James: I want to get the meaning of baptism, so the words will be more easily understood. I sense the need to grasp the whole scope of the subject, rather than just looking at several verses.
Ben: Yes, many latch on to one aspect of the truth of baptism, and ignore others. Baptism relates to my position on earth, not to my getting into heaven. It involves identification or association with someone, or something, e.g. “They were all baptized unto Moses”, and in Acts 8:16, “they were baptized to the name of the Lord Jesus”. Paul asked the believers at Corinth, “To what were ye baptized”, Acts 19:3. Other verses confirm this. I am baptized in order to die, and figuratively I do die in it. As a figure, it separates me from all that to which Christ died – sin, the world [system] and the flesh. We are reminded in Romans 6:2, “We who have died to sin, how shall we still live in it?” We are only given two ordinances in Christianity - the Lord’s Supper and baptism; the first is the figure of His death for us; baptism is the figure of our death with Him, as in Romans 6:4, Colossians 2:12, etc. Baptism is a figure of death and burial, with a view to resurrection.

James: Why is it necessary?
Ben: Let us begin at the beginning. In the garden of Eden, in innocence, there was no barrier to communion between Adam and Eve and their God until they sinned. After they sinned, a moral distance came in between. There was no way of approach or return to Him apart from death – a life had to be given up, by one that was not chargeable with the offence. So God clothed them with skins; animals were slain to clothe them. God instructs us about this in all the Scripture. Abel knew to offer a lamb; Noah, Abraham and Moses all had to learn the same lesson. Israel had to offer the Passover lamb, a type of Christ, the Lamb of God. The death of Christ is the only basis on which God can accept man. Not only did He suffer for my sins on the cross, but He bore the whole judgment of God against sin, hence the expression “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”.

This does not mean that everyone’s sins are removed, but that Christ’s sacrifice laid the basis for all to be saved - so the gospel is “towards all, and upon all those that believe”. His death meant that the world as a system was set aside in judgment, as the Lord said anticipatively in John 12:31, “Now is the judgment of this world.” Further, God condemned sin in the flesh, (Romans 8: 3). But most importantly, the man that sinned was set aside in judgment at the cross. Romans 6:6 is one of the verses that tells of this fact - “Knowing this that our old man has been crucified with Him…”
God had tested mankind for 4,000 years under every condition, and man proved a failure. In innocence he disobeyed; without formal government or written laws, man descended into such violence and corruption that God had to destroy all except Noah and his household; under a system of government that followed, man fell into idolatry; God then formed the nation of Israel, delivered them from Egypt, gave them a set of laws and put them into a land of plenty. But they fell into idolatry and became worse than the nations around. Nebuchadnezzar was raised up and was given absolute authority, but he built an image of gold and made himself an object of worship! Finally, He sent His Son, Israel’s promised Messiah, and they crucified Him. In the death and burial of Christ, God said in effect, “The line of Adam is judged, I am finished with it, I am starting anew, it is now going to be the line of Christ – a new lineage”.

As Adam was the head of the first creation, Christ has become the head of the new creation. “If any man be in Christ, there is a new creation”. We get the expression that Christ is the “second man out of heaven” and He is referred to as “the last Adam”. Christ bore the whole judgment that sin had merited; He bore God’s wrath against sin; in brief, sin, the flesh and the world (i.e. the world system) were all set aside as finished with. God has finished looking for any results from me as a natural man (on the line of responsibility, “in Adam”). He looks on Christ. Now I am “in Christ”, a new state or condition, the opposite of “in Adam”. This seems to be summarized by the Lord in Matthew 21:19, when He looked for fruit from the fig-tree. There were leaves but no fruit – religion, works and show, but nothing for the Lord. His words were: “Let there be never more fruit of thee for ever”.

In baptism, I accept this judgment, the setting aside of the first man before God, and the confession that I really deserved death. Christ the second man, [i.e. the second order of man], took all that upon Himself when He died in grace for me. It is not just that my sins are gone, but I, as a child of Adam, am gone. It is so to the eye of God, and now I accept that in baptism - a figure of death and burial, with a view to resurrection. We haven’t time now to discuss the practical effects of this.

James: Who should get baptized? Is baptism only for adult believers?
Ben: The moment a sinner believes on Christ, he is accepted in Him and saved through faith in His name. But if he desires to have part with Christ in a world where God has been dishonoured, where sin has reigned and where Christ has been made sin [i.e. the sin offering] and has died to sin, he must figuratively go through death. I am baptized to His death in order to have part with Him down here - with the Lord in whom life is. I take part in His death in order to have part in His life. Baptism never pre-supposes life in the person (although it may be already there), but always signifies death.
When Paul was told, “Arise and get baptized and have thy sins washed away” in Acts 22:16, he was still outwardly in the state that belonged to him as a sinner; he was still linked publicly with his sins, though he was safe from judgment, safe for heaven. He did not come into the Christian position publicly until he was baptized. Now if having the life of Christ was implied in baptism, it would have to read: “Arise, get baptized, because thy sins are washed away”. But it does not.
Similarly, in Acts 2:38, it reads “Repent and be baptized each one of you…for the remission of sins”, not “because your sins have already been remitted”, as implied by those who hold the idea that only a person who believes should be baptized.
In another case, Mark 16:16, “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved, and he that believes not shall be condemned”. You will notice that it does not say, “He that believes and is saved shall be baptized” – which is what the “adults only” people say, in effect. This order of wording is not just accidental. The Holy Spirit has seen fit to give full witness to it.

James: What about Acts 8:37? In answer to the eunuch’s question in verse 36, “Behold water; what hinders my being baptized”, the NASB renders verse 37: And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may”. And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God”.
Ben: I am glad you mentioned it. That verse is not in the original manuscripts. It has been a problem. The NASB includes it, but has a footnote to say that “early manuscripts do not contain this verse”; the NKJV does a similar thing. The translation that I use omits the verse and says in the footnote that “verse 37 is recognized as not genuine”.
There are three reasons why this verse should be excluded from our reasoning -
1. It is not in the early manuscripts.
2. The words attributed to Philip “If you believe with all your heart, you may” just do not ring true. In Romans 10:9-10, when Paul speaks of believing with the heart to righteousness - involving eternal salvation - there is no mention of how deep that belief need be. Salvation does not depend on how earnestly I believe – it may be very feeble. And this account in Acts 8 is speaking of baptism alone! It appears that an over-zealous copyist added it at some point.
3. At that point in the history of the testimony, Jesus was preached as “the Christ”. It was not until later, in Acts 9:20 that we get the preaching of Jesus as the Son of God. It was revealed to Peter in Matthew 16, but Peter is only ever recorded as preaching Jesus as made both Lord and Christ.

James: Does this mean that there is a place for household baptism?
Ben: From memory Paul baptized three households in the New Testament - that of Lydia (Acts 16:15), the Philippian jailor (Acts 16:33), and Stephanus (1 Corinthians 1:16).In each case, it is the household baptized because of the faith of the person. Not a word is said about the state of soul of the members. It is hard to believe that there would be no young ones in one or more of those households. If we had only one account, then perhaps you could be forgiven for thinking that. The Holy Spirit has provided a complete witness - three accounts. Households were baptized, not because all in them were believers, but because each was a believer’s household.
In the Old Testament, we get the figure of baptism in Noah and his house; furthermore, the whole nation of Israel were baptized - “all were baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea”, 1 Cor. 10:2. Noah’s family consisted of adults, but Shem is the only one I can guarantee was a true believer, or, to put it another way, had life eternal. He is recorded in the line of faith, but I have grave doubts about Ham, and Japheth does not shine. Study their seed. In the case of Israel, Moses refused to leave behind “the little ones”, and we are told in the verse above that they were all baptized.

James: How could children be in the Philippian jailor’s house? He rejoiced with all his house, or in the original, “whole-house-wise”, i.e. in regard of his whole house.
Ben: Easily. Joy does not depend on maturity. A little child, not yet able to talk, will squeal with delight in the presence of joy in the house. In the case of John the Baptist, his mother states in Luke 1:44, “as the voice of thy salutation sounded in my ears, the babe leaped with joy in my womb”. The unborn can be affected by emotions. And the Lord, in the story of the servants with different levels of ability, gives them all the same reward – “enter thou into the joy of thy lord”, Matthew 25:14-23.

James: But young children do not yet have faith in Christ?
Ben: We spoke of that earlier. Baptism never pre-supposes life (faith in Christ) although it is often there first. This was particularly so in the early days of Christianity.
My faith accepts the judgment of God expressed in the cross of Christ, on mankind on the line of Adam. My child is in the same position. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh”, John3:6. What I have accepted in baptism for myself, I desire for my children also. I want my children to be in the place of safety. I see the need for them to be delivered from the world and I claim the death of Christ for them.
As I am to “bring them up in the discipline and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4), I want them to be in the same position as myself. The word to the jailor was: “Believe on the Lord Jesus and thou shalt be saved, thou and thy house”. Isn’t that God’s thought for every man? God would surely apply the word to their consciences as an answer to his faith in Christ and bring them to accept for themselves what his faith had accepted for them.
As a father, I accept that all hope is only in Christ. “Suffer [allow] little children to come to me, and forbid them not”, Luke 18:16. They belong to Christ on the basis of His death. Faith regards them as dead to the world and I would not allow them to do things that I could not do. If they are not responsible, then I am responsible to maintain Christ’s rights over them.
Children are covered by the efficacy of the work of Christ, Matthew 18:11, “For the Son of man has come to seek and to save that which is lost”; and verse 14, “So it is not the will of my Father who is in the heavens that one of these little ones should perish”. See also “Little Ones – When they die?” at . Peter tells the Jews, “For to you is the promise and to your children, and to all who are afar off”, Acts 2:39.

James: Why doesn’t Scripture tell me straight out to baptize my children?
Ben: Then anyone could do it without faith. The Scripture is perfect – it is God’s wisdom to conceal something that mere nature could do. If it was a direct statement, people would do it as a ritual and be able to claim that God was approving what they were doing. God does not approve of a baptized profession of Christianity without faith. “It is the glory of God to conceal a thing; but the glory of kings is to search out a thing”, Proverbs 25:2.

James: What if an unbeliever asks you to baptize his child?
Ben: I would decline until the person himself had accepted Christ as Saviour and Lord.

James: What about persons who dedicate their children to the Lord?
Ben: The instinct is a good one; it is really the instinct that has its Scriptural answer in baptism. Dedication fails to recognize the need for death. It is bringing to the Lord that which has not been through death. Cain brought of the fruit of the ground; Abel brought an offering, a slain lamb. Baptism recognizes the need for death and burial with Christ. The apostles baptized but they never dedicated a person, or a thing.
James: On that line of reasoning, someone said that the apostles never used electricity!
Ben: That exposes very shallow thinking. God and His word deal with moral issues, i.e. things relating to good and evil, life and death, time and eternity, the conscience and the affections. Technology just provides leverage – it has nothing to do with right or wrong.

James: Is Christening a valid ordinance?
Ben: I am sure that immersion is the scriptural way, but Scripture does not specify the quantity of water. The principle of the thing is there, so I would not ask such a person to get re-baptized because he or she was sprinkled rather than immersed. In Judaism - given to one nation in one place – every ordinance was spelt out in detail. Christianity can be worked out in all conditions. If a man wanted to be baptized in a prison in conditions such that they were only able to spare a bowl of water to baptize him, I feel that would not be a problem.

James: In Galatians 3:27, we are told - “For ye, as many as have been baptized unto Christ, have put on Christ”; what are we to understand from that?
Ben: This does not state that a person has the life of Christ because of baptism; rather it shows that a baptized person is professedly Christian. Some translations use ‘into’ - “baptized into Christ”, but that is not reasonable. “In Christ” is a condition or status, as opposed to “in Adam”; that status is achieved by faith in the work and person of Christ, not by being baptized. In 1 Cor. 10:2, the KJV says “baptized unto Moses”, but uses “into Christ” in Galatians. “Unto” involves identification, and so gives the sense of profession.

James: What about baptism and the Holy Spirit?
Ben: We have been speaking of water baptism, the outward profession of Christian faith, as it says in Ephesians 4:5, “One Lord, one faith, one baptism”. Baptism brings a person under the rule or authority of the Lord – quite a different thing from being brought into the church. Our being part of the church - the body of Christ - is not by baptism, but by faith in Christ and the reception of the Holy Spirit. As it says in 1 Corinthians 12:13: “For also by the power of one Spirit we have all been baptized into one body”. Membership of the body is linked with the Holy Spirit, as Ephesians 4:4 says, “[There is] one body and one Spirit”. When I put my faith in Christ and receive the Holy Spirit, then I become a member of the body of Christ. The Holy Spirit cannot dwell in an unconverted child or adult. That is entirely inward, personal, unseen by the world. In that context “baptized” has the sense of “introduced into” (the church). Water baptism is “to” or “unto” a person or His name; it is outward and performed by another.

James: It has been a very divisive issue in the history of Christianity.
Ben: Sadly it has, but it should not be a cause for division. We should be able to go on together, each one allowing for the other’s conscience, knowing that the Lord will open our understandings - if we have honest hearts. We don’t agree to differ – that reduces the truth of God to something that doesn’t matter – but we agree that we all do not understand everything at the same time, we all have differing measures. We can then be patient with one another on the basis of Philippians 3:15, “and if ye are any otherwise minded, this also God shall reveal to you”.

MM November 2008