What is Baptism, Really?

What is Baptism, Really?

The battle for truth, in the final analysis, is not, nor has it ever been, Theism vs. Anti-Theism.

I suppose the main reason people would want me to say I don’t believe in baptismal regeneration is because that’s not what the Bible teaches. Of course, the fact is that I don’t believe in baptismal regeneration because that’s not what the Bible teaches, but to state it thusly is a bit of circular reasoning, don’t you think? Many would argue that I am making the Bible say what I think it says based on my personal beliefs. The thing you realize very quickly, once you start browsing the marketplace of heresies, is they are all sold under the banner of “rightly dividing the word of truth” and having a “high view of scripture.” Simply put: every false doctrine has a proof-text. In fact, all Satan does, seemingly, is quote or slightly misquote scripture. One could say he’s memorized the entire Bible, but that does not mean the Bible is his final authority, does it? In fact, the reason he quotes scripture is BECAUSE the Bible isn’t his final authority. Let that sink in.

The sad truth is that if you have a prideful heart, the more Bible you memorize the more deft you can become at presenting it out of context. It always comes down to context, doesn’t it? The battle for truth, in the final analysis, is not, nor has it ever been, Theism vs. Anti-Theism. Rather, the real battle, the righteous struggle, the great debate, is over determining the context in which verses and doctrines are presented within the pages of Holy Writ. This was true when Satan came to Eve, slithering around a tree of special knowledge, presenting himself as a Bible teacher. It was true when Satan tempted Christ in the wilderness and it is true today.

So, why lead with this? Because I believe that at surface level, there are some decent arguments to be made for baptismal regeneration and those arguments are made from fairly convincing verses of the New Testament. I also think that everyone of these arguments are extrapolations from those verses which are, in every case, wrested from their context. I furthermore believe that this can be easily demonstrated and that so doing will expose the idea of baptismal regeneration for what it is: a lie. I don’t believe in baptismal regeneration because when scriptural context comes against this private interpretation, it reveals that, in order for me to believe it, I have to be liar, just like the father of all of this teaching’s adherents (John 8:44).


It is simply the doctrines of men after the rudiments of the world posturing against the clear context of the New Testament.

Let’s look at examples of what I mean by context revealing lies.

Many use John 3 as evidence for baptismal regeneration. But notice: there is no mention of water baptism anywhere in John’s account of Nicodemus’s night interview with Jesus (John 3:1-7). Nicodemus does not do anything which remotely resembles water baptism in the narrative and the word baptism is nowhere to be found in the surrounding contexts which either precede or follow the passage. If anyone says they see water baptism in this passage, they are a liar. That’s a conjectural inference they are making about the scriptures based on a preconceived doctrinal position. Academics have a term for that: eisegesis. The Bible has a better term for it: “private interpretation” (2Pe 1:20).

Romans 6:3-4 is another example of water being conspicuously absent from a baptismal regeneration (BR) proof text. (You would think that would be a prerequisite element for these texts, wouldn’t you?) In fact, you may find it salient that in what was written as Paul’s complete soteriological statement of faith for the Church Age (the Book of Romans) there is not a single reference to water. So, if you want water to be in any passage of Romans you’re going to have to place it there yourself, or let some man do it for you. Whoever gets baptized in Romans is not baptized into water but is baptized into Jesus Christ and His death. The very idea that you can come into contact with the blood of Jesus Christ in a fiberglass tub filled with municipal water from the earth is superstitious, and, from a biblical standpoint, demonic. It is private interpretation of the worst order. It is simply the doctrines of men after the rudiments of the world posturing against the clear context of the New Testament.

Galatians 3:27 is another example of wresting scripture from context to superimpose tradition over truth. Here is what it says; “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” Observe, a text without a context is a pretext. Perchance you would care to count how many times the word “Spirit” occurs in the Galatians 3 and compare that to the number of times the word “water” appears. In fact, let’s create an impromptu activity for all bible students who may have happened upon this article on Facebook. Look at the actual words in this passage (radical idea, I know, but just go with me here) and write all “Spirit” references on one sheet of paper and all “water” references on a separate sheet.  (Activity Notes: For this project you will need a pen or pencil and one sheet of paper.)

How do you get water baptism out of a passage where no one is getting water baptized, no one is teaching on water baptism, and there is no mention of water? How do you get water out of a book that, like Romans, doesn’t have single mention of water anywhere in the epistle? That’s right folks, no water is to be found anywhere in Romans or Galatians. Well, what about Ephesians? Excellent question. Excellent. Do you know what the water is that washes us in Ephesians 5:26? Look it up yourself. Don’t make me do all the work. You see what the context of scripture reveals about baptismal regeneration? The baptism being referenced in this passage is “Spirit” baptism. This is the ONE TRUE baptism in Ephesians 4:6 which says, “One Lord, one faith, one baptism …” This, by the way, being the same baptism spoken of by Paul over in 1 Corinthians 12:13. Ready to get your paper out and start counting again?


Personal salvation is worked out by belief alone and is settled before one enters into a water baptism.

1 Corinthians 12:13 “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.”
Ephesians 4:3-5 “Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism,”

Can any honest person possibly interpret these passages other than that they are referencing a baptism of the Spirit of God by faith apart from water, when taken in light of their context?

We have examined some scriptures where God doesn’t talk about water, yet when some people who call themselves Christian read these same passages, someone tells them they are about water baptism. I wonder who that could be.  Well, what about the passages where God IS talking about water? Another good question.

Mark 16:16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.

What follows is the answer which is faithful to a dispensational hermeneutic and the obvious context of the passage. The gospels are transitional books, as are Acts, James, and Hebrews. This is possibly never more evident than in Mark’s recalling of what we now call The Great Commission. Both elements of the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven, as well as a mixture of First and Second Advent prophecy can be found throughout the entire ending of Mark, which is basically the case all the way up through Acts 8, and entirely the case until Paul received the “gospel of the grace of God.” (Acts 20:24) which became the form of the gospel agreed upon by the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:7-11). Thus, the elements of the Great Commission that are not apostolic and for Israel are still to be discharged by the Gentile Church…but not all of it! Note: what follows after Mark 16:16.

Mark 16:17-20 [17] And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; [18] They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. [19] So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God. [20] And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.

The water baptism that saves in Mark 16:16 is a national and corporate salvation for the nation of Israel just as it was with John the Baptist and just as it was in Acts 2. The signs (1 Corinthians 1: 22,24) which followed these baptisms were for the confirmation of the promise connected to it that Israel’s sins would be remitted. However, individually, baptism did nothing to save—even in Mark 16:16, Acts 2, or John’s baptism (unless of course you would advance the theory that Jesus Christ also received individual salvation or that a single Gentile can be identified in any of these contexts). What the advocates of baptismal regeneration want to gloss over is the second half of the verse which states, “ …but he that believeth not shall be damned.”  Well, if baptism is what saves on an individual basis, why doesn’t it say, “...but he that believeth not and is not baptized shall be damned”? It is because baptism, not even then, had any thing to do with individual salvation. Personal salvation is worked out by belief alone and is settled before one enters into a water baptism. The irony of this passage, along with Acts 2, is that when private interpretation submits to context, what is supposed to be a proof text for baptismal regeneration is actually one of the strongest texts to overthrow it.


The issue which causes confusion for the believer is that there are seven different baptisms spoken of in the Bible:

1. Baptism unto Moses (1 Corinthians 10:1-4)

2. John’s Baptism (Matthew 3:6-11) Note: Acts 19:1-4 - The former disciples of John were confused about how the purpose of baptism had changed. When Paul asked them if they had been received the Holy Ghost they said they had never heard of the Holy Ghost. Paul then asked them, “Unto what then were ye baptized?” Their response? “Unto Johns baptism.” Paul then tell them John’s baptism was about repentance. (New Testament salvation is the repentance of faith in the gospel not in a work and is worked out before baptism.) Upon hearing this, the disciples of John get re-baptized. But they still don’t get the Holy Ghost until AFTER. Why? Read verses 5 and 6 and you’ll get your answer: The Apostolic Age had not yet completely wound down, even AFTER Acts 2!

3. Baptism of the Cross (Mark 10:38,39)

4. Baptism of Fire (Matthew 3:11) Note: Two separate baptisms are mentioned in this verse. Cross-reference with: Acts 4:31. You will note there was no “baptism of fire” at Pentecost. Cloven tongues of fire over the head is no more a “baptism” (meaning totally submerged) than sprinkling is a burial. The baptism of fire is Hell.

5. Peter’s Baptism (Acts 2:27-32) *see notes above

6. Believers Baptism (Matthew 28:19, Romans 6)

7. Baptism of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13) The ONE TRUE Baptism.

*Baptism of Noah’s Family, Namman the leper, the Ethiopian Eunuch and Paul’s Baptism of John’s former disciples miss out on technicalities BUT the Baptism of Noah’s family comes close. Study for homework.    

It is a battle for the words of God and their literary and dispensational reckonings arrived at by the only divine blueprint for interpretation we have ever been given

So, when you have a verse that tells you there is only one baptism and then you “Study to shew thyself approved unto God” only to find there are seven of them, then in the interest of “rightly dividing the word of truth” you have to make a decision. You have two options. 1. Take the easy way out and assume they are all talking about the same baptism. This is the path of least resistance which makes both men and rivers crooked. 2. Compare the words of those passages with the words in the other passages and let the Holy Spirit guide you into truth. When you do, certain words will jump out from the page which will show you that only one of those seven baptisms are the true baptism and the other six are types or figures or pictures God uses to show the one true. Just as there are many gods mentioned in the Bible, yet that revelation does no violence to the doctrine of the the One True God (1 Corinthians 8:4-6). For an example of words revealing that water baptism is a mere figure of the true baptism of the Spirit that actually saves, I submit:

1 Peter 3:19-21 [19] By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; [20] Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. [21] The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:”

So, maybe per chance you’ve already solved the riddle. The doctrine of the water baptism of 1 Peter 3: 19-21 is a figure of what actually brings salvation. We see this in the words, “The like FIGURE whereunto even baptism doth also now save us”. NO ONE receives spiritual salvation or the new birth in this passage. You can’t receive a spiritual birth from a water baptism. If Noah’s family got saved from the flood (and they did) they did it by building a boat (works) and it only saved them physically and temporarily. Our salvation may be LIKE theirs in type or FIGURE but it is not the same. Believer’s Baptism is about “the answer of a good conscience toward God” after the one true baptism of the Spirit of God which we enter into the moment we receive the gospel of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ by grace thru faith alone in the power of His blood. How can anyone read it another way?

The battle for truth, the great debate, wages on, brothers and sisters. It is is not a battle for ideas. It is not a battle for doctrines. It's not a battle for men and churches and denominations. Nor is it a battle for vainly imagined original intents of ancient authors and comprehensions of ancient audiences. It is a battle for the words of God and their literary and dispensational reckonings arrived at by the only divine blueprint for interpretation we have ever been givencomparing scripture with scripture (1 Corinthians 2:13). Well, looks like I have to go. The kids are getting home from school. I’m about to be baptized with teen drama. Fare thee well, Bible student. Fare thee well.

Brett Bartlett is the pastor of Wyldewood Baptist Church in Michigan, one of the churches in the Living Faith Fellowship. Brett has taught several classes in the Living Faith Bible Institute and is passionate about the word of God and upholding it with integrity.