When most people think of baptism what comes to their minds first is baptism into water. However, water baptism is just one baptism mentioned in the Bible. To understand the true meaning of the doctrine we must discern the more general meaning of baptism.
Baptism means to immerse, initiate, or induct. The function of baptism is identification with the object of the baptism.
For example, at one time men were given the high honor of knighthood through a royal initiation ceremony. At the ceremony the knight would be draped with a knightly cloak and would be then identified by the monarch as ‘sir’ knight. From that time forward, the heroic warrior is identified with knighthood. We could say that this initiation was a baptism unto knighthood.
In another illustration we can learn from the rookie football player who is waiting for his first shot at playing in the big game. After his first game he heads straight to the training room. The trainer casually looks at his body covered in the dirt and grass of the field and his body battered by the marks of scratching, bruises, and hard landings. Then the trainer in an informal induction says, ‘welcome to professional football’. We can all relate to this baptism of the rookie into professional football. He can now surely call himself a professional football player.
Baptism is the same in the Bible. It is an immersion, initiation or induction in order to be identified with the object of baptism. The queen baptized the warrior into knighthood draping him with the cloak and dubbing him with a sword. The rookie athlete was baptized into professional football by the intensity of his first game. In the Bible, believers are baptized by various ministers of God for distinct purposes.
Baptism unto Moses
In 1 Corinthians 10 we read about a baptism that occurred for the nation Israel unto Moses. Moses was the man chosen by God that would deliver the children of Israel out of Egypt, and would help identify them as God’s people the nation Israel.
“Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea;” – 1 Cor 10:1-2
Whoever followed Moses would be the nation Israel to whom God would give the title of his firstborn.
“And thou shalt say unto Pharaoh, Thus saith the LORD, Israel is my son, even my firstborn:” – Exodus 4:22
This baptism was performed by their journeying under the cloud and passing through the sea. By these miraculous events the forefathers were baptized unto Moses and identified as the nation Israel.
Baptism of John
In Matthew 3 we read of John the Baptist who came to immerse, induct, and initiate the people of Israel into the coming kingdom through the washing of repentance. This baptism occurred in the waters of Israel, namely, the river Jordan.
“John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. And there went out unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins.” – Mark 1:4-5
If any in Israel repented of their sins and wished to have their sins remitted they would be baptized by John in the river Jordan. Those that were baptized were identified with John’s preaching of the coming kingdom and remission of sins.
Baptism with the Holy Ghost
In another instance of a Bible baptism, John the Baptist tells of another baptism that is needful for his followers. The future baptism would be performed by the one who was ‘mighter than I’, that is, Jesus.
“I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost … ” – Matt 3:11
Jesus would baptize with the Holy Ghost to identify the faithful with the promise of the Father. Just before Pentecost we read the words of Christ:
“And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me. For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence. ” – Acts 1:4-5
Those that were not immersed in the Holy Ghost outpouring of Pentecost were not identified with the promise of the Father. The disciples received identification with the promise of God being baptized with the Holy Ghost and speaking in tongues.
There are quite a few other baptisms in the Bible. However, we can better understand the meaning and the function of every baptism when we understand the true meaning of the term.
In this dispensation, our apostle, Paul, says:
“There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, ONE BAPTISM,…” – Ephesians 4:4-5
Paul is not ignorant that there is more than one baptism in God’s history, but that there is only one baptism in the current dispensation required for salvation. He explains this baptism by the Spirit in 1 Cor 12:13, Col 2:11-12, and Titus 3:4-6.
Today our baptism requires no effort of our own, but is performed by the operation of God by the Spirit into the body of Christ after we believe. This immersion into Christ identifies us with Christ, his death and his resurrection.