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What Is Baptism?

What Is Baptism?

The Bible’s answer

 Baptism is complete water immersion. a Many baptisms are recorded in the Bible. (Acts 2:41) Among them is the baptism of Jesus, who was immersed in the Jordan River. (Matthew 3:13, 16) Years later, an Ethiopian man was baptized in “a body of water” that was near the road he was traveling.—Acts 8:36-40.

 Jesus taught that baptism is a requirement for his followers. (Matthew 28:19, 20) The apostle Peter reaffirmed that teaching.—1 Peter 3:21.

In this article

 What does baptism mean?

 Baptism is an outward symbol, or public display, that the individual being baptized has repented of his sins and made an unconditional promise to God to do his will. That includes living a life of obedience to God and to Jesus. People who get baptized put themselves on the path to everlasting life.

 Water immersion is an apt symbol for the change a person has made in his life. How so? The Bible compares baptism to burial. (Romans 6:4; Colossians 2:12) By going under the water, the person is showing that he has died to his former way of life. When he comes up from the water, he is, in effect, starting his new life as a dedicated Christian.

 What does the Bible say about infant baptism or christening?

 The Bible does not mention the terms “christen” or “christening.” b Nor does it teach that infants should be baptized.

 Infant baptism is not compatible with the Scriptures. The Bible teaches that a person who wants to get baptized must meet certain requirements. For example, he should understand at least the basic teachings of God’s Word and be living in harmony with those teachings. He has repented of his sins. And through prayer, he has dedicated his life to God. (Acts 2:38, 41; 8:12) Infants are not able to do these things.

 What does it mean to be baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the holy spirit?

 Jesus instructed his followers to “make disciples . . . , baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit, teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19, 20) “In the name of” means that the one being baptized recognizes the authority and position of the Father and the Son, as well as the role of God’s holy spirit. To illustrate: The apostle Peter said to a man who was lame from birth: “In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, walk!” (Acts 3:6) The meaning is clear—Peter recognized and acknowledged the authority of Christ and attributed the miraculous cure to him.

  •   “The Father” refers to Jehovah c God. As Creator, Life-Giver, and Almighty God, Jehovah has ultimate authority.—Genesis 17:1; Revelation 4:11.

  •   “The Son” is Jesus Christ, who gave his life for us. (Romans 6:23) We cannot gain salvation unless we recognize and appreciate Jesus’ key role in God’s purpose for mankind.—John 14:6; 20:31; Acts 4:8-12.

  •   “The holy spirit” is God’s active force, or his power in action. d God has used his holy spirit to create, to impart life, to convey messages to his prophets and others, and to empower them to do his will. (Genesis 1:2; Job 33:4; Romans 15:18, 19) God also used holy spirit to inspire the Bible writers to record his thoughts.—2 Peter 1:21.

 Is rebaptism a sin?

 It is not uncommon for people to change their religion. But what if they had been baptized in their former church? Would they be committing a sin if they got baptized again? Some answer yes, perhaps basing their view on Ephesians 4:5, which reads: “One Lord, one faith, one baptism.” However, this verse does not mean that a person cannot be rebaptized. How so?

 Context. The context of Ephesians 4:5 shows that the apostle Paul was emphasizing the need for true Christians to be united in belief and faith. (Ephesians 4:1-3, 16) Such unity could exist only if they followed the same Lord, Jesus Christ; had the same faith, or understanding of what the Bible teaches; and followed the same Scriptural requirements for baptism.

 The apostle Paul encouraged some who were already baptized to be baptized again. This was because they had been baptized without a full understanding of Christian teaching.—Acts 19:1-5.

 Proper basis for baptism. To be acceptable to God, baptism must be based on an accurate knowledge of Bible truth. (1 Timothy 2:3, 4) If a person is baptized on the basis of religious teachings that conflict with the Bible, that baptism would not be recognized by God. (John 4:23, 24) The person may have been sincere, but he did not act “according to accurate knowledge.” (Romans 10:2) To merit God’s approval, he would have to learn Bible truth, apply what he learned, dedicate his life to God, and be baptized again. Under these circumstances, his rebaptism would not be a sin. In fact, it would be the right thing to do.

 Other baptisms mentioned in the Bible

 The Bible mentions other baptisms that had a different meaning, or significance, from the water immersion of Christ’s followers. Consider some examples.

 Baptism performed by John the Baptist. e Jews and Jewish proselytes were baptized by John in symbol of their repentance over sins they had committed against the Mosaic Law—the Law that God gave to the Israelites through Moses. John’s baptism prepared the people to recognize and accept the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.—Luke 1:13-17; 3:2, 3; Acts 19:4.

 Jesus’ personal baptism. Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist was unique. Jesus was a perfect man and had committed no sins. (1 Peter 2:21, 22) So his baptism did not involve repentance or “the request to God for a good conscience.” (1 Peter 3:21) Rather, it showed that he was presenting himself to God to do His will as the foretold Messiah, or Christ. This included giving his life for us.—Hebrews 10:7-10.

 Baptism with holy spirit. Both John the Baptist and Jesus Christ spoke about baptism with holy spirit. (Matthew 3:11; Luke 3:16; Acts 1:1-5) That baptism is not the same as baptism in the name of the holy spirit. (Matthew 28:19) Why is that so?

 Only a limited number of Jesus’ followers are baptized with holy spirit. These ones are anointed with holy spirit because they are called to serve with Christ in heaven as fellow kings and priests over the earth. f (1 Peter 1:3, 4; Revelation 5:9, 10) Their subjects will be the millions of Jesus’ followers who have the hope of everlasting life in Paradise on earth.—Matthew 5:5; Luke 23:43.

 Baptism into Christ Jesus and into his death. Individuals baptized with holy spirit are also “baptized into Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:3) This baptism, therefore, applies to Jesus’ anointed followers, who will rule with him in heaven. By being baptized into Jesus, they become members of his anointed congregation. He is the Head, and they are the body.—1 Corinthians 12:12, 13, 27; Colossians 1:18.

 Anointed Christians are also “baptized into [Jesus’] death.” (Romans 6:3, 4) In imitation of Jesus, they lead a self-sacrificing life of obedience to God and renounce any hope of everlasting life on earth. They complete this symbolic baptism when they die and receive a resurrection to life in heaven as spirit creatures.—Romans 6:5; 1 Corinthians 15:42-44.

 Baptism with fire. John the Baptist said to his listeners: “That one [Jesus] will baptize you with holy spirit and with fire. His winnowing shovel is in his hand, and he will clean up his threshing floor completely and will gather his wheat into the storehouse, but the chaff he will burn up with fire that cannot be put out.” (Matthew 3:11, 12) Note that there are differences between baptism with fire and baptism with holy spirit. What did John mean by this illustration?

 The wheat represents those who will listen to Jesus and obey him. They have the prospect of being baptized with holy spirit. The chaff symbolizes those who will not listen to Jesus. Their end is a baptism of fire, which symbolizes their everlasting destruction.—Matthew 3:7-12; Luke 3:16, 17.

a The Greek word translated “baptism” refers to “immersion, submersion and emergence,” according to Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words.

b “Christening” refers to a ceremony performed by some churches in which infants may be given a name and then “baptized” by having water sprinkled on or poured on their head.

c Jehovah is the personal name of God. (Psalm 83:18) See the article “Who Is Jehovah?

d See the article “What Is the Holy Spirit?

e See the article “Who Was John the Baptist?

f See the article “Who Go to Heaven?

g The Bible also uses the term “baptisms” to describe certain ceremonial cleansings, such as the immersing of utensils. (Mark 7:4; Hebrews 9:10) This, of course, is altogether different from the complete water immersion of Jesus and his followers.