There Is ... One Baptism
Larry Ray Hafley


A reader asks for clarification:

"The Bible speaks of two baptisms - baptism with water and baptism of the Holy Spirit. Both are referred to on several different occasions, so both are essential (a few examples include Matt. 3:11, John 1:3, John 3:4, Acts 10:34-38).

"Ephesians 4:5, however, speaks of there being one baptism. Since the Bible actually mentions two of them, then this must mean that one of the baptisms takes precedence over the other&ldots;..which baptism is referred to here? Explain what it means to have [either] one superior to the other."

Baptisms Of The Bible

Actually, the Bible speaks of more than "two baptisms." It speaks of a baptism of suffering (Mk. 10:38, 39; Lk. 12:50), "the baptism of John" (Matt. 21:25), a baptism of fire (Matt. 3:11), and a baptism "unto Moses" (1 Cor. 10:2), as well as the aforementioned baptisms of water and the Holy Spirit.

Neither the fact that these baptisms are mentioned, nor that some of them were once essential for certain ones, means that they are authorized today. Too, the fact that a baptism might be demanded for some does not mean that it was essential for all others. The baptism of John is an example. It was not for the Gentiles. It could not be said of the procurator Pontius Pilate, as it was said of certain Jews, that he rejected the counsel of God by not being baptized of John (Lk. 7:29. 30). Also, by its very nature, the baptism "unto Moses," while essential to those who would escape Egypt, was not one in which every Israelite of every generation could participate (Ex. 14:29-31; 1 Cor. 10:1, 2). An Israelite in Isaiah's day could not "claim" the baptism of Moses for himself; he could not declare that since his fathers "experienced," or received it, that it was for him and his brethren. Hence, the fact that a baptism is "referred to" does not make it essential to all for the same purpose. This is true, as we shall see, of Holy Spirit baptism.

Note that while an Israelite in David's day could not receive the baptism "unto Moses," he could receive the benefits of it. That is, he was not a slave, but was in the mighty nation of Israel. Likewise, though one is not baptized with the Holy Spirit today, he still receives the benefits of that baptism under the gospel (Eph. 3:3-5, 8-11; 1 Pet. 1:10-12).

It is not a matter of whether one baptism is "superior" to another. Each baptism is paramount in its own time and place with respect to its purpose and function. So, when we say there is "one baptism," it does not mean that one baptism is better or superior to another, but that one exists in this age because its purpose continues.

Holy Spirit And Water Baptism

(1) Elements: Yes, there were two baptisms in Acts 2, and in Acts 10, one in the element of water (Cf. Acts 2:38; 10:47, 48-baptism in the name of Christ is in water) and the other in the Holy Spirit (Cf. Acts 1:2-8; 2:1-4; 10:44-46; 11:15-17). Thus, there are two separate elements, water and the Holy Spirit. Two separate elements demands two separate baptisms. If one were baptized in water and also in oil, the fact that there were two elements would mean there were two immersions. Thus, water and Holy Spirit baptism are two separate baptisms and not a combination wherein they both together constitute one baptism. (2) Persons: Water and Holy Spirit baptism were not for the same persons (Acts 1:2-8; 2:38). Holy Spirit baptism was promised to the apostles (Cf. Matt. 26:20 and Jn. 13:1; Jn.14:26; 15:26, 27; 16:13; Acts 1:2-8). Though Cornelius and his household received it, it was never promised to anyone else. (3) Purposes: Water baptism is "for the remission of sins" (Mk. 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16). That is never said of Holy Spirit baptism. The apostles were baptized with the Holy Spirit that they might "receive power" and be guided "into all truth" (Jn. 14:26; 15:26, 27; 16:13; Acts 1:8). Cornelius and his household received it that it might be clearly seen that the Gentiles were subject to the gospel (Acts 10:47, 48; 11:18; 15:7-11). Holy Spirit baptism was never given or promised to save anyone, but water baptism is essential for one to be saved or forgiven (Mk. 16;16; Acts 2:38). (For a detailed study of this point, see, my book, "The Christ, The Cross, And The Church," pages 136-138, 142-145). (4) Administrators: Men are authorized to baptize penitent believers in water (Matt 28:19; Acts 8:38; 1 Cor. 1:14, 15). Men, therefore, are the administrators of water baptism. However, Jesus is the one who baptized with the Holy Spirit (Matt. 3:11). Men cannot perform, cannot administer, Holy Spirit baptism.

Now, Though, "There Is One Baptism"

As noted, there are several baptisms mentioned in the Bible. Now, though, Paul says, "there is...one baptism" (Eph. 4:4, 5). He did not say "there has always been one baptism," neither did he say, "there will always be just "one baptism," but he said, "there is...one baptism." That being true, which baptisms have ceased? Obviously, we are not under John's baptism today (Acts 19:1-5). Certainly, we all realize that the baptism of Moses does not continue (1 Cor. 10:1, 2). The Lord and his baptism of suffering does not continue today. The apostles received it, but it is not for believers today as it was for them. It has been "accomplished" (Lk. 12:50). The baptism of fire has not yet occurred (Matt. 3:7-12). No one should desire it! That baptism of fire is in an "unquenchable fire" (Matt. 3:12). It is, therefore the baptism of fire in hell, that is, "into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched" (Cf. Matt. 3:12; Mk. 9:45, 46).

Since there is now, in our age, "one baptism," which of the two, water or Holy Spirit, has ceased? When the purpose of the baptisms that have ceased was fulfilled, the baptism ceased. For example, when the baptism "unto Moses" achieved its purpose, when Israel was finally separated from Egyptian bondage, that baptism was never repeated. When the baptism of John accomplished its purpose, it, too, was terminated (Acts 19:1-5).

Thus, of the two, water or Holy Spirit baptism, which has fulfilled its purpose, its mission? Is the word of God incomplete? Do men today need to receive more truth? No, for we have "all truth," "the perfect law of liberty," "all things that pertain unto life and godliness," "the faith once (one time for all time) delivered" (Jn. 16:13; Jas. 1:25; 2 Pet. 1:3; Jude 3). The Scriptures are able to furnish the man of God completely unto every good work (2 Tim. 3:16, 17). Hence, we do not need to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit as the apostles received it. The purpose has been fulfilled. We have all truth, the whole and complete truth of God.

The household of Cornelius received Holy Spirit baptism. Do men today still need to be convinced that Gentiles are amenable to the gospel? No, all recognize the universal nature and appeal of the gospel-"teach all nations," "into all the world," "in every nation," "whosoever will." Holy Spirit baptism is not required in our day to demonstrate that Jesus died for all men and that "whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." Its point and purpose has been attained.

When the purpose of the baptism of Moses was met, it ended, never to be repeated again. When John's baptism met its goal, it was no longer valid. Likewise, since the purposes of Holy Spirit baptism have been fulfilled, it is no longer being employed. Jesus is not baptizing people in the Holy Spirit as he once did.

What of water baptism? Does it continue? If so, why? Well, water baptism in the name of Christ is "for the remission of sins" (Acts 2:38). Men must be baptized in order to be saved (Mk. 16:16). Do men today need the forgiveness of sins? Do men today still need to be saved? If so, then water baptism continues. It will exist as long as there are men who need to be forgiven of their sins and saved. So, since there is "one baptism," which one is left? Which one, of all the baptisms previously cited, which one has a purpose that is still necessary? Which baptism is needed with respect to its purpose as stated in Scripture? Why, water baptism, of course.

Now, if ever there comes a time when everyone is saved, if there were ever a time when there were no lost sinners, if every man were forgiven, would water baptism continue? No, for its purpose would no longer be necessary. That is why the other baptisms ceased. So, water baptism would end and would no longer be practiced if everyone were saved. Obviously, that has not happened, and water baptism continues. It is, therefore, the "one baptism" of Ephesians 4:5.


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