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WATER BAPTISM


In addition to being associated with the forgiveness of sins ALREADY received, water baptism is also shown in Scripture to signify union with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection (Gal. 3:27; Rom. 6:4-5; Col. 2:11-12). Trinitarians can even agree with Oneness Pentecostals that it was an ordinance instituted by Jesus Christ (Matt. 28:19). However, contrary to the Oneness view,1 there is nothing to indicate that water baptism was part of the "plan of salvation."

Water baptism was usually the first thing Christians did AFTER responding in faith to the gospel message (see Acts 2:38; 8:35-38; 10:45-48). This is even evident in Matt. 28:19 where Jesus commands His disciples to baptize those that have already been made disciples. In fact, over SIXTY times, water baptism is never mentioned when the New Testament speaks of salvation by faith or believing - which is having faith (e.g. Acts 2:21; 10:43; 16:30-31; Rom. 3:22; 10:9-13; Eph. 2:8; 2 Thes. 2:13).

Also, Paul, who thinks of water baptism as being similar with Old Testament circumcision, clearly argues that Abraham was justified by God BEFORE he was circumcised (Rom. 4:9-12). When Abraham later became circumcised, it was as a "sign" of the righteousness he ALREADY HAD by faith, and so too is water baptism.

Likewise, in the times of the Apostles, Jewish persons were making a clear statement when they were baptized. Within Judaism, Jews were not commonly baptized -- only Gentiles who wanted to convert to Judaism. The experience of water baptism for the Jewish person then, was a sign to show how strong their need for Jesus was.

I could also point out that the thief, who was crucified on the cross alongside Jesus, was saved without being baptized in water. Some Oneness proponents would respond by saying that it was under the old covenant or "in a unique transitional period in salvation history.2" First of all, as I showed above, everyone throughout all history are saved the same way: by grace, through faith, on account of Christ alone. Second, even IF there is such a thing as a two covenant plan of salvation, the new covenant begins with the death of Jesus (Heb. 9:16) and the thief died AFTER Jesus (John 19:31-35). Therefore, the thief still had life in the new covenant and a chance to renounce God. Yet we know that he did get saved (Luke 23:43) and he did not get baptized in water!


In Acts 2:38, the word "for" (Greek eis) can mean "with a view towards," "in connection with," or "in the light of." Consequently, Peter is saying that water baptism should follow the repentance that has ALREADY brought about the forgiveness of sins. This is similar to what you would find on a "Wanted" poster such as "John Doe wanted for robbery" -- something he has already done. And if that is not enough, taking a closer look at the Greek grammar used also helps in clearing up the meaning of this verse. The command to repent is given in the second person plural along with who's sins will be remitted. On the other hand, the command to be baptized is given in the third person singular.

In light of this, this becomes clear, and in line with the rest of Scripture, that the "forgiveness of your (plural) sins" is the result of you (plural, as in "you all") repenting and not because of "every one of you (singular) being baptized." So it is not water baptism that brings about forgiveness of sins. This coincides with Peter's next two sermons recorded in the same book. He directly associates forgiveness of sins with repentance and faith in Christ without mentioning water baptism (Acts 3:17-20; 4:12). Paul preaches in a similar fashion (16:30-31).

In fact, Paul goes as far as to say that he rarely baptized at all, since this was not his calling. His calling was to preach the gospel (1 Cor. 1:17). Paul later writes that it is the gospel that saves -- and to be saved by the gospel is to believe that Christ (the Son sent by God -- John 3:16) "died for our sins," "was buried," and "was raised on the third day" (1 Cor. 15:1-4; cf. Rom. 10:9-10). Furthermore, Jesus Himself declares that Paul is to open the eyes of gentiles so that they may receive forgiveness of sins with no mention of water baptism (Acts 26:17-18). It would be ludicrous for Paul to talk this way if the act of water baptism did save.

If, according to Oneness theology,3 water baptism is for the forgiveness of sins, and if we are to literally go by the water baptism-Spirit order in Acts 2:38, then why is it that God poured out his Spirit in dramatic fashion BEFORE individuals are baptized in water (Acts 10:45-48)? Surely God would not have given his Spirit in this fashion to people whose sins have not been forgiven. Furthermore, Luke and Mark use the same exact phrase, "for (eis) the remission of sins," in relation to John's baptism (Luke 3:3; cf. Mark 1:4). Yet John's baptism clearly did not literally wash away people's sins for Jesus had not even died yet.


In John 3:5, there is no reason to believe that Jesus was referring to water baptism when He says that one must be "born of water." It is troublesome to assume that Nicodemus would have understood "water" as referring to water baptism as a means to enter the kingdom of God since that was a ritual which Christians would not practice for another three years! Furthermore, the context of this passage is the activity of the Holy Spirit in contrast to the flesh.

Therefore, it would seem sensible to assume that water here symbolizes the life and purification (washing) that the Spirit brings (John 4:13-15; 7:38-39; Titus 3:5; cf. Eze. 36:25-26). Otherwise, why didn't Jesus make it clear in verse 16 when he had the chance? If He was equating water baptism to being born again, He could have said "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him and gets baptized, shall not perish but have eternal life." But He did not.


In Mark 16:16, water baptism is mentioned here as being the first thing a believer does once they are instructed in the Gospel and believe it, in which case they are already saved. Notice in the last part of verse 16 that it does NOT say "but whoever does not believe and is not baptized will be condemned." This indicates that even though a person may be baptized in water, they can still be damned for not truly believing. This is alluded to in Acts 8:9-24 where we are told by Luke that a sorcerer named Simon believed and so was baptized. Yet later, Peter told him his heart was not right with God and that he should perish when he tried to buy the magical power he believed the apostles possessed.


Acts 22:16 does not teach baptismal regeneration. A careful look at the passage shows that there are three commands issued by Ananias: arise; be baptized; call on the name of the Lord. This is more clearer in the KJV in which each is separated by "and". So it is clear that the phrase "wash away thy sins" is associated with the command to call on the name of the Lord and not water baptism.


1. Word Aflame Press Tract The Apostles' Doctrine (#6103).

2. David K. Bernard, The New Birth (Word Aflame Press, 1984), chapter 6, 8, 12.

3. Ibid.; Efrain Andrade, "Water Baptism: Lesson 5", Preserving Doctrinal Unity, Apostolic Biblical Expositor, 2nd Quarter, (Manna Apostolic Publications, Los Angeles, CA, 1994), 21.

Is There a "In Jesus' Name" Only Baptismal Formula?


No. In Matthew 28:19, Oneness Pentecostals make a to-do about "name" being singular and feel that it denotes one proper name for all three "titles". Because of their faulty notion that Jesus is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, they then feel that this proper name must be Jesus.

However, the phrase "in the name of" can have various meanings when combined with other words. To begin with, it could simply mean "in relationship to," as when a slave is set free and then proclaims that he was let go "in the name of freedom." Obviously, "freedom" does not have a proper name. The phrase can also mean "with an obligation towards" as Matthew 10:41 (KJV) portrays.

Also, the phrase "in the name of" can mean "by the authority of", as when messengers deliver a message from their king and state that they bring it "in the name of David" (1 Sam. 25:4-9; see also Esther 3:12). This authority is granted by Jesus Himself in Matthew 28:19 immediately after He claims to have been given all power in heaven and on earth (28:18).

In fact, in his gospel, Luke presents over one hundred quotes of words spoken by various persons, yet not once did he provide quotes of a baptizer's words spoken during a water baptism! Each of his baptismal accounts are simply an after the fact narrative. Even IF Luke had written direct quotes of a baptismal formula, which he is not, which one do you use? Acts 2:38 has "in the name of Jesus Christ", Acts 8:16 and 19:5 have "the name of the Lord Jesus", Acts 10:48 has "in the name of the Lord" (KJV), and Acts 22:16 has "on his name" or "on the name of the Lord (KJV). IF any formula is to be used for water baptism, it should be the one JESUS HIMSELF prescribed in Matthew 28:19.

Furthermore, those mentioned in Acts as being baptized were either Jews (Acts 2:5,38; 22:16), Samaritans (Acts 8:5,12,16), God-fearing Gentiles (Acts 10:1-2,48), or disciples of John the Baptist (Acts 19:1-5). They already knew of the God revealed in the Old Testament. So it was a critical issue for them to confess Jesus as Lord and Savior. In the case of some of John's disciples, there's even a strong implication that the words "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" was customarily used due to them having "not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit."

Therefore, when pagan Gentiles who know little or nothing of the God of Israel are led to Christ, they need to confess their faith not only in Jesus, the Son of God, as Lord, but also that the Father and the Holy Spirit are the one true God. So you see, there is no explicit evidence for ANY specific formula used.

The church has always believed that one must be baptized in the name (or in the authority of) Jesus. However, the actual formula used when a person was being baptized in water was to recite the Trinitarian "Father, Son and Holy Spirit." This is confirmed in the ancient catechism of the early church called the Didache which was written between 90-120 A.D. It is certainly legitimate to invoke "in the name of Jesus" at one's water baptism, but this is not the meaning behind it.

There are other passages in Scripture that also demonstrate there is no requirement to invoke any formula before doing something. In Acts 3:6, Peter is quoted as saying "in the name of Jesus" when healing a crippled man. Yet when he prays for a dead woman to come back to life, all he is quoted as saying is "Tabitha, get up" (9:40).

Even invoking "in the name of Jesus" is not a guarantee for success as some Jews discovered (Acts 19:13-20). The apostles themselves were not strangers to failure. Although they were given authority to drive out demons (Mark 3:14-15) there were still times when they could not (Mark 9:18-29). It's all about Jesus and faith in Him. I thank God for my salvation that comes as a result of what Jesus Christ has done for me and not what I or anyone else has said or done. I am saved by grace through faith alone!

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