When most people who are familiar with the Bible or Christianity hear or read the words “baptize” or “baptism,” they automatically think of being baptized in water as some sort of initiation rite into the Christian faith. Many people might be surprised to learn that there is more than one type or mode of baptism besides water baptism taught in the New Testament portion of the Bible.
The Old Testament portion of the Bible does not have the word baptize in it. However, the New Testament portion of the Bible contains the word baptize and its derivatives such as (John the) Baptist, baptism, baptisms, baptized, baptizes, baptizing, etc., over 100 times, making it a major theme of the New Testament.
The English word baptize comes from the Greek word baptizo that always means “to fully immerse” or “submerse.” More about immersion later.
To begin, there’s a reference in the Book of Hebrews in the New Testament that teaches about the “foundations” of the faith for those who are followers of Jesus (Hebrews 5: 9 – 6: 2). One of those foundations is “baptisms,” and it is clearly plural. Yes, there is more than one baptism mentioned and taught in the New Testament. In each instance, it means to be fully immersed or submersed into something.
However, in the Book of Ephesians in the New Testament (Ephesians 4: 5), it states clearly that there is only 1 baptism. How do we reconcile Hebrews 6: 2 and Ephesians 4: 5? I’m really not sure that I personally can do that; I simply accept both of them as paradoxical true statements, and am leaving it up to God to make the seeming discrepancy clear to me; and I believe He will do that at some point when I really need to understand more about baptism. At the very least, perhaps the seeming discrepancy or paradox is that there is simply one baptism with several different applications.
Let’s begin by simply listing some of those other baptisms in addition to water baptism, and then we’ll take a deeper look into some of those other baptisms:
First, let’s take a quick look at just one clear water baptism in the New Testament. (Acts 8: 26 – 38) A follower of Jesus named Philip encountered the “secretary of the treasury” from Ethopia who was just returning to his homeland after visiting Israel; the secretary was reading from the Old Testament Book of Isaiah when Philip encountered him; he asked Philip to explain what he (the secretary) was reading; Philip did so. Then they came to some water, and the secretary asked Philip to baptize (immerse) him in the water. The record states, “Both Philip and the treasurer went down into the water, and Philip immersed him.”
I’m not going to deal in this teaching about how water baptism initially meant immersion or submersion, but later devolved into the way some followers of Jesus began to either dip or sprinkle people with water, rather than fully immerse them in water; perhaps I’ll teach more about those historical changes at another time.
Now, here’s that brief listing of other types or modes of baptism in the New Testament:
Matthew 20: 22 and 23: Jesus spoke of a baptism He will be baptized with, but doesn’t specify what He will be baptized with. The context seems to indicate it will be a baptism of suffering. The companion reference to this one is Mark 10: 38 and 39.
Matthew 21: 25: Jesus spoke of John the Baptizer baptizing people; the text does not clearly indicate it was baptism in water. However, this reference and others in context (along with writings throughout church history) clearly indicate John immersed in water. Also see John 1: 31
Mark 1: 8: John the Baptizer stated that Jesus will baptize people with Holy Spirit.
Luke 3: 16: Same as Mark 1: 8, but John the Baptizer added that Jesus will also baptize in fire.
Luke 12: 50: Jesus talked about a baptism He was to be baptized with, a baptism which distressed Him.
Acts 1: 5: Jesus stated that people will be baptized in/with Holy Spirit.
Acts 19: 4: Apparently John the Baptizer’s baptism in water indicated that the people being immersed were to repent (change their minds) when baptized in the water.
Romans 6: 4: Being baptized into Jesus means one is baptized into his death. Also see Galatians 3: 27
1 Corinthians 10: 2: Baptized into Moses.
1 Corinthians 15: 29: Baptized for (on behalf of) the dead.
Colossians 2: 12: Buried with Jesus in baptism.
Now let’s examine each of those in just a bit more detail, but without going into any lengthy theological explanations.
First, the baptism of suffering and deep distress Jesus told his disciples that He must endure. If we hold to the understanding that baptism means immersion, that means Jesus was to be “totally immersed” in suffering. Why? Isaiah 53: 4 – 6 probably teaches most clearly why Jesus was immersed in suffering: it was on behalf of all humanity that He took upon Himself our sufferings so that ultimately all humanity will no longer have to suffer:
“Surely Jesus bore our sicknesses, weaknesses, and distresses and carried all our sorrows and pain. God struck Him down and afflicted Him on our behalf, in our place. He was pierced for our transgressions, He was pulverized for our iniquities; the beatings He endured were for our peace, and by the blows that cut Him we are healed.”
Yes, Jesus was immersed in deep distress and suffering on our behalf: your behalf, my behalf…so that ultimately we will no longer need to bear such suffering and distress that have befallen all humanity and that ultimately leads to our mortal deaths.
Both John the Baptizer and Jesus spoke about Jesus baptizing people in Holy Spirit. I will not address that in this teaching because: 1. There is another teaching on this website titled The Baptism In The Holy Spirit and 2. I have written a book about Holy Spirit titled Friends Forever available at amazon.com. I hasten to say I am not attempting to “push” or sell my book to you for personal profit; all proceeds from the sales of my books go directly into our ministry (Life Enrichment Services, Inc) account to minister to people in numerous ways.
What does it mean that Jesus will baptize people in fire? Again, I won’t cover that in this teaching simply because I refer you to another of my teachings on this website titled Fire that fully covers the matter of Jesus baptizing people in fire.
What about being baptized into Jesus’ death and being buried with Him in baptism? The Bible is quite clear in various references that when Jesus died on the cross, in effect and in reality all humanity died with Him; He died on behalf of and in the place of all humanity…and all humanity died with Him. The Bible teaches that the final result of human sin is death—not eternal conscious torment in hell!—but simply death as all humanity understands the phenomenon called death. Human death occurs when the human spirit exits the human body and returns to God. We see that most clearly when the Bible states that when Jesus cried out, “It is finished! And bowing his head, He gave up his spirit.” (John 19: 30)
There are other references in the Bible that teach us when Jesus’ body was buried in a tomb after his death on the cross (when all humanity died with Him) then all humans were buried with Him, too. But that’s not the end of the matter. The end of the matter is that the Bible teaches when Jesus arose and strode boldly out of that tomb, all humanity also arose with Him, and some day will stride boldly out of all the places we have been buried (or cremated, or “buried” at sea, or wherever):
“Behold, I’m telling you a mystery; we shall not all sleep [in death], but we shall all be changed—in an atomic moment, in the blink of an eye, at the last trumpet, for the last trumpet will sound, and [all] the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall all be changed… Death is swallowed up in victory.” 1 Corinthians 15: 51 – 54
Only one place in the entire Bible does it mention that believers in Jesus were being baptized for the dead (1 Corinthians 15: 29). There is no other biblical reference for such a practice, nor is there any evidence that it was practiced in the early church. That obscure reference has been argued about for centuries, and I’m certainly not going to resolve the matter in this teaching. One major, worldwide church has even made being baptized for the dead a major tenet of its teachings; they do all sorts of geneaological research worldwide so that the church’s adherents are baptized on behalf of literally billions of dead people from around the world whose names they have located and archived.
Finally, what does it mean to be baptized into Moses? Like being baptized for the dead, being baptized into Moses is mentioned only once in the New Testament: “The Israelites in the wilderness were all baptized into Moses and in the cloud and in the sea.” (1 Corinthians 10: 1 and 2) The best commentators about this reference state that when the Israelites passed through the Red Sea on dry land, it was—in a sense—being immersed in water as followers of Jesus are immersed in waters of baptism.
When John the Baptizer baptized people in water it was a baptism of repentance. What does repentance mean? Again, I invite you to read another of my teachings on this website that explains the biblical concept of repentance: Change Your Mind.
There you have it: a brief foray through the New Testament examining what it has to say about various immersions besides being immersed in water as an initiatory rite for new followers of Jesus. Perhaps at the very least, water baptism for followers of Jesus seems to be a “gateway” into other baptisms mentioned in the New Testament.
Here are my own six conclusions about the matter of multiple baptisms mentioned in the New Testament, water baptism being the gateway to other baptisms:
1. Water baptism symbolizes being united, melded, joined inseparably, etc., with Jesus (Galatians 3: 26 and 27). 2. It symbolizes by Jesus his complete forgiveness, cancellation, or full payment for the sins of all humanity. (Acts 2: 38) 3. Water baptism is about identification with Jesus in his full payment for sin and ultimate resurrection to new, sin-free life for all humanity. (Romans 6: 3 – 5) 4. Water baptism ushers a living member of the worldwide, living Body of Jesus, into the church He has been building for over 2,000 years. (1 Corinthians 12: 13) 5. Baptism for repentance means that at the moment of baptism, the person being baptized begins a lifetime of changing and renewing their mind so that ultimately they develop a mind like that of Jesus. (Romans 12: 1 and 2)
It should be noted that each of these aspects of baptism are received by means of faith (Romans 6: 8 – 11), although water baptism is a real, tangible event that occurs in time and space.
Revised and updated January 2023