The New Testament refers to at least seven “baptisms,” many of which are figurative. These seven are “baptism unto Moses;” “baptism of suffering;” “baptism for the dead;” “baptism of fire;” “Holy Spirit baptism;” “John’s baptism;” and, the “baptism of the great commission.” In this series of articles, attention will be given to all seven but with greater attention to the latter four.
The word “baptism” or “baptize” are anglicized words: words which simply are transferred from another language into English without actually translating their meaning. There are many such words scattered throughout the New Testament such as “church,” “deacon,” “bishop,” and “pastor” just to name a few. Much misunderstanding might have been removed had most of these words actually been translated, but that is another story.
The words baptisma and baptizo, from whence comes our English words “baptism” and “baptize” are taken, means to “dip.” They are the processes of immersion, submersion, and emergence (W.E. Vines, Expository Dictionary of N.T. Words, p. 96). One is a noun (“baptism”) and the other a verb (“baptize”). An English dictionary would likely define “baptize” as to sprinkle, pour, or immerse — all in keeping with how the word is used today. But present-day usage does not alter the word (with its meaning) that Jesus and the apostles used. Our interest is in how the New Testament used the word and what was meant by it. Remember, immersion makes the candidate for baptism the SUBJECT OF THE ACTION — a man (woman) is immersed; but both sprinkling and pouring make the candidate the OBJECT OF THE ACTION. The candidate is not literally sprinkled or poured; water is either poured or sprinkled on him. Furthermore, baptism is repeatedly referred to (or pictured) as a burial (Acts 8:38-29; Romans 6:34; Colossians 2:12).
In this present article three different “baptisms” will be examined. First, consider an incident recorded in Mk. 10:38-39. In this passage, coupled with a companion passage in Matthew 20:20-28, Jesus was approached by James and John, joined by their mother, in making a request of Jesus. Matthew records the two disciples’ mother asking Jesus that in His kingdom her two sons would be allowed to sit on Jesus’ right and left hands. She, along with her sons, had an erroneous conception about the kingdom which Jesus did not address until later when He told Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). He asked the two disciples, “Are ye able to drink the cup that I drink? Or to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” and they responded, “We are able.” “Drinking the cup” and “being baptized with the baptism I am baptized with” are references to the same thing, but two different figures are used. Both referred to the trials and suffering which Jesus immediately faced, a “baptism of suffering.” And, to the disciples’ affirmative response that they were able, Jesus agreed they would: “The cup that I drink ye shall drink; and with the baptism that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized: but to sit on my right hand or on my left hand is not mine to give; but it is for them for whom it hath been prepared” (Mk. 10:40). Both James and John would experience trials of suffering: James would be the first apostle to be martyred for the Lord (Acts 12:1-2) and while John apparently was not killed because he was a Christian, he did suffer — banishment and privation from exile on the isle of Patmos (Rev. 1:9). Both James and John were overwhelmed with suffering. Figuratively, they had experienced a “baptism of suffering.”
In 1 Corinthians, Paul mentions another baptism: “For I would not, brethren have you ignorant, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea and all were baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea …” (1 Cor. 10:1-2). Paul’s lesson in 1 Corinthians enlarged on his statement in the last few verses of the previous chapter: “But I buffet my body and bring it into bondage, lest by any means, after that I have preached to others, I should be rejected” (1 Cor. 9:27). He shows that Israel had been delivered from Egyptian bondage and was on her way to possessing the land God had promised Abraham (Gen. 12:7). Symbolically, Paul calls the crossing of the Red Sea with walls of water of either side and a cloud overhead a “baptism.” The final separation of Israel from Egyptian bondage came when they crossed the Red Sea. Yet most of the very ones who were on the way to the promised land never made it (1 Cor. 10:6). Egypt posed no further threat to them. Yet, they failed to enter Canaan because they didn’t “buffet their bodies.”
Paul mentions also in 1 Corinthians another “baptism,” the “baptism for the dead.” In 1 Cor. 15:29 he wrote, “Else what shall they do that are baptized for the dead if the dead are not raised at all, why then are they baptized for them?” This passage has produced many different explanations, including the practice of living Mormons being baptized for unbaptized people who already had died. Paul neither condones nor explains who it was that was “baptized” and the hearer’s mind often is intrigued by things which have no explanation. While Paul did not explain what he meant, perhaps the thought is that the faith of martyrs so impressed some that they were led to obedience partly because of the confidence and hope they saw in Christians slain for the Lord Jesus. Regarding such obedience one might ask, “If there is no resurrection from the dead why jeopardize one’s own life by following in the steps of martyrs who died — needlessly as those who denied a future resurrection would have said?”