Acts 2:38, The Meaning of Baptism

Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.

//Today’s post isn’t meant to instruct or entertain, but to pose a question. I’m not a scholar of current-day religion, so help me out, here. In my observation, baptism is a step that nearly all Christians agree is important, but few agree entirely on its meaning. Perhaps its meaning is meant to be obscure, something personal between the initiate and God. I remember my own baptism as a teenager with a bit of confusion. It seemed to be mostly an initiation into the church, a way for the church to accept me into its ranks, and it had something to do with asking me to cut my hair, which had apparently grown too long for a nice Christian boy. Odd, the things I remember.

So why do we baptize? Can we draw some idea of this ritual’s meaning from the New Testament? John the Baptist portrayed baptism as a necessary repentance. Paul saw baptism as a reenactment of the death and resurrection of Christ. The book of Acts associates it with the remission of sins. John’s Gospel seems to consider it an antiquated picture of spiritual rebirth, and takes pains to point out that Jesus never performed any water baptisms; the new baptism of the Kingdom would be by fire and Spirit, not water.

How about if we dig deeper, going back to pre-Christian scripture? How about Isaiah 4:4, referring to seven sinful women: The Lord will wash away the filth of the women of Zion; he will cleanse the bloodstains from Jerusalem by a spirit of judgment and a spirit of fire. Or Ezekiel 36:25-26: I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. In both these cases, “baptism” is a cleansing performed by God alone, with spirit.

We can find parallels to Christian baptism in the practices of the Essenes, and in the rebirth ceremonies of mystery cults, but it is its Christian interpretation that eludes me. I’d be curious to hear your opinion.


  1. I have a further question: why is the ritual of baptism (at least in the Christian sect you and I were raised in) the basis for being able to participate in the ritual of taking communion emblems?

  2. Yeah, I agree! And it certainly isn’t scriptural! It is, however, the tradition recognized in what is probably the earliest noncanonical Christian writing: the Didache. Baptism before communion.

Leave a Reply to The Dubious Disciple Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>