From the beginning of the apostles’ preaching, baptism is associated with repentance and conversion.
It is only when people were clearly converted that they received the ordinance of baptism.
Was Anyone Other Than Believers Ever Baptized?
No. Some have argued that in “household” baptisms children were baptized as well as adults. A closer reading of the text, however, proves insightful.
What Does the Word Actually Mean?
BaptizÅ – to put under water as an initiatory rite for the purpose of renewing or establishing a relationship with God; to wash ceremonially; to plunge, dip
BaptÅ – to dip something in a liquid
Baptisma – ceremonious use of water for purpose of renewing or establishing relationship with God; plunging; dipping
Baptismos – washing; cleansing; plunging experience
All that complicated jargon to simply say this: the meaning of the words used for “baptise” and “baptism” in the New Testament militate against two false notions with regard to baptism:
That baptism can function as a precursor to faith. Baptism is clearly an initiatory rite with regard to the beginning of one’s relationship to God.
That baptism can be by sprinkling, pouring, or any means other than plunging. The words used by the New Testament authors clearly indicate that a dipping or plunging is in view.
Isn’t Baptism the New Covenant Fulfilment of Circumcision?
No. First of all, it must be noted that even in the OT circumcision was a symbol of an inward cleansing and renewal of heart (Deut 10:16; Jer 4:4; Ezek 44:7). This symbolic force is brought into the NT in places like Phil 3:3 where the Gentile Christians are called “the true circumcision” since they worship in the Spirit.
A key text here is Col 2:11-14.
It is understandable here to see how some would think circumcision and baptism are being paralleled. The following verses must be included, however.
These Christians were buried with Christ in baptism and also raised with him through faith. Thus regeneration—the inward circumcision which is made without hands—is the NT fulfilment of OT circumcision of the flesh.
Again, if baptism were the new covenant fulfilment of circumcision, the letter to the Galatians would have been much shorter. When convinced that they needed to be circumcised to be in the covenant all Paul would have needed to say is this: “You don’t need to be circumcised anymore because we have been baptized.” Instead, Paul insists with the strongest language that the true heirs of Abraham do not inherit the promise through family connections or works at all. Rather, the promised blessing is received by those who receive the Spirit by faith.
What Does Baptism Symbolize?
The washing away of our sins
Union with Christ in his death and resurrection (as above in Col 2:12).
Passing through (the waters of) judgment safely.
Baptism of believers by immersion is a fundamental part of Christianity. In the great commission Jesus gives one great command to his followers: preach my gospel to the whole world, and when they believe baptize them in the name of the Triune God and then continue to instruct them to obey my commands. Small wonder throughout all the rest of the NT the authors simply cannot conceive of a believer who is (a) not instructed in the things of the faith, and (b) not baptized. Anything less fails to meet the standards of the great commission.
Our call is to go and preach, “Repent and be baptized!”