By Charles H. Welch
According to Galatians 3:27-29, baptism was a levelling and a unifying
incorporation of the believer into Christ, whereas, the history of the
professing Church shows that the question of baptism has been the cause of much
bitterness, strife and division. The Evangelical rightly repudiates the
Ritualist, yet both find ‘texts’ that appear to justify their contrary opinions.
We believe that much of the disputation that has torn the Church, has arisen out
of the failure to discern the dispensational differences that mark the several
ministries of the New Testament.
In the consideration of this subject, sufficient attention to the Old
Testament does not appear to have been given, and to commence our examination
with the Baptism of John, is like attempting to decipher an inscription with the
first half of the alphabet unknown. The word
baptizo is found in the LXX of the Old Testament twice and of the
Apocrypha twice also, namely in 2 Kings 5:14, Isaiah 21:4, Judith 12:7 and
Syrack 34:27. Bapto occurs eighteen
times, and baptos once, namely in Ezekiel
23:15. The earliest reference is in the book of Job where he speaks of being
‘plunged’ into a ditch (Job 9:31), and the latest references are found in
Daniel, where we read that Nebuchadnezzar’s body was ‘wet’ with the dew of
heaven (Dan. 4:33; 5:21). The two occurrences of
baptizo are of interest. One is used of Naaman when he ‘dipped’ himself
in Jordan (2 Kings 5:14), the other is a figurative use of the word that
anticipates the Saviour’s statement concerning His own baptism of suffering (Isa.
21:4), where the A.V. ‘fearfulness affrighted me’ is rendered by the LXX
‘transgression overwhelms me’, literally ‘baptizes me’.
The word bapto is found nine times in
the law of Moses, where it is used of dipping in blood, or in oil, or in water (Exod.
12:22; Lev. 4:6; 14:6; Num. 19:18 and Deut. 33:24). While the references in the
New Testament to Pharisaic traditions do not take us back to any Old Testament
passage, they do indicate that baptism is in no sense a New Testament rite or
custom (Mark 7:8, Luke 11:38), and the inquiry by the Pharisees of John the
Baptist was not to ask the meaning of
baptism, but why he baptized if he were neither Christ, Elijah nor that prophet?
(John 1:25), which again shows clearly that baptism was no new thing.
However, there are three references to the Old Testament that must be
considered before we can hope to handle the New Testament references with any
- The reference to the Ark and the Flood (1 Peter 3:21).
- The crossing by Israel of the Red Sea (1 Cor. 10:2).
- The carnal ordinances of the tabernacle (Heb. 9:10).
Peter’s employment of the waters of the flood and the antitype, baptism,
presents in any circumstances a difficulty, but this is magnified if we approach
Peter and attempt to interpret him as
though he were Paul.
‘The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us’. After making
all allowances, Peter will still be seen to affirm that ‘baptism saves’. Now if
we turn to Acts 2, we shall find Peter saying to his hearers: ‘Repent and be
baptized every one of you ... for the remission of sins’ (Acts 2:38). While
Peter’s words are difficult to square with the gospel of the grace of God as
preached by Paul, they are in entire harmony with the commission of Mark 16.
‘He that believeth
and is baptized shall be saved’ (Mark 16:16).
We have no warrant to reverse the Divine order here. An evangelical Baptist
believes and teaches, that faith is followed by
salvation, and that it is a command to the
saved believer, that he be baptized. This
teaching whether true or false cannot be identical with Mark 16. Moreover, the
command concerning baptism is followed by a promise ‘these signs
shall follow (not may follow) them that
believe’; which signs did follow during the period covered by the Acts but do
not follow to-day. While baptism provided an initiatory rite, enabling a convert
from either Judaism, or from Paganism to make his conversion evident, we do not
read either in the Acts or in the epistles, of anything comparable to the
baptism of infants, or the baptism of believing children. There must have been
many families of the faithful that had believing children during the period
covered by the Acts, yet no instance is found of the baptism of those who were
already in the atmosphere as it were of the Christian faith, and no instruction
is found to guide either parents or ministers in this matter. This but
emphasizes the initiatory character of the rite, and speaks against its
perpetuation. In connection with Peter’s preaching on the day of Pentecost, it
is natural to connect Acts 22:16 :
‘And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be
baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord’.
While Paul here told his Jewish hearers, speaking in the Hebrew tongue, what
Ananias told him to do, there is no indication in the actual record of Acts 9,
that Paul obeyed. In Acts 9 Ananias is called a disciple, but here, because of
the fanatical character of his hearers, Paul tells them that Ananias was ‘a
devout man according to the law, having a
good report of all the Jews which dwelt
there’ (Acts 22:12). Now Ananias was both a disciple and a devout man according
to the law, but the official and inspired record written by Luke in Acts 9 omits
all reference to this side of his character. Paul was not disobedient to the
heavenly vision, as we know, but there is
no record or hint anywhere that he obeyed the suggestion of Ananias. Had such a
baptism formed an integral part of Paul’s commission, we should have found it in
Acts 9 or in one of the references he makes to that epoch-making experience. The
crossing by Israel of the Red Sea is the occasion of the second New Testament
reference to the Old Testament.
‘All our fathers were ... baptized unto Moses in
the cloud and in the sea’ (1 Cor. 10:1,2).
Here is an Old Testament baptism often overlooked in controversy, a baptism
from which ‘water’ was rigourously, nay miraculously excluded.
‘The children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the
dry ground’ (Exod. 14:22).
‘The children of Israel went on dry land
in the midst of the sea’ (Exod. 15:19).
‘He turned the sea into dry land: they
went through the flood on foot’ (Psa. 66:6).
‘That led them through the deep, as an horse in the wilderness’ (Isa. 63:13).
This baptism was ‘unto Moses’, even as in its fuller sense, the baptism of
the New Testament was ‘unto Christ’ but 1 Corinthians 10:1,2 prefigures the
baptism of the spirit, not immersion in water,
for as we have already seen the Scripture seems to go out of its way to impress
upon us the absence of water at this time. The third reference to Old Testament
usage of baptism is in Hebrews 9. There the tabernacle and its service is
reviewed, and the conclusion is ‘The Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way
into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle
was yet standing: which was a figure for the time then present, in which were
offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service
perfect, as pertaining to the conscience; which stood only in meats and drinks,
and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of
reformation’ (Heb. 9:8-10).
The divers ‘washings’ are ‘baptisms’ and include the many specified washings
of the priests in the performance of their duties, the washings at the purifying
of the leper and others who contracted any form of defilement. These ‘baptisms’
are summed up under the heading ‘carnal ordinances’ and they were ‘imposed until
the time of reformation’. One such ‘baptism’ is immediately considered in fuller
detail, and the contrast is made between ‘the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the
unclean’, not with a better, that is to say Christian ordinance of baptism, but
with ‘the blood of Christ’ (Heb. 9:11-14). Among the words of the beginning of
Christ, which these Hebrews were exhorted ‘to leave’ not ‘lay again’, are ‘the
doctrine of baptisms’ (Heb. 6:2), these being among the elements that were to be
left behind as the believer pressed on unto perfection.
The New Testament teaching concerning baptism is distributed thus:
- John the Baptist. This baptism
falls under two headings:
- It was a baptism unto repentance, in view of the near approach of the
kingdom of heaven (Matt. 3:1,2).
- It was the work of John as the forerunner prophesied of by Isaiah in the
fortieth chapter of his prophecy.
- It was concerned only with Israel or with those who joined themselves to
Israel, as the words ‘Comfort ye’ of Isaiah 40 were concerned.
- It was a baptism in water, that spoke of a future baptism with Holy
Ghost and with fire.
- It was specifically designed to make manifest to Israel the One Who was
sent to be their Messiah (John 1:30-34)
- The baptism with the Holy Ghost
promised by John was fulfilled at Pentecost (Acts 1:5).
- During the Acts, water baptism and the baptism of the Spirit went together
(Acts 2:38; 10:47).
- During the first ministry of the apostle Paul, baptism by water was
practised (1 Cor. 1:16), but baptism never held the place in Paul’s commission
(1 Cor. 1:17) that it did in that of Peter (Acts 2:38). Peter could never have
said: ‘Christ sent me not to baptize,
but to preach the gospel’ as Paul did.
Baptism during the early ministry of Paul:
- united the believer by burial with the death of Christ (Rom. 6:3,4).
- united Jew and Gentile making them ‘all one in Christ and Abraham’s
seed’ (Gal. 3:27-29).
- baptizing these believers into one body, with particular reference to
the exercise of spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12:13). The structure of 1
Corinthians 12 and its teaching is set out at large in the article entitled
- After Acts 28, and the revelation of the Mystery we enter into a calling
where shadows give place to the reality of the fullness of Christ (Col. 2:17).
Baptism in the epistles of the Mystery is either that which unites the
believer with the death and Resurrection of Christ (Col. 2:12) or by which the
believer becomes a member of the Church which is His body (Eph. 4:5).
Owing to the failure on the part of expositors and teachers to discern the
change of dispensation consequent upon the setting aside of Israel at Acts 28,
there has been a failure to discern the extreme difference that exists between
baptism as taught in the earliest part of the New Testament, or even in the
earlier epistles of Paul and as it is taught in the epistles of the Mystery.
The following diagram may help the reader to visualize the movement
observable throughout the New Testament in connection with this subject of
with promise of
Water --- and --- Spirit
Galatians 3:19 asks a question: ‘Wherefore then serveth the law?’ and the
answer is: ‘It was superadded’ (prostithemi).
The Galatians were turning back to the weak and beggarly elements of the
ceremonial law. ‘Now that this law was not promulgated in the first instance to
the Jewish people, but was a superaddition
to the antecedent moral law is a matter of universal notoriety. It is well-known
(says Whitby) that all these ancient fathers were of the opinion, that God gave
the Jews only the Decalogue, till they
made the golden calf, and afterwards He laid the
yoke of ceremonies upon them’. ‘The law was superadded (assuming the
translation which is most suitable to Charin)
in behalf of transgressions being
ordained in the hand of a mediator’ (Glynn).
The Christian Church has fixed its attention so much upon these
superadded carnal ordinances and have
modelled their doctrine of baptism so much upon these things which were imposed
until the time of reformation that they have given little or no place to the one
great baptism, which was not added because of transgressions but was an integral
part of the Redemption of the nation, namely the baptism of the whole nation
unto Moses at the Red Sea. That is the
type that remains for us today, all others are carnal ordinances that have no
place in the present economy of pure grace.
The baptism of Colossians 2 is not likened to anything that was introduced
into the Aaronic priesthood or tabernacle service, it is likened to the
initiatory rite of circumcision. Now in Colossians 2 this circumcision is the
spiritual equivalent of that practised by the Jew, it is explicitly said to be
‘the circumcision made without hands’, and repudiates ‘the body of the flesh’
(sin is not in question, the revised text omits the words ‘of the sins’), and
this is accomplished ‘by the circumcision of Christ’. Now until it can be proved
that the circumcision here emphasized is the literal carnal ordinance, the
consequential burial by baptism will have to be understood of the spiritual
equivalent too, and finds its type, not in the many baptisms of the ceremonial
law, but in the one baptism of the whole nation at the crossing of the Red Sea.
This ‘one baptism’ forms an integral part of the Unity of the Spirit, which
those who are blessed under the terms of the Mystery are enjoined to keep. The
seven parts of this unity are so disposed, as to throw into correspondence the
One Baptism in the One Spirit, thus:
One God and Father
This sevenfold unity is composed of seven units - and to tamper with the
repeated word ‘one’ is to deny inspiration and to destroy the apostle’s
insistence. We can no more believe that ‘one’ baptism means two, i.e., ‘water
and spirit’ than we can import plurality into the realm of faith, hope or the
Lordship of Christ. It is the custom of those companies of Christians who stress
baptism in water, to call themselves ‘baptized believers’. It is also,
unfortunately the habit of many who see the spiritual nature of baptism in
Colossians and Ephesians to allow this claim, but such are wrong. Members of the
One Body are ‘baptized believers’ for without this one baptism membership of the
One Body is impossible. To speak otherwise is to magnify the carnal ordinance
that pertains to the ceremonial act, above the spiritual reality. The truth is
that no company in the New Testament. has ever known what true baptism really
is, except that Church where baptism in water is absent and unknown.
While much more could be said, the articles in this alphabetical analysis are
necessarily limited, but we believe every essential feature has been considered
so that the reader can pursue the matter in detail with every hope of attaining
unto fuller light. The special relation of baptism with the enduement of
supernatural gifts, will be considered together with 1 Corinthians 12 as a whole
under the heading MIRACULOUS GIFTS, to which
the reader should refer.
Explanatory note on Baptism, written by Charles H. Welch and originally
published in Part 4 of An Alphabetical Analysis.
Owing to the character of articles in an Analysis, some features may not receive
the expansion that could be wished. There is no thought in this article that
Paul was not baptized, the whole point being focused in the phrase ‘Had SUCH a
baptism ...’ referring to the baptism of Acts 2:38 and 22:16 which links baptism
with the remission of, or the washing away of sins. Had Paul submitted to SUCH,
he would have started off his distinctive ministry on the wrong foot. Paul’s
attitude in 1 Corinthians 1:14-17 shows that ‘washing away of sins’ had no place
in what baptism involved in his ministry.