Jesus, Peter, and Paul on Baptism... by Kyle Reise Eleison

Jesus, Peter, and Paul on Baptism

By Kyle Reise Eleison


"Water and the Spirit" (Jn 3:5)

-- "Water" is not amniotic fluid in this context. This interpretation flatly contradicts Jesus' insistence that natural birth is unrelated to the new birth (Jn 3:6).

-- "Water" is not the Spirit in this context. St. John's Gospel clearly distinguishes Jesus' references to physical water from His metaphors for the Holy Spirit (cf. Jn 4:13, 14; 7:38, 39). The unqualified use of the word "water" connotes the literal meaning, especially given John 4:1, 2 immediately following the discourse to Nicodemus. Also, interpreting "water" as the Spirit reduces Jesus' saying to nonsense (i.e., "born of Spirit and the Spirit").

-- "Water" is not the preaching of the Gospel in this context. St. Peter clearly administered water baptism after preaching the Gospel (Acts 2:36-38; 10:44, 48).

-- In this context, "water" is simply water. Heb 6:1,2 identifies physical washing by water as an elementary (i.e., basic) Christian doctrine alongside repentance, faith, and resurrection. Per St. Peter, the waters of baptism carry the recipient to a new life, not by the outward physical cleansing which occurs but by an inward cleansing of the conscience, just as the Flood carried Noah to a new world cleansed from corruption (cf. 1 Pet 3:18-21). Per St. Paul, this is the washing of regeneration by water through which comes the renewal of the Holy Spirit, which parallels Jesus' and St. Peter's teaching (Titus 3:5; Acts 2:38; 1 Pet 3:21).

Acts 10:44-48 affirms rather than refutes the central importance of water baptism. The tongues were a sign to overcome the unbelief of the original Christian Jews regarding the inclusion of Gentiles in the long awaited kingdom of God (cf. 1 Cor 14:22; Acts 11:2-18). St. Peter and the other Jews interpreted the speaking in tongues by Cornelius and his household as a Divine sign that believing Gentiles were to be admitted into God's kingdom. The Christian Jews clearly understood water baptism as the means of entrance into the kingdom of God (cf. Jn 3:5), as demonstrated by their association of baptism with accepting the Gentiles as fellow heirs. The action of the Holy Spirit to persuade St. Peter and the other Jewish believers to baptize Gentiles, as St. Peter had done for the Jews on Pentecost, establishes water baptism as fundamental to God's universal plan of salvation in the New Covenant (cf. Matt 28:19; Mk 16:16; Acts 2:36-38).

In 1 Cor 1:11-17, St. Paul insisted that "Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the Gospel" to refute the Corinthians' attachment of importance to the identity of the particular minister of baptism; and to emphasize the importance of recognizing authentic preachers of the Gospel. St. Paul's point is not that baptism is less important than preaching, but that baptism by him is not preferable to baptism by others, while his preaching should be recognized as apostolic (apostolos, one who is sent) and thus authentic. St. Paul taught that teachers in the Church are appointed by Christ (cf. Eph 4:11-12). There is no appointment of "baptizers." Baptism in the name of the Trinity by the authority of Christ is effective regardless of who baptizes (cf. Matt 28:18, 19). However, not all preaching is sound, since not all who preach do so according to the standard handed down from the Apostles (cf. 1 Tim 2:5-7; 2 Tim 1:13, 14; 2:2; 3:10, 14; 2 Pet 3:15, 16).


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