expanded into a sizable number within a single generation following our Lord's death and resurrection. In order for this to occur, a number of special empowerments were granted to those who would be the first to give the message of the gospel to all the nations "starting at Jerusalem" (Lk.24:47). The gifts of healing, tongues, prophecy and sign-miracles belong to this era alone for that reason, and also the occasional mediation of the Holy Spirit through the laying on of the apostles' hands. This is not to say that those who believed were not saved when they believed – they were. Merely that for a few of the early communities, e.g., the Samaritans, in order to establish beyond any doubt the unique authority of the apostles over the entire Church, this special ability was granted. The last example of this occurs in Ephesus at Acts 19:6, but even that was a unique case inasmuch as the believers in question had been "out of the loop" since they had been water-baptized according to John's proclamation but they hadn't yet heard of Jesus. They had been saved before the Spirit was given, thus requiring this special ministration through Paul, a ministration which otherwise is last seen very early on in Samaria at Acts 8:17-19. And we know for certain that all necessity for this intermediary step for new believers lapsed very early on, because by the time of Peter's visit to Cornelius at Acts 10 the new converts clearly received the Spirit the instant they believed (and by the time of the writing of the book of Romans, ca. 45-50 A.D.), all believers have the Spirit: "if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ" (Rom.8:9 NIV).

4) Finally, it is important to emphasize that extra-biblical arguments from tradition are meaningless. Very little is known of Church history during the time of the "apostolic fathers" or the generation that followed the apostles – except that we do know from the Bible that they let doctrine slip badly and were rebuked for it by our Lord (Rev.2:4 NIV: "you have forsaken your first love" (that is, the love of the truth of the Word of God, the "first thing" we should all love in order to love the Lord who is the truth, the very Word of God); see the link in CT 2A "The Era of Ephesus"). Moreover, the R.C. tradition is so legalistic that every former R.C. I have ever known who is now out of that church and now a believer inevitably states that it is impossible to be an R.C. and a believer. If that is the tradition being appealed to, then it would seem that water-baptism would be a sign of a lack of faith, not of following God's Word in truth. That is certainly what I find.

As to 1st Peter 3:21 and "i.e. we show our faith in Christ's work on the cross and His resurrection by being baptized in water as He commanded in Matthew 28:19 - that's how we get into Christ's body", Peter in his own way is actually doing in this passage what Paul does in 1st Corinthians chapter one, namely, telling us that water-baptism is not necessary and not an issue. His point is that it is the Spirit baptism which saves us, not any water-baptism which might wash over literal dirt, but "our appeal for a cleansed conscience" and that is a spiritual result which can only come through a spiritual act, that is to say, that is being "born again" spiritually through faith in Christ (for more on this please see the link: "1st Peter 3:21"):

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"). 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).
1st Peter 3:21

Further, if under-going water-baptism is merely "showing faith", then faith already existed and we were already saved, because salvation is by grace through faith – so water-baptism would in that case certainly not be necessary for salvation. And if we need to "show faith", that "show" is works, then it would seem to necessarily invalidate salvation by faith alone to the extent that this work is necessary as something to do with salvation.

Matthew 28:19 does not command water-baptism – that is a very common assumption but the word "water" is nowhere present in Jesus' words (and we know that in scripture baptism often has nothing do so with water; e.g., as our Lord says of the cross: "But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed!" Lk.12:50 NIV).

And finally on that verse, if we are already saved, then we are already one with Christ. We cannot be saved and not be a part of Christ. So if we are united with Christ by faith, that must be what our Lord is talking about at Matthew 28:19 for it is the baptism He speaks of there which places us "into the Person of the Father and the Person of the Son and the Person of the Holy Spirit", making us one with Him and the Trinity. But if it were water-baptism which placed us into union with the Trinity, then 1) there would be no place for faith – this would be a work which did it; 2) faith would be unnecessary, only water-baptism would be necessary, and 3) no one before or after who had not been water-baptized would be saved. It is true that for a small number of individuals (the Samaritans and the Ephesian brothers of whom we know), there was a gap between salvation and the giving of the gift of the Spirit by mediation of the apostles (and that does help to explain why our Lord says what He says here in the precise way that He words it), but, as mentioned before, that gap had been completely closed at the latest by ca. A.D. 45-50 (Rom.8:9). For more on this see the link: "Combating Legalism II (responses # 5, #7 and #8)".

Acts 2:38 cannot be understood without reference to the fact that this is an entirely Jewish audience which was well aware of John's ministry and the repentance which accompanied his water-baptism. Peter very understandably and quite correctly connects the two – not as necessary for salvation, but in order to demonstrate that Jesus is the true Messiah whom John heralded. All who heard him were saved when/if they believed, and (we assume) received the outpouring of the Spirit when the apostles laid hands on them. But nothing in Peter's actual words here is inconsistent with salvation by grace through faith absent any works, water-baptism included. That is to say, Peter does not say nor does anything in his precise wording imply that unless these individuals were water-baptized they would not be saved. They did need to have the Spirit mediated – because it was absolutely critical on the first day of the Church age for the apostles' authority to be made clear to all – and that would happen as the apostles put their hands on them (in water-baptizing them), but it was the mediation of the Spirit not the participation in the ritual which had the true spiritual effects. For all the details on this, please see the link: "One Baptism: the True Meaning of Peter's Words at Acts 2:38".

Acts 8:16 refers to the salvation of the Samaritan believers, they been "baptized [by the Spirit] into (eis) [the Person of] Jesus [so as to be one with Him]" – but had not yet experienced the outpouring of the Spirit so that the authority of the apostles at this very early time might be demonstrated.

On Acts 10, the notion that "God gave them the gift of the Spirit to show that Peter should baptize them in water to put them into Christ" couldn't be more wrong as it turns the passage completely inside-out. Very clearly, salvation is what is important. As you rightly point out – and as anyone who has the least amount of respect for scripture would likewise see – no one is going to receive the outpouring of the Spirit without being a believer. A very large part of the Lord's point in bringing this situation about was to show all and sundry that salvation was for all and that for all it comes about "through hearing the Word of faith" (Rom.10:16-17) – not through water-baptism.

This is such an important point and passage that a moment needs to be taken here. In controversies of this sort, especially if the people one is disputing are entirely disingenuous, very clear and decisive pieces of evidence are often overlooked as if they were meaningless. For example, if I were debating with someone who does not believe that the sun comes up in the east, and that person were to say "I have it on good authority from 10,000 experts that the sun actually comes up in the west, and that mass of evidence outweighs your evidence that you have seen it come up in the east with your own eyes", then what more would there be to say? If a person is unwilling to accept the authority of scripture on such a clear point and insists subjecting such a clear passage of such obvious meaning to rhetorical gymnastics without even admitting that it seems inconsistent with his/her position, then such a person has very clearly already "stopped up their ears" (Ps.58:4; Zech.7:11), and no argument or passage will ever get through, since one of intense and blinding clarity has already been rejected out of hand.

"Why didn't they stop?" is addressed above. They did, and 1Cor.1:17 and Rom.8:9 proves it; also there is no record of water-baptism past the half-way point in Acts and it does not occur in the epistles except in the two places where it is refuted by Paul and Peter respectively (see above).

"Water and Spirit both" – that is clearly impossible because it is impossible for the ritual and faith to happen at the same time. It is possible for genuine faith to precede an unnecessary ritual and similarly for genuine faith to come some time later after a person is erroneously water-baptized, but conflating the two is not only nowhere found in scripture but is entirely illogical to the point of being practically impossible. Outside of his criticisms of water-baptism in 1st Corinthians, Paul is always speaking of Spirit baptism when he mentions baptism: there is only "one baptism" (Eph.4:5), and if that were water, there would be no Spirit baptism at all in his theology by definition.

As far "when he speaks of all believers having the Spirit, and receiving the Spirit when they believed, he is referring to belief that led them to show it in water baptism", this line of confused thought only serves to show the lengths to which those who have ceased to pay any attention to scripture will go. When Paul refers to all believers having the Spirit, in my view he is referring to all believers having the Spirit. Injecting the rest of this into the clear meaning of very simple passages is not warranted under any sort of honest hermeneutic (but it is the sort of thing which cults practice all the time: they have in fact cut themselves entirely lose from any authority of scripture and only use the Bible when it suits their purposes, not be to be taught or led).

I hope that the above will be of some help to you. It is very common for believers to be vulnerable to "guilt trips" when it comes to something like water-baptism which is so strenuously taught by certain groups and is (sadly) so well represented in so many traditions, and just because, absent a careful reading of what the Bible actually says, it can seem from a cursory analysis to be necessary because it occurs in the book of Acts. This is precisely why charlatans who claim to be able to heal miraculously or speak in tongues or prophesy or to be apostles etc. often find a ready-made audience in those whose weak consciences are easily manipulated. But the thing about conscience is this: if it is the Spirit talking, scripture will verify it; but if scripture does not verify it, then pangs of conscience are merely uniformed and nervous guilt promptings which are in turn responding to the siren songs of false teachers built upon the old worldly detritus which immature believers should over time sweep away as they "grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2Pet.3:18).

In Him to whom we who have believed belong through the unity of the Spirit and the grace of God, Jesus Christ the Righteous.

Bob L.

Question #9:

Thank you again for your words and the Scriptures you shared. I think what you wrote at the last part about guilt is very pertinent to me. Having heard for years that water baptism is necessary is really difficult to overcome - those teachings are so forceful that when I feel like I've broken free of it, doubts come back. I think right now my biggest problem is with why Jesus worded his command to them the way He did - why couldn't He have been more clear? Why did He make it seem like they could do something to put them into Christ? The only baptism they were familiar with was water. And yet the rest of the gospels and the epistles are so clear that it's nothing we do. My friend has his whole life of this teaching, so it is going to be difficult to speak with him about it.

I also wanted to pass something along to you that I would like your comments on. It was in the bulletin that my friend brought home yesterday. It is relevant to our conversation. It is attached in a Word file.

Thank you again.

Response #9:

You are very welcome – and I understand very well through personal experience the burden of confronting long-held positions (which turn out to have been wrong), and the pressure to conform with the group (who see them as correct). One thing that helps me is to look closely at the group: inevitably, any group which is wrapped up not only in false teaching but something so vicious as equating water-baptism with salvation will have more than just feet of clay – it will be submerged in mire (if one cares to look closely). This should be easy to see in the attitudes of the leadership and in the quality of the spirituality of the led. Jesus said, "by their fruit, you will know them". The conclusion, "if this is the result/fruit of such teaching . . . " is not only a common sense conclusion but a reassurance that such an organization is not the only church in the world that has "God's ear" (if they have it all). Mind you, I have no idea what day to day life is like in your particular church, but based upon everything I have seen and experienced in my life there is likely to be a high level of fear and nausea that comes over anyone exposed to it who has not yet "drunk the Kool-Aid", along with a noticeable absence of genuine Christian love.

On your other concern, Jesus said:

"The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that, 'though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand.'"
Luke 8:10

The complaint "if this is true, why didn't God make it more clear in the Bible" is one that can be lodged against virtually any important doctrine in scripture. I get this complaint all the time on the Trinity, the Deity of Christ, and virtually every other issue of importance in the Bible. The answer to me is very clear: it's all about free will and testing our genuine desires. Just as God is a God who hides Himself from the world in the sense of not appearing in a way that would be undeniable (Is.45:15), and yet makes His presence known in His creation for all who are willing to admit even a modicum of the truth (Ps.19; Rom.1:18-25), so in the case of the scriptures those who are truly willing to "knock" are the ones who have the truth revealed to them, but "the others" are allowed to be just as deaf and blind and ignorant as they want – and that arguably would not be the case if the Bible were written in the manner of a text-book. Indeed, everything we need and all the answers we seek are there, but they often require persistent study, the building up of an edifice of spiritual knowledge one "brick" at a time, and, most importantly, believing the truth and being willing to settle for the truth only, in order to find them. The search for the truth is what we have been left here on earth for after salvation, to see whether or not we really do love Jesus enough to seek it out, believe it, grow with it, apply it to our lives, and help others do the same through the ministries He calls us to accomplish. One good rule of thumb here which may be cold comfort but which I hope will inspire your courage is this: if you find yourself in a fox-hole fighting this fight alone being heavily bombard by the enemy, you are almost certainly on the right track; however, if you find your self in a nice big group and the sun is always shining, you are almost certainly not doing all that the Lord wants you to do. Satan has no interest in opposing those who are already doing his will to some large degree.

As to the bulletin you enclosed, I am clearly missing some of the background which the recipients are already supposed to "know". I.e., I have never heard before of this supposed distinction between miraculous and non-miraculous indwelling of the Spirit. The Spirit indwells all believers (Rom.8:9). The term "filled with the Spirit" is not the same thing. Clearly, the examples of John, Zechariah and Elizabeth all occur before "the Spirit was given" and Christ was "glorified", so they cannot be talking about indwelling (which only post-Pentecost believers enjoy). And there are other examples of believers being specially and occasionally "filled" later after the indwelling of the Spirit becomes universal (e.g., Acts 4:8; 4:31; 9:17; 13:9; ), which also shows ipso facto that filling is not permanent as indwelling is. See the links: "Indwelling vs. Filling", and "Filling and Confession".

Yours in Jesus Christ who is the only way to salvation and eternal life: by grace through faith.

Bob L.

Question #10:

Thanks for the response. I did not feel like the foxhole analogy was "cold comfort." I truly do feel like I'm in a battle right now. I want the truth - it's my eternity after all!

I was trying to do some research regarding the history of Jewish baptism and ran across this article:


Some of the terminology as it relates to the New Testament was interesting, specifically with Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus. However, Nicodemus obviously did not understand anything Jesus said as having to do with baptism, or he wouldn't have asked the questions he did. Anyway, I'd be interested in your take on this article. I was wondering if this is part of what Hebrews refers to as a "shadow"....

With the bulletin article I sent, I think that the point they were trying to make was that when the Bible references the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, it was ONLY in relation to giving them the ability to do miracles and then it was gone. He was saying that there is not an example anywhere in the Bible of a person being indwelled by the Holy Spirit unless they could do miracles. I think it's a way to try to get around the "baptism of the Holy Spirit."

Response #10:

You're very welcome.

I gave your article the "once over". A couple of observations. First, as is usually the case with such things, the Jewish tradition is late (the Talmud dates to ca. the 6th - 9th cent. A.D.). Second, it is the interpretation of an interpretation (the Talmud interprets the Mishna, ca. 2-3 cent. A.D.). Thirdly, even if the interpretation of the interpretation yields a 100% accurate picture of Jewish practices in Jesus' day (and that is virtually impossible), we know very well from the Bible that these practices – themselves interpretations of the Law – were in the main misguided. Here is what Jesus has to say about water-cleansing as practiced by the religious establishment of His day:

1 The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus 2 and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. 3 (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. 4 When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.) 5 So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, "Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?" 6 He replied, "Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: "‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 7 They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’ 8 You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions." 9 And he continued, "You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!
Mark 7:1-9 NIV

This is far from a ringing endorsement of the traditions of Jesus' day regarding ceremonial washing. Indeed, the disciples were not doing the "baptizing" the Pharisees taught was necessary. In verse four above, "wash" is baptizo, and "washing" is baptismos (a noun form of the same verb, "baptize"). Yet it is those who wash/baptize who are the hypocrites who follow mere tradition having replaced God's commands for human regulations, and it is those who do not wash/baptize who are the genuine followers of our Lord. All this leads me to believe that while it may be interesting to hear what Jewish traditions were on the subject, we should not be misled into thinking that somehow the scriptures cannot be properly interpreted without inundating ourselves with this perspective – especially since it is at best (i.e., to the degree that the interpretation of an interpretation of an interpretation accurately reflects the contemporary usage) a system of practices directly castigated by our Lord as improper and hypocritical.

Finally in regard to this article, the lack of essential value in this approach is summed up by the horrifically wrong conclusion the author includes, to wit that water-baptism in the New Testament is referred to as "circumcision made without hands" (Colossians 2:11-12)! Not only is there no water-baptism in the epistles at all (with the single exception of Paul's debunking of its supposed necessity in 1st Corinthians chapter one), but this passage, Colossians 2:11-12, is speaking of the circumcision of the heart which is accomplished by God at the new birth. The baptism here therefore cannot be water-baptism as a kind of "companion ritual" to physical circumcision because no mere ritual could produce this "new start for the heart" or, certainly, any sort of restraint on the sin nature: only the Holy Spirit can do these things. So we see that the result of "immersing" oneself in considerations of Jewish tradition which, even if they did hark back to Jesus' day, reflect a legalistic and hypocritical approach to scripture by unsaved individuals, is, not surprisingly, the transplanting of that same legalism and hypocrisy into modern day Christianity. I would wish to note that there are plenty of Jewish Christians (and some Jewish Christian teachers of whom I know) who most certainly do not see water-baptism as having anything to do with salvation or put it forward in a legalistic way.

On the "bulletin", that may be the case (you would know about this church's teachings far better than I). Given the important role of the Spirit throughout the epistles, however, it would seem if this were true that we would have to "de-activate" most of the New Testament. For example, in Galatians chapter five Paul famously describes the ministry of the Spirit as our helper in our battle against the sin nature. If we don't actually have the Spirit's help in this fight, we are in pretty big trouble. The examples of the recalibration of Christian doctrine this conclusion would force are too numerous to recount, so I suppose that I would just ask proponents of this terribly odd (and obviously incorrect) position why our Lord made such a big point of sending the Spirit if He were only going to be the "Helper" for a minuscule minority of the Church and for only part of their lives? For me, this sort of thing is a prime example of what is likely to happen when a person or group takes a false position and determines to defend it no matter what, even once it is obvious to all that they are wrong, namely, the distortion of much other scripture and doctrine in the defense of a bad cause.

In Jesus our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #11:

Thanks for you help. I know it took a while for me to respond - I had a lot going on.

My friend confronted me last night on what I believed, and we had a short discussion. The basic contention is that ALL of the verses in the epistles refer to water because the "baptism of the Holy Spirit" ONLY refers to the imparting of miraculous gifts (tongues, etc.). I could use some help on that contention.

Response #11:

Good to hear from you. In case you missed it, the latest email posting at Ichthys deals with these issues at some great length (about 70 or so single-spaced pages), so you might get some help there too (see the link: Baptism: Water and Spirit II).

As to your current question, since the position that all baptism in the New Testament that does not specifically manifest miraculous gifts must be water-baptism is completely untenable, I think I might be tempted to point out the argument's insufficiency in the following way. Jesus said just before He ascended "For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 1:5 NIV). Since Jesus directly distinguishes between John's baptism of the past (one of water) and the clearly more important baptism of the Spirit soon to come at this point (i.e., they are to "wait" for it: v.4; and they will "receive power" through it to enable them to evangelize the world: v.8), how can anyone argue that when Paul says at Ephesians 4:5 that there is only "one baptism" – just as there is only "one faith and one Lord" – that this baptism is one of water? For if it is water, then it would seem that the baptism of the Spirit is so unimportant that it cannot even be mentioned in comparison with John's water-baptism. And while that is patently ridiculous on the face of it, even if someone still wants to argue in that way, then they are clearly disagreeing with Jesus: "John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit".

In hopes and prayers that the truth will prevail.

In Jesus our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #12:


Thank you - I will definitely take a look at that link.

I believe the argument is that you can't find a place in the New Testament where the phrase "baptism of the Holy Spirit" is used unless it's in conjunction with miraculous gifts. So when Jesus spoke in Acts 1:5, he was only speaking to the apostles, who, on the day of Pentecost, were baptized with the Holy Spirit and were able to do miraculous things. Then, with Cornelius, the phrase is used again, and they were speaking in tongues. So there are no examples of that phrase being used in a way that denotes anything but miraculous. Since they incontrovertibly used water for baptism in Acts (at least at first), THAT is the "one baptism" spoken of in Ephesians 4:5. (I THINK they would say that no one else was baptized by the Holy Spirit after Cornelius. Not completely sure about that.)

I do understand your points, but I'm not sure it completely answers the argument that they make.

Thanks again for your thoughts. Sometimes I maintain sanity by re-reading your e-mails and website!


I read through the new link you sent. It raised some new questions for me:

You say that "In the history of the world, water baptism took place for the first time, as far as we know, only under John."

In Hebrews 9 (specifically 9:10) the writer refers to various baptisms for the flesh until a time of reformation. (Translations differ on the words, but I did check the Greek and it uses the word "baptismos.") I was taking this verse and the verses surrounding it to mean that the baptisms and sacrifices the Jews did were external as compared to the internal changes Christians would undergo. I had thought that the Jews used water baptism as a sign of cleansing, and that the priests "baptized" their things so that they would be ceremonially clean.

Also in Hebrews 6:2, what does that reference to baptisms mean here? It is plural. Also, I think it says that this is part of the "foundation" of teachings.

Also, the following is in some literature my friend gave me to read "If 'baptized' in 1 Corinthians 12:13 refers to Holy Spirit baptism then Paul is contradicting himself for in Ephesians 4:5 he says there is but one baptism. Paul was preaching and practicing water baptism when he wrote 1 Corinthians and Ephesians but Holy Spirit baptism was a matter of history when he said there is but one baptism."

For the above, as I had previously e-mailed you, they contend that baptism of the Holy Spirit only refers to the miraculous gifts. The part I'd like to you address is the part about Paul still preaching and practicing water baptism when he wrote 1 Corinthians and Ephesians. Also, they explain that "baptized by one Spirit" means that the Spirit led people to be baptized in water to come into the body.

I'm sure you probably think I've got to be the most dense person around. I hope that you understand that I am searching and wanting the truth, not just an answer that I WANT to hear.


The one other thing from the link you gave me that I didn't think you specifically addressed is the contention that Joel's prophecy of pouring out the Spirit on all flesh was completed with the baptism of the Holy Spirit on Cornelius and his family. All of the questions are related, but I don't think that was specifically addressed. I think the whole thing rests on that. Can we show that the baptism of the Holy Spirit was NOT just for a limited amount of time to establish the church?


One more question from the link you had sent:

Why was the jailer baptized in the middle of the night? If it was not essential or just a symbol, why do it immediately, as if there was urgency? Also, he wasn't a Jew, was he?

Again, sorry that I sent you some disjointed e-mails. The questions that the one person raised did unsettle me some. I worry that I'm just trying to explain stuff away because I don't like it.

Response #12:

Good to hear from you again – I certainly appreciate your very commendable attitude of wanting the truth, not merely wanting to be able to "explain away" things with which you disagree.

I will attempt here to answer all the questions raised in these four emails, but let me just say first by way of introduction that, judging from what you have been sharing, the people you are dealing with do not seem to have their positions well thought-out. Much of their logic is circular but this doesn't seem to bother them. They seem to genuinely believe in water-baptism but independent of scripture; as a result, scripture is only used to support their theory and/or subjected to irregular and inconsistent interpretation to fend off all serious objections. I only mention this because this is a very common cult-like approach and is itself an indication of the essential incorrectness of what is being taught. A legitimate Christian group will want to understand the entire Bible and will be seeking to explain each individual subject the Bible addresses within the context of that whole. But when any group focuses on one or a few "teachings" and only uses the Bible in the way described above, generally speaking there is no arguing with them. That is because without a genuine respect for the authority of scripture overall, legitimate arguments that call their positions into question are often dismissed out of hand even when these may show the violence they are doing to scripture – because they honestly don't care about the scripture, only about their own doctrines. That is to say, only real Christians can be moved by appeals to what the Bible actually says and means; groups which are only using the Bible for their own sectarian ends are impenetrable to arguments from truth, and in most cases are not really Christian. In fact, the latter is a major "tell" of organizations like the JW's or Mormons or any other Christian-looking, Christian-sounding group which is in fact not Christian at all. Christians believe in Jesus Christ and are saved by grace through faith. But there are many groups, organizations, churches and even denominations which in fact teach salvation through works. I am not privy to the other doctrines and teachings of your church, but teaching water-baptism as necessary for salvation is for me a major warning sign (to say the least), so it seems to me to be best to point all this out before proceeding. And one last thing on this: where the fundamental teaching of a group really is legalism and the group really is not based upon the Rock, faith in Jesus Christ, inevitably that will come out in other key aspects of their doctrine. Whether it be an unwillingness to accept either the humanity or the deity of Jesus Christ, or an unwillingness to allow their members to read and study the Bible for themselves, or a claim that only those within their fellowship are saved, there will always be something more that resolves the issue of the group's essential nature (please see the link: Read Your Bible).

As to your questions, taken seriatim from emails 1-4:

1) "you can't find a place in the New Testament where the phrase "baptism of the Holy Spirit" is used unless it's in conjunction with miraculous gifts. So when Jesus spoke in Acts 1:5, he was only speaking to the apostles": Limiting the discussion to the particular phrase "baptism of the Holy Spirit" is a red-herring because that phrase does not occur anywhere in the Bible, not even in Acts chapters 2 and 10 where it is admitted that such is what is happening. The word "baptism", it seems to me, is what is at issue. Wherever it occurs, it means something. The question is, what does it mean in any particular context? The statement quoted does, however, seem to me to betray some confusion about what Spirit baptism is. Spirit baptism is the reception of the Holy Spirit at the new birth. There are two aspects to the baptism: 1) being placed "into Christ" through the Spirit's activity, and 2) being thereafter indwelt by the Spirit. This joint action is called "the baptism of the Spirit", and both of these aspects are visible in the following passage:

For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
1st Corinthians 12:13 NIV

"Into one body" means "made part of the Body of Christ" (cf. Eph.4:4), and "given the Spirit to drink" means having the Spirit within us to empower our Christian walk (cf. Jn.7:39). Since the early days of the Church, all believers receive the Spirit when they believe (Rom.8:9), and this has not been accompanied by miraculous manifestations as at Acts 2 and 10 since the very early years of the apostolic period. Throughout the New Testament epistles, however, the profound importance of having the Spirit is emphasized over and over again. Anyone reading these letters through – or anyone doing a concordance search for "Spirit" in the New Testament – will realize the truth of this statement. The "problem" for this discussion is that since our having the Spirit as Christians is universal, going back to describe how we received the Spirit at salvation is usually not repeated when His ministries are described. For example, in the second half of Galatians chapter 5, where Paul tells us to "live by the Spirit" (v.16) and goes on to describe in great detail the Spirit-led life and how it contrasts to the prior life of the flesh, he does not bother to mention that we have the Spirit (since we all know we have the Spirit) or how we got the Spirit (for we all should know that too since it is prophesied, explained and described in great detail in the gospels and the book of Acts). "How we got the Spirit" is "the baptism of the Spirit"; "how we were entered 'into Christ' " is by the "baptism of the Spirit". These are givens in the New Testament epistles.

It sounds to me as if one line of argumentation you are confronting is the false suggestion that "the baptism of the Spirit" is only the first miraculous outpouring of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost. But if that were so, how would all of the rest of the Church have been given the Spirit or been entered into Christ? And if it is claimed that this happens through water, well, there was no water poured out upon those in the house who saw the Spirit distributed "in tongues of fire"; nor did Cornelius and company receive the Spirit through water – water-baptism is Peter's afterthought in Acts 10; nor did the Samaritan believers receive the Spirit when they believed and were water-baptized but only later through "the laying on of hands" by the apostles (Acts 8:17). So beyond all argument, the Spirit is not given nor are we entered into Christ through water. And that is certainly something which stands to reason since the presence of God the Spirit in our bodies our becoming one with God the Son are supernatural occurrences which no human being could perform via any ritual.

As to the argument that at Acts 1:5 Jesus was only speaking to the apostles, John had said the same thing to everyone who asked him for an account of who he was (Matt.3:11; Lk.3:16), so Jesus' words there are clearly applicable to us all. Moreover, in the one passage in the gospels where it appears to some that Jesus is speaking of the need for water-baptism, Matthew 28:19, He is most definitely speaking "only to the apostles". So by this logic, even if we do see a command for water-baptism at Matthew 28:19, it would apply only to the apostles. In fact, of course, only the Holy Spirit can enter us "into the Person of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit" – that is indeed the purpose of the baptism. And it is a baptism, the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The Bible had to call this transformation something, and it called it a baptism because of the well-documented meaning of the word in describing the close identification thereby of one thing with another. Without question, baptism in the New Testament encompasses more than water:

They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.
1st Corinthians 10:2 NIV

2) "Since they incontrovertibly used water for baptism in Acts (at least at first), THAT is the "one baptism" spoken of in Ephesians 4:5." The flaw in the logic here is obvious. One could just as well say "Since the baptism of the Spirit incontrovertibly happens in Acts, THAT is the "one baptism" spoken of in Ephesians 4:5". Indeed, we would have more justification for saying this because 1) Spirit baptism follows water-baptism (e.g., Jn.7:39), and 2) Acts not only opens with Spirit baptism as the most important event defining the Church Age (predicted by our Lord Himself in chapter one and dramatically described in chapter 2), but is unarguably more important in the narrative of Acts: water-baptism is described in Acts on a handful of occasions but only as an aside, whereas the descriptions of Spirit-baptisms in chapters 8, 10, and 19, for example, are extensive, dramatic, and clearly considered more important to the author than the water-baptisms. Indeed, while the word baptism only occurs 7 times in Acts (and 4 of these are in Paul's interrogation of the Ephesian brethren where he is explaining the difference between Spirit and water-baptism) and while the word "baptized" only occurs 17 times (2 of which are clearly the Spirit, several more are probably the Spirit, and many are in direct connection with the baptism of the Spirit, e.g., Jn.1:33 NIV: "I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, 'The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.' "; Acts 2:38 NIV: "And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit"), the word [Holy] Spirit occurs 57 times in Acts and always in demonstrating the importance of His ministry, a ministry which empowers all manner believers, not just those involved in the outpouring on the day of Pentecost (Paul and his circle, to name but one important example):

Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, "Brother Saul, the Lord – Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here--has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit."
Acts 9:17 NIV

Given that the contrast between John's water-baptism and Spirit baptism is emphasized repeatedly in scripture (Matt.3:11; Mk.1:8; Lk.3:16; Acts 1:5-8; 11:16), and given that the descriptions of baptism in the epistles invariably involve aspects of the Spirit's ministry such as supernaturally entering us into Christ and not any water-based ritual (e.g., Rom.6:3; Gal.3:27; Col.2:12), the statement quoted above is clearly wrong.

3) References to "washings" in Hebrews and in the Old Testament versus the truth that water-baptism began with John: It is certainly true that the Mosaic Law enjoined certain ritual washings as in the case where a person cleansed of leprosy had to bathe as part of the ritual (e.g., Lev.14:8). And of course there certainly were "various ceremonial washings" as Hebrews 9:2 puts it, not only of people but also of objects, and the scriptural list had been expanded greatly through human additions by our Lord's day (cf. Jn.2:6; 3:25):

And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.
Mark 7:4 NIV

But this is clearly something substantially different from "water-baptism" as your church or any other church practices it. It is important to point out again here that neither your church nor any group which water-baptizes can give a reasonable accounting which squares with scripture of what the practice symbolizes – and that is telling. And it is hard to argue against the point that dunking people is different from dunking objects (certainly part of Hebrews 9:10), and that the ceremonial cleansing of lepers or the ordination of priests (certainly part of Hebrews 6:2) is different from what John the baptist was called to do. And it is also difficult to argue that what John was doing in his water-baptism of repentance is what churches are doing today or that what his baptism symbolized is what theirs now symbolizes, if they are even able to give a reasonable account of what it does symbolize though often they cannot – which it seems to me they would easily be able to do if water-baptism were still legitimate, let alone necessary for salvation, since in such a case the Bible would have plenty to say about it (which it does not). The main point here is that the fact that Hebrews in two places alludes to washings in the context of Jewish ritual cleansing of objects and certain persons but not in a salvation context and not with any idea that all would participate in such cleansings is actually persuasive evidence that ritual water-cleansing as John practiced it was never meant to be continued in the Church. It does serve an important purpose, however, in very effectively weeding out those who are inclined to grace and to the truth from to those who are inclined to legalism and ritual.

4) "If 'baptized' in 1 Corinthians 12:13 refers to Holy Spirit baptism then Paul is contradicting himself for in Ephesians 4:5 he says there is but one baptism. Paul was preaching and practicing water baptism when he wrote 1 Corinthians and Ephesians but Holy Spirit baptism was a matter of history when he said there is but one baptism.": Paul wrote the Corinthian epistles to the Corinthians from Ephesus ca. 45-50 A.D. after the last instance of water-baptism in the book of Acts, and he wrote Ephesians from Rome about a decade later. Moreover, Paul never "preached water-baptism"; he only ever speaks of Spirit baptism (except in disparaging water-baptism in 1st Corinthians chapter one). I have allowed as how as a transitional measure in the presentation of the gospel for the sake of Jewish audiences who were familiar with John's water-baptism that the rite was sometimes practices, especially in the days when the Spirit was still being administered through the laying on of the apostles' hands. But theologically water-baptism only has any importance as part of the gospel in demonstrating that John was heralding Jesus as the Messiah. So even if could be proven that some were still baptizing with water at the time when Paul wrote Ephesians, for him the ritual was of no importance (i.e., even if it had stopped, Paul certainly remembered about water-baptism, so "one baptism" has to be one or the other, and for the reasons given now exhaustively it cannot be water he is speaking of). Regardless of what rituals people choose to engage in, there is only "one baptism" which matters: the "baptism of the Holy Spirit". Why? Because "if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ" (Rom.8:9 NIV).

5) "they explain that "baptized by one Spirit" means that the Spirit led people to be baptized in water to come into the body": This is the sort of thing that can make a person despair of any hope of rational discourse (see the introductory remarks above). If we are baptized "by the Spirit", then we are "baptized by the Spirit". If being "baptized by the Spirit" can mean for these people "baptized by other human beings in water", then anything can mean anything and we really don't need to bother to consult the Bible. If we can make "baptized by the Spirit" in 1st Corinthians 12:3 mean "led by the Spirit to find some human beings who would then baptize us in water", then we can make any passage mean anything we want. Moreover, this would have been a very easy thing to say in Greek, so Paul certainly could have said this instead of what he did say which is nothing of the sort. Indeed, why didn't he just say "baptized"? Why add the Spirit at all? But even if we want to suspend all critical judgment and sense of what language can possibly mean, how, in that hypothetical case, would we 1) become "one body" through a physical ritual administered by sinful human beings, and 2) come to be given "the Spirit" as a result? If the Spirit is necessary to enter us into Christ – and He clearly is – and if the Spirit is given to us as a result of this baptism – and that is what the passage plainly says – then it seems to me impossible for anyone no matter how brazen to reduce this verse to a mere water-ritual.

6) Joel 2:28 says "I will pour out my Spirit on all people" (NIV). The pouring out of the Spirit is a gift the Father gives to the Son as a result of His victory on the cross (e.g., Jn.7:39), and it is for everyone who believes in Him. That is clear from the way the Spirit and His ministry is described when predicted in the Old Testament, reiterated in the gospels, and described in Acts and the epistles. If only a handful at Pentecost received this blessing (with the addition of a handful more in Acts 10), not only would Joel's "all people" be incorrect, but we would be left to wonder what the New Testament was talking about with all these mentions of the Spirit. As it is, all true Christians know from personal experience that we have the Spirit, received when we believed (through what is known as the "baptism of the Spirit"):

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever-- the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.
John 14:16-7 NIV

The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children.
Romans 8:16 NIV

And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.
1st John 3:24b NIV

7) The Philippian jailer. First, we should not fail to notice what Paul and company tell this man when he asks them what to do to be saved:

He then brought them out and asked, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" They replied, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your household." Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house.
Acts 16:30-32 NIV

The issue of belief as the means to salvation is made more clear here than perhaps anywhere else in scripture: to be saved, we need only put our faith in Jesus Christ. Water-baptism is not mentioned as necessary for salvation or even necessary at all. It is not in the picture when the gospel is verbally given.

Although there was apparently no synagogue, there was a Jewish community in Philippi. We know that because the apostles met Lydia at a Jewish "place of prayer" outside of the city. So it is entirely possible that the jailer, who is not named, was Jewish – or at least that he was either a Jewish proselyte or someone who had heard about John the baptist because that message was in the ether in this mixed community. One additional indication of this is his statement to Paul and company: "what must I do to be saved?" This seems perfectly natural to us, but in that day and age for a person understand the issue of "needing to be saved" if said person had never heard of Judaism or John or repentance et al. is inexplicable. Unbelievers in general know they have a problem regarding death and, I would argue, judgment after death (since all know through natural revelation about their own sinfulness and about the existence of a perfect and perfectly just God). But to phrase things in this way using the verb for salvation would be beyond odd – unless this person had already had some experience with the idea of salvation (and so also probably with John's baptism as well), and that would necessitate the Jewish connection. As in the case of the Ethiopian eunuch, all this meant that connecting John with Jesus through water-baptism, John's baptism, was a natural thing to desire to do for said persons. Just as the Ethiopian eunuch (coming from Jerusalem, reading Isaiah, and unquestionably already familiar with John's water-baptism) was the one who initiated the process of ceremonial water-baptism (even though it was unnecessary), such I would imagine was the case here. Acts tells us what really happened, even if it was unnecessary or even wrong. Paul would acquiesce to the continuation of this now unnecessary and already fulfilled ritual at Corinth too a few months later, but of course he came to regret it.

I do hope this will help you in your search for and defense of the truth.

In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior through faith in whom alone comes salvation – by grace.

Bob L.

Question #13:

Wow - a ton to digest in that. I think the only thing you didn't answer was the question about what the meaning of Hebrews 6:2.

I'll add one more - why did Peter "command" that water be brought to Cornelius?

The word "cult" has come to my mind as well.

Response #13:

I did mention Hebrews 6:2 – it's part of the ceremonial background of the Law. Being plural, by the way, the word cannot mean "conventional Christian water-baptism only". This book is addressed to the Jewish community in Jerusalem, and the "ceremonial cleansing of lepers or the ordination of priests", as I write, would certainly be included in their thinking when reading this word. Since you ask specifically, I think Paul (the author of Hebrews) is referring to his earlier explanations of the distinction between John's water-baptism on the one hand (in the context of Jewish ceremonial cleansing) and Spirit baptism on the other (that is why the word is plural here).

As to Peter in Acts 10, what he actually says is "Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?" (NKJV). First, the water clearly follows the Spirit baptism. Secondly, Peter does not say they need it. Thirdly, he phrases this as a concession – so that even though it is clear that he still had some learning to do about symbolism et al., he does seem to recognize that water-baptism is not an issue in salvation. And fourthly and most importantly we are told in the next chapter by Peter himself what he thought was really important about this episode:

"As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. Then I remembered what the Lord had said: 'John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.' So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?"
Acts 11:15-17 NIV

Peter had been criticized for going in to eat with gentiles and in his defense he relates the baptism of the Spirit and, most importantly, states how this caused him "to remember" what the Lord had said about the Spirit replacing water. So very clearly even with the supernatural vision he received in chapter ten and the express voice of the Spirit he was given to hear, he was still "putting things together" when he got to Cornelius' house. As I say, that is not remarkable. What is remarkable to me is that even though Peter tells us all this first hand, people still want to take his actions in these early days as proscriptive – even though he explains right here that he was still learning about these matters, even though scripture describes him as having to be taught about these matters, and even though his actions and words are not even close to being the same in Acts 2 and Acts 10, for example.

Keep fighting the good fight of faith!

In Jesus our dear Lord,

Bob L.

Question #14:

Hi again Dr. Luginbill,

I totally agree that to take 1 Cor. 12:13 and change it so much to make it say what it "needs" to say is not right. It's also what they do with the verse about the Philippian jailor - they take a verse that gives an exact 1 step answer for salvation that corresponds to what is said MOST of the time, and they turn it into a 6 step process for salvation. On the flip side, taking one verse without reading the rest of scripture is not right either. For example, Paul says that women are saved through childbearing - pity the women who are barren!!! So my issue is that Matthew 28:19 says "baptizing them into", and we contend that the disciples couldn't literally do that, so we also change it to say "by helping them be baptized into." They don't have to change that verse - they say that baptizing with water puts us into Christ which is exactly what He's commanding in this verse. But I do remember you said that this phrase is not a command - maybe the only command is "teach" - I can't quite remember that. I'm still having a little trouble with that particular verse. One of my biggest problems with the teaching about water baptism for salvation is that you have to ignore so many of the words of Jesus himself. But Matthew 28:19 is also Jesus' words, and I can't quite wrap my mind around what he's saying. At the same time, when Luke recounts this in Acts 1, he says nothing about baptizing.

I hope my questions made sense. Sometimes I feel like I'm rambling, but I am hoping so much that my friend will see the truth, but for me to even have a chance to show him, I have to be completely prepared. He's had quite a bit of time to have this drilled into his brain, and the fact that water was used in Acts is quite a stumbling block.


Response #14:

Good to hear from you. On Matthew 29:19, please see the link. I do understand with what you are saying. In my view as well this is the most difficult passage for believers who understand that water-baptism is a problem, because it can seem, on the face of it (depending upon how it is translated) that it is talking about water-baptism.

The first thing I would wish to point out here is that people who do want to take it as water-baptism most certainly do have to "change" the passage – or change logic and spiritual common sense – to make it refer to water. That is because 1) there is no mention of water in this passage (that is an assumption, and a false one at that in my view as you know), and 2) it says "baptizing them into the Name" which means placing the object into unity with the Trinity. Greek uses en / in with the dative for formulaic pronouncement (cf. Acts 2:38), but eis / into with the accusative case is something completely different. There is no way that a human being can do anything – water-baptizing or anything else – to make someone else a part of the Trinity.

Even if water-baptizers want to claim that they have this power (!), which they most certainly do not, we know from everywhere else in scripture that it is faith in Christ which places us into union "with Him". But if this were water-baptism at Matthew 29:19 and the meaning was still "into Christ", then the apostles (or modern self-styled apostles) would be able to dunk anyone and put them "into Christ", whether they were believers or not, whether they were adults or not, whether they were awake or not. For in that case it would be the act of the person with the magic powers which put someone into union with Christ through dunking them, not the act of faith in Christ. Further, it would also then not matter if a person believed in Jesus Christ. For if this passage means that water-baptism makes us one with Christ then that is the only way that we can become one with Christ. If Matthew 29:19 is referring to "producing union with Christ through water-baptism", then salvation is in the hands of those with the magic power to "water-baptize effectively" and does not depend upon a person having faith in Christ at all. Perhaps in that case we should have these people water-baptize our babies (and then we can completely forget about their spiritual welfare ever after) and even the dead bodies of those unsaved deceased (we are talking about a magic power that does not take into account the free will of the baptized, after all).

In my view, "into the Name/Person" language here is sufficient to hold up a very large "red light" to anyone who wants to overlook what John said ("He will baptize you with the Spirit") and to overlook what Jesus said ("I will send you the Comforter"; "You will be baptized with the Spirit"), and put the word water in here where it does not occur and either overlook the key word, repeated three times, "into" (as opposed to the formulaic "in") or claim that water-baptism accomplishes "into" – and thus producing all the horrible and horribly legalistic problems described above.

Yours in Jesus Christ, whom we are and will be "in" forever through faith by grace via the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Bob L.

Question #15:

Dr. Luginbill,

Thanks for your response again. I'm sure you cringe when you see an e-mail from me in your inbox. But your site has been very helpful to me. And having the ability to ask questions about it is helpful.

Here's my next question. For Acts 2:38, I've read what you wrote about the translation. I wanted to find a Greek Bible with grammatical commentary online that I could look at. (Several if at all possible - one source is not going to cut it.) I found one, but their "key" didn't even have "permissive" as a possible option for the voice. I don't know Greek, so maybe this is something I would easily see if I did have a knowledge of it. I'm seriously considering trying to learn Greek, but I'm not sure how easy that is for the average person. I've only studied Spanish as a foreign language, and picked it up pretty easily, but I don't know how that relates to Greek since it's all symbols.

Thanks again for your help.

Response #15:

It's always good to hear from you. I appreciate your determination to get to the truth.

As to your question, I am not surprised that finding "keys" which tell you everything you want (and need) to know is a tough thing. Neither Greek nor Hebrew are particularly easy languages to learn, and those who make "tools" for those who do not know them are usually more interested in money than helping on the one hand and are always skewing to the simplest explanations on the other for obvious reasons. The effect of these two considerations put together means such "tools" will be "helpful" mostly when you don't need any help. If it's any consolation, this is a standard feature of reference works (which becomes increasingly noticeable and annoying as one advances in any field of scholarship).

The word/form in question is baptizistheto. This is a form of the verb baptizo from which we get "baptize" (in fact the latter is a direct transliteration of the former). The particular form here is a "third person imperative". That, at any rate, is the name traditionally given to it in grammatical treatments. The English equivalent to this is the "let" construction, as in "let them eat cake". As this famous example indicates, in English the "command" part is less emphatic than would be the case in a direct command ("Eat cake!"), and for an obvious reason: the person being "ordered" is not present, again, in grammatical conception. That does not mean that we or they cannot or did not use this type of construction for people being present: they did (as in this passage) and we do as well, and usually to take the edge off of a command (that is, to introduce an element of judgment or permission). For example, if I say "let everyone do what they have purposed in their heart to do", I am addressing persons present, but I am phrasing this command in a less direct and more permissive way – far different from saying "Do this!". It is incorrect to see imperatives as existentially necessary in any case. If I say "have a nice day!", no one should imagine either that I have the authority to mandate this or that dire consequences will follow if a nice day is not had. The context is the key, and that was true in Greek as well. Paul, in traditional Greek fashion, sometimes ends his epistles by telling his readers to "greet one another with a holy kiss" (e.g., Rom.16:16). But although this is a true imperative (rather than what we have in Acts 2:38, a third person imperative), we need not assume that any and all who failed to actually kiss all other members of the congregation were somehow violating God's commandments. Third person commands like this are even more permissive by nature, and that is something that has to be taken into account when interpreting the verb in question. When Paul uses this third person imperative in 1st Corinthians 7:2, saying "let each man have his own wife and let each woman have her own spouse", we know from various places in the context that this is a permissive use and not categorical one. After all, he says later in verse six, "I say this by way of permission, not command" – so that it would be incorrect to teach that the verse is mandating marriage for Christians; it is not, even though this is an "imperative".

At Acts 2:38, Peter says "repent" (second person direct command) but then says "let each of you be baptized". The change of construction could be just stylistic, but it is odd and unnecessary if that were the case. It seems clear to me that this change is meant to make the point that while repentance or change of mind about God's truth is necessary for salvation (its opposite side is faith without which true repentance never occurs), engaging in the ritual of water-baptism was for some reason less necessary. Without doubt, Peter wanted this baptism to occur for them all since he wanted all to receive the Holy Spirit: "and each of you will receive the gift . . ." – and that would occur when the apostles laid hands on the new converts individually (i.e., when they water-baptized them in this instance in most of the cases). It is significant that this passage works perfectly well interpreted without water, but it is nonsense without the Spirit. As I have said, I cannot discount that water was used here, but Peter certainly does seem to understand that it is salvation and the gift of the Spirit which are the objectives (not a new baptism in water), and he takes pains with his language not to link either necessarily to water. This is a subtle point and one which will no doubt never convince those who are intent upon making the water ritual important or necessary, but I do believe that any objective observer reading this passage carefully will not fail to notice that it is salvation through repentance and [faith] in the Name of Jesus Christ along with the gift of the Spirit which is the central message of Peter's words, not engaging in the water-ritual. Most of his audience on that day had no doubt already been water-baptized – by John. So if water could save, they would already be saved (and I doubt the once-water-baptized were re-water-baptized inasmuch as this is never explicitly required or described anywhere in the New Testament). Even if water-baptism was, on that particular day and that particular audience, taken as a sign of faith, it is nevertheless true that it is faith "in the Name of Jesus Christ" which brings forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Spirit – so says Peter.

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.
Acts 2:38 NKJV

Yours in Jesus Christ through whom we are saved by grace alone (not works) through faith alone (not works).

Bob L.

Question #16:

Thanks for your response again. I decided to try to find a list of verses in the NT that included the 3rd person imperative permissive. I didn't get very far on it. What I found was that there seems to be debate as to what that voice really means. Several people say that it's no less of an imperative than any other. Some people say it could be. Some say that a 3rd person imp. following a 2nd person imp. gives it even more force (2nd person to get attention, 3rd to show further direction). The passage you sited definitely seems to give more of a permissive flavor with no dire consequences, as you said. However, they site Romans 6:12 "Let sin no more reign...." as an example of 3rd person imp. that is really still a command. I'm still going to keep trying to see if I can find a list of the verses with the 3rd following the 2nd, but I thought I'd get your take on the debate. I'd like to find all the instances to see if it can be shown as a pattern that this form overall is permissive in the NT.


Response #16:

Sorry for the delay – I was out of town visiting family and have only just returned today.

As to your question, I can certainly help you with this, if interested. However, I would wish to make the point that the grammar here is really a side issue. It is certainly true that the grammar (permissive imperative) is an added argument in favor of seeing this passage as non-doctrinal (at least in terms of water-baptism), but I would be reluctant to over stress the point too much. Peter was clearly expecting most of this group of people to be baptized with water (at least those who had never been so) on that particular day. But of course that day was special. All the recipients were Jews. All the recipients followed the Law. Peter himself was still a whole-hearted follower of the Law. All the recipients knew personally of John's water-baptism and most had been water-baptized by him or his followers. All of that audience had heard about Jesus and most had seen something of Him or His disciples first-hand – and had rejected Him. All of that audience had also just heard and seen the most astounding miraculous events which have never been repeated in that way. And this is just the short list of circumstances unique to that day and that audience which are not true today.

Further, because of those unique circumstances, Peter's desire to tie John and his water-baptism to Jesus for this all-Jewish, Law-practicing, Jesus-rejecting audience was understandable. It is in this context that his deliberate switch to the 3rd person imperative for baptizo when he had just used the direct 2nd person imperative is interesting. After all, the 3rd person is generally used for people who are not present – but these people were present. So the permissive aspect flows even more clearly from this switch of forms coupled with the otherwise odd and unprecedented use.

By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus' name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see.
Acts 3:16 NIV

As is clear from Peter's speech in Acts 3:12-26 - - where no water-baptism is even mentioned – Peter considered faith in Jesus to be the means of salvation, not any action on the potential believer's part. So in my view that is indeed why Peter said and Luke wrote "and, he added, 'let each be baptized' " (and this would be the venue for the laying on of hands to spread the gift of the Spirit as well). However, putting too much attention on this one piece of the puzzle is likely to miss the larger picture: this was a completely unique situation in many ways, and nothing in the scene or the words mandated water-baptism then – let alone now when none of the critical circumstances are the same.

Hope this helps!

In Jesus our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #17:

Thanks for your answer. I've had a really rough week with all of this. I know what I believe, but I think that 13 years of hearing this stuff has put so much fear and doubt into me. I've really had a hard time with "what if they're right" this week.

I believe your website says that you work with more than just the Bible - the classics. I was wondering if you have read any of the non-Biblical early church writers to know what they taught, and if anything from their writings is helpful as far as what the early church practiced, but more importantly WHY they did what they did.

I hope that makes sense.

Response #17:

I certainly sympathize with you. Very few people can stand being bombarded with any sort of propaganda and remain emotionally unaffected. Since we are speaking about something that is actually important to you, namely, your Christian faith, such assaults are all the more painful because the truth is all the more important to you. As Peter says about Lot, "for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard" (2Pet.3:8 NIV).

I appreciate your steadfastness under this pressure and I want you to know that it has been an encouragement to me personally – just as this correspondence has been helpful to me in nailing down some of these matters even further (and will no doubt be very helpful to others in the future when it's posted – anonymously of course).

I've some additional thoughts on this subject of water-baptism since we last corresponded, and I hope that they may be helpful to you:

1) Peter's "learning curve": In 2nd Peter 3:16, one of the last things he wrote, Peter, speaking of Paul and characterizing his epistles as "scripture", nevertheless says "his letters contain some things that are hard to understand" (NIV). So even at the end of his life, Peter was still learning things. Now of course the epistle of 2nd Peter is scripture because it was inspired by the Holy Spirit. But the mistake some people make is in assuming that the apostles were perfect – which of course no mortal human being has ever been – apart from our Lord. Therefore the Book of Acts has to be interpreted with this in mind since it is a historical book which describes what people actually did (right, wrong, or nondescript). In reporting to the Jerusalem council why he had gone into Cornelius home, Peter says, after relating "how the Spirit came upon them just as He did upon us in beginning", that "Then I remembered what the Lord had said: 'John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.' " (Acts 10:16 NIV). So before Acts 10, Peter clearly had not fully "gotten" the distinction between water and Spirit baptism. So while I find Peter's verbal expressions throughout the book entirely consistent with the truth in every respect, it would be a mistake to extrapolate his engaging in water-baptism on a few very early occasions into a rite which is necessary for us today. At Acts 15:6 we see that by this time the issue of whether or not believers needed to be circumcised had not yet been resolved even though this is clearly a remnant of the Law not necessary for the Church Age, so the learning curve issue was not Peter's alone. He was merely willing to respond to the Spirit in this regard unlike many contemporary individuals and groups who would have us regress to a ritual which proclaims a Messiah not yet having come and suffered in our place.

2) Peter's gospel: In Acts 10:43 Peter says to Cornelius and company "All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name" (NIV). This is followed immediately by the coming of the Spirit upon the assembled gentiles as they do believe in Jesus. I have remarked before that this passage shows that faith alone produces salvation as evidenced by the coming of the Spirit, and also that it shows that the Spirit's coming is "the" baptism for the Church rather than the water ritual. What I also would wish to emphasize here is that Peter's words make it clear that forgiveness comes through faith in Jesus Christ. Peter's gospel says "forgiveness of sins through [Jesus'] name". Since scripture cannot contradict itself, this is very clearly then what Peter meant when he addressed the crowd at the first Pentecost: "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38 NIV). That is to say, however one parses Acts 2:38, it has to mean essentially the same thing as the words and the situation in Acts 10 (as I have previously tried to show at the link: "One Baptism"): 1) salvation comes through faith in Christ; 2) repentance is part of saving faith; 3) forgiveness comes through that change of mind and exercise of faith; 4) the Holy Spirit is given as a result. That means ipso facto that Peter cannot be saying at Acts 2:38 that water-baptism produces forgiveness since even before he "remembered" about Jesus' point in distinguishing between water and Spirit baptism his expression of the gospel at Acts 10:43 excludes that possibility. Now in Acts 2, it is true that Peter includes water-baptism but not as the means of forgiveness (instead it is to connect Jesus to John and also to mediate the Spirit; see the previous link). If Peter's words there in Acts 2 necessarily connected forgiveness and water-baptism they would contradict what he says at Acts 10:43. In fact they do not do so (see the previous link), but my point here is that apart from immersing oneself in the grammar of Acts 2:38, it is possible merely by comparing that verse to Acts 10:43 to see very clearly that they do not just by the comparison: Acts 10:43 explains what Peter means at Acts 2:38 – and it does so in a simplified way since now there is no need for mediation of the Spirit or an explanation of John's ministry to this gentile audience.

3) John's water-baptism "of repentance": John's baptizing with water was a "baptism of repentance" designed to prepare the Jewish people for the coming of the Messiah (Mk.1:4; Lk.3:3; Acts 19:4). As Paul says in his first recorded missionary "sermon":

Before the coming of Jesus, John preached repentance and baptism to all the people of Israel.
Acts 13:24 NIV

The critical words here are "before" and "Israel". Christ has now come. And, since Acts 10, the gospel has now been commissioned and given to the entire world, not just to Israel, her proselytes, and the surrounding environs of Palestine. John's purpose was to "make ready a people prepared for the Lord" (Lk.1:17 NASB), and repentance from their prior unbelief was an important part of that preparation accomplished by ritual cleansing which accommodated to the waters of purification of the Law, waters that Jesus, as the symbolic "red heifer" would empower by His own baptism by John, going down into the same waters that had ritually purified those demonstrating their repentance. As a ritual, therefore, water-baptism precedes the acceptance by faith of God's solution to sin by demonstrating repentance. Now that the Object of faith Himself has been revealed, gone to the cross, and been resurrected and glorified, there is no separation between repentance and faith which are two sides of the same decision-making coin as turning from the world and our sinful lives in it is now in truth inseparable from turning to Jesus Christ and placing saving faith in Him. We have spoken before a number of times now about many of these things and specifically about how embracing water-baptism amounts to turning back the clock to the days preceding Messiah's arrival on the scene. What I would wish to emphasize here is that in addition to its being a Jewish, pre-cross ritual, embracing water-baptism now puts the process of salvation backwards. Water-baptism represented repentance (clear even from Acts 2:38), and beyond all argument repentance precedes faith. But water-baptism practitioners apply the water after faith, and thus have both the ritual and its true symbolism entirely backwards. Of course, there is no right way to do it now since water-baptism has in truth been superseded by Spirit baptism (and all of the instances in Acts where it continues to be employed can be explained by the slowness of the apostles to come to grips with the new order of things on the one hand and of their desire to link John to Jesus for Jewish or Jewish-influenced audiences on the other). If a person has believed in Jesus Christ, that person has already repented because embracing Christ is impossible without rejecting the world and our sinful ways in it. This new post-cross reality makes any further ritual demonstration of repentance unnecessary and now, so long after the fact, legalistic. Suggesting that it is somehow necessary or even required for salvation is not only wrong but repugnant to the whole concept of grace.

On your question, there is very little extant information about the period directly following the apostles. Eusebius' Church History is the earliest thing we have which addresses those early years, but 1) it doesn't address the doctrinal questions we actually have (it's more about [questionable] biography et al.), and 2) it dates to the 3-4th century (analogous to us writing about the Revolutionary War today). We do have some early writings such as Polycarp's letters (he may have known the apostle John), but they are singularly unhelpful from a doctrinal point of view (not to mentioned not inspired). So while I am familiar and somewhat conversant with the Apostolic Fathers (Greek) and the later Church Fathers (Latin) as they are called, I find very little of spiritual value in them. Moreover, as soon as the age of the apostles came to an end, there was a precipitous drop-off in the understanding of doctrine and truth generally. This is precisely the opposite of what many people assume but is easily demonstrable from a comparison of any of the post-apostolic works (e.g., the epistles of Clement fairly early on or the works of Origen several centuries later) with any part of the New Testament: there is an unmistakable and incalculable difference between what is scripture and what is not, and the latter very rarely informs the former to any great degree. We also have this principle confirmed by the Bible. The book of Revelation contains in chapters 2-3 a synopsis of the eras of the Church, and the first one which follows the apostles, the era of Ephesus, is characterized by having "abandoned your first love" (Rev.2:4). That "love" is attention to the Word of God, so that even though this next generation of believers is commended by the Lord for having no tolerance for cult-like behavior, He remonstrates with them for not making the truth of scripture their number one concern. That is to say, the deep understanding which someone like Paul had of the truth was not necessarily fully received and comprehended by his contemporaries and was most certainly not passed down in any significant extra-biblical way by them to those who followed. We are very fortunate to have the scriptures themselves, because the oral as well as the written extra-biblical tradition is incredibly deficient. To an extent this may seem counter-intuitive; it does also stand to reason, however, that while on the one hand nothing can compete with scripture, on the other hand it is relatively easy to see how non-educated individuals who had only heard of Paul and company's teaching second hand and who did not have their gifts or their commitment could have let slip the "deeper things" which had been communicated orally to their parents and grandparents. Praise be to God that with His help they saved the scriptures themselves (even if they didn't bother to understand them as they should have). You can read more about this issue at the link: in CT 2A "The Era of Ephesus".

In hopes of your continuing steadfastness and rapid deliverance through the grace of Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #18:

Hi Dr. Luginbill,

I know it's been a long time since I've written. I hope things are going better for your friend for whom. Things have gone from bad to worse with my friend, and I have not had time to write.

I have 2 things I wanted to get your take on. First, sometimes you've said that the apostles used water baptism on a few early occasions. That got me to thinking - do you have anything with a timeline of the events in the book of Acts overlaid with when the books of the New Testament were written. It would be interesting to see what was happening when certain books were written. One of the specifics I'm thinking of is the book of James. In your list of when the books were likely written, you say that James was written after a lot of Paul's writings. The Church of Christ says that James EXPLAINS Paul - in other words, James said it is NOT by faith alone, and he's explaining Paul's writings. I've seen other people who believe James may have been one of the earlier books written. I wanted to get your opinion on that.

The second thing is about something you wrote in your last e-mail about Acts 2:38 needing to be the same thing as Acts 10:43. I'm not 100% sure that's the case. You noted the transitory nature of Acts. Is it possible that forgiveness of sins is not the same thing as salvation? For example, I sin each day, but I do not believe that if I sin and die the next moment, I am headed to hell. I believe that God's grace covers my sins to a point. However, when I sin, I do at least somewhat break fellowship with God, and need His forgiveness to have that fellowship restored. So in Acts 2:38, could they (and Paul later on) have been told to be baptized to have their sins forgiven because they had rejected the Messiah (and Paul had so severely persecuted the church)? You believe that water baptism was only for the Jews and people in the area of Palestine who had come into contact with John's teaching. Could it be possible that those people needed to be baptized to restore their fellowship with God as opposed to for their salvation?

Response #18:

Good to hear from you. To begin, here is what I find in Luke:

[John] went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
Luke 3:3 NIV

As this verse makes clear, the issue is repentance (and for anyone with any doubts that repentance is the point, see verse 8). That is because, as this verse shows, repentance is what leads to forgiveness of sins, not baptism. I am certain that for all the crippled and old and anyone unable to actually make the hike to the Jordan river, God did not deny them forgiveness because they failed to be dunked in water. Similarly, God knew very well who were merely going through the ritual and who were truly repenting. After all, the people confessed their sins as they were baptized (Matt.3:6), and John warns those coming with hypocritical motives that to mean anything, following through this return to the Lord with "the fruits of repentance" was key (Matt.3:7-10; Lk.3:7-14).

This is the context to have in mind for what Peter says in Acts chapter 2:

Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Acts 2:38 NIV

As I have pointed out many times (and as my own translation of this verse attempts to clarify; see the link), the repentance is what is connected to the forgiveness here by Peter, not the baptism – in exactly the same way as John connected the two.

It is certainly true that water was used for purification under the Law. But John baptized in the Jordan, not with "the water of purification" made with the ashes of the Red Heifer (e.g., Num.8:7). Symbolically, the Red Heifer represents Christ and His atonement for sin – that is what "empowers" the water of purification. This is why Jesus demanded to be baptized in the Jordan by John, namely, to symbolically empower the water which ceremonially and symbolically cleansed those baptized by John. Of course without the actual baptism of the cross, that water-baptism of our Lord would have had no effect. And of course no one water-baptized today is dunked into water symbolically empowered by ashes – and certainly not by our Lord. So whatever water-baptism has to do now with cleansing from sin, it is purely symbolic – and was purely symbolic in our Lord's day too. Without genuine repentance, there is no cleansing. And with genuine repentance, no symbolic cleansing is necessary (especially not today). Now, long after the issue of the superseding of the Law by grace has been made abundantly clear, insisting upon a ritual which might at best represent repentance and cleansing from sin if properly understood (which it universally is not) is an affront to grace (not to mention the fact that it looks forward to an empowerment by the Messiah which in that case has not yet been effected – akin to Heb.6:6 and Heb.10:29). Claiming that it has anything to do with salvation is salvation by works, salvation by the Law, and we know very well from scripture that "no one is justified before God by the law" (Gal.3:11 NIV).

As to your specific questions, I do differ from many who put James early. I would hesitate to say he explains Paul. He clearly considers Paul's letters part of the Bible since he quotes him (see the link: "The Spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy: explaining James 4:5."). Personally, I don't find any daylight between James and Paul. We are saved by grace through faith, not of works. And faith without works (which follow salvation) is dead (because all genuine believers respond to the Lord). These are important complementary truths.

Developing a comprehensive history of the apostolic age would be a massive scholarly undertaking, and one which would require having all of the theology of the epistles and Acts sorted out properly first in order to be accurate. I'd love to do it some day, but have many other fish to fry first (many of which I haven't even caught yet!). For a link that talks about the issue see: "Matching Paul's Letters to Acts".

As to Acts 10:43, I think this verse shows that Peter has gotten the main points of the gospel down correctly at least by this time. His addition of water-baptism after the fact was, as this verse fairly considers shows, not something he felt necessary for salvation. At the last supper, our Lord washed the disciples' feet, but when Peter asked for his whole body to be washed our Lord replied "A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean" (Jn.13:10 NIV – another instance of Peter not knowing everything right off). The meaning here is that once we have been cleansed of our sins for salvation, God considers us righteous and clean, part of His family. Sin displeases Him and puts us out of fellowship with Him, but it does not destroy our relationship with Him. No one and nothing can "snatch us out of His hands" (Jn.10:28-29). Unless and until we abandon our faith, we are safe in Him. As the introductory part of this email shows, I hope, John taught and Peter understood that repentance, not engaging in a ritual water-baptism, brings forgiveness. Peter's continuation of the ritual can be variously explained (you have my explanation: the continuation of John's baptism as a natural thing for Jewish audiences to connect the herald to the Messiah), but on the basis of these passages it seems patently obvious to me that he would not have said it was impossible to be saved without water. It is impossible to be saved without repentance because a person first has to change his/her entire point of view about this world and his/her behavior in it in order to accept the truth of the gospel and the forgiveness which is in Christ alone. Adding water to the mix confuses the issue at best, and, in the case of the self-deluded and self-righteous of the likes of the Pharisees, may very well lead to a false confidence because of "something done" for those who do not truly repent and believe in Jesus Christ. This is all doubly true of forgiveness of sins for believers. No group I know of teaches the need for water-cleansing for personal sins – and there is certainly nothing in the New Testament which would support such a claim.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
1st John 1:9 NIV

The issue of sin is a somewhat complicated one, and I have devoted an entire and rather lengthy part of the Basics series to it: BB 3B: Hamartiology: The Biblical Study of Sin (please see the link).

I do hope this helps with your questions. Please feel free to write back. I'm keeping you in my prayers day by day.

In Jesus Christ who is the only truth,

Bob L.

Question #19:

Hi Robert,

I sure hope you get this email since it is going to your "other folder" facebook tells me.

I just discovered your website and I am enjoying it so much! I think it may be the first spiritual website I've been able to fully connect with in all the key areas of my beliefs. I just read a very long article of yours about water baptism which is the way I also believe about water baptism. I also view Holy Spirit baptism in the same way you do.

I plan to read your article about the tribulation since I tend to be a partial preterist amillenialist, and so I tend to understand that the tribulation occurred around 70 AD. But since I agree with all your views on salvation and all the key issues, I am interested about your eschatology teachings and hopefully I will learn something there.

I really never thought I'd find a website that makes full sense to me in all the key areas as yours does. I'm very very happy that the Lord led me to it. Sometimes I find fairly good articles teaching the correct view about water baptism (that it is not necessary for salvation etc), but then these sites are normally of the Calvinist persuasion, and then I can't lead anyone else to that site because that site has some seriously wrong teachings about salvation etc.

I cannot find a church gathering that makes real sense to me according to the truths presented by God, so I do not gather with a group, but I am greatly edified by your website. Thank you very much for your hard work and dedication! I hope to get to know you better and God bless you richly!

In Christ,

Response #19:

I'm not much of an FB user, I fear, so thank you for sending me the email (I didn't even know there WAS an "other folder" until today). It's always a pleasure and a source of encouragement to hear when readers are benefitted by these writings, so thank you for all these kind and gracious words.

I hear what you are saying on the whole "church" thing (there are a number of writings on the website about that topic: e.g., see the link https://ichthys.com/mail-Dysfunctional-Churches.htm). This ministry is on the internet precisely because of this problem – one which cuts both ways (i.e., there isn't much demand for substantive Bible teaching either, unfortunately).

Please feel free to write any time (regular email for a "quick" answer – I see I have some things in this folder going back to last July!).

Yours in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob Luginbill

Question #20:

Hi Bob, I am learning so much from your teachings and they make total and complete sense to me! I have always wondered how in the world the devil got all those angels to follow him and you explained that perfectly in "Introduction: Satan's rebellion and fall from grace." And what you wrote in "Genesis Gap" is a teaching I had never heard of before, but it made absolutely perfect sense. Each day I can hardly wait to learn some more, and I am sharing with a few friends who could also use some good sound teachings.

It really encourages me that *everything* you teach on the key subjects such as the gospel, OSAS, Holy Spirit baptism, water baptism, etc. I'm in full agreement. This is a real blessing to me because I've met countless people who believe Holy spirit baptism is evidenced by speaking in tongues, and I have to turn away from them, because I know how wrong that teaching is. The water baptism area was a little trickier and I wrote an article in my notes about it, but that article is still a bit off track. I wanted to be a missionary, and so after High School I went to a Christian denomination college, but they teach quite similar to Church of Christ, and said that I still was not saved until I became water baptized by immersion, and so I thought I should obey. I had to leave after only going there one year because I knew there was something very wrong there. I was like you and was baptized as a baby, and then went to confirmation, and then immersed (when I was 19), but I really did not understand the necessity for it. As a little kid attending the Methodist church, I used to kindly ask my minister why he would not teach so much of the bible. He was a very sweet elderly man, but he simply told me that people did not want to hear those teachings. It made me very sad since I knew that people were getting led astray. I tried out some open AA meetings when I was younger, and right away I knew that they were closer to what Jesus desired in a church gathering, than what I've seen in any of the institutional churches. You wrote that you understood about God at a very early age too.

I really like what you had to say above about war and self defense and defending others. That makes a lot of sense. I know a few ladies who are such wonderful and humble Christians ladies, but they are so strongly opinionated against all forms of war etc and they do make some good points, but yet I normally can't comment on their threads discussing such topics since I have a tendency to disagree with them. Thank you very much for providing the names of the articles to check out on that subject.

I can't begin to comprehend the amount of hours and effort you've put into all of these studies of yours, but I praise God that He continues to bless you with so much wisdom and that it is able to bless so many people. Thank you again!

Your sister in Christ,

Response #20:

And thank you again, for all your good words and encouragement! It most definitely is a "shot in the arm" whenever I hear that these studies are helping my brothers and sisters in Jesus advance spiritually. It is also very telling that every once in a while a Christian like yourself will have come to precisely the same correct overall conclusions on important issues of doctrine on many of the divisive issues of our day (e.g., pseudo-tongues, water-baptism, et al.), largely through self-study of the Bible. This goes to show the power of the Spirit's teaching ministry toward all who are willing to progress in the truth. Very often cynics will point to the wide-range of views out there on many doctrinal issues as an argument against the possibility of coming to the truth. But the Spirit is the Spirit of truth, and for all who really wish to know the truth, He makes it clear, one way or another, sooner or later. If we but persevere, answers do come, either through our own study or through the efforts of others which the Spirit recommends to us.

Keep on running the good race, and best wishes (and prayers) for the success of your ministry efforts.

In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #21:

I just read your article on Acts 2:38. Wow! It sure would have been nice if God had written the Bible in less confusing language! After reading your article, I now understand what God really meant to say. "Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins" sure sounds like sins are forgiven in baptism, but you explained very well why of course that can't be true.

Thank the Lord we have educated churchmen like yourselves who can explain to us what God failed to clearly express. It is obvious to me, after reading your article, that the Christian layperson is incapable of reading the Bible and understanding it without the assistance and oversight of good educated churchmen.

I am still puzzled by this, however: why is there no historical evidence, anywhere, of anyone in the first approximately 800 years of Christianity who believed that baptism is simply and only our public profession of faith/act of obedience? I can't find a single historical document of any early Christian pastor or layperson stating the Baptist/evangelical position on this doctrine. Can you explain this?


Response #21:

Good to make your acquaintance.

As to "confusing language", it's not confusing to me . . . in Greek. The "problem" is not with the way the Bible is written but with the way it has been translated and interpreted down through the years. Tradition has a way of creating a false framework that naturally resists correction. If over the generations the church-visible had hewn to the truth as the apostles taught it and wrote it, and if that truth had been correctly understood and flawlessly handed down, we wouldn't have the Roman Catholic church and we wouldn't have needed the Reformation, just for example. As it is, once the apostles passed from the scene, things went downhill pretty fast. That's the essence of the message to the Ephesians in the Book of Revelation. All seven churches represent the eras of the church. And just as the church-visible today does truly reflect Laodicea (i.e., lukewarmness about any serious interaction with the substance of scripture and the truth of the Bible), so the first post-apostolic era, that of Ephesus, is reproved for "leaving its first love", that is, love for the Word of God (see the links). Christians who are good people with good character and good intentions can "coast" a long time without refueling with the truth of the Word, but eventually a negative disposition towards learning everything God has to say in scripture (as well as believing it and applying it in a solid walk with Jesus and helping others do the same through personal ministry) catches up with everybody who makes that poor choice sooner or later.

I certainly agree that the Lord has placed in the Body every member of that Body for a particular purpose, and pastor-teachers are just as necessary to the health and proper function of the whole as are all the other parts: we need each other, and it would be just as wrong for me to say I don't need your prayers as for those who are being benefitted by this ministry to say they don't need good Bible-teaching (e.g.). Every Christian should read his/her Bible regularly (see the link), but there is, as you rightly note, a limit to what someone without the gift – and without the linguistic, theological, and historical preparation and experience – will be able to figure out on his/her own (that's just basic humility).

On the subject of baptism generally, it only seems confusing because of tradition. John said in contrasting his ministry with that of Jesus, "I baptize you with water . . . but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit" (Matt.3:11), and after His resurrection, our Lord told the apostles "John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 1:5 NIV). If the early church had continued the trend of the apostles, who came to understand that Spirit baptism was the baptism of the Church (Acts 11:16), and who ceased water-baptizing before the apostolic period ended (1Cor.1:17), few would today think it strange at all to accept literally what John and our Lord Jesus said about the issue.

Church history on this matter is confused – as should be expected whenever the Bible is ignored and replaced with tradition. Immersion water-baptism and baptism of believing adults is, in fact, very new as any sort of systematic approach (it dates to the Reformation). The standard practice from at least the early middle ages onward was infant aspersion (still practiced by many mainline Protestant denominations).

Water-baptism is John's baptism, biblically speaking (e.g., Acts 13:24). The fact that none of the apostles or other early believers were ever re-water-baptized after Pentecost proves as much. The purpose of water-baptism was "to reveal the Messiah to Israel" (Jn.1:31; cf. Jn.1:23), but that was only for the Jews (and gentile proselytes) during the generation of our Lord Jesus' first advent. Once the Messiah was revealed, once He had completed His first advent, once He had been resurrected, ascended and glorified, then the Spirit was given (and water-baptism, a symbol of His first coming, ceased to have any meaning – which explains why none of the groups who do water-baptize can satisfactorily explain what it means, and why all of those explanations are different).

One of the problems in all of this is how people interpret the Book of Acts. As with all historical books, it records what actually happened and what was actually said, rather than telling us in every case whether or not we should follow suit. For that reason, we have to use some judgment to discern whether or not what someone says or does in Acts is what we should say or do today. If our Lord says it, well and good: He was given the Spirit "without measure" so that His every word was always the truth. If Acts were an epistle, well and good: the apostles who wrote these books "spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" (2Pet.1:21 NIV). But Acts tells us what they did and what they said in a historical setting, and we must use some spiritual common sense to determine whether their words and deeds are to be repeated by us today (as in the misguided "election" of Matthias "by lot", for example, where we know that Paul is the twelfth apostle, chosen by Christ; see the link).  For example, the believers who were "of the sect of the Pharisees" were still of the opinion that circumcision was necessary for salvation, even as late as Acts chapter 15, and expressed this opinion in open counsel in the presence of Peter and James . . . and Paul as well (Acts 15:5).  The apostles were great believers, but they were human beings. When we are told that Paul and Barnabas got into a fight (Acts 15:2), who was right and who was wrong? After all, even Paul occasionally made mistakes (see the link: "Paul's Jerusalem Error"). And Peter would never have gone to Cornelius and entered his home and delivered the gospel message unless the Spirit had commanded him and unless the Lord had given Him a thrice repeated vision teaching him that gentiles could be saved too – so, obviously, even by the point of Acts 10, Peter did not have it all figured out yet (compare also Gal.2:11-14). All this is certainly not to diminish these outstanding believers – all of whom will have their names inscribed forever on one of the twelve gates of the New Jerusalem. It does, however, demonstrate that the way many people interpret the Book of Acts is fundamentally flawed.  Not only that, but Acts is, most of all, a book of transitions from the Age of Israel to the Age of the Church.  Paul circumcised Timothy (Acts 16:3) but later inveighs against it (Gal.5:2-4) – and having "all things in common" is certainly not to be recommended for Christians today (Acts 3:44-45).

Acts 2:38 is a good example of this. Nothing Peter does or says is "wrong", but it would be a mistake to assume that this is the model we are to use (and many people misunderstand his words here on top of that). At Acts 2:38, Peter does what he does and says what he says so that the assembled Jewish crowd will believe in Jesus and "receive the gift of the Holy Spirit". That is what it's all about. Unfortunately, to the extent that we may find his phrasing a bit confusing in an English translation, while Peter had the excuse of being less than 24 hours into the Church Age when he made this speech (and while it was probably for the best that these Jewish listeners who were of the generation of John the baptist and our Lord's earthly ministry were not to be immediately disabused of water-baptism – you can't explain everything to a new or an "about to be" believer at once), the many who have followed over very many centuries after the fact have no excuse for choosing to focus on the water to the neglect of the Spirit. Given that we now have the entire Bible, there really is no excuse for failing to get these matters clear. And I firmly believe that, if it weren't for the power of tradition, most people would come to these same correct conclusions merely by giving close attention to what the scriptures actually say: even at Acts 2:38 the words "for the forgiveness of sin" follows immediately upon "in the Name of Jesus Christ", leaving no real doubt even here that it is faith in His Name that provides salvation, not engaging in the Jewish ritual of water-baptism (compare what Peter says a little later in the book: Acts 10:43 NIV: "everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name"; cf. Acts 5:31). On this one occasion on the day of Pentecost, for those who were of this Jewish generation, who knew very well that John was the Messiah's herald, being willing to undergo John's baptism – but "in the Name of Jesus Christ" – was no doubt a tangible demonstration of the faith that those who did so actually had. But it was through their faith that they were saved, by grace; not any works such as being water-baptized (and to the extent that any believed there was such a necessary connection, to that extent what they did would not have been of faith).

Then Peter said to them, "Repent [of your unbelief]". He said also (Greek: phesin kai), "Let each of you be baptized in the Name of Jesus as a demonstration of the forgiveness of your sins [which comes as a result of this faith], [so that] then [as a result of your faith] you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (i.e., through that laying on of hands in the baptism [unique to early apostolic days; cf. Rom.8:9])."
Acts 2:38

With this interpretation, consistent in the context, the entire Bible agrees. And while it is always a blessing to have someone who understands aright explain things to us aright, I have bumped into plenty of people who have figured this one out without a teacher just by reading scripture in the Spirit and exercising the "spiritual common sense" that the Spirit gives. They may not be able to win a debate with a died-in-the-wool water-baptism-necessary-for-salvation fanatic, but they have come to the truth nonetheless, and for me this is one further indication of the power of the truth. The truth is available, for all who seek it. What is so sad about our present day church-visible is the near universal lack of any great thirst for the truth. Thinking we are rich, well-attired and wise, as a group Laodicea is really "wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked" (Rev.3:17 NIV). But that is a choice, after all. And we are all here to make just such choices, to demonstrate to the world, men and angels both, what it is we really prize here in this life.

Praise be to God for believers who are seeking the truth! May we all set ourselves to doing so: to make progress in it, believe it, walk by means of it, and come fully into the ministry for which the Lord has placed us here.

Here a few other links bearing on the issues at hand in case you want to look into the matter further:

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: Water and Spirit II.

Yours in Jesus Christ who is the truth, the very Word of God.

Bob Luginbill

Question #22:

Thanks for your reply, Robert.

The Baptist/evangelical interpretation of the Bible is a very educated, well-thought out, compelling belief system. I know. I grew up the son of a fundamentalist Baptist pastor, and then five years more as a non-denominational evangelical. The original Greek can even seem to corroborate the Baptist/evangelical interpretation. The problem is this: There is NO evidence that ANYONE in the first 800 or so years of Christianity believed this interpretation of Scripture. None. Zero. Zip. There is not one single shred of evidence that anyone during these 800 or so years believed that baptism is simply and only an act of obedience/public profession of faith. THOUSANDS of documents, written by early Christians, are still in existence…NONE of them support the Baptist/evangelical interpretation of the Scriptures in regards to the PURPOSE of baptism. If Baptists and evangelicals are correct that baptism is simply and only OUR act of obedience/OUR public profession of our (previous) decision to believe in Christ, then you are 100% correct, infants should NOT be baptized. The problem is…there is NO WHERE in the Bible that states that the purpose of baptism is simply and only an act of obedience/public profession of faith. The word "baptism" or one of its derivatives is mentioned more than 100 times in the New Testament, but God never tells us clearly the purpose of participating in this act?? The Baptist/evangelical position on baptism is based solely on an assumption.

And problem #2, why isn’t there any historical record of anyone believing this Baptist/evangelical view of baptism for almost 800-1,000 years after Christ? Why haven’t we found even one letter from one pastor to another lamenting the new false teaching of "baptismal regeneration"; one Christian parent writing to his child explaining the need and purpose for his child to be baptized as a public profession of faith, now that he has reached the Age of Accountability and has recently made a decision to accept Christ? Why no discovery of a letter from a Christian to a non-believing friend explaining the "true" plan of salvation: accepting Christ into one’s heart to be saved, followed later by an act of Christian obedience, baptism, which has nothing to do with salvation, but is a public profession of faith only. But evidence like this has never been found. Why? The Catholics destroyed all such evidence? Where is the proof of this mass "Baptistic" book burning? It doesn’t exist. Baptistic/evangelical believers were hiding out in caves for 800 to 1,000 years without any writing utensils or the ability to scratch their beliefs on the walls? No. No evidence of this either. So are we really to believe, then, that Christ’s Word AND Christ’s Church, completely disappeared for 1,000 years until the Waldensians, Albigensians, Anabaptists and Baptists suddenly re-emerged as the true Church with the true interpretation of the Bible??? Did the Good News, the Gospel, disappear from the planet for 1,000 years only to re-discovered by the above western European groups, when Christ promised us that the gates of hell would not prevail against his Church and that he would preserve his Word? Think about it brothers and sisters! The Baptist/evangelical thinking on this issue is no different than this scenario: A man living in 2013 sits down and reads the United States Bill of Rights. He comes across the phrase "all men are created equal" and it hits him like a lightning bolt! The writers of the US Bill of Rights, including the Southerners, did NOT believe in slavery! They believed that black African men are equal to white European men! Our nation, then, has never had racial discrimination! "Thank the Lord that I have discovered the truth about what this document says! It is irrelevant that other historical documents, many historical documents, do not support this interpretation, but the original English of this phrase cannot mean anything else! Americans have always believed in full equality of the races!" Silly, isn’t it? But that is how Baptists and evangelicals read the Bible. They refuse to read the writings of the early Christians to see how THEY understood the Gospel and the doctrines of the Faith. Some of these early Christian writers were disciples of the Apostles. The writings of the early Christians do not have the same authority as the Bible but they should not be ignored, just as the man above should not ignore the contemporaneous writings of the Bill of Rights. The Baptist/evangelical interpretation of the Bible is new doctrine and God tells us in his Word that new doctrines are false doctrines! For 800-1,000 years it did not exist. God said he would preserve His Word and His Church. God is either a liar, or Baptists and evangelicals are wrong!

Response #22:

Dear Friend,

Scripture is very clear, in my view, on the purpose of water-baptism: water-baptism was John's baptism and meant to reveal the Messiah to Israel.

"I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel."
John 1:31

Christ's baptism, the Christian baptism, is the baptism of the Spirit, as our Lord tells us:

"For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit."
Acts 1:5 NIV

To the extent that water-baptism is practiced in Acts, it is 1) early in the apostolic era (the last recorded incidence is during Paul's first missionary journey before any of his epistles were written: Acts 18:8); and 2) meant for transitional purposes only: e.g., Corinth, the place of the last recorded legitimate water-baptism, was a mixed congregation of consisting of both gentiles and Jews, and John's ministry was still personally known to the latter so that Paul's engagement in the ritual at this time connected Jesus to John for them as the Messiah. Later, of course, Paul regrets engaging the practice even there (1Cor.1:17).

Immediately after the passing of the apostles, the church-visible went down hill quickly (i.e., the Church era of Ephesus; see the link).

"Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first (e.g., the love of the truth of scripture)."
Revelation 2:4 NIV

This is a very common phenomenon in the history of the world and also in the history of believers (e.g., the rapid turning from good to bad of Joash after the death of Jehoiada: 2Chron.24:17-25 ). For this reason, we cannot put any stock in the practices of later generations. That is doubly the case for their writings inasmuch as they are not inspired, so there is no comparison at all between them and scripture.

"What has straw in common with wheat?" declares the LORD.
Jeremiah 23:28 ESV

When Peter gave the gospel to the gentiles assembled under Cornelius' roof, before he had finished his discourse the Spirit fell upon all who believed, and in dramatic fashion. Since it is the Holy Spirit who is the anointing, the seal, and the pledge of our salvation (2Cor.1:21-22), how can anyone claim that these individuals were not saved and not forgiven yet because they had not been dunked in physical water? Or how can anyone claim that if they had not been subsequently water-baptized, that they would not have been saved or forgiven (regardless of whether or not they were dipped in water later), since they had clearly already been given the Spirit as a result of their faith-response to the gospel?

There are plenty of reasons to reject the false view that the Bible somehow teaches a need for water-baptism, and especially that it teaches any important effect of that pre-cross Jewish ritual (as in forgiveness or regeneration which are entirely matters of faith).

[For the practices of the Law (outlined in vv.109)] had to do [not with spiritual matters but] only with foods and drinks, various washings (lit., "baptisms"), being ordinances of the flesh (as opposed to the Spirit), valid [only] until the time of renewal [began] (i.e., the time of the Spirit, the Church Age).
Hebrews 9:10

We can go into these reasons, if you wish. But perhaps the most powerful one is the witness to the conscience by the Spirit that this ritual is out of place and wrong. We live in the age of the Spirit: day observance, ritual, physical manifestations and everything material are merely shadows which have now been replaced by the vibrant spiritual realities of the Age of the Church and the New Covenant which replaces the Old (e.g., Heb.8:10-13). The only people who get a "good feeling" out of such false practices such as water-baptism are those who have completely sold themselves over to salvation by works. Everyone else has a pang of conscience even witnessing the spectacle.

I speak the truth in Christ – I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit.
Romans 9:1 NIV

These are important issues. The Tribulation will soon be upon us. Antichrist is prophesied to make great headway in deceit through false miracles (because of this penchant for wanting exciting physical manifestations rather than being content with the greater realities). The damage to be done by false doctrines and generally inadequate doctrinal preparation of the majority of the Church militant at that time is prophesied to be great – the falling away of one third of the Church into apostasy (e.g., 2Thes.2:3).

Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth.
Revelation 12:4 NIV

Communion is another issue. It is the one legitimate ritual for the Church but one for which there is even less of a biblical rationale to invest it with magical properties. Scripture is very clear about its purpose:

And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me."
Luke 22:19 NIV

Even here, however, it is the understanding through the Spirit of the truth in the believer's heart, and his/her appreciation of Christ and His work which are important – not the ritual of bread and wine itself: communion could easily dispense with either, and believers can (and should) remember Christ in this way whenever they eat and drink (see the link).

In sum, while I do have major disagreements with the Baptists and with most evangelicals about these matters, I certainly cannot endorse any suggestion that water-baptism is even a good thing, let alone a necessary thing (and that goes double for any suggestion that communion should be understood in terms of the false Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation).

If you'd like to know more about these matters, I would be happy to provide you with the appropriate links and also to answer any pertinent questions.

Yours in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #23:

So what denomination are you if you don't even believe that water baptism "is a good thing"?

You sound evangelical. I grew up the son of a Baptist pastor and then I was a non-denominational evangelical until I was 25. I know the doctrine. It makes perfect sense. The problem is that there is ZERO evidence that anyone in the first 800-1,000 years of Christianity believed in a Symbolic Baptism and a Symbolic Lord's Supper. Zero! How is that possible? Who told you that ALL the churches in the post Apostolic area became apostate? Yes, scripture indicates that some did, but not all. God said that the gates of hell would not prevail against his church. So where is the evidence of these first century, true Christians with Baptistic beliefs? No one has found ANY to date. Baptists always want to debate the issue of Infant Baptism, but that is a side issue. What is the PURPOSE of Baptism, in the Bible and in the historical records/writings of the early Christians? If baptism serves no purpose other than to be a public profession of one's adult decision to accept Christ, then Baptists are right, infants should not be baptized. However, Baptists cannot show any proof that any early Christian made a comment similar to this:

"The current heresy in many apostate churches that God saves and forgives sins is baptism is outrageous. The apostles never taught anything even remotely similar to this. Baptism is simply an outward act of obedience a public profession of faith of what God has already done in the new Christian's heart when they believed/accepted Christ into their heart. Baptism does not forgive sins. Baptism does not saved."

Baptists want to use references that say that we are saved by faith as proof of Baptistic early believers in the ECF. That is insufficient. Lutherans also believe that we are saved by faith. The issue is WHO'S faith and when and how is it given? Is it the sinner's faith that he has produced in a free-will decision or is faith a free gift from God that HE gives when he chooses: for an adult, when he hears the preaching of the Gospel, and for an infant, when God moves in the waters of Baptism to wash away sins, as recorded in the Book of Acts.

I ask you to consider these points:

1. When God said that he would preserve his Word, what did he mean? Did he mean that he would preserve the original papyrus and parchment upon which his Word was written? If so, then his Word has disappeared as none of the original manuscripts remain. Did he mean that he would preserve his word in the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek only? He would not preserve his Word when it was translated into all the other languages of the world? Or did God mean that he would preserve his Word…the message/the words…the Gospel: the free gift of salvation, and the true doctrines of the Christian Faith? Would God allow his Word/his message to mankind to be so polluted by translation errors that no translation, into any other language from the three original languages, continues to convey his true words?

2. There IS no translation of the Bible, from the original ancient languages, into any language, anywhere on earth, that translates the Bible as the Baptists/evangelicals believe it should be translated. No Bible translation on earth translates Acts 2:38 as, "Repent and believe in Jesus Christ every one of you and you will receive the Holy Ghost. Then be baptized as a public profession of your faith." There is no translation that translates, into any language, Acts 22:16 as, " And now why tarriest thou? arise, believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord. Then be baptized." Not a single translation in the entire world translates that verse in any way remotely resembling the manner in which Baptists believe it should be translated. Isn’t that a problem? And this verse, I Peter 3:21 as, "Asking Christ into your heart in a spiritual baptism, which water Baptism symbolizes, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ," And Mark 16:16 as, "He that believes will be saved, and then baptized, but he that does not believe will be condemned." Why would God allow EVERY English translation of the Bible throughout history to be mistranslated or use such confusing language as to suggest that God forgives sins in Baptism? And not only all English translations, ALL translations of the Bible have retained these "mistranslations or confusing wording". Do you honestly believe that God would allow his Word to be so polluted with translation errors that EVERY Bible in the world, if read in its simple, plain interpretation, would tell all the people of the world that God forgives sins in water baptism??

3. Why is there not one single piece of evidence from the early Christians that indicates that ANYONE in the 800-1,000 years after Christ believed that: Water baptism is ONLY a public profession of faith/act of obedience; sins are NOT forgiven in water baptism? Yes, you will find statements by these early Christians that salvation is by faith, but do Baptists and evangelicals really understand how a sinner obtains saving faith? THAT IS THE MILLION DOLLAR QUESTION, MY FRIENDS! Does the sinner produce faith by his own free will or does God provide faith and belief as a gift, and if God does provide faith and belief as a free gift, with no strings attached, when exactly does God give it?

4. Is it possible that: Baptist-like believers, at some point near or after 1,000 AD, were reading the Bible and came across verses that read "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved" and "Call upon the name of the Lord and you will be saved" and established their doctrine of Salvation/Justification first, based on these and similar verses alone, and then, looked at the issue of water baptism, and since the idea that God forgives sins in water baptism doesn’t seem to fit with the verses just mentioned, re-interpreted these verses to fit with their already established doctrine, instead of believing the "baptism verses" literally? Is it possible that BOTH groups of verses are literally correct?? If we believe God’s Word literally, he says that he saves/forgives sins when sinners believe/call AND when they are baptized? Why not believe that God can give the free gift of salvation in both situations: when a sinner hears the Gospel and believes and when a sinner is baptized? Should we re-interpret God’s plain, simple words just because they don’t seem to make sense to us?

Dear Baptist/evangelical brothers and sisters, your doctrine is very well thought out and very reasonable…but it is wrong. Do you really believe that God would require an education in ancient Greek or a Greek lexicon to understand what he really wants to say to you? And do you really believe that Baptist "Greek" scholars understand Greek better than the Greeks themselves? If the Greek language, correctly translated, states in the Bible that Baptism is only a public profession of faith as Baptists say, then why do the Greek Orthodox believe that the Greek Bible plainly says, in Greek, that God forgives sins in water baptism? Somebody doesn’t know their Greek!

Please investigate this critical doctrine further. Do you really want to appear before our Lord in heaven one day and find out that you have been following a false doctrine invented in the sixteenth century by Swiss Ana-baptists?

God bless you!

Response #23:

Again, much of your analysis is based upon equating this ministry with Baptist doctrine (I am not nor have I ever been Baptist, and this is an independent ministry). I think that if you would read the replies I am sending you a bit more carefully, this would prove to be a more fruitful exercise.

As to your arguments, it is easy enough to set up straw-men and knock them down, but it's not very persuasive. I.e., there is also no scripture which says "You must be baptized with water to be saved!" (n.b., the gospel of Mark ends with verse nine; what follows is not scripture; see the link). You are understanding and interpreting these verses so as to support your preconceived notions. It's not unusual; it's just incorrect methodology.

Here's a challenge for you: support your position without using the erroneous ending of Mark (it's not in the actual Bible) or the Book of Acts (these are historical descriptions rather than doctrinal pronouncements and cover the period of transition from Israel to the Church; I'm happy to explain again why that matters if you wish). If you attempt this, I think you will see that you have been building on sand (aka "tradition") rather than on the Rock of the Word, the truth of our Lord Jesus.

Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:5 that there is only "one baptism". That clearly has to be the baptism of the Spirit rather than water-baptism. Spirit baptism replaces water-baptism just as John and our Lord Jesus said it would (see prior email) – at least in God's truth if not the traditions of men – and that is why water-baptism does not occur in the epistles with the exception of Paul's regrets for having done it in the first chapter of 1st Corinthians (wrong-headed attempts to find the ritual in the Eph. passage, 2Pet., and elsewhere not withstanding).

It always grieves me when I see what seem to be good Christians standing up for a bad cause. Frequently, the motivation behind defending erroneous interpretation is the defense of a tradition or denomination. You asked what mine was and I am able to say with joy that I am not saddled with any such non-biblical baggage. Denominations have been the bane of the Church since their inception. There is only one Church of Jesus Christ, and it is composed of those who have put their trust in Him and His work in washing their sins away with His blood. Instead of fighting over dead creeds, those who really want to follow Jesus need to realize that He expects us to learn and accept the truth of everything that truly is in scripture – rather than defending the flawed creedal detritus of progressively less spiritual power-elites in this or that denomination (and the fact that one of these interest groups is wrong does not make the other one right). Our loyalty has to be to our Lord alone, and to the truth of the Word of Him who is the Word of God.

Your brother in the Lord of Lords, Jesus Christ our dear Savior,

Bob L.

Question #24:

What is sad, brother, is that you are following a belief that no Christian had ever heard of prior to circa 1000 AD. Please prove me wrong.

Response #24:

What belief is that? You represented that you contacted me not because I support Baptist doctrine but precisely because I oppose water-baptism – and that is what I have communicated to you in everyone of our correspondences. I am wondering if you read these emails or if you are getting me confused with someone else.

I agree with you that there is little evidence for immersion baptism in the early church-visible. My point is that this only goes to show that water-baptism has to be erroneous if only because there has never been any agreement about what it means or even how or when or even if to do it or not. The Bible, however, is consistent: water-baptism is John's baptism and was discontinued before the end of the apostolic period.

Finally, even if the whole church-visible did X for 2,000 years we should only agree to do X if the Bible tells us to do X. During the soon to come Tribulation, the entire Christian establishment – all denominations – will follow antichrist as if he were the Messiah. Following these groups will result in loss of salvation for an entire third of the actual Church who will allow themselves to be deceived – unquestionably in part because they have very little truth in their hearts due in no small part to their adherence to denominationalism which is either dead or wrong-headed.

That really will be more than just sad.

Hoping for better things for you, my brother.

In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #25:

Your beliefs represent my greatest fear for evangelicals. They will abandon the 2,000 year old doctrines of the Faith and just be "Jesus lovers".

Your belief that when God says "baptism" he is talking about "spiritual baptism" and not water baptism is NOT the literal translation of the Bible. It is a western European, sixteenth century false doctrine. Your decision to ignore what the early Christians believed that the word "baptism" meant puts you in the same category of belief systems as the Mormons and the JW's: "So what if no one believed our doctrines in the early Church, GOD has told us by internal revelation that they are right."

You are headed toward the cults, my friend.

"Repent and be baptized" includes...YOU. Baptism is not mandatory for salvation but rejecting God's command to do it, may mean that you are not a true believer. Beware!

Response #25:

Dear Friend,

You are misunderstanding (apparently) what repentance is – turning to God and away from the world, i.e., a necessary part of saving faith inextricable from it rather than some emotional, public act (see the link). As to "literal" translations, the Bible is written in Greek. You assuming that your understanding of the KJV is "literal" is depends on three propositions, all of which (in this case) are untrue: 1) that the KJV has rendered the Greek in an absolutely accurate and reasonable way; 2) that you have correctly understood what the English means at Acts 2:38 even so; 3) and that you can build dispositive doctrine – and direct the lives of others – based upon the KJV's inelegance, your misunderstanding, and a passage which is historical and descriptive rather than doctrinally dispositive. These are typical mistakes. It always does amaze me, however, when completely unprepared and apparently non-gifted individuals have such a complete lack of humility so as to categorically denounce the ministries of those who are laboring in the vineyard the correct and godly way – that shows little of evidence of the Spirit.

Finally, a question for you: what is your evidence that "baptism" in Ephesians 4:5 is water? There is only "one baptism". If it is water, then there is no Spirit baptism – which plainly there is, everywhere in the epistles (e.g., Rom.8:9; 1Cor.3:16; 6:19; 2Cor.1:22; Gal.3:2,3,5,6, 14; 4:6; 1Thes.4:8; 2Tim.1:14; Heb.6:4; Jude 1:19) – while nowhere do we find water, with the exception of Paul's regrets of using it in 1st Corinthians chapter one.

Yours in Jesus Christ who is the truth,

Bob L.

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