Brandon's Notepad

September 10, 2011


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Home > My Research > Christianity > Theology > Baptism

Baptism is an ancient Judeo-Christian rite, though its meaning varies greatly by sect. The Catholic Church has always held that Baptism cleanses the sin of the recipient and is the rite of initiation into the covenant of salvation and into the Christian family, the Body of Christ. It is key to salvation. As non-Catholic Christian faith communities splintered over time, the importance of Baptism declined. Today, some Christians believe that Baptism is a (substantively) meaningless ordinance and others actually oppose it altogether.


According to The Online Etymology Dictionary entry for “baptize”, the strict meaning of the Latin baptizare and Greek baptizein is “to immerse [or] dip in water”, though it can be used figuratively (“to be [in] over one’s head” – perhaps the ancients considered themselves to ‘flooded’ in debt instead of ‘buried’ in it). Commonly, sources point out that the word also means “to wash”, specifically with water. The Etymology section for the Baptism article in the Catholic Encyclopedia explains that the term is used both literally and figuratively in Scripture. It is careful to note that the use of the word in Scripture is more broad than the Church’s normal and unqualified reference to the Sacrament of Baptism.

Catholic Teaching

The Church’s understanding of baptism can be found in the Catechism, beginning with paragraph 1213 (summary). Here we read that baptism is the beginning of one’s life in Christ, that it is “the gateway to life in the Spirit”. [CCC 1213] It symbolizes death and resurrection with Christ and is a washing by the Spirit.

Some important observations:

  • Baptism is the normative form by which one is “born again”.
  • Logically, Reconciliation can only follow Baptism. You must enter into the covenant before it is even possible to fall away from it and be reconciled with it again.
  • The rite of initiation into the Old Covenant was circumcision; Baptism is the New Covenant equivalent.

Important Deviations

Efficacy. The Church believes that Baptism cleanses the person of both original sin and actual sins committed until that time. On the other end of the spectrum, Baptism is dismissed as a mere ritual that has no efficacy whatsoever. Support for this view is often based on an interpretation of Scripture that frames Baptism as a figure of speech referring to the profession of faith one makes when one is “born again” and becomes a “real believer”. As should be expected, Lutherans, Anglicans, and any other Protestant group that recognizes Baptism as a Sacrament – that through it grace is bestowed upon the baptized – adheres most closely to Catholic teaching. Baptists, Fundamentalists, and “Bible Christians” of all stripes are on the other end of the spectrum.

Infant Baptism. Baptism is a Sacrament, which means that grace is conferred by the act so long as the proper form and matter are used, regardless of the intellectual assent of the recipient. The opposing view is that for one to have faith in Jesus, one must comprehend that he is our Lord and Savior, and only then is one “born again”. Infants, and indeed, even small children are not capable of such comprehension; thus, since the efficacy of baptism is believed to be nil (as explained above), baptizing infants is not logical to those on the opposite end of the spectrum. (Wikipedia has a particularly-lengthy explanation about the differences, which I do not feel compelled to repeat here.)

Scripture Verses (Topical)

Typology. Noah and the Flood, Moses and the Red Sea, and Joshua and the Crossing the Jordan are all types that point to Baptism, the purging of evil through the use of water.
Gen 1:2: The waters of Creation
1 Cor 10:1-2: Crossing of the Red Sea
1 Pt 3:17-22: The Great Flood

The Baptism of John.

Versus Circumcision.
Gal 6:15: Circumcision is irrelevant

New Life/Creation.
Gal 6:16: Only new life counts
2 Cor 5:17: The old is gone and new is here.
Rom 6:3-4: Baptized into death and raised to new life
Col 2:12: Buried in baptism, raised from the dead
Jn 3:5-6: Born again in the Spirit, not the flesh

Titus 3:3-7: Justified by the washing

Mt 3:13
Mt 28:19-20
Mk 16:15-16
Mt 3:15
Phil 2:7
Mt 3:16-17
Mk 10:38
Lk 12:50
Jn 19:34
1 Jn 5:6-8
Jn 3:5

Work In Progress
I am still gathering applicable passages from various sources:

The Fathers

Epistle of Barnabas, Chapter 11








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