Before we begin our discussion of the early views of the sacrament of baptism as entertained by the Church in the first centuries of the New Dispensation, it will probably not be amiss to call attention to the Jewish washings, the baptism of John, and the institution of baptism.

A few general observations

Discussing the historical development of the sacrament of baptism, it will probably not be amiss as we remarked in the preceding paragraph, to call attention to the period of transition from the Old to the New Dispensation. In the first place, then, we would call attention to the washings and purifications which were already prevalent in Israel prior to the dawn of the New Testament. The Rev. H. Hoeksema calls attention to these Old Testament rituals in his book on the Heidelberg Catechism, entitled: “Baptized into Christ.” These washings were instituted by divine law; and in a sense, therefore, being thus ordained, they may be said to be foreshadowing the sacraments of baptism. At least it may certainly be said that, when the sacrament of baptism was instituted, the idea that washing with water symbolized a spiritual purification was not strange to Israel. However, these washings had no sacramental value for the simple reason that they were not instituted to be observed by the whole Church but merely regulated special cases—the same may be said of the baptism of the proselytes. Prose­lytes were baptized as a sign, together with circum­cision, of their incorporation into the Jewish nation. And also this indicated that baptism as such was by no means an unknown rite or ceremony.

In the second place, we would call attention to the baptism of John. The Roman Catholic Church denies that the baptism as administered by the Baptist is of equal significance with that of the baptism of Jesus, and declares that everyone is accursed who is addicted to that conception. Others, too, refuse to ascribe this significance to his baptism. To support their contention they call attention to Acts 19:1-6, asserting that this passage clearly teaches us that there were those who, having been baptized by John, were rebaptized by the apostle, Paul. For a clear refutation of this interpretation of Acts 19:1-6 we again refer our readers to Rev. Hoeksema’s book: Baptized into Christ, pages 99-101. If, in this passage of Acts 19, verse 5 does not belong to the speech of Paul, these men were indeed rebaptized by the apostle. However, if verse 5 must be understood as also belonging to the speech of Paul, then the apostle simply declares that these men were baptized by John in the name of the Lord Jesus after they had heard him declare that they should believe on Him which should come after him.

When identifying the baptism as administered by John with that of the Lord Jesus it must be conceded that the sacrament of baptism was not formally introduced until the ascension of Christ when the risen Lord commands His Church to go and teach all nation, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. The sign of circumcision was still in effect at the time of John’s ministry and was not replaced by the sign of baptism until later. Besides, the baptism of John was limited to the Israel of the Old Dispensation and apparently confined to adults. Nothing is mentioned of the baptism of infants during the labour of the forerunner of the Christ. And we may certainly conclude that the Baptist himself, although standing upon the threshold of the New Dispensation, nevertheless belonged to the Old Dispensation. However, one can hardly deny the significance of the baptism of John. In the first place, Scripture certainly teaches us that the baptism as administered by the Baptist was instituted and commanded by God. This appears from John 1:33 and Matt. 21:25, and we quote: “And I knew Him not: but He that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is He which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost…The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven, or of men? And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say unto us, Why did ye not then believe him?” The thrust of the first passage quoted here speaks for itself. And, when we read the question in the second passage: “If we shall say, from heaven,” the implication is, of course, that if the baptism of John is from heaven it has heavenly sanction, originating in heaven and therefore authorized by the living God Himself. Secondly, it was a baptism of repentance for (literally: into) the remission of sins. We read in Mark 1:3: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.” And the same is predicted of the baptism of the New Testament, according to Acts 2:38 and I quote; “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.” That John’s baptism was a “baptism of repentance for (into) the remission of sins” signifies that it was a baptism characterized by repentance which bestowed upon or led the believer into the conscious forgiveness of sins. We repeat: this is also stated of the baptism of the New Dispensation. Thirdly, Jesus Himself was baptized with the baptism of John and therefore recognized this baptism of the Baptist. The water of John’s baptism was, of course, symbolic of the blood of the Lamb of Calvary. That Jesus consented to the baptism of John does not mean, of course, that He Himself was a sinner. He, we know, knew no sin, was spotlessly holy and undefiled. But it did mean that He, too, could enter into the Kingdom of heaven alone through the blood of the cross. For Jesus, although Himself sinless and perfect, was the head of the elect, those given Him by the Father from before the foundation of the world. Hence, all the sins of the elect were upon him, not, we understand, in a spiritual sense of the word which would render the Christ sinful and corrupt, but in a judicial sense so that He was responsible for their payment before the tribunal of God. And these sins must be paid according to divine justice and righteousness. Jesus was baptized by John at the beginning of His public ministry and thereby set His face toward Jerusalem and Calvary at the very outset of His ministry and assumed full responsibility for the cross. And this certainly implies that Jesus, permitting Himself to be baptized by John, set His seal of approval upon it. This lies in the very nature of the case. Fourthly, Jesus certainly did not distinguish between the baptism as administered by His disciples and as administered by the Baptist. This appears from John 3:22, 23, John 4:1, 2, and we quote: “After these things came Jesus and His disciples into the land of Judaea; and there He tarried with them, and baptized. And John also was baptizing in Enon near to Salim, because there was much water there; and they came and were baptized…When therefore the Lord knew how the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John (Though Jesus Himself baptized not, but His disciples).” These verses speak of the baptism as administered by Jesus’ disciples and by the disciples of John, and they do not draw any distinction between the two baptisms. In the fifth place, Jesus simply recognized the disciples who had been baptized by John and did not rebaptize them. This appears from John 1:37 and Acts 18:25, and we again quote: “And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus…This man was instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in the spirit, he spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord, knowing only the baptism of John.” The first of these passages refers to two of John’s disciples who had certainly been baptized by the Baptist, and had followed Christ. We do not read of their rebaptism. And the second passage refers to Apollos and informs us that he knew only the baptism of John. And neither is his rebaptism recorded in the Scriptures. Finally, Jesus does not institute a new baptism in Matt. 18:19, but simply expands the baptism of John, as it were, so that it henceforth will embrace all peoples. The baptism as administered by the Baptist had been limited only to the people of God of the Old Dispensation, and only to adults; it is now expanded to embrace all nations and peoples.

We conclude, therefore, that the sacrament of baptism was principally instituted by God when He commanded the Baptist to baptize with the baptism of repentance unto the forgiveness of sins, and that this institution of baptism was sealed for the entire Church of the New Dispensation by the specific command of Christ as expressed in Matt. 28:19, where we read: “Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”

Besides calling the attention of our readers to the Old Dispensational washings and purifications in Israel and the baptism as administered by John, the Baptist, we would also mention the Baptism Formula: “I baptize thee in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” This Baptismal Form, we understand, is based on Matt. 28:19. However, we do not regard Matt. 28:19 as a Baptism Formula. We do not believe that this verse gives us a formula for the administration of the sacrament of baptism, that Jesus gave us these words with the intention that they should be used at the time when the sacrament of baptism was administered. We believe that these words express the heart and essence of baptism, that baptism is really and actually a being baptized into the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and that, therefore, the sign, corresponding to what baptism essentially is, should be characterized by the pronouncement of these words. However, the Lord willing, we will have opportunity to call attention to our Baptism Formula in subsequent articles.

—H. Veldman