When reviewing the establishment of the church at Ephesus we encounter the often confusing issue of re-baptism as seen in Paul's baptizing the twelve believers who had previously been baptized into John the Baptist's baptism before being taught by Paul. In this chapter I would like to clarify and expand on this topic since there are usually many questions that arise when discussing the issue of re-baptizing a previously baptized believer. In order to anticipate as many questions as I can, I will explain what I believe the Bible teaches concerning John's baptism, Jesus' baptism, and how these affected those individual believers who lived through the period of time when both of these were in effect.
1. John's baptism – Matthew 3:1-6
John preached that the Messiah and His kingdom were coming, and in order to prepare for it, a person was to repent and be immersed (baptized).
2. Jesus received this baptism – Matthew 3:13-15
Jesus had no sins to repent of but as a human being and a Jew He obeyed all things commanded by God, and John's baptism was one of those things.
3. John's disciples became Jesus' disciples – John 1:35-37
As Jesus' public ministry increased John's decreased, and his disciples began to follow Jesus. This was as it should have been; John was there to prepare the way for Christ.
4. Jesus preached John's message – Matthew 4:17
Jesus continued to preach the message of John, and baptize those who responded to this message (John 4:1-2).
5. After the resurrection and ascension the Apostles were to preach the baptism of Jesus – Matthew 28:18-20
The mode of baptism would be the same (immersion) but the reason and results would be different (Acts 2:38). For example:
- John's baptism – prepare for the kingdom.
- Jesus' baptism – actual forgiveness of sins, indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
John's message and baptism prepared people for the forgiveness and indwelling of the Holy Spirit to come (Matthew 3:11).
The Apostles' message and baptism told people that the promise of the kingdom (forgiveness and Holy Spirit) were now available.
6. Some people lived through John, Jesus, Apostles' ministry – Acts 12:12
Some commonly asked questions about the people who lived through John, Jesus and the Apostles' ministry time:
When were the Apostles baptized? Since most were disciples of John or became disciples of Jesus during John and Jesus' ministries, they received John's baptism (John 1:35-37).
Were the Apostles re-baptized after Pentecost when Jesus' baptism was preached at Pentecost? Why?
- No. Because, like Jesus, they had also fulfilled all righteousness (done all that God had commanded concerning this matter) by receiving John's baptism.
- In other words, if you had been baptized during John's ministry or Jesus' ministry (before his D/B/R) then you didn't need to be re-baptized when Peter and the Apostles began preaching Jesus' baptism of Pentecost.
When did the Apostles receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit? They received the indwelling of the Holy Spirit after Jesus had arisen from the dead and gave it to them as He had promised (John 20:19-22). They were the first to receive the indwelling.
- What was it that they received at Pentecost? At Pentecost (after Jesus had risen and appeared to them for 40 days and then ascended to heaven) the Lord empowered them with the "power" of the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:4 – Power, not indwelling; the demonstration of the power, tongues.
What is the difference between "indwelling" of the Holy Spirit and "empowering" of the Holy Spirit?
- Indwelling - is the fulfillment of the promise that when the Messiah came, God would be with everyone (Isaiah 44:3 and Acts 2:39). He is the means by which we are regenerated and resurrected (Romans 8:9-11).
- Empowerment - is the special gift given to the Apostles and some early disciples enabling them to speak in tongues and do miracles in order to assist them in preaching the gospel and establishing the early church (Acts 2:4 and Acts 8:4-6). Later on, this empowerment was transferred by the "laying on of the hands" of the Apostles (Acts 19:6).
When did those who had been baptized by John (before Pentecost) receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit?
- They received the Indwelling of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost as Peter and the others began to preach and offer it to all. They had already prepared themselves for this day by repenting and being baptized according to John's command. Now forgiveness was available (through Jesus' sacrifice on the cross) and the Holy Spirit was given (because Jesus had returned to the Father) (John 15:26).
- All those who had received John's baptism were granted forgiveness and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. That was the promise. It was a delayed payment for those who had believed, repented and prepared ahead of time by receiving John's baptism.
- All those who had not received John's baptism and heard the gospel on Pentecost were required to: believe in Jesus as the Son of God, repent of their sins, and be baptized in Jesus' name…and they too would receive the forgiveness and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).
What about the disciples in Acts 19:1-7, why were they re-baptized?
- They were re-baptized because they received John's baptism after Pentecost. They were baptized to show that they were preparing for the kingdom to come.
- Paul re-baptized them in the name of Jesus for forgiveness and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. In this way they were baptized for the right reason and in the right way.
Why does it seem that Apollos, their teacher, wasn't re-baptized but his students were?
- Apollos received John's baptism during the time before Pentecost. He didn't need to be re-baptized, he needed to be taught more perfectly concerning the preaching of the gospel after Pentecost.
- His students were baptized in John's baptism after Pentecost so they needed to be re-baptized.
What does this mean for us today? People need to be re-baptized if:
- They have been baptized the wrong way. In other words if they have been baptized by sprinkling or pouring and not by immersion.
- They have been baptized for the wrong reasons. For example, some have been baptized in order to join a group or because it was their birthday. Many have done it to please their parents or have been coerced by group pressure at camp.
However, the Bible explains that baptism is a response of faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and done for many reasons (to become a disciple – Matthew 28:18-19; to obey the gospel – Mark 16:15-16; to be born again – John 3:3-5; to be forgiven and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit – Acts 2:38; to be buried and resurrected with Christ – Romans 6:3-6; to clothe ourselves with Christ – Galatians 3:27; to appeal to God for a clear conscious – I Peter 3:21 etc.). These and many other passages in the Bible describe the many reasons one is baptized, and if one is immersed for any of these biblical reasons, they have done so according to God's will in His word.
However, if a person is baptized for a non–biblical reason such as doing so to please another or for an incorrect theological reason (like the 12 believers at Ephesus) then re-baptism is required.
In the same way that Paul made sure that these men had both the reason and method of baptism correct, we today should follow his inspired example when we carefully follow the Bible's teaching regarding the reason and manner that we are baptized. This is not "legalism" as some would charge, but a respectful and prudent attitude towards the teaching in the Scriptures concerning the reasons for and practice of baptism by modern day disciples of Jesus Christ.
Is re-baptism common today? Yes, because so many people have been taught (sincerely but incorrectly) about the reasons and methods for baptism.
Baptism is the believer's wedding ceremony with Christ. It is beautiful, acceptable and righteous if it is done exactly as the Lord has commanded it to be done. We, as mere humans, have no right to make changes to what God has ordained in His Word.