Vicarious Baptism?

Almost everyone professing to be a Christian knows that Jesus died in our place, taking the penalty for our sins upon Himself. However, never (so far as I know) has anyone ever claimed that Jesus was baptized vicariously for all. On the very surface of it, this notion seems ridiculous. His vicarious death on the cross is understandable: no fellow human being who had sinned could take our place. Only Jesus, the perfect Lamb of God, could pay our penalty because He was not under condemnation. In other words, He did what we could not do (for ourselves or anyone else).

But why would anyone need to be baptized vicariously for another? We are all capable of being baptized for ourselves. Why would we need a stand-in? Of course, the New Testament does not teach this doctrine, but it was Clark’s 8th point, and we published it in last week’s article. Our correspondence appeared to be done at that point, which is the reason the information was shared. No reply had been given to my original e-mail explanation during the ensuing discussion, which was accurately reported. However, no sooner was the article ready to be published than Clark reestablished contact and began to discuss point #8. He claimed that the Scriptures taught that Jesus was baptized vicariously for all of us, and I asked him what Scripture taught that idea. Below are the pertinent portions of that exchange.

Why did John object to baptizing Jesus? (Matt. 3:13-15). John recognized Jesus’ sinlessness! Whereas others came “confessing their sins,” Jesus had none to confess! Historical sources say that He confessed the sins of all the world. Since He did not need this baptism for Himself, it must have been vicarious, i.e., taken for others. Since He fulfilled “all righteousness” in this Old Testament type, persons attempting to repeat it cannot add any merit to their souls, nor enhance their standing before God. So, we believe that Jesus was there in the Jordan River vicariously baptized for us, quite similarly as He died on the cross for us. We need to see that whatsoever Jesus did vicariously, we should not follow nor attempt to duplicate. To do so would appear, not as devotion, but to indicate a lack of belief in His fulfillment of types and ordinances. That which Jesus did exemplary we must follow, e.g., His loving all people, His being compassionate, His seeking first the kingdom of God, His loving the Father, and telling others the plan of salvation.

It seems that some of the disciples, who had at first been followers of John the Baptist, continued the custom—at least for a time. The apostle Paul baptized a few people but in his testimony, he expresses thanks that he discontinued the custom (1 Cor. 1:17). The fact that there is no advocacy of water baptism in the later writings of the New Testament, as the epistles of Peter, John or James, and likewise in the epistle to the Hebrews, is a significant evidence that water baptism was either discontinued or regarded as unimportant.

Since this kind of writing is generally higher than that of Clark, it may be that he copied it from some book, although he did not cite a source or present any documentation. He later claimed to have sent something by a certain author, and this may be it, but if so, he left it unidentified. Although taken as a whole, it might convince someone not well-versed in the Scriptures, no doubt the reader has already begun to see several errors in it—statements that contradict the Scriptures. Below is my response.

Your first three sentences are right on target. But then you leave the Scriptures for interpretation and “historical sources,” whatever those are. I asked you for a Bible verse, and you provide unnamed historical sources. All of this time you have been accusing me of following (non-existent) creeds and what my “denomination” teaches, but look who is dealing with the Scriptures and who has departed from them.

Now, I don’t have anything against interpretation—provided it is 1) reasonable, and 2) harmonious with what the Bible teaches in other passages. Your explanation is neither.

First, why would Jesus be baptized for all men when all men had already gone out to John to be baptized (Mark 1:5)?

Second, if Jesus was baptized for all men, why would He then baptize others (John 3:26; 4:1-2)? Did He not know He had already been baptized vicariously for them?

Third, why would Peter command people on the Day of Pentecost (after he had been baptized in the Holy Spirit) to be baptized in water, which 3,000 who gladly received his word did (Acts 2:37-41)? He had been with Jesus for three years. Did he not know that Jesus was already baptized vicariously for those people on Pentecost?

Fourth, why did Philip baptize the eunuch in water (Acts 8:36-39)? Was he unaware of what “historical sources” taught?

Fifth, why is Peter still telling (years later) those who have received the Holy Spirit to be baptized in water (Acts 10:47)?

These facts are what the Scriptures teach. What you presented is a theory with no Scriptural support that clearly contradicts all of these other passages. You have previously ignored these verses that have been called to your attention time and again. Why don’t you just admit that you dismiss what the Bible teaches when it disagrees with your interpretations? That is what you have consistently done.

Paul did not discontinue baptism; you’re ignoring the entire context of 1 Corinthians 1, which I called attention to previously. He himself was told to arise and be baptized and wash away his sins (Acts 22:16). Paul also wrote to the Colossians (probably 5 years after 1 Corinthians) that they had been buried with Jesus in baptism (Col. 2:12). Furthermore, right after Paul left Corinth, he baptized in water 12 men (Acts 19:1-7).

So the choice for you is: Are you going to continue to hold to man-made theories and interpretations or the facts presented in the Scriptures?

His reply was short and inadequate.

It is easy to see why Peter continued with John’s baptism in Acts 2. It was for the same reason that Peter wanted men to be circumcised. It wasn’t until later in Acts 11:16 where we see Peter realizing his growth spiritually when he states “And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” After this time, Peter never once mentions anything about water baptism in his writings….

If you want to continue with Old Testament Jewish ceremonial washings so be it. I’d rather just walk in the Light and allow the Holy Spirit to guide me….

His comments are woefully inadequate, as I pointed out to him. Each number below is keyed to those points above (first, second, etc.).

If you think you are walking in the light, you are greatly and fatally mistaken. You gather things from Scriptures that are not there, twist them, and somehow soothe your mind, which has some sort of irrational aversion to water. Let’s consider your reply.

1. You made no comment.

2. Your reply was that Jesus did not Himself baptize anyone personally, which I have said from the beginning of our correspondence, citing John 4:2. But because He authorized and commanded people to be baptized, the Bible says that John’s disciples said, “Behold, He is baptizing” (John 4:26) and Jesus “made and baptized more disciples than John” (John 4:1). About these verses you were silent. You will never convince anyone that you are paying the least little bit of attention to the Holy Spirit when you cannot understand a simple statement which the Holy Spirit makes twice. It is not a lie to say that Jesus baptized people—the Holy Spirit recorded those words for us. You simply refuse to comprehend them because they don’t match your aquaphobic tendencies.

3. Your response was that Peter was undergoing a growth process. Really? He had just been baptized by the Holy Spirit and was preaching by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, but he mistakenly taught water baptism while under the influence of the Holy Spirit. Is that your position? This conjecture would have the Holy Spirit going through a growth process, also. Your doctrine denigrates and insults God, but that is how far you will go.

4. You failed to comment.

5. It is a good thing you don’t claim to be a Bible scholar. Even a mere tyro would realize that Acts 11 is a recounting of what happened in Acts 10, where Peter said: “Can anyone forbid water that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” I am not reading anything into the Scriptures; the problem is that you are not reading the Scriptures, period, except to try to justify a doctrine that you will not let go of.

Furthermore, you missed the significance of Colossians 2:11-12 altogether. Try reading a verse for what it actually says, for a change. Baptism in water IS our circumcision. Paul is answering the false teaching that Christians must be circumcised in the flesh. He writes:

“In Him [Christ] you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands [What is this circumcision, Paul?], by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ [How are the sins of the flesh put off and what is the circumcision of Christ, Paul?], buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead” (cf. Rom. 6:3-7).

Baptism is God’s operation; it is Christ’s circumcision—only it is not a piece of flesh that is removed, instead it is all the sins we have committed that are removed. Baptism is not a Jewish ceremony; it takes the place of a Jewish ceremony. Neither is it a rite or a symbol. This is the occasion when God washes our sins away with the blood of Christ (Rev. 1:5).

I will pray that your eyes are opened to the truth.

Would Clark finally answer some of these points? No, he claimed he already had! Then he added that “Jesus was a Jew and as such followed the various Jewish ceremonies of His time, such as going to Temple, being circumcised, water baptized, etc. I am not a Jew and do not have to partake of these Jewish ceremonies.” Of course, this is subterfuge; it not only ignored everything that was said; it lumps baptism in with circumcision, ignoring the very point made which was that baptism replaced circumcision (Col. 2:11-12). After more exchanges, I tried to get him to respond to the discussion instead of running away from it.

Here are the facts. And these have nothing to do with the non-existent “creed” you keep referring to which you have yet to produce.

1. You cannot admit that what John did, in baptizing people, was part of his work to prepare people for Jesus (Mark 1:1-5).

2. You cannot admit that John’s baptism was from heaven (Matt. 21:25).

3. You cannot admit that Jesus taught and baptized people as part of this new, spiritual covenant (John 4:1).

4. You cannot admit that Philip and Peter baptized people in water long after the baptism of the Holy Spirit occurred on Pentecost (Acts 8:36-39; 10:47).

5. You must expunge Mark 16:16 from the Bible, even though you cannot explain how it was quoted 200 years before those “best manuscripts.”

Here, let me save you the trouble of a thoughtful reply. “Uh, eisegesis. Uh, you’re just following a creed. Uh, you just say what your denomination does.” There, you can thank me later for responding for you.

All five of these statements were ignored. After several more exchanges, I gave him a simple choice which represented our two different views. Which of the following is true?

a. John got his baptism from an old Jewish tradition.

b. God authorized John to baptize people in water.

After seven more useless exchanges, he finally answered: “A & B are both correct as the Bible clearly states.” Obviously, Clark is not rational. We had drifted away from the original subject of this correspondence, which is pretty much the style of argumentation he uses. His modus operandi seems to be: “If you get in trouble on one subject, shift to another one.”

Jesus was not baptized vicariously for anyone else. That responsibility belongs to each one of us. Jesus vicariously endured our punishment on the cross. How do we accept the salvation that He offers? We must have our own faith. Jesus trusted the Father, but He did not vicarious believe for all of us. Everyone must individually repent (Luke 13:3). Jesus could not do that for us (since He had no sins). Each person must make the good confession that Jesus is the Son of God, as Timothy (1 Tim. 6:12) and the eunuch did (Acts 8:37). Jesus made the good confession before Pilate, also, but He did not do it for us (1 Tim. 6:13). Then we must be baptized to wash our sins away (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38). Jesus was baptized but not in our stead.

Having been baptized on the Day of Pentecost with the Holy Spirit, and being an inspired apostle, Peter would not have required men to be baptized if Jesus had already been baptized for them. This was the beginning of the kingdom; the new message was taking effect. Baptism had not been done away at the cross—or any other time, for that matter. As long as the world stands, the blood of Christ will continue to wash away the sins of the one who believes, repents, and is baptized in water (Acts 22:16; Rev. 1:5).

No matter what strange doctrines man invents, the Bible has an answer for it. Truth will always be under assault, but the Word of God is sufficient to ward off any attacks. All people need to do is know the Word and become skilled in using it to defend itself.

Is Water Baptism Obsolete?

On November 9, 2010, I received an e-mail titled: “Why Christians Should Not Be Baptized in Water.” No introduction was included—just 8 reasons and a signature from someone whom I will call Clark (not his real name). My first thought was, “Well, no, you wouldn’t baptize Christians in water—they are already saved. You would baptize sinners in water so that they could become Christians.” But I went ahead and considered the reasons and replied to them. After thanking Clark for writing, I wrote: “Let me provide you some things to think about that you may have overlooked.” Below are his eight points in brown and in quotation marks, followed by my responses.

1. “Jesus never told anyone to do it.” Jesus said, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). The baptism of the Great Commission is baptism in water, as Acts 8:36-39 demonstrates.

2. “Jesus never baptized anyone in water (John 4:2).” Jesus did baptize people in water (John 4:1). Jesus is said to do it because it was done by His authority. Verse 2 simply explains He did not do it personally. Nevertheless He authorized it and is therefore said to do it in verse 1.

3. “The Baptism of Christ is the Baptism in the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11).” John made the promise that Jesus would baptize in the Holy Spirit, which He did (Acts 2:1-4). This promise obviously did not do away with water baptism either before or after the crucifixion (John 4:1-2; Acts 8:36-39).

4. “There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism (Ephesians 4:5).” Yes, there is. The baptism of the Holy Spirit was one of promise, having nothing to do with salvation. It was fulfilled on Pentecost. Baptism in water is commanded; it remains in effect (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; Acts 8:36-39; Acts 10:44-47).

5. “Water baptism was not to be continued (John 3:30).” John 3:30 does not mention water baptism. If you believe it was to be discontinued, then when? It was still being used by the time of Acts 8:36-39 and in the time of Peter (1 Peter 3:20-21). So when would it cease?

6. “John’s baptism in water was replaced by the Baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5).” No. The Day of Pentecost fulfilled the promise. Baptism in water was still being used by Peter the apostle more than 30 years later (1 Peter 3:20-21). Nothing in Acts 1:5 says anything about water baptism being replaced.

7. “The nature of the new covenant is spiritual, not ceremonial (Colossians 2:16).” The new covenant is spiritual, but because we are human beings, physical things are still used. We use physical bread and physical fruit of the vine in the Lord’s Supper. Literal water is used in baptism, but it is a spiritual process (God’s working, in fact) whereby one’s sins are removed (Col. 2:12).

8. “It shows a lack of faith in what Jesus vicariously did for us (Matthew 3:13-17).” How can it show a lack of faith to do what Jesus said to do (Luke 6:46)? How can it show a lack of faith to be buried with Jesus in baptism (Rom. 6:3-7)? Being baptized in water in order to have one’s sins forgiven (Acts 2:38) demonstrates faith and trust in Him—that He will do what He said, and we will be cleansed. Jesus was not baptized in our place. If He was, why did He, then, baptize others (John 4:1-2)? What He did was DIE in our place, paying the penalty that we owed. Should we not, then, obey Him in all things (Matt. 7:21-23)?

I pray that you will consider this response carefully.

What did Clark do with this information?

One might think that he would have explained his position further on each point if he continued to disagree—or that he might admit he had drawn a wrong conclusion. Unfortunately, he seldom did either.

Question #1

Jesus clearly said, “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved…” (Mark 16:16). Thus, He did teach people to be baptized. Clark’s answer to this verse was to attempt to annihilate it. He wrote: “Mark 16:16 should not be considered valid Scripture as the most reliable manuscripts of Mark end at verse 8. Christ never uttered those words.” I asked him if he got this statement from the NIV, which erroneously states this unexplained fabrication. Clark did not say where he came up with this conclusion, but much more transpired on this point, which may be considered later.

Eventually, I reminded him that—not only did Jesus teach water baptism in Mark 16:16, He was also teaching it in John 4:1: “…Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John.” They would scarcely have been baptized if the Lord had not taught them to do so. He made no other comment regarding this point.

Question #2

Although he reaffirmed his initial statement later, that Jesus never personally baptized anyone (John 4:2), Clark never commented on John 4:1. The fact that the Lord never personally baptized anyone was probably intentional—to keep someone from saying, “Jesus baptized me personally.” But since He authorized people to be baptized in water, verse one says that Jesus baptized them.

Questions #3 and #4

John did promise that Jesus would baptize in the Holy Spirit, but that was a promise—which was later fulfilled. It did not, however, put an end to water baptism at the time of its fulfillment—or afterward. Clark made no comment on the fact that Holy Spirit baptism had nothing to do with salvation.

Question #5

This is the one in which Clark claimed: “Water baptism was not to be continued (John 3:30).” In the first place, the verse has nothing to say about water baptism. It is a record of John saying that Jesus must increase, but he must decrease. John said this in response to what his disciples said in what appears to be a lament about Jesus. They told John that Jesus “is baptizing, and all are coming to Him!” (John 3:26). Well, there is Jesus baptizing again. Is it possible that they were being baptized because Jesus taught them to do so?

I asked Clark when water baptism ceased. He did not reply. He did not comment on Acts 8:36-39, in which the Ethiopian eunuch went down into the water, and Philip baptized him (Acts 8:39). I pressed Clark on this passage and Acts 10:44-47 several times, but he refused to comment, which shows a lack of honesty. When someone cites a passage of Scripture in its context that disproves another’s claim, he must either answer intelligently or give it up. Eventually, Clark chose a third option. He did not comment directly on the passages but instead wrote:

It is a serious mistake to build a doctrine on the practice of the early church. Acts 15:28-29 clearly shows that the practice of water baptism was not required for Gentile believers. The early church was still growing spiritually and doctrinally. Of course, many false teachers had reintroduced a lot of Jewish ceremonies such as water baptism.

Who can believe statements as these—that we cannot follow the practice of the early church and that false teachers had introduced “Jewish ceremonies”? What really makes all of this ironic is that Clark has begun to make several ad hominem attacks on me, such as taking things out of context, practicing eisegesis (reading things into the text), and following what my “denomination” teaches—none of which was true; the reader can judge for himself which of us is guilty of those charges. I wrote back the following.

You are on the right track with Acts 15, but you misapply the results to baptism. The question being discussed was, “What was there from the Law of Moses that Gentiles needed to practice. Read Acts 15:1 and 5. Certain men were commanding Gentile Christians that they had to be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses in addition to the Law of Christ. Clark, we are in agreement that we are not under the Law of Moses but rather the spiritual covenant of Jesus. The Law had been done away with, nailed to the cross (Col. 2:14). So what were the apostles to do about those requiring circumcision and the Law of Moses? They discussed it and clearly decided that only four things of the entire Law were required, which are cited in Acts 15:28-29, as you pointed out.

The correct application of this decision is that God did not reinforce the dietary laws bound upon the Jews. He did not require the Gentiles to practice circumcision. He also did not require them to keep the Sabbath day. Perhaps we can agree on these applications.

Baptism, however, was never a part of the Law of Moses. John the Baptizer introduced it as part of the gospel, which was taught in advance of and in anticipation of the New Testament system. Before any law takes effect (for example, changing the speed limit to 55), it is announced and explained in advance. The baptism of John—was it from heaven or from men? It was from heaven. He was authorized by God to preach this doctrine prior to the Law of Moses being done away, but it was never part of the Law of Moses. Notice what Mark 1:1 says: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Three verses later (Mark 1:4-5) John is preaching the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. It is not the Law of Moses he is preaching but the gospel.

Baptism in water for the remission of sins remains part of the gospel. I know you don’t think so, but ask yourself why you cannot explain Acts 8:36-39 and Acts 10:47? Then answer these questions: 1) Was Philip the evangelist a false teacher for telling the eunuch to be baptized in water (Acts 8:36-39)? 2) Was Peter the apostle, the same one who spoke in Acts 15, a false teacher when he said that no one could forbid water to Cornelius and his household (Acts 10:47)?

As was typical, Clark let a few e-mails pass by before finally commenting. Finally he decided to offer a brief comment:

The Jews had added their own ceremonies and traditions, one of which was water baptism. All John the Baptist did was to adapt an old Jewish ceremony.

What? No, your eyes do not deceive you. This was his claim. I responded thus:

This statement is not honest, and you know it. I cited Jesus asking the question from Matthew 21:25: Was John’s baptism from heaven or from men? It was, in fact, authorized by God. Your assertion that it is an old Jewish tradition is mere flummery and without any Scriptural merit whatsoever.

But he would not be moved away from such an absurd allegation. He sent the following:

There is no question that the Christian ceremony of water baptism originated with the old baptisms in Judaism. Dr. Merrill Tenney, the editor of the Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible said: “Baptism as a rite of immersion was not begun by Christians but was taken by them from Jewish forms….” Since early Christianity was originally the Messianic Judaism of Jesus’ day, it is without question that baptism in the New Testament was originally Jewish. Further evidence comes from Scholars like William Lasor and David Daube who tell us of the early church’s practice of baptism was after the custom of the Jews.

I immediately replied.

Well, those are nice theories without any evidence, as usual. Where in the Bible do you see baptism as an old Jewish practice? Can you find even one verse? Didn’t think so. What Tenney and others say may reflect their theology–especially since they did not cite a source.

Furthermore, you continue to duck Jesus’ plain implication that John’s baptism was from God (Matt. 21:25), which is a dishonest approach, since I have now mentioned it several times. Let’s cut to the chase here. Will you sign the following propositions for a debate (either oral or written)?

I, Clark, Gospel Evangelist, know that God did not authorize John the Baptizer to baptize in water.

I, Clark, Gospel Evangelist, know that the only authority for water baptism, which John practiced, was from an old Jewish tradition.

Everyone will recognize the copout that Clark came back with.

It is obvious that you have not taken the time to study this issue in any depth. The Bible is very clear on this issue, but you remain steadfast to your denominational view.

This tactic is always what a false teacher does. He cannot defend his views; so he resorts to name calling. The idea that John’s baptism was from an old Jewish tradition is ludicrous. Jesus asked where the baptism of John was from. Why did His enemies not answer: “He got it from an old Jewish tradition”? If John had borrowed it from the Jews, they surely would have known it! God sent John to baptize with water (John 1:33).

Question #6

Clark never specified a time when water baptism was done away.

Question #7

He amplified the spiritual emphasis of Christianity, which no one disagrees with, but he could never prove that water is not involved in baptism or that there are no physical elements in the Lord’s Supper.

Question #8

He never responded at all to the fact that Jesus was not baptized in our place—but that He was put to death in our place.

It is truly amazing to observe the extremes some people will go to in order to uphold man-made doctrines. To say that the church in the first century is not something for us to follow when they were continuing steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine, is silly. What else should serve as a safe guide, then? The apostles taught the church the truth and corrected them when they fell short or were considering false teachings. Did the apostles (who actually were baptized in the Holy Spirit) fail? Did the Spirit fail, also? Let us steadfastly abide in the truth.