029 – Multiple Baptisms

There are many baptisms mentioned in the Bible.

As I present the Biblical Plan of Salvation to my Evangelical friends, one of the common protests they raise is the issue of “multiple baptisms” appearing in the scriptures. I might reference Acts 2:38 in order to explain what happens in water baptism and my evangelical friend quickly responds with something like this…

“Well, water baptism might not be what Peter is talking about there in Acts. You know, there are several types of baptisms mentioned in the scriptures. This is probably a spiritual baptism, not water baptism.”

To add to the confusion, there is another problem affecting this debate. By the time Paul got around to writing Ephesians 4:4, he tells us “there is only one baptism.” So, is Acts 2:38 spiritual baptism or is it water baptism?

A Multitude of Baptisms

As we begin, let’s talk about these “multitude of baptisms” we see in the scriptures; then, let’s see if we can’t narrow all of this down to the one baptism Paul talks about in Ephesians. I have been told there are as many as 11 different types of baptisms mentioned in the Bible. More commonly, I hear from 7 or 9. Here’s my list. I’m up to ten.

1 – Baptism of or with Fire (These would be trials or even death.)
2 – New Testament Water Baptism
3 – Baptism for Jewish Conversion (This is called a Mikvah.)
4 – John’s Baptism
5 – Jesus or His Disciples Baptizing People
6 – Holy Spirit Baptism into Christ
7 – Baptism of the Holy Spirit (This is different from number 6.)
8 – Baptism into Moses
9 – Ceremonial washings of the Old Testament
10 – Baptism for the Dead (That’s an interesting topic!)

There may be more. If you can think of any, please let me know.

Well, we are probably only concerned with a couple of these. We are only looking for baptisms which apply to the New Testament era and they must be associated with the conversion experience Jesus calls, “Born Again,” in John.

John 3:5
“Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.”

This seems to narrow it down to either a spiritual baptism or water baptism.

We know that water baptism was commanded by Jesus in The Great Commission. That happens in…

Matthew 28:19-20
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you…”

We know this Matthew 28 passage is about water baptism because the disciples are told it is something they were to perform on people who had decided to respond to the Gospel message. They were to baptize new disciples.

We are also familiar with spiritual baptism. Look at:

1 Corinthians 12:13
“For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body–whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free–and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” We can not get into the body of Christ unless the Spirit baptizes us into the one body!

So, there appear to be two different baptisms we acknowledge when we have this debate. One is a physical baptism and one is a spiritual baptism. This seems to me to be the two competing understandings of what Pauls’s one baptism might be. Water or Spirit. The other baptisms we see throughout the Bible don’t seem to have anything to do with connecting us to Christ or adding us to the church.

Which baptism do you believe in?

So, the question is, when we see baptism mentioned in the book of Acts forward, and we see it linked to the forgiveness of sins, being added to the church, or being placed “into Christ;” our question is, “Is this a water baptism or a spiritual baptism?”

I think it is… both! This is the only way to harmonize everything. Listen. We can’t say on one hand there are two different baptisms for conversion and then say there is only one baptism. In my mind, there is one baptism but two things are happening. Let me explain this and I’ll bet you might agree.

When we submit ourselves to water baptism, we are physically being buried in water and raised again. By submitting ourself to water baptism, we are obeying Jesus command. At the time of our obedience the Spirit steps in. According to 1 Corinthians, He baptizes us into the one body and into Christ, after our sins are forgiven by God. I think all this happens in an instant during water baptism. When we harmonize everything using this view, a bunch of New Testament passages about baptism make complete sense.

In Acts 2:38 Peter tells the people to be baptized after they ask, “What must we do?” As I have said, this must be water baptism if Peter is doing what he was told to do in The Great Commission, right? But it is also the time the Spirit baptized the 3000 into Christ, into salvation and into the church! It’s all one and the same event. One baptism, two components.

Testing things out

If we take this view, every other baptism we see in the book of Acts works beautifully. Take the Ethiopian Eunuch… this is clearly a water baptism but he is radically changed at that time. Something happened to him during his baptism. Listen to this excerpt:

Acts 8:38-39
“And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing.”

The Treasurer of Ethiopia is a changed man!

Consider the Philippian Jailer and his family. This is a great passage to study because it presents baptism but with a bit of ambiguity. Both proponents of the argument can and do make a solid case that this is water baptism or spiritual baptism.

Listen to this:

Acts 16:33-34
“At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God–he and his whole family.”

The Jailer is radically changed. He invites the prisoners to his home and serves them a meal. You gotta stop and think about that for just a second. It would be wildly insane for any jailer to coddle a prisoner… that’s nuts! This would only happen if something amazing had transpired in the Jailer’s mind and heart. Luke explains, “…he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God–he and his whole family.”

Some will argue, “Yeah but, this scripture does not say, ‘Paul baptized them.’ It simply says, ‘they were baptized.’ This is why I think the Holy Spirit baptizes people.” So let’s ask, “Is this a water baptism or did the Spirit alone baptize them?” If there is only one baptism, it has to be both. Water baptism is a command of God and Paul would most certainly not have forgotten to do it. When the Bible tells us “then immediately he and all his family were baptized,” I’ve gotta go with the common sense and normal understanding of what baptism is. Most folks don’t know anything about our nuanced arguments. Baptism to them is simply and always baptism in water. However, knowing what we know, we also understand that the only way this man and his family could have been changed is by God entering their lives and their hearts. Harmonizing this as one event, two components satisfies all argument.

And, when we allow all of this to harmonize, we discover another interesting thing. The Bible sums this up as “he had come to believe in God.” This is how we know true Biblical belief includes obedience to God’s commands. Belief and faith are made complete by what we do, not by what we think.

Take any other baptism event in the New Testament and see if this understanding doesn’t work out. It’s amazing!

It’s not “either/or” anymore!

But there is one more thing.

Listen carefully. When we argue about this particular issue, the argument is typically an either / or argument. We say, “Acts 2:38 is either water baptism or Spirit baptism.” But perhaps we have missed something; something which has been staring us right in the face for two thousand years. In fact, we’ve already talked about it near the beginning of this podcast. I had been missing this incredible fact for over 30 years and discovered it as I wrote this lesson. It’s seen in what Jesus said to Nicodemus. Let’s look at that again…

John 3:5
“Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.”

Jesus describes the Born Again experience as, water and the Spirit, not water or the Spirit! What we argue are two different and separate events, Jesus tell’s us they are two aspects of a singular event which He calls, “Born Again!” When we are “Born Again,” there are very clearly two things involved! Folks, it’s time for a paradigm shift! It’s not either / or anymore!

Just when you thought we nailed this down!

Now, there may be one little fly in the ointment.

There are a couple of times in the book of Acts when it appears as if we see the Holy Spirit baptizing people before they are water baptized and other cases where it appears that people are baptized by the Spirit sometime after their baptism in water. What’s that all about?

Let’s tackle this tumultuous topic, next!


Dana Haynes
Listen Now – Podcast 029 – Multiple Baptisms

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