What the Pharisees taught me about baptism 38

Before immersing yourself in this post, please read part one of this series on the purpose of baptism. We can’t really make sense of the biblical mode of baptism without understanding its purpose.

Before I get started, let me begin with a little biography. I was born into a Baptist family. My grandparents were Baptist missionaries to China in the 1940s, and my grandfather–and, later, my father–pastored the Baptist church in the city in New Zealand where I was born. I was baptized by immersion by my father when I was seven, and I still prize the letter of congratulations that my grandfather sent me on that occasion.

In other words, I was born an immersionist, I was baptized by immersion, and I remained an immersionist until well into my 30s, even after joining a denomination that believed in baptism by sprinkling. I couldn’t comprehend why anyone would want to baptize by sprinkling. It seemed like baptism lite. Why not go all the way (under)?

That all changed when my pastor explained the significance of John the Baptist. The original baptist changed my opinion on the proper mode of baptism from immersion to sprinkling. The key comes from two questions the Pharisees asked–one of John and one of Jesus.

Who are you?

In Luke 3 we are introduced to John the Baptist who has been having crowds come to listen to his preaching and be baptized by him. Clearly he was causing a stir, and in John 1 we see that the priests and Levites have been dispatched from Jerusalem to see what he is doing. Here’s John’s account:

Now this was John’s testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Christ.”They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?”

He said, “I am not.”

“Are you the Prophet?”

He answered, “No.”

Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”

Notice the response when John the Baptist said he was not the Christ: “Then who are you.” They initially assumed that he was the Messiah. Failing that, he must be Elijah or the prophet. Why would they think that? Was there a connection between John’s baptizing, which they did not dispute or question, and what they would expect to see in a Messiah? Let’s take a look at the priests’ three guesses and show why they connected the Baptist with them.

  1. Are you the Christ? (Although we don’t see this actual question, we can infer it from John’s answer and their “what then” response.) All Christians are familiar with Isaiah 53 and its obvious prophetic references to Jesus as the Messiah. Although we often start in chapter 53, the prophecy starts at the end of the previous chapter, which includes this description:

    His appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness–so will he sprinkle many nations. (Isaiah 52:14-15)

    We see a similar picture of the Messiah in Ezekiel 36:25-29:

    I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. You will live in the land I gave your forefathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God. I will save you from all your uncleanness.

    The Pharisees, who knew the Bible very well, were looking for a Messiah who would come sprinkling. If John the Baptist was preaching forgiveness of sins and sprinkling the people who came to him, perhaps this was the long-awaited Messiah.

    John told them that he was not the Messiah, so they guessed that he must be someone else.

  2. Are you Elijah? This connection is found in the last two chapters of Malachi. In Malachi 4:5-6 (the last verses of the Old Testament), the prophet says that God will send Elijah. (Jesus tells us in Matthew 11:14-15 that John the Baptist was the prophesied Elijah, though that not everyone would recognize him as such.)

    I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.

    What would this messenger be doing? We see that in Malachi 3:2-3:

    Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver.

    By what means are the Levites purified? We see that in Numbers 8:6-7.

    Take the Levites from among the other Isrealites and make them ceremonially clean. To purify them, do this: Sprinkle the water of cleansing on them.

    Elijah would come sprinkling as well.

  3. Are you the prophet? We find the prophet in Deuteronomy 18:15.

    The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him.

    Like who? Like Moses. What connection did John’s interrogators see between the John the Baptist and Moses?

    You can’t read far into the story of Moses’ priestly ministry without encountering him sprinkling something, including people. Perhaps the most significant description is from Exodus 24:8.

    Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.”

Do you recognize those words? They are repeated by Jesus at the last supper as he prepares to shed his blood to sprinkle the nations (Mark 14:24). Just like Moses and the prophet. Just like Elijah. And like the Messiah was about to do.

John the Baptist came sprinkling, which was the activity that alerted the most Bible-literate people in the land that something important was afoot.

How dare you?

This second question is asked of Jesus after he cleaned out the temple from the money changers. Here’s the exchange:

They arrived again in Jerusalem, and while Jesus was walking in the temple courts, the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you authority to do this?”

Jesus replied, “I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism–was it from heaven, or from men? Tell me!”

They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men’….” (They feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet.)

So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”

Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”

What is at stake here is Jesus’ authority as a priest to regulate activities in the temple. If he wasn’t a priest, he had no right to clean it out and call it his own house. If he was a priest, he did have that authority.

Why did Jesus turn that question to John’s baptism? Because that’s what sealed Jesus’ status as a priest. If John’s baptism was valid, he had the authority; if it wasn’t, he didn’t have authority.

So, then, how were priests to be baptized? The instructions for the Levites in Numbers 8 cited earlier describe this, and we see another priestly ordination in Exodus 29.

Take the anointing oil and anoint him by pouring it on his head. (Exodus 29:7)

Take some of the blood on the altar and some of the anointing oil and sprinkle it on Aaron and his garments and on his sons and their garments. Then he and his sons and their garments will be consecrated. (Exodus 29:21)

Priests also had to be at least 30 before they could be ordained (see Numbers 4:46-47). It’s no accident that Jesus’ ministry began when he was 30, as Luke specifically points out for us in Luke 3:23, immediately after describing Jesus’ baptism.

Understanding Jesus’ baptism as an ordination rite also helps us understand John’s initial reluctance to baptize Jesus and his eventual acquiescence.

John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.”

Then John consented.

John, who was a priest himself (by inheritance through his father), understood what Jesus meant by “fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus, who is described as a priest (Hebrews 5:4-6), needed to perfectly obey the law, including the Levitical law for ordination. Sprinkling was the lawful mode of priestly ordination.

This is why this last step (baptism represented the fulfillment of the law) is what triggers God’s public declaration of Jesus as Messiah and the beginning of his priestly ministry.

Jesus’ baptism by sprinkling is also necessary to have him properly fulfill the title of Messiah, which means anointed one. John anoints him with water, and he is revealed as the Messiah.

(I anticipate at least one more post on this topic, so in the next one I’ll deal with objections, including the reference to coming up out of the water and the Greek definition of baptizo. If you have any other objections or counterpoints, leave them in the comments and I’ll try to answer them in the next post.)

38 thoughts on “What the Pharisees taught me about baptism

  1. Tim P. Nov 16, 2009 5:26 pm

    Excellent post, James.

  2. Brandon Giromini Nov 16, 2009 5:38 pm

    I will leave a quick comment as I don’t have time to dive too deep into this issue. I will state that I believe baptism is by immersion. However, I would declare that the main difference between baptists and other protestant groups is that baptist baptize believers, while the other usually sprinkle children who have made no profession of faith whatsoever and are not believers. Oh, I have read Augustine claiming my viewpoint is heresy because the child believes because the parents believed (try to find that in scripture) or Matthew Henry’s awful application of OT infant **male** circumcision to Rome/Protestant practice of baptizing male AND female infants. I think that one needs to defend INFANT sprinkling, before one deals with the mode of baptism.

  3. Jeff Nov 16, 2009 5:43 pm

    John the Baptizer was Old Testament. So was his style and purpose of baptism.

    The baptism of the New Testament is pictured best in Romans 6 (death, burial and resurrection), and seen in practice in Acts 19. It is difficult to comprehend the purpose of NT baptism by looking through an OT lens.

    Then, Peter uses the Ark going “through” the water, that is completely submerged at times, as a picture of our baptism. The full weight of the wrath of God was thrown at that Ark (which is Christ). There was no sprinkling there for those eight people inside. They were saved “through” the water. They didn’t have an easy ride of it.

    Just be sure that you are baptized into the baptism of Christ, not the baptism of John the Baptizer.

  4. James Duncan Nov 16, 2009 7:59 pm


    I think you have it backwards. We’re talking here about how Jesus was baptized. You can’t reject it just because you don’t agree with infant baptism. The issue here is simply the mode, not the candidates.

    Understand the purpose, then the mode, then you can start thinking about candidates.

  5. KeithO Nov 16, 2009 8:03 pm


    You said, “It is difficult to comprehend the purpose of NT baptism by looking through an OT lens.” I can’t see how anyone can comprehend Christianity without an OT lens. The Bible Jesus used was the OT.

  6. Scottie K Nov 16, 2009 11:20 pm

    Baptism is a spiritual birth, no? So let’s put it into a perspective that we humans can understand: human birth. Both forms of baptism are valid, just as (ignoring all complications and precursors) a vaginal birth is just as effective as a C-Section. The end result is a newly born infant no matter the mode of arrival. As long as you are baptized by the water in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you are a newly born Christian and a beloved child of God.

    In addition, infant baptism is perfectly acceptable. Going back to the human birth analogy, none of us (as far as we can know) asked God to put us into our mother’s wombs and be born a human, therefore our human birth did not happen of our own accord. As an infant is baptized, the baptismal vows are taken by the godparents on behalf of the candidate, with the full understanding that later on the candidate would take responsibility for those vows. I do not remember my birth nor my baptism, but that doesn’t make me any less of a human or a beloved child of God.

  7. Jeff Nov 17, 2009 11:13 am


    I am not making less of the OT by saying that. Without the OT we would not have the Law and the prophets. On the other hand, what we have received in the NT is what was only promised in the OT, but not seen until Christ. So, we have been given something better (Heb 11).

    So, the baptism of John, which could very well have been sprinkling, was for repentance to prepare the way for the fullness to come. The NT baptism is completely different than the OT baptism, and should be seen as picturing the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, and our partaking in it. To imagine that sprinkling can somehow carry the immense meaning of Romans 6 is to miss something truely dynamic in a person’s spiritual life.

    Is the amount of water something to divide over? (Shrug) I don’t know. (sigh). Just make sure you are baptizing in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. That certainly matters.

  8. James Duncan Nov 17, 2009 8:38 pm


    If John’s baptism was only for repentance, why did he baptize Jesus?

  9. Jeff Nov 17, 2009 10:41 pm


    To fulfill all righteousness. He wanted to present Himself to be in full compliance to everything in the Law, and the will of God. For the same reason, He was circumcised. He so closely identified with all those who came confessing their sins. It was at His baptism that He began to take His place as the Great Shepherd.

  10. James Duncan Nov 17, 2009 11:29 pm


    You are presenting Jesus’ baptism as entirely meaningless. A fraud, in fact. Jesus was sinless. He had no need for repentance or confession. To engage in such practices would undermine his divinity and his efficacy as the perfect sacrifice.

    As KeithO pointed out, you are erroneously separating the OT and NT and constructing a whole new sacrament out of very little. Jesus is baptized, yet we’re to believe that within a few years the whole meaning and mode of it had changed, and you’re basing that on Romans 6?

    When Jesus gives the great commission, might we have hoped that he might have explained that the baptism he talks about there was actually different than the one we saw at the beginning of his ministry?

    Baptism doesn’t change. Our understanding of it does and the medium changes from time to time (blood, oil, water, fire), but it’s the same sacrament throughout the entire Bible.

  11. Jeff Nov 18, 2009 7:27 am


    Well, all I did was use the words found in scripture to explain what happened:

    1. Jesus Himself said it was that all righteousness be fulfilled.

    2. Paul told the Ephesians that their baptism into John was inadequate, incomplete, and they needed to be baptized into Christ.

    3. And, Romans 6 does more than imply immersion by using the word “buried”. If there were any other word, I could see where sprinkling might be used, but the word is “buried”, and means being buried with Him (Col 2).

    Baptism changes because the place God was to reside in changes between testaments. He moved from a tent to a temple made with hands to a body not made with hands.

    Again, method is not important, unless it pictures some great reality. I just ask, which method better illustrates our union with Christ in death and new life better than full immersion? Sprinkling just doesn’t do it.

    I look forward to your next installment to explain how that happens.

  12. James Duncan Nov 18, 2009 9:34 am


    I’ll deal with the burial point in the next post. A question though: what does the location of the temple have to do with immersion and sprinkling? I don’t think there is any obvious relationship, but if there was, the relationship would work the other way. In the NT, if God’s temple is not made by hands, why would baptism by immersion make us go to a temple made by hands to jump into their specially-built pool?

    I assume you’ve read my first post about the meaning of baptism. My argument in both these posts is that baptism does represent a great reality, so it is important that the mode reflects that (you’re making the same case when you argue for the burial reality). I’m not sure, though, whether you’re arguing that method is or isn’t important.

  13. Seth Nov 18, 2009 10:57 am


    Just like to make the point that I know many people who have been baptised by immersion not in a building but in out door pools, or in pools in the house, or in riviers/lakes. And to say that sprinkling does not involve something built by hands is wrong. How do you get the water to the people being baptised? Are the people being sprinkled not also being sprinkled in a building? built by hands? Also, You have to use hands in either instance to baptise someone.

    The whole issue on which baptism is right versus wrong method and such does not really matter to me. I just do not believe in infant baptism. But if someone was baptised as an infant, but later rebaptised after becoming a believer, then it is ok.

  14. Jeff Nov 18, 2009 11:33 am


    Yes, I did read your first post, and even just re-read it to make sure. I completely agree with it. I wish all those 1000 people were taken aside and instructed more carefully. They may not need to know all the details, but it should have been better explained to them. The details will come. I just hope there was repentance of sins.

    But, then, in your 2nd post comes the surprise turn toward sprinkling. I was in complete agreement until then. Your path of reasoning through the Pharisees questions took a turn I didn’t expect, nor have I ever seen before. Interesting.

    The only “sprinkling” in the NT that I know about is that we are sprinkled by His blood. The only references to sprinkling all refer to blood, not water. If I am wrong about that, please point to specific places. You have a better theological background than I do.

    As for the change between temples from OT to NT is that the Body of Christ, or specifically, the individuals that make up the Body, that is us, become the new “Temple”. Herod’s temple was put aside on the cross, when the veil was torn in two. The Romans just finished the job in 70 AD. Now that there is a new temple, the way into that temple is different. That was my point.

    Is the method of baptism important? All I know is what I read. It seems to matter to some, so we need to study the issue completely, as Bereans would. I agree that the method may seem to be purposely left vague in the NT in many places, and we must accept that.

    No, infant baptism is not supportable.
    No, baptismal regeneration is not supportable.
    In case anyone asks.

    Thanks for the discussion.

  15. James Duncan Nov 18, 2009 12:19 pm


    Nice response. Substantive and with a good tone.

    I would agree with you that the method is really not described in the NT (left vague, as you say). That’s why the OT is so important. Unless we have specific instructions showing that it has changed (you say Romans 6 is that, though I disagree), we need to default to what we see there.

  16. Scottie K Nov 18, 2009 6:48 pm

    The argument against infant baptism is nothing short of blasphemous.

    In Acts 2:38, Peter says, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit,” which alone is pretty nondescript, but he goes on in verse 39 to say, “For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him.” Maybe you could argue that Peter wasn’t explicitly talking about children being baptized, but the words of Jesus cannot be misconstrued in Luke 18:15-16.

    “Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God’”

    He (Jesus) also states in John 3:5, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.” If infants and young children are not permitted to receive the sacrament of baptism, they are being hindered by fundamentalists who have no biblical backing. If they die before being immersed, or sprinkled, or spritzed, or who cares, they cannot enter the kingdom of God.

  17. Tommy F. Nov 18, 2009 7:58 pm

    Wow, Scottie.

    You’ve taken the Acts passage which seems to be talking about a promise and its application to multiple generations (not baptism), then moved to what amounts to a “children’s sermon” scene in Luke 18, then jumped (again) to John 3 which might be talking about baptism or physical birth (depending on who you ask) to make the claim that children must be baptized in some form or fashion.

    It’s truly an amazing argument. I’m dizzy from going back and forth, jumping from passage to passage, none of which say anything remotely close to: you must baptize infants or they can’t receive the kingdom. Inference (Acts 2) + silence (Luke 18) + possible reference (John 3) = dogma (Scottie K). Really, quite a mathematical proof. Then you raise the stakes unnecessarily by claiming that anyone who disagrees with you has committed blasphemy.

    In fact, only one of these passages can be used to reference baptism (John 3), and even then scholars disagree (what a bunch of blasphemers).

    If you’d like to make the Roman Catholic mandate for infant baptism there’s a much simpler way (although I’m not inclined to help you get there). You probably wouldn’t appreciate my blaspheming arguments anyway. And besides the Catholics have a much more irenic spirit when they disagree with crazy Protestants.

    I need to go put my unbaptized kids to bed now.

  18. James Duncan Nov 18, 2009 9:54 pm

    Why is everyone so quick to talk about infant baptism? Yes, it’s a topic that might be worth considering later, but I’ve tried hard in these two posts to leave that off the table. It seems like a few of you are equating the two and rejecting sprinkling because you reject infant baptism.

    They’re not the same thing. You can accept sprinkling without without endorsing infant baptism.

    Let’s talk about mode first, then we’ll consider the proper candidates.

  19. A Nov 19, 2009 1:31 am

    Tommy F,

    1. What is the “much simpler way?”
    2. Why are you assuming Scottie K is Catholic?
    3. Am I correctly sensing some sarcasm with the irenic comment?

  20. James Duncan Nov 19, 2009 7:27 am

    Tommy can answer for himself, but I don’t think he’s assuming Scottie is a Catholic. He’s saying that the RC argument for infant baptism is much simpler than Scottie’s. If Scottie is looking for a coherent argument, Tommy’s suggesting that he goes to Rome to find it.

    As for #3, that’s always a good assumption whenever you read Tommy, I think.

  21. Tim P. Nov 19, 2009 9:45 am

    Romans 6 is not speaking about modes of water baptism (indeed, there is no mention of “water” or mode in the passage), but union/identification with Christ. And if the mention of “burial” in the passage is indicative of a requirement for mode of baptism, then why are other passages which also mention baptismal symbolism ignored in the discussion? See for instance, Galatians 3:27 — “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”

  22. Tommy F. Nov 19, 2009 6:32 pm


    1. Simpler way: read any manner of Catholic material on baptism. It’s coherent and logical. Wrong, I’d say. But still better than Scottie’s collage of passages.

    2. Anyone who calls non-infant baptizers blasphemers is either confused or Catholic or on their way.

    3. It’s fine to disagree on these things, but labeling those you disagree with as blasphemers seems so …. Perry.

  23. AP Nov 19, 2009 6:40 pm

    And boom goes the dynamite.

  24. A Nov 20, 2009 10:30 pm

    Main Entry: blas·phe·mous
    Pronunciation: \ˈblas-fə-məs\
    Function: adjective
    Date: 15th century
    : impiously irreverent : profane

    Main Entry: ir·rev·er·ent
    Pronunciation: \-rənt; -vərnt\
    Function: adjective
    Etymology: Middle English, from Latin irreverent-, irreverens, from in- + reverent-, reverens reverent
    Date: 15th century
    : lacking proper respect or seriousness; also : satiric

    Main Entry: sat·ire
    Pronunciation: \ˈsa-ˌtī(-ə)r\
    Function: noun
    Etymology: Middle French or Latin; Middle French, from Latin satura, satira, perhaps from (lanx) satura dish of mixed ingredients, from feminine of satur well-fed; akin to Latin satis enough — more at sad
    Date: 1501
    1 : a literary work holding up human vices and follies to ridicule or scorn
    2 : trenchant wit, irony, or sarcasm used to expose and discredit vice or folly

    So the Catholic position for infant baptism is coherent and logical, but wrong, even though it is supported biblically and by 2000 years of teaching? When we look at the deeper meaning of the definition of blasphemous- impiously irreverent; lacking proper respect or seriousness for God’s word- Scottie’s usage does seem to be correct. By the way, your argument that “Anyone who calls non-infant baptizers blasphemers is either confused or Catholic or on their way” is incorrect. Infant baptism is an accepted practice among many protestant denominations (including Presbyterian/Reformed, Lutheran, and Methodist), as well as Episcopalian/Anglican and Greek Orthodox.

    The big issue here is that Catholics and Fundamentalists don’t view baptism as the same thing. Fundamentalists view baptism as, “An act of obedience symbolizing the believer’s faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer’s death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus.” (SBC) or “Baptism, an act of full immersion following Christ’s example, is undertaken by those spiritually mature enough to understand its profound, symbolic significance: resurrection to new life in Christ.” (ABC) Believer’s baptism is an ordinance performed after a person professes Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and is symbolic of the cleansing or remission of their sins. In the Baptist denomination, baptism plays no role in salvation; it is rather an outward expression of the inward change that has already taken place. Baptism is seen as a public identification of the person with Christianity and that particular church and is often used as a criterion for membership in Baptist churches.

    On the other hand, Catholics believe that sacraments, one of which is baptism, convey grace by their operation (ex opere operato). They are not merely symbolic or outward signs. Baptism specifically involves the remission of sin, both original and actual in the instance of adult baptism and only original sin in the baptism of infants and young children-since they are incapable of actual sin. Jesus states very clearly in John 3:5 “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.” I repeat, “NO ONE can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.” How can that be misinterpreted? Even the great Protestant reformer Martin Luther understood the importance of baptism, “Baptism is no human plaything but is instituted by God himself. Moreover, it is solemnly and strictly commanded that we must be baptized or we shall not be saved. We are not to regard it as an indifferent matter, then, like putting on a new red coat. It is of the greatest importance that we regard baptism as excellent, glorious, and exalted” (Large Catechism 4:6). Kind of sounds like Martin Luther would view the Fundamentalist version of baptism as blasphemous too.

    For more information about the Catholic view on baptism, differences in major religious denominations and definitions for words which may be confusing please visit the following sites:

  25. Simon P. Nov 21, 2009 8:47 am


    If I read the entire passage of John 3, Jesus is talking to Nicademus… and when we get to the verse you are talking about (3:5) Nicademus has just posed the question “How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb and be born.”

    Jesus responds with verse 5. Which saying you must be born naturally and born spiritually to enter into the kingdom. He is not talking about baptism in the slightest (IMO.) Again, I respectfully disagree, as I do not believe that infant baptism is supported Biblically. The verse is taken out of context.

    However, your argument we well formed and intriguing and it definitely makes one think.

  26. Tommy F Nov 21, 2009 3:08 pm


    Nice defense (again) of Scottie. Nice, but wrong.

    First, I need to clean up your misreading of my post, because you have misunderstood what I wrote.
    You wrote: “By the way, your argument that “Anyone who calls non-infant baptizers blasphemers is either confused or Catholic or on their way” is incorrect. Infant baptism is an accepted practice among many protestant denominations (including Presbyterian/Reformed, Lutheran, and Methodist), as well as Episcopalian/Anglican and Greek Orthodox.”

    Here’s where you’ve read my post incorrectly. I didn’t say Scottie had to be Catholic (although it does appear he should be). What I did say (and I am surprised you missed this crucial part, since you quoted me) was labeling an anti-infant baptizer blasphemous = being Catholic. It was his “you’re a blasphemer if you don’t agree with me” point that made him Catholic or confused. Protestants don’t throw that word around regarding baptism. I didn’t say if you baptize infants, you’re Catholic. There’s a big difference. You changed what I said, to the point of making me incoherent. Of course (!) there are others who baptize infants. I’m not blind.

    The Catholic position (which by the way is one of the few Catholic teachings that Luther kept) on infant baptism is coherent and logical (in the context of their wider sacramental theology), if you think water can remove original sin. Coherent and logical, however, does not mean right. Luther was wrong for the same reason that Catholics are. Original sin is not removed through water. They’re wrong. But, that doesn’t mean their position is implausible.

    And by your used of stringing these definitions together I hope you don’t think Scottie’s use of blasphemous denotes wit and sarcasm. Scottie was not being funny. He was serious. Blasphemy isn’t very funny. I know funny. I know blasphemy. It’s better to keep them separate.

    My point is still the same. Scottie’s pastiche of passages does not end in the conclusion he thinks it does. And neither does yours. You are finding baptism in John 3. It’s not there. Go look somewhere else (good luck).

    It’s too bad Scottie won’t return to clean up his own mess.

  27. Scottie K Nov 21, 2009 4:07 pm

    I won’t return to clean up my mess? Good one. I was waiting until I cooled off to respond.

    First, Tommy, I can’t get anything past you. Good call, I’m a cradle-born Episcopalian, who was an agnostic for 3 years, only to return to the Anglican persuasion. I’ve attended a Methodist church off and on for the last couple years.

    Second, Simon, your argument is mutually exclusive. “..you must be born naturally and born spiritually to enter into the kingdom. He is not talking about baptism in the slightest (IMO.)” If it is true that Jesus said that you must be born spiritually, then he is, by definition, talking about baptism. There is no way around that.

    Third, Tommy, your lack of knowledge astounds me. Maybe you can take the Nicodemus story and stretch it to say it was all about physical birth. I’ll let that be, since there is no convincing a brick wall. However, to say that there is no baptism in John 3 is just appalling. Ignoring John 3:22-30? Come on, you can do better.

    I understand that there are differences in Protestant beliefs and Catholic beliefs and traditions, but somewhere in the middle is the faith that I grew up in. This argument won’t ever cease because Catholicism has 7 sacraments instituted by Jesus himself, and the Baptist tradition recognizes none of them as anything more than an excuse to get together and have a potluck dinner.

  28. Josh Nov 21, 2009 4:33 pm

    Interesting post. On first glance, your reference to the purification of priests in Numbers 8 as relating to the baptism of Jesus seems really on target. There are several problems with that theory, though. First, Jesus wasn’t a Levite. He was from the tribe of Judah. According to Heb. 5, Jesus’ priesthood is of the order of Melchizedek, a priesthood lasting forever. The levitical priesthood had a definite beginning, with Moses, and a definite ending, when believers in Jesus Christ took the place of the Jewish people as God’s chosen people. Second, the sprinkling of the water of purification was only a part of the ordination rite for the Levites. if you read rest of Numbers 8:7, it’s clear that much more was involved than just sprinkling some water. If John was ordaining Jesus as a levitical priest, why didn’t he do the rest?

    Though my opinion could be changed, I believe the baptism of Jesus was to identify himself with the coming death, burial and resurrection…the new birth. Being born again is being born of God (John 1:12), and baptism is a physical symbol of that literal new birth. Those who repented (not of sin, mind you, but of unbelief) were born again, just as every person ever who has been saved was born again by faith.

    According to 1 Peter 3:21, baptism corresponds to this:

    For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.

    Baptism is symbolic of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, without which our faith would be in vain. The comparison is made to the ark of Noah, which was surrounded on all sides, but safely made it through the water. Sprinkling, as opposed to baptism by immersion, doesn’t really show the same thing.

    Nonetheless, contrary to what some on here have contended, baptism is NOT required for salvation. The ONLY prerequisite for salvation is faith in Jesus Christ. John 3:18 says “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” There are only two types of people: those who have believed and are saved, and those who are condemned because they have not believed. If baptism is required for salvation, John 3:18 is a lie.

    In the same way, the primary concern about those who are baptized isn’t whether they have “repented of their sins” (whatever that means), but whether they have believed the gospel.

    • James Duncan Nov 22, 2009 9:26 pm


      To answer your point about why Jesus didn’t go through the other steps (shaving his body and sacrificing bulls) from Numbers 8, it’s because they were for cleansing from impurity and the remission of sins, neither of which Jesus needed.

      Shaving was commanded as a remedy to defilement. See Leviticus 14:8 for example:

      And he who is to be cleansed shall wash his clothes and shave off all his hair and bathe himself in water, and he shall be clean. And after that he may come into the camp, but live outside his tent seven days.

      Jesus, who was not defiled, didn’t need to take this step.

      The offering of the bull as a sin offering is clearly unnecessary. (Might one say it would be blasphemy to suggest that he needed to do this?) Hebrews 9:11-12 makes the point that Jesus didn’t need the blood of bulls:

      But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.

      Two more quick points. First, the sprinkling with water was the first of the three steps; once it had been accomplished, righteousness was fulfilled because the other two weren’t required. Although its function can be for cleansing, it also functions as an anointing or consecration–a sign that God has called that person to service (think about David’s consecration by Samuel, for example).

      Second, even the Pharisees didn’t question him on his lack of having been shaved or done the sacrifices. Jesus–uniquely–could fulfill the law perfectly without having to implement all of its remedies for sin. Jesus, John the Baptist and the Pharisees were all content that righteousness had been completely fulfilled.

      I probably should be, too.

  29. Tommy F Nov 21, 2009 5:36 pm

    Scottie & A,

    I owe you both an apology. Here it is: I’m sorry (that was tough). Here’s why:

    My most recent post has a typo of omission. I failed to insert a key word: infant. If you re-read my post you’ll see that it makes much better sense with the key word inserted. I meant to write: “You are finding infant baptism in John 3. It’s not there. Go look somewhere else (good luck).” Sure, there’s baptism, but not necessarily the infant variety.

    I’m still waiting for passages confirming infant baptism. I’d hate to be a blasphemer. Please, I’m open to correction. I think blasphemy should be used, but pretty clear evidence needs to be presented.

    Scottie, Does the fact that I don’t find infants in John 3 really make me a blasphemer? You’ve not clarified.

  30. Scottie K Nov 21, 2009 5:57 pm

    How about these: Acts 16:15, Acts 16:33, and 1 Corinthians 1:16. Choose your translation, except for “The Message,” because that’s just garbage. The Bible is not a novel.

    Or better yet, I’m still waiting for a passage that references an age of reason.

    Also, if John 3:18 is the answer, does that make John 3:5 a lie? If forced to choose between the words of John and the words of Jesus, I know which one I would choose every time.

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