Acts 2: Were the Apostles Baptized in Water? Part 1

Jerry asked,

What I was taught growing up in the Churches of Christ (1940′s & 50′s) was that the apostles were baptized by John, who taught men to believe on the one who was to come. There is presumptive evidence of this in two things: (1) Peter and Andrew met Jesus at John’s revival and (2) Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John, his chosen 12 doing the actual baptizing.

As always, I’m glad to offer an opinion or two.
Were the apostles water baptized? There are four theories of which I’m aware –

* Many argue that the 120 were baptized at Pentecost, the argument being that because water baptism is essential to salvation, and because the apostles are obviously saved, they must have been water baptized.

The argument is, of course, entirely circular — it assumes the necessity of water baptism in all cases, and then “proves” the apostles were water baptism based on its assumption.

Moreover, the text plainly indicates the apostles — and the rest of the 120 — were not water baptized, at least, not at Pentecost.

(Act 2:41 NIV)  Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

Those who were baptized were added to the 120. If they were all baptized at once, there’d have been no one to be added to.

There’s no place in Acts 1 for a baptism to occur. The disciples were to told to wait, not to go be water baptized. And it’s hard to imagine that Jesus told them to all be baptized and yet Luke found that event too trivial to record.

* Some argue the 120 were baptized by Jesus. Maybe, but there’s no record of such a thing. Indeed, we’re told the disciples baptized others

(John 4:1-3 ESV) Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John  2 (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples),  3 he left Judea and departed again for Galilee.

Again, how could it be important enough to mention that Jesus’ disciples baptized others but not that they were themselves baptized? It just defies all reason to imagine that the apostles would be damned unless water baptized and yet the Gospel writers never bothered to mention the fact when they discussed so many other baptisms.

And even if it’s so, should we imagine that pre-Pentecost baptisms by Jesus or John somehow became effective post-Pentecost? If so, why weren’t there some people at Pentecost who didn’t need to be rebaptized? Surely there were some disciples of Jesus or John present in Jerusalem (commentators say there may have been around 200,000 present for Pentecost) who’d been baptized by Jesus or John but who weren’t part of the 120 there. But it was only those baptized who were added to the 120.

* Many hold that the 120 were baptized by John. And, of course, nothing says they weren’t baptized by John. But neither is there any evidence that all were baptized by John. As Jerry points out, we know that two of the 120 had been to visit John, and likely had been baptized by him, but we don’t really even know that they were immersed by John. And so it’s an unsustainable stretch of the evidence to presume that all had been baptized by John.

But even if it could be proved, Acts 19 plainly teaches that John’s baptism was inadequate to provide the Spirit and so salvation –

(Act 19:1 ESV) 2 And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 3 And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” 4 And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying.

Now, in Church of Christ argumentation, it’s often assumed that John’s baptism wasn’t for remission of sins, but it was.

(Mar 1:4 ESV) John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

(Luk 3:3 ESV) And [John] went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

The phrase in both verses is grammatically identical to Acts 2:38! What John’s baptism didn’t provide is the Spirit, as John himself said,

(Mar 1:8 ESV) “I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

(John 1:33 ESV) “I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’”

We are all baptized with the Spirit

Now, again in Church of Christ argumentation, we get off track by insisting that baptism with the Spirit is an event reserved solely for the 120 and Cornelius and his household — which would mean that John’s audience would have had no idea what he was talking about because “you” in Mark 1:9 would mean “120 Jews and a Gentile centurion” as opposed to “those who repent.” (Remembering that “repent” includes turning to God by believing in the Messiah whom John would soon point out!)

Moreover, John’s audience would have heard in “immerses with the Spirit” a reference to the prophecies of the outpouring of the Spirit that would water the land (Isa 32:15; Isa 44:3). You can’t  hear “immerse” and not think of water, and you can’t hear “Spirit” and “water” together and not think of the Prophets — if you’ve read Isaiah.

And “baptizes” in John 1:33 is in the present tense, indicating a continuous or repeating pattern of baptizing n the Spirit, not a once or twice giving.

And so, if John meant to be understood, baptism with the Spirit refers to the outpouring of the Spirit that was for “all flesh” (Joel 2:28, quoted by Peter at Acts 2:17).

Now, other than on the lips of John, the receipt of the Spirit is referred to as “baptism with the Spirit” only in Acts 2 and Acts 10, referencing Pentecost and Cornelius, but the same is also true of the phrase “outpouring” of the Spirit. But Paul claims the prophesied outpouring is for all Christians –

(Tit 3:5-6 ESV)  5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,  6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,

And don’t imagine that Paul wasn’t referencing Joel and the other prophets when he used their own language about the Spirit. And so we all receive the prophesied outpouring of the Spirit.

And Peter declares that the baptism of the Spirit witnessed on Pentecost was in fact the outpouring –

(Act 2:16-17 ESV) 16 But this [baptism of the Spirit you see] is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:  17 “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams …”

And, finally, Peter is plain that the outpoured Spirit is not a one-generation event –

(Act 2:38-39 ESV) 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”

“Promise” is a reference back to “promise of the Spirit” in Acts 2:33 –

(Act 2:33 ESV)  33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.

Peter says that the “promise” of the Spirit is the outpoured Spirit, which is the baptism of the Spirit. These are different word pictures but the same thing.

The inadequacy of John’s baptism

Therefore, at its core, John’s baptism could only grant a one-time forgiveness because it did not provide the indwelling Spirit. It’s by the Spirit that we receive ongoing forgiveness.

(Tit 3:5 ESV) 5 he saved us … by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit

I covered the grammar in great detail before. I take “regeneration and renewal” to be a phrase –both are “of the Holy Spirit” and both are part of the washing process. After all, washing and the Spirit go together; they aren’t two entirely different things.

(1Co 6:11 ESV)  11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

(2Th 2:13 ESV) 13 But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.

Now, that being the case, Acts 19 makes perfect sense. Although the Ephesians had been baptized in John’s baptism, they’d not yet received the Spirit and so had to be rebaptized in the name of Jesus — to receive the Spirit and so be saved!

That being the case, how on earth could we argue that the 120 had received Christian baptism because they were baptized by John?

Jesus’ baptism

This also means that Jesus baptisms pre-Pentecost weren’t effective to save because the Spirit had not yet been outpoured or given (John 7:39). Sins could be forgiven by baptism, because of repentance, just as in John’s case, but without the Spirit, forgiveness was a one-time event, not a lifetime indwelling and relationship, welling up to continuous forgiveness.

* Some argue that Pentecost made pre-Pentecost baptisms by John (or Jesus) effective but not post-Pentecost baptisms.

To reconcile Acts 19 with the theory that John’s baptisms became effective at Pentecost, the point is made that John pointed to the Messiah who was to come. Once he arrived, an effective baptism must be in the name of Jesus.

But, of course, Jesus was the Messiah long before Pentecost. Why make Pentecost the moment when John’s baptism becomes effective – other than to justify a dispensational theory or defend the absolute necessity of water baptism? No, once John announced that Jesus is the Messiah (John 1:29) – once Jesus was baptized by John – it’s hard to argue that John’s baptism was ineffective because the Messiah had not yet come and so couldn’t yet be believed in.

No, John’s baptism was incomplete because it didn’t bring the outpoured Spirit, as John himself said. And so to imagine that those baptized by John became saved at Pentecost is to imagine that they received the Spirit, wherever they were, at Pentecost — that is, that the Spirit was outpoured on John’s disciples all over the Mediterranean concurrently with Peter’s sermon — a very odd theory that has no support in scripture or history.

There’s no record of Mary being baptized by John, no record of disciples of John suddenly receiving the Spirit across the Judean countryside at 33 AD, no record of the apostles being immersed, no record of any of this. It’s a theory built on wishful thinking and therefore not serious theology — unless we surmise that God didn’t give us enough in the scriptures and we should fill in the silences with speculation.

But it’s not our place to build doctrine on silences. Rather, we should build our teachings on God’s word itself.

Tomorrow, a better theory.

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8 Responses to Acts 2: Were the Apostles Baptized in Water? Part 1

  1. Jerry says:

    While these are good comments, they do not really address my basic question about assertions that the apostles (and the rest of the 120) were not baptized in water prior to Pentecost. While we do not have specific accounts of such baptisms, in view of their involvement with John and with Jesus in their activity in baptizing multitudes, I believe there is reason to believe that they were themselves baptized – if it even makes any difference. Certainly whether they were or were not baptized in water does not affect any command for us to be baptized today, so in one way the question is moot.

  2. I think it a shame that Jay insists on claiming falsely that more than the 12 were baptized in the Spirit. There’s absolutely no textual reason to think so. Nor to imagine as Jay does that God’s pouring out His Spirit is fulfilling the promise made by John the Baptist that Jesus would baptize in the Spirit. How foolish it is indeed to try to make the baptism in the Spirit, which definitely did include SIGNS of something unusual happening be equal to receiving the gift of the Spirit which is promised to all who repent and are baptized in water. At the time of baptism in water, we all receive a gift of the Spirit. There’s nothing to see to prove the gift was given. But God keeps His promises. So we know that the gift IS given.

    The only two times in recorded history when anyone received baptism in the Spirit, it was accompanied by signs to prove the event had happened. Both times were not in any way associated with water baptism. BUT THE GIFT which is given AT baptism is clearly promised to follow repenting based on faith in Jesus, and baptism INTO His body which is the church.

    Jerry asked a good question. Jay’s answer is not helpful in answering the question.

  3. Norton says:

    The thing that happened to the household of Cornelius is described as having the gift of the Holy Spirit poured out on them in Acts 10:45, And Peter said they had received the Holy Spirit in Acts 10:47. I would not know how to distinguish that from Peter’s promise, “and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” of Acts 2:38. Peter probably was not promising, in Acts 2:38, that everyone who repented and was baptized would receive the signs that sometimes accompanied receiving the Spirit, but I think it clear that he was promising that they would be baptized with the Spirit as were those on Pentecost and at Cornelius’ house. “Baptized with/in the Spirit seems to be one of several metaphors in the Bible that mean the same thing as “receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”.

  4. Jerry says:

    Ray wrote,

    How foolish it is indeed to try to make the baptism in the Spirit, which definitely did include SIGNS of something unusual happening be equal to receiving the gift of the Spirit which is promised to all who repent and are baptized in water….

    The only two times in recorded history when anyone received baptism in the Spirit, it was accompanied by signs to prove the event had happened.

    He continues to ignore 1 Corinthians 12:13, which states “…in one Spirit we are all baptized into one body” (ASV). This is in a context where Paul clearly says there is one Spirit who gives different gifts “according to His will.” The chapter goes on to indicate that not all who receive the Spirit receive the visible signs, though all receive the Spirit.

    Ray and I have had quite an email discussion about this text and my conviction that “one Spirit” in 1 Corinthians 12 means the Holy Spirit throughout while he wants it to be a spirit of humility and submission in v. 13. While there certainly is humility and submission in those who have the Holy Spirit, there is no reason to believe that “Spirit” in v. 13 is different from “Spirit” in the rest of the chapter.

    The problem is two-fold: (1) He allows Pentecostals to define what it means to be baptized in the Holy Spirit. In this, he is like most in the Stone-Campbell tradition. (2) He refuses to admit the possibility that the “one baptism” of Ephesians 4 is in two elements – water and Spirit (cf. Jesus on the new birth in John 3:3, 5). In order to reconcile 1 Cor 12:13 with Eph 4:4-6, he – again in keeping with the majority of those in the Stone-Campbell tradition – denies that the one Spirit in which we are baptized into one body is the Holy Spirit.

    The “gift of the Holy Spirit” in Acts 2 is the Holy Spirit Himself. The Holy Spirit also gives visible gifts to some, not all to whom He is given. In the Old Testament, the Spirit gave such gifts – though the Spirit Himself was not generally given until Pentecost. Indeed, the twelve and the seventy had gifts from the Spirit while on the limited commission. What happened at Pentecost (and what happens when penitent believers are baptized today) is something different; the Spirit Himself is given. Jesus spoke of this difference, I believe, in John 14:17.

    The Spirit had been “with them” in the person of Jesus; after Pentecost, He was “in them” and in all believers.

    Respectfully,
    Jerry

  5. Avatar of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Ray wrote,

    I think it a shame that Jay insists on claiming falsely that more than the 12 were baptized in the Spirit. There’s absolutely no textual reason to think so. Nor to imagine as Jay does that God’s pouring out His Spirit is fulfilling the promise made by John the Baptist that Jesus would baptize in the Spirit. How foolish it is indeed to try to make the baptism in the Spirit, which definitely did include SIGNS of something unusual happening be equal to receiving the gift of the Spirit which is promised to all who repent and are baptized in water.

    I remind you of blog policy –

    (2Ti 2:24-25 ESV) 24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth,

    I don’t mind being disagreed with. I don’t mind being disagreed with strongly. But let’s try to keep our words less strident. It’s not that it bothers me personally, so much, as things get out of hand if I don’t throw a penalty flag when language becomes unbecoming.

  6. laymond says:

    Ray, you don’t know what you are up against, good luck and may God help you.
    As far as I can discern people as old as 45 years, were not brought up in a church of Christ that taught , God is constructed of “three persons” nor that Christians became indwelled by the “holy Ghost” at baptism. as far as I can tell this “New Church” came into existence around 1980 and has struggled to become the prevailing branch and are still struggling to do so, but they are persistent. And don’t expect them to give up soon.

    The Gift
    Act 2:38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
    Act 2:39 For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, [even] as many as the Lord our God shall call.

    Rom 6:23 For the wages of sin [is] death; but the gift of God [is] eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

    5:15 But not as the offence, so also [is] the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, [which is] by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many.
    NIV
    But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!

    The Promise
    Act 2:17 And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams:
    Act 2:18 And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy:
    Act 2:19 And I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke:
    Act 2:20 The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come:

    Does this really sound like what happened on the day of Pentecost ?

  7. Charles McLean says:

    Ray, there is an important difference between saying, “It ain’t so!” and saying, “Ain’t nobody proved it to MY satisfaction!” The latter is a personal statement which you are welcome to make without qualification. The former is a statement of fact which requires proofs.

    I am willing to acknowledge that you do not agree with Jay (et al) about who received the baptism of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. You both read the same text and come to different conclusions. It seems to me that you might well state it this way, instead of accusing others of “false claims”. After all, I cannot find scriptural basis for limiting the baptism of the Holy Spirit to the Twelve and have given clear prophetic evidence to the contrary from John, which you have yet to rebut.

    Perhaps, since you are not convinced, you might explain why I should not believe John’s prophesy about our being baptized with the Holy Spirit by Jesus, a prophetic promise made clearly and repeatedly to many, many people besides the Twelve. If you continue to ignore this bit of textual evidence, your insistence that you have not SEEN any textual evidence will continue to smack more of willful blindness than of substantive interpretive disagreement.

  8. Charles McLean says:

    Jerry notes about another poster’s position: “He allows Pentecostals to define what it means to be baptized in the Holy Spirit. In this, he is like most in the Stone-Campbell tradition.”
    >>>
    This is an important and unfortunate problem. We as believers often tend to look at people instead of scripture, or at least to look at certain scriptures through the filter of people. We may hold to an untenable doctrine because people we loved and respected held to this doctrine. Conversely, we might see another person whose practices do not precisely track with scripture and feel free to throw out those scriptures entirely. Thus we find ourselves arguing with one another’s positions, both sides flailing away with their pet passages and no real interest in finding out where the reality lies. It is proof enough for us to reject a doctrine that the fellow who holds it is behaving incorrectly. No, this is not rational, but it is traditional, and not limited any one Christian sect.

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