Word Study #174 — Baptism — “of John” or “into Jesus”

This is an outgrowth of the discovery, while working on the Epiphany study (#171), that the marked difference between the baptism preached and administered by John “the Baptist”, and the later practice of baptism as a symbol of commitment to Jesus and his Kingdom, has seldom been addressed. It is this latter category on which the study in chapter 10 of Citizens of the Kingdom is focused (to which you may wish to refer). Here, we will attempt to explore the contrast between the two approaches.
John himself took great care to point out the difference: all four gospels (Mt.3:11-16, Mk.1:4-9, Lk.3:7-21, Jn.1:25-33) record his identification of his own role as “preparing the way”, in conformity with Isaiah’s prophecy, for the coming of the Lord. His messages did contain elements that were later incorporated in Kingdom teaching: the choosing of a completely re-directed life (see “repent” #6) which has clearly observable results (Lk.3:10-14); the announcement of the arrival of the Kingdom (note the perfect tense of eggiken – #164 – it is NOT future!); the irrelevance of the prevailing hierarchy (Mt.3:7-10 and Lk.7:29); and the absolute superiority of both Jesus and the Spirit-baptism that he would administer (Mt.3:11, Mk.1:8, Lk.3:16, Jn.1:26 – footnote).

John correctly described his function as a fore-runner (Jn.3:28), accepting the assignment announced to his father before his birth (Lk.1:17) “to get a prepared people ready for the Lord!” This is a concept that has been obscured much too frequently by the serious misunderstanding of “repentance” (#6) and “forgiveness” (#7), which too commonly are cast (incorrectly) in the guise of a legal “pardon” issued in spite of guilt, instead of the more linguistically correct message of “the taking away [removal] of shortcomings, failures, and transgressions.”

(Are you aware that even in the traditional KJV, the word “pardon” does not exist anywhere in the New Testament? It is included in neither John’s nor Jesus’ messages, baptisms, nor anywhere else!)

The intent of John’s baptism is further attested by the use of the preposition eis in a purpose construction – eis metanoian – “into [for the purpose of] a changed life [repentance]” (Mt.3:11), and Luke’s record of his response to those who asked what shall we DO?” (Lk.3:10-14).
John also bore testimony to his own purpose being “that he (Jesus) be revealed to Israel” (Jn.1:31) as the Son of God.

There appears to have been a brief period during which both men were “baptizing disciples” (Jn.3:22-4:2), during which John quickly disabused his followers of the notion that they were competing (3:26-28). It seems that the practice of baptism implied identification with one’s teacher, an idea also referenced by Paul in I Cor.1. But John (whether the preacher or the author is not clear) also associated it with a more far-reaching acceptance of Jesus’ sovereignty (3:31-36). This may be the first New Testament evidence of the concept of a personal commitment. He also notes that Jesus himself was not the one doing the baptizing (4:1-2) at that time.
Luke notes (7:29) that Jesus overtly connected people’s attitudes toward John’s baptism to their perception and acceptance of God’s purposes, so it should certainly never be disparaged.

Jesus himself actually said very little about baptism. He made reference to “the baptism of John” (Mt.21:25, Mk.11:30, Lk.20:4) when he put the Pharisees on the defensive after they questioned his own authority.
He used the term in reference to his own approaching suffering and death (Mt.20:22,23; Mk.10:38-39) when responding to James and John’s attempted “status-grab” as well as simply describing his own prospective demise (Lk.12:50). It is not clear whether or not this is the same incident.
The only other mention of baptism by Jesus is in his final instructions to the disciples after his resurrection (Mt.28:19, Mk.16:16, Ac.1:5). Here, it is associated with (1) making disciples, (2) teaching new recruits the principles of Kingdom living, and (3) the results of the gift of the Holy Spirit, which John had predicted at the beginning.

After Pentecost, there is a marked shift in the accounts of baptism. They vary in the order ascribed to the various elements. Although Peter’s first sermon (Ac.2:38-41) still connects it with “repentance” and “the taking away of shortcomings” (in this case, their ignorance of who Jesus really was/is), he immediately included the gift of the Holy Spirit. Even more significantly, the following account (Ac.2:42-47) describes the vibrant community thereby created – the first such description – clearly a part of the “new creation” now in process.
Philip’s sojourn in Samaria included the baptism of those who chose to identify with his “preaching the Kingdom of God (Ac.8:12) and the name of Jesus”. Nothing is said about “repentance” there, and the gift of the Holy Spirit came later, mediated by other apostles.
In Philip’s subsequent encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch (vv.26-40), that brother was baptized at his own request, upon learning of Jesus, with again, no mention of repentance. Some manuscripts include a note that “the Holy Spirit fell upon him” and others omit that phrase.
The two events are overtly connected in the account of Ananias and Saul (Ac.9:17-18) and also Peter and Cornelius (Ac.10:44-47), although the order is reversed in the latter case, since it took the intervention of the Holy Spirit to convince Peter that it was even OK to offer baptism to believing Gentiles (11:16).
In Philippi, neither the account of Lydia’s family (16:15) nor of the jailer’s household (16:33) mentions either “repentance” or “the Holy Spirit”, nor does that of Crispus’ household in Corinth (18:8).
However, the saga of Apollos (Ac.18:24-19:7) and the folks at Ephesus whom he had recruited while “knowing only the baptism of John” makes it clear that both Priscilla and Aquila and later Paul, recognized that John’s “baptism of repentance” was insufficient alone. Far too many people and groups even today are “parked” with those partially-taught folks in Ephesus! Remedying that lack, their identification with Jesus, and baptism “into (eis) the name [identity: see #24] of Jesus” were followed (v.5-6) by the manifestations of the Holy Spirit so necessary to the propagation of his Kingdom.

Clearly, as the message spread and the Kingdom continued to grow, people’s understanding of the implications of baptism also matured.
Twice (Rom.6:3-11 and Col.2:12) Paul represents it as symbolic of sharing in Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, emphasizing a total break from one’s prior existence and a complete transformation of life.
To the Galatians, he spoke of being “clothed with Christ.” (Gal.3:27)
In I Cor.12 and Eph.4:5, he relates it to being joined with other disciples by baptism into the mutuality of one Body.
The theme of loyalty and identification also appears in Paul’s protest against factionalism (I Cor.1), even to the point of thankfulness that he did little baptizing among them, lest their loyalty be to him rather than to Jesus.
The identification of ancient Israel with Moses (I Cor.10:2) and Peter’s parallel with the folks rescued on Noah’s ark (I Pet.3:21) are clarified by Peter’s assertion that the act of baptism itself conveys no particular power, but simply expresses one’s chosen adherence to God.

Perhaps the most useful summary is facilitated by observing the objects of that little (but powerful) preposition “eis”. John preached a baptism eis metanoian – “into a changed life [repentance]” and eis ton erchomenon pisteuosin – “toward becoming faithful to the coming one.”

Baptism eis to onoma iesou – “into the name [identity] of Jesus,” eis ton thanaton – “into his death (and resurrection!), and eis hen soma – “into one Body”, on the other hand, provides the entrance into the very life of Jesus, of which the Spirit (#52 and 53) is the essential breath.

There IS a difference!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: