The Meaning of Baptism Today
WE HAVE noted that John’s baptism was only for Jews. We have also seen that it was part of his preparatory work to make ready the Jews for their Messiah. Further we have seen that it was a picture, not of what God did in forgiving their sins, but of what they themselves did in that they repented, and that it was separate and distinct from the baptism performed in the name of Christ Jesus.
What is the meaning of baptism today? Since it is performed in obedience to Jesus’ command, it is reasonable to conclude that it would also be in imitation of the example he set. That being so, the meaning of his baptism would also be the meaning of baptism for his followers today. And what was that meaning? It was a symbol or picture, performed publicly, showing that he had dedicated himself to the doing of his Father’s will as that will was revealed to him in his Father’s Word.
This is apparent from Psalm 40:7, 8, which Paul at Hebrews 10:5, 7 applies to Jesus Christ: “Hence when he comes into the world he says: ‘“You did not desire sacrifice and offering, but you prepared a body for me.” Then I said, “Look! I am come (in the roll of the book it is written about me) to do your will, O God.”’”
Paul applies this prophecy to the time when Jesus came into the world. When was that? At the time of his birth in a manger in Bethlehem? Hardly, for as an infant he could not express any determination to do Jehovah’s will. Then was it at the age of twelve? Well, all we know about Jesus’ activities from the time he was twelve years old until he became thirty is that he learned the carpenter trade. Clearly, doing God’s will involved more than merely being a carpenter. Jesus came to earth to bear witness to the truth, to maintain integrity under pressure and so vindicate his Father’s name, and to give his life a ransom for many. (John 18:37; Heb. 5:8; Matt. 20:28) That being so, would Jesus say, ‘Look! I am come to do your will,’ and then wait eighteen years before commencing to do that will?
In keeping with God’s law for the Levitical temple service, Jesus, at the age of thirty, shortly after he had been baptized, commenced to preach. (Num. 4:2, 3; Luke 3:23) So we cannot conclude other than that he came into the world to do God’s will at the time of his baptism and therefore it was a symbol or picture of his dedication. At the same time it was a public confession of that fact. The baptism he commanded as part of the work of making disciples of all nations would therefore likewise picture dedication to do God’s will.—Matt. 28:19, 20.
THE PROPER SYMBOL
How should baptism be performed? By aspersion (sprinkling) or effusion (pouring) or by immersion? The form most frequently used throughout Christendom is that of sprinkling. Those using this form generally agree that immersion was used in apostolic times but defend sprinkling on the grounds of convenience.
To refer to sprinkling as a baptism is to use a misnomer, for the original Greek word báptisma means a dipping under water, an immersion. Thus we read in Greek literature that the cork, floating on the top of the water, was not baptized, but the net, being submerged, was; also that the bulrushes by the sea were baptized only when the high tide covered them.
It is not surprising, therefore, to note that extremely literal translations of the Bible, such as those by Rotherham and Wilson, use the various inflections of “to dip” or “to immerse.” Because baptism means an immersion, Paul likens the passing of the nation of Israel through the Red Sea, with water on each side of them and with the cloud above them, to a baptism. And so Peter speaks of following Noah into the ark before the flood came as a baptism. Incidentally, on each of these occasions two baptisms took place: a baptism to salvation for Jehovah’s servants, and a baptism to destruction for Jehovah’s enemies, namely, Pharaoh and his hosts by the Red Sea, and the wicked world of Noah’s day by the Deluge.—1 Cor. 10:1-3; 1 Pet. 3:20, NW.
A further Scriptural illustration showing the correct meaning of baptism relates to the Syrian general Naaman, who was a leper. Concerning his baptism we read, according to the Septuagint version: “So Naaman went down and dipped himself seven times in Jordan, according to the word of Elisaie, and his flesh returned to him as the flesh of a little child and he was cleansed” of his leprosy. (2 Ki. 5:14) The Greek word here rendered “dipped himself” is the past tense of baptízein, and means “baptized himself.” The only other reference to baptízein in the Septuagint, as far as the canonical books are concerned, is at Isaiah 21:4, where we read that “transgression overwhelms me” (where a footnote indicates that a literal rendering would be “transgression baptizes me”), although the root word báptein occurs many times.
The argument is advanced that sprinkling is merely a matter of convenience. But would it not also have been convenient for John and Jesus to resort to sprinkling? Certainly; but they did not let that enter into their consideration. Rather, they went out of their way, and caused the multitudes that wanted to hear them to go out of their way, so that they would be where there was sufficient water, even as we read at John 3:23 (NW) that they were “baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was a great quantity of water there.”
The case for immersion is made conclusive when we recollect that baptism is not a symbol of the washing away of sins but of the dedication of oneself to do God’s will. Fittingly immersion pictures what has taken place, the being dipped under the water illustrating one’s burial or death to one’s own will, and the being raised up again illustrating one’s being made alive to do the will of Jehovah God. Yes, the example of the apostolic Christian congregation, the meaning of the words themselves, the manner in which these words are used by Scripture writers and the fitness of the symbol all combine to prove immersion to be the proper form of baptism.
What about infant baptism or pedo-baptism? In view of the foregoing it should not surprise us that not once do we read of any infants’ being baptized, much less a command to that effect. What negligence on the part of Jesus and his apostles not to warn parents of the eternal misery that would await their children if they died before being baptized, as some teach, if such were actually the case! The very silence of the Scriptures in this respect is strong circumstantial evidence that infants were neither baptized nor considered as fit subjects for baptism. Baptism was for those who repented and accepted the truth heartily. Infants can do neither.—Acts 2:41, NW.
Repeatedly the Scriptures speak of those who were baptized in apostolic times as receiving the holy spirit; Cornelius and his household received the holy spirit even before baptism. (Acts 2:38; 19:5, 6; 10:44-48) God’s will for those who then dedicated themselves to him was that they should become spiritual sons, and these were said to be “baptized into Christ’s body.”—Gal. 3:27; 1 John 3:2, NW.
However, this baptism was limited to comparatively few, only a “little flock” of 144,000. These have the hope of sharing heavenly glory with Christ as his bride or body and reigning with him a thousand years. (Luke 12:32; Rev. 7:2-4; 14:1, 3; 20:5, 6; 21:2, NW) For all such baptism is also a picture of being immersed into Christ’s spiritual body, and that they are to be buried with him in the likeness of his death. (Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:12; 2 Tim. 2:11, NW) Bible prophecy and its fulfillment indicate that this number has been about completed and that only a “remnant” of these yet remain on the earth. This remnant have for some time been faithfully fulfilling their commission to bear witness to Jehovah’s name and to comfort those that mourn with the good news of the Kingdom.—Isa. 43:10-12; 61:1-3; Matt. 24:14.
As a result of this preaching work a class of Christians has manifested itself whom Jesus termed “other sheep” and whom the apostle John described as a “great crowd, which no man was able to number, out of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues.” These John saw “standing before the throne and before the Lamb,” as distinguished from the “little flock” who will share the throne with Christ Jesus.—John 10:16; Rev. 7:9; 3:21, NW.
Manifesting faith in Jehovah God and recognizing Christ Jesus as their Savior and Ransomer, these also dedicate themselves to the doing of God’s will so that they also may gain his approval and everlasting life, not in the heavens, but right here on earth; for the Bible shows that this earth will abide forever and that one day it will become a glorious place with God’s will being done on it even as it is in heaven.—Eccl. 1:4; Isa. 60:13; Matt. 6:9, 10.
In accordance with Jesus’ instructions recorded at Matthew 28:19, 20 (NW) these are baptized in the name of the Father, meaning that they recognize the office and authority of Jehovah God as their Father and appreciate their relationship to him. They are also baptized in the name of the Son in that they recognize the office and authority of Christ Jesus as God’s Son, what he did for them, and their obligation to obey him and follow his example. And they are baptized in the name of the holy spirit in that they are cognizant of the function and purpose of God’s holy spirit or active force, without which they could not fulfill their dedication vows.
AN ORDINATION CEREMONY?
The Associated Press dispatches reporting on the 1953 mass baptism of Jehovah’s witnesses in connection with their international assembly stated that Jehovah’s witnesses considered their baptism as an ordination ceremony and that each baptized witness was an ordained minister. Upon what grounds do they base their position?
In the first place, it, the baptism, being performed at God’s command, is recognized by him as authoritative. It represents their agreement to follow in the footsteps of Christ Jesus, who certainly was the minister of Jehovah God. This ordination is further recognized as authoritative by the instrument God is using at the present time to give an effective and harmonious witness to his name and kingdom, namely, the Watch Tower Society. And on November 30, 1953, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that this baptism of immersion by Jehovah’s witnesses is a valid ceremony of ordination within the meaning of the law for Jehovah’s witnesses. Incidentally, the 1954 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses shows that 50,665 ministers were thus ordained during 1953.
But is it not necessary to go to a theological seminary to be qualified as a minister? If it were, then neither Jesus nor his apostles, with the exception of Paul, could have been recognized as ministers. In fact, some asked regarding Jesus: “How does this man have a knowledge of letters, when he has not studied at the schools?” And the educated class at the time wondered at the boldness of Peter and John, for they noticed that Peter and John were unlettered and ordinary men. But that did not keep them from preaching the good news. And not only they, but all the early Christians preached. (John 7:15; Acts 4:13; 8:4, NW) One can become adequately equipped to preach by studying at home evenings and week ends, and by attending the various Bible classes arranged for under the direction of the Watch Tower Society.
It follows, then, that a diploma from a theological seminary is likewise not a ministerial prerequisite. The very best proof that one could have that he is a minister is the same to which Paul pointed as his letters of recommendation, namely, individuals who, due to one’s efforts, have dedicated themselves to Jehovah God.—2 Cor. 3:1-3, NW.
Once having dedicated ourselves to God and symbolized it by water baptism, we may never let that fact slip out of our consciousness, for it is better not to have vowed than to vow and then not to pay our vows. (Eccl. 5:5) Jesus was ever conscious of having agreed to do God’s will and he spoke of God’s will as a cup he was drinking and a baptism with which he was being baptized and had yet to be baptized with. (Matt. 20:22, 23; Luke 12:50, NW) Only by keeping integrity to God and by associating with God’s people, the New World society, may we hope to survive the destruction of this wicked world in the coming battle of Armageddon and enter into the new world of righteousness even as Noah and his family entered a new world after the flood.—Matt. 24:37-39; 2 Pet. 3:7, 13; Rev. 16:14, 16.
To sum up: we have seen that John’s baptism was a picture of repentance; that Christian baptism in water is a picture of dedication to do God’s will; that only complete immersion is water baptism, that only it fittingly pictures dedication and that it serves both as a public confession of one’s dedication and as an ordination ceremony; that neither a theological seminary training nor a diploma is a prerequisite to being a minister of Jehovah God, and that by keeping integrity we can hope to survive the destruction of this wicked system of things to enter into the new world of righteousness as members of the New World society.