John’s Baptism and New Testament Baptism

Through the years, I have been asked various questions about John’s baptism.  Here are a few: (1) What was the purpose of John’s baptism?  (2) What is the difference between John’s baptism and New Testament baptism?  (3) Did those who were baptized with John’s baptism need to be later rebaptized with New Testament baptism?

Here are my thoughts.

1.  What was the purpose of John’s baptism?   

John’s baptism was “a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3).  (1) It was a baptism of repentance.  The wording “of repentance” is in the genitive case.  It describes in some way baptism.  Daniel B. Wallace comments, “There are various possible interpretations of this phrase: ‘baptism is based on repentance’ (causal), ‘baptism that points toward/produces repentance’ (purpose or production), ‘baptism that symbolizes repentance.’  In light of such ambiguity, it may well be best to be non-committal: ‘baptism that is somehow related to repentance” (Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond The Basics, p. 80).  He is correct concerning the grammar.   However, the full context helps.  John taught, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matthew  3:2) and “Bear fruits worthy of repentance (Matthew 3:8).  John’s baptism was to accompanied by repentance. (2) It was a baptism for the remission of sins.  The word translated “for” (eis) also appears in Matthew 26:28 and Acts 2:38, two passages worth comparing.  The basic meaning of the word is “into,” or “in” (William D. Mounce, Basics of Biblical Greek, p. 62).  Vine’s says, “of a place entered or of entrance into a place, into… used metaphorically… (it) retains the force of entering into anything.”  Wesley J. Perschbaucher says, “into… in order to, with a view to… to become, result in” (The New Analytical Greek Lexicon).  John’s baptism was for the purpose of forgiveness of sins.

2.  What is the difference between John’s baptism and New Testament baptism?

Part of the reason that some are confused is due to the fact that they had certain things in common.  (1) Both are to be accompanied by repentance (Matthew 3:7-8/Acts 2:38).  (2) Both involve a confession (Mark 1:4-5; Matthew 3:5-6/Acts 8:36-37).  (3) Both are for the remission of sins (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3/Acts 2:38).  (4) Both involve water (Mark 1:8-10; John 3:23/Acts 10:47-48).

However, there are also some significant differences which should not be overlooked.  (1) The view of the Messiah is different.  John’s baptism looked forward to the Messiah being fully revealed.  John taught, “that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is on Christ Jesus (Acts 19:4 cf. Mark 1:5-8; Matthew 3:11; Luke 3:16; John 3:28-30).  New Testament baptism looks back to the fact that the Messiah has come and also to the abiding results of His work.  New Testament baptism symbolizes the death, burial, and resurrection of the Messiah who came (Romans 6:1-5).  Jesus is preached before New Testament baptism (Acts 2:36-38 cf. 3:14-19; Acts 8:12; Acts 16:30-34).  New Testament is based on the acceptance of Jesus as Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36-38).  It is in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38), that is “on the authority of.”  (2) The confession is different.  John’s baptism involved a confession of sins (Mark 1:4-5; Matthew 3:5-6).  New Testament baptism certainly acknowledges sin (Acts 2:36-38; 3:19; 22:16).  But there is more. It includes belief in the Messiah. It includes another confession.  New Testament baptism involves belief in Jesus (Acts 2:36-38; Acts 8:12; Acts 8:35-38) and confession of this belief (Acts 8:36-38; Romans 10:9-10, 13.  See also – Matthew 16:15-18; 1 Timothy 6:12; Hebrews 10:23 cf. 1 Timothy 1:1). 

3.  Did those baptized with John’s baptism need to be later rebaptized with New Testament baptism?   

I am not convinced that they did. (1) At least some of Jesus’ disciples were first disciples of John (John 1:35-42).  Yet, I do not find clear indication that they were rebaptized. It is certainly possible that they were. However, there is no clear indication that they were. (2) In Acts 2:41, we read, “Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.”  The words “to them” are supplied in the NKJV.    However, whether it is “to them” or “to the church” ( cf., Acts 2:47) they were added to something.  Let us remember that the church is composed of people. Guy N. Woods remarked, “One does not add something to nothing” (Guy N. Woods Question and Answers, Freed-Hardeman College Lectures Open Forum, Vol. 2, p. 135). (3) My theory is this.  Just as David gathered the materials to be used in the Temple prior to Solomon building the Temple (1 Chronicles 29), even so John also gathered materials to be used in the Temple (church) prior to Jesus actually building (erecting) it.  It seems likely to me that those who had been baptized with John’s baptism and who accepted Jesus as the Christ were a part of the church that was established on Pentecost.  This theory was first shared with me by Johnny Ramsey.  It makes sense to me.  Guy N. Woods also taught this position.  He said, “the body of disciples which became the nucleus of the New Testament church on the day of Pentecost consisted of John’s disciples, plus those garnered by the Lord and his associates prior to the day of Pentecost” (ibid). {It is worth pointing out that John and Jesus preached much the same things. Notice: (a) Both preached the coming Kingdom (Matthew 3:1-2/ Matthew 4:17). (b) Both preached the need for repentance (Matthew 3:1-2/ Matthew 4:17). (c) Both baptized (Mark 1:4/ John 4:1-2). Jesus did not personally baptize, but his disciples did [John 4:1-2 is ambiguous in English. Did Jesus baptize only His disciples or did the disciples do the baptizing? It is not ambiguous in Greek, since disciples is in the nominative case and not the accusative]}

What about those rebaptized at Ephesus (Acts 19:1-7)?  In the previous chapter, Apollos was still preaching the baptism of John (Acts 18:24-26).  It was only after Aquilla and Priscilla explained things more accurately to him, that we are told that of Apollos preaching Jesus (Acts 18:26-28).  I believe that those rebaptized at Ephesus had been baptized with John’s baptism long after New Testament baptism had gone into effect.  Guy N. Woods said, “The twelve who were baptized by Paul at Ephesus (Acts 19:1-ff) were these who had submitted to John’s baptism after the day of Pentecost, after the baptism of the Great commission became effective, after the beginning of the Christian dispensation” (ibid). 

Here are a couple of other things to consider.  (1) John’s baptism was spoken of in the past tense during Jesus’ life (Matthew 21:25).  (2) There is no record of anyone being baptized in Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John after John’s imprisonment.

Whether you agree with my answers or not, let us remember something.  None of us have been baptized when John’s baptism was in effect.  It does not directly affect us. 

However, there is an application to us today.  If we have been baptized in a way or with an understanding that is not consistent with the New Testament baptism, there is precedent for rebaptism.



About Bryan Hodge

I am a minister and missionary to numerous countries around the world.
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2 Responses to John’s Baptism and New Testament Baptism

  1. glionsden says:

    Bryan, please send me a friend request for Facebook my account was hacked Sent from my Verizon, Samsung Galaxy tablet

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