A Classic Theological Quandary: Baptism

Question: what theological issue has been debated amongst Christians for millennia without a clear winner? Of course, there are many. But one in particular has caused such heated disagreement throughout Church history that people have died for their convictions (and not always due to drowning): baptism.

Plenty has been written on both sides of the debate. If you want to dive deep into the rich theological dialogue of the past century, you should to consider investing in the 42-volume Classic Studies in Baptism collection. This immense array of resources dates from an earlier period of theological debate, but is no less useful for that, especially considering your ability to mine these treasures using the powerful tools within Logos 8.

In fact, some of the most important works on baptism were written in the latter half of the 19th century, discussing all the topics we still argue over today. Should we use immersion, sprinkling, pouring, or dipping? Who qualifies? Babies, children, adults only, church members only, deathbed ceremonies? What is the significance, the symbolism, the function, the precedence, the history of interpretation? Find it all here in this collection, fully tagged and searchable through the powerful tools in Logos Bible Software.

Bidding is currently open on the Baptism collection, which means you propose the price you are willing to pay. But you have to do it soon before the price is set during pre-pub.

(And really, if for no other reason, you should get these resources to discuss the header picture; you can’t dismiss sprinkling just because of men riding fish.)

Click on the image below to see the full list of resources:

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Written by
Tavis Bohlinger

Dr. Tavis Bohlinger is Editor-in-Chief of the Logos Academic Blog and Creative Director at Reformation Heritage Books. He holds a PhD from Durham University and writes across multiple genres, including academia, poetry, and screenwriting. He lives in Grand Rapids with his wife and three children.

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  • This has long been an important issue for me. My biggest concern for this is that in the Bible baptism was always done at conversion, whether in a jail at midnight or on a desert road. My next biggest concern is that how could they always have enough water to immerse somebody. So I would say immersion is preferable to more accurately picture one’s death and burial with Christ, but not essential. But baptism at the point of conversion. We say: accept Jesus into your heart. They would say: be baptized. What was Peter’s response at Pentecost? Very different from ours.

    • I agree. If we just follow what we read in Scripture, baptism is immersion in water immediately after someone confesses their belief and repentance. Baptism actually means immersion. Instead of reading 42 volumes, just read the examples of conversion in the book of Acts and you’ll see that immersion (or baptism) was involved.

      For example, after Paul saw the risen Lord he still had to be baptized to have his sins washed away:
      “get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.” – Acts 9:6

      He later recounts that Ananias told him:
      “‘Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.” – Acts 22:16

      Here we see something interesting:
      baptism = washing away sins = calling on the name of the Lord

      • While its true that whole households were baptized, we can’t know for sure from new testament Scriptures alone that they were baptizing infants. For example, in the case of the Philippian jailer, the text says that both he and his family believed. Acts 16:34 says “And he brought them into his house and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, having believed in God with his whole household.” This seems to indicate that everyone in his household was at least old enough to believe.

        • That is not clear enough to hang a doctrine on IMO. I see more in line with it being a sign of the covenant, like circumcision. A sign/symbol of the promise, but no sure thing.

          • I suppose the question is how is baptism different than circumcision. From my understanding, the new covenant is not past down by physical birth like the old covenant. Thanks for the good discussion.

          • Not passed down, an identifying “mark” as to being in line(like royalty a bit), with public profession when of age. They get more grace than an ordinary unelect/pagan, but not the full measure til the profession.

            Yes, it is nice to discuss, and not wrangle, argue, fight, etc.

          • From my understanding of the new covenant, the only advantage that children of believers have is being taught the Gospel from their parents. Blessings passed down through physical inheritance is an old covenant concept that the new testament argues against. The mark or seal mentioned for the new covenant is that of the Holy Spirit which marks a Christian as God’s child. I understand that this takes place at baptism (Eph 1:13; Acts 2:38). According to Scripture, this royal seal was applied as people believed the Gospel, repented of their sins, and were baptized into the Kingdom of Christ. All those who were baptized were considered Christians and participated in the Lord’s Supper. However, many baptized infants are not allowed to do this. It seems that a lot of non-biblical explanations have developed over time to explain man-made traditions. I certainly appreciate the reformers, but I think its wrong to assume that they got everything right. There is still more reformation to be done. Back to the sources!

    • One Lord, One faith, One Baptism. Eph 4:5
      Eph 1:13  In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, 
      Eph 1:14  Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory. 
      I have been studying baptism for a long time, and finally realized through reading the gospels of Paul that once we believe we are baptized and sealed with holy spirit.
      The Jewish people have been baptizing by water for purification since the old testament. So the act is just an act, and Jesus was baptized by John the baptist because he was also Jewish and he was showing them because they only believe by seeing. We however the gentiles believe by faith not sight.
      But those who believe are saved by grace through faith immediately. Baptized by the Spirit. That is the baptism.

      • Have you noticed that there is a connection between water baptism and the Holy Spirit? Even when Jesus was baptized, John saw the Holy Spirit descending upon him like a dove. In Acts 2:38, the jews are told that they should repent, be baptized, and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

  • No where in the New Testament do any of the Apostles ever say: accept Jesus into your heart. Instead, the Apostolic message is that of Peter on the day of Pentecost, “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. Because the promise is for you and for your children…” (Acts 2:38–39). Peter did not exclude children, teens, toddlers, or infants. Peter did not ask if each individual family member was first converted before each one was baptized. Instead, when the head of the house was converted, then his whole house was baptized. We see the same thing with Abraham and circumcision. In Genesis 17, God instituted circumcision as a sign of the covenant after Abraham believed. Abraham was converted and all males in his household were circumcised. God did not exclude male children, teens, toddlers, or infants. Abraham did not ask if each male member was first converted before circumcision. The only requirement was that they had to wait until they were at least 8 days old. In the covenant of circumcision, the sign on their bodies was connected to the promise of the Seed who would crush the serpent’s head. Now that Christ has come, we no longer need the promise connected to circumcision. Instead, we have something greater, namely, baptism. In Christ we are circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by removing the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, we have been buried with Him in baptism, in which we are also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead (See Colossians 2:11–12). In baptism, we have the promise of the death and resurrection of Christ for us in our bodies. As the Apostles were sent out to all nations to baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, all nations include men and women, boys and girls, teens, toddlers, and infants. There are no exclusions. Thus, in Acts 16, when the Philippian jailer was converted, his whole household was saved, that is, baptized. The Apostles never talk about making sure that each individual member is first converted before baptism. It is an assumption that “in the Bible baptism was always done at conversion.”

    • I absolutely agree. I’ve always wondered why modern theologians don’t see how obviously essential baptism is to salvation. Why baptism became unessential when the NT says that it is done “for the remission of sins” is confounding.

  • So, is baptism a requirement for salvation or is it a public profession of a personal transformation? If a requirement, does that imply that sprinkling or pouring are an insufficient substitute to immersion? What if you confess with your mouth but cannot reach water, did salvation occur (thief on the cross with Jesus)?
    I see baptism, a wedding ring, and ordination as outward signs of inward commitments. There is nothing magical about these, but each represents a personal covenant in your various journeys in life.

  • As already observed in these few posts, there are differences of opinion as to what baptism means and how it is performed, and yet, scripture is quoted to support the various positions.

    The Salvation Army takes the view that baptism is not essential to Salvation and, therefore, is not practiced. Is that too simple a position to take?

    I don’t have the answers to this theological quandary, just the evidence of my own faith and experience of a baptism in the Holy Spirit.

  • That is such an uncaring and insensitive way to say (not always by drowning) in regards to someone giving their all for what they believe in but that’s people for the most part today, desensitized by the world around us. Most Americans don’t have a clue what its like to truly stand for what they believe in and there in lyes the problem we can’t relate so its easier to make fun of others that paid the ultimate price. Very distasteful article enough said…

    • Hi Jeff, I think you’ve misread my comment. The reference to drowning was intentional as a means to recall the quite brutal history of disagreement over baptism. During the Reformation, people were not only burned at the stake but, oftentimes, drowned in a body of water with a stone around their neck (or something similar). This was the case with, for example, Balthasar Hubmaier’s wife, and many others. In a morbid twist, this form of execution was called a “third baptism,” typically directed against Anabaptists who were upsetting the moral, political, and religious order of contemporary Europe by practicing “believers’ baptism”, usually their second baptism after being baptized as infants according to law.

      The reference to baptism has nothing to do with American, I’m not sure why you mentioned that. Please take my comment as intended to recall in a word (drowning) the significance of baptism. People died for a conviction concerning something seemingly as simple as when, how, and where water was applied to their bodies.

      Thanks again for taking the time to comment.

      • As I understand it, this was equally about when and how salvation was applied, which makes the debate more significant than just water.

        • I absolutely agree, Joe. From an outsider’s perspective, the debate appears to be about the external issue of water application. We know, however, that it is about much more than that.

    • Hi Jeff, my apologies for not approving your first comment immediately. As mentioned in the “About” page of this blog, all comments are moderated. As I am located in the UK, the time difference often means that I don’t get to the comments until the next day (when you posted this comment, it was 3am and I was sleeping). Thanks for your patience in this instance.

      • Oh, how interesting this issue has become. We must remember that He is consistent in His requirements of us. The thief on the cross repented and confessed Jesus. Jesus then told him he was saved. That was all that was necessary. There was no baptism; no immersion, no sprinkling, no pouring, no anything.

        Baptism is to the new covenant what circumcision was to the old; an outward sign of an inner commitment, so that the world could see what has taken place in a person’s heart.

        Everyone please remember, only God knows what has taken place in your heart, and what your relationship with Him truly is.

        • Women were not circumcised under the old covenant.
          But to the fact of the thief on the cross, God will and can make exceptions but the point is He (GOD) has commanded all to repent and turn from their wicked ways.

  • Thanks for posting my comments.
    I come from a background of persecution of my beliefs on baptism and am very aware of the fact that any belief other then the accepted so called (Orthodox) view is shunned or worse.
    I find it ironic the fact that no one was baptized in the formula found in Matt 28:19 in the new testament calling into question its authenticity.

  • This set of classic works on baptism needs to be promoted. It looks like just a few more bids will reach the goal.

    A careful reading of these volumes will answer all the questions raised above. How do I know this? I own and have carefully and repeatedly studied the many volumes in this set which I already own in printed form.

    It will be a delight to have these volumes tagged and searchable in the Logos format!

  • All of the above posts demonstrate there are various opinions which were arrived at after, for a number of people who posted, considerable thought. This seems to me to demonstrate the necessity of studying the history of this argument to understand why people can have such strong and yet diverse opinions about the subject. This argument (the word argument being used here in the classical sense) has a number of levels or approaches which must be considered and understood to be able to engage in an argument in a constructive manner. The opinion of a person who proclaims his or her’s to be valid without understanding the validity or veracity of those whom disagree must by its nature be suspect. The value of the resources being offered is rooted in this understanding.

  • I can only laugh at those who question the need for 42 volumes. Just read the responses. Obviously, these volumes include arguments for why one form of baptism is preferable over another, if at all. I’m very interested in the set and will be bidding just to have them as part of my library for reference. Logos has does a solid job on bringing these types of volumes to those who need and want them. Thanks, Logos, just this thread alone is enough to convince me that I need this tome.

  • Is Jesus relevant to theology? (I hope so).

    John 3:5. What could have Jesus meant?

    Is entering the Kingdom of God something different from being saved?

    Sometimes I have seen traditions focusing too much in man made theological constructs, and too little on what Jesus actually said (or Paul, John the loved Apostle, etc.).

    Just for further research, reflection and comment.

  • Back to the original question, if legions of theologians over the past 20 centuries haven’t been able to reach agreement on this one, I seriously doubt reading these 42 volumes will yield any more success in resolving the issue than reading another 4200.

  • I like these kinds of things because they will pop up in the searches. I will not read through any but will avail myself of them as needed while searching. My free books from connect this month are :”The Jewish Encyclopedia” and “Democracy in America”. I doubt I will read through either one.

Written by Tavis Bohlinger