What is Baptism?
, an ordinance or religious rite which was in use before Christ's ministry began, but which he recognized, and which was continued by his disciples as a Christian ordinance. Matt 28:19, Ruth 4:20; Mark 16:16. On the due administration of this rite, the use of water in the name of the Holy Trinity becomes the sign or emblem of inward purification from sin and uncleanness, while the subject of the rite is introduced into a peculiar relation to Christ and his Church. Baptism is in the N. T. what circumcision was in the Old--a sign and seal of the covenant of grace whereby God promises forgiveness of sin and salvation, and man vows obedience and devotion to his service. See Acts 2:41; Rom 6:3-4; Gal 3:27; 1 Pet 3:21. It was first administered on the day of Pentecost. Christ himself did not baptize, John 4:2, and the apostles received instead the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, Acts 2. In the case of Cornelius regeneration preceded water-baptism, Acts 10:44-48; while, on the other hand, in the case of Simon Magus, water-baptism was not accompanied or followed by regeneration. Acts 8:13, Acts 8:21-23. Nevertheless, God is true though men should abuse his gifts and turn his blessing into a curse. The controversy between Baptists and Paedobaptists refers to the subjects and to the mode of baptism. The former hold that adult believers only are to be baptized, and that immersion is the only valid mode of baptism; the latter maintain that children of believing parents may and ought to be baptized, and that baptism may be administered by sprinkling and pouring as well as by immersion. Baptism with the Holy Ghost and with Fire. Matt 3:11; Luke 3:16. The phrase is figurative, and refers to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon believers, as on the day of Pentecost especially, but often since in the history of the Church. Baptism of John the Baptist.--John was a preacher of righteousness; his baptism was significant of the inward cleansing which followed repentance, and was introductory to the higher baptism instituted by Christ. John said to his disciples, "I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire." Matt 3:11. He demanded faith in the Messiah, sorrow for sin, and trust in God, as prerequisites for the administration of the rite, which, however, differed from Christian baptism in that it implied no belief in the Trinity, nor was it followed by the gift of the Holy Ghost. Those who had received John's baptism were rebaptized. See Acts 19:1-6; cf. Matt 3; Acts 18:25-26. Baptism for the Dead.--There is only one allusion to this practice in the N. T., in 1 Cor 15:29: "What shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?" Paul evidently speaks of a well-known ceremony. Various interpretations have been put upon the phrase. It is simplest to say with Meyer, Paul refers to the belief that a living Christian could be baptized for a dead Christian who was unbaptized, and the latter would in consequence be accounted baptized and have part in the eternal joys. This custom, abandoned by the Church--a proof that it was condemned by the leaders--was kept up among heretics, such as the Cerinthians and Marcionites, and is practised at the present day by the Mormons in Utah. Chrysostom tells us that when an unbaptized catechumen died, a living man was put under the bed on which the dead body lay. The priest then asked the dead man if he desired baptism. The living man answered in the affirmative, and was baptized in place of the dead. The practice, of course, was superstitious, and Paul merely uses it in argument, but does not approve of it. Indeed, his use of the third person shows that the notion of the paramount importance of baptism which led to the custom was condemned by him. Other interpretations of the phrase have been given. Thus, "If the dead rise not, then baptism could have no authority and no use, because then Christ did not rise." Again, "Baptized when death is close at hand." "Over the graves of the martyrs." "If there be no resurrection, why art thou then baptized for the dead-- i. e. for the dead bodies? For in this faith thou art baptized, believing in the resurrection of the dead."