What is True Baptism? Water or holy spirit?

For the vast majority of Christians, the terms “baptism” and “water” are virtually inseparable. It is ironic, therefore, that throughout the centuries they have fought among themselves about this issue, sometimes violently. It is sad to say that Church history is rife with such disputes.

The sincere searcher for truth deserves to see a thorough biblical exposition of whatever issue he/she desires to know about. This brief FAQ is designed to pique your curiosity to the degree that you will read our free online booklet titled What is True Baptism?

When it comes to any spiritual matter, the question we must always ask, and then answer, is “What does the Word of God say?” To derive from Scripture the meaning originally intended by the Author, we must come to the Word without preconceived ideas. One such misconception is that “baptism” always refers to baptism in water.

The Greek word baptizo simply means “to dip” or “to immerse.” The word itself has absolutely nothing to do with the element into which something or someone is immersed. In other words, it is possible to be “baptized” into things other than water. Acts 1:5 is pivotal in the study of this subject, and we need to get a running start with the previous verse:

Acts 1:4 and 5
(4) On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about [see Luke 24:49 for one of his previous references].
(5) For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit [there is no article “the” in the text, and “Holy Spirit” should be properly translated as “holy spirit,” because it refers to God’s gift].”

It is clear that Acts 1:5 mentions two baptisms; one in water, and one in holy spirit. This is important because Ephesians 4:5, which is specifically speaking to Christians, says there is only one baptism.

The question we must now answer is: Which one of the two baptisms Jesus spoke of in Acts 1:5 is relevant for us today as Christians, and which one has been deleted? Again, Acts 1:5, and similarly, what John the Baptist himself had said in Mark 1:8, make it clear that the older baptism was in water, and that would be replaced by baptism in holy spirit. That understanding fits well with the following verses:

Hebrews 7:18 and 19
(18) The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless
(19) (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.

Hebrews 9:9 and 10
(9) This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and the sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper.
(10) They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings [baptismos]–external regulations applying until the time of the new order.

Throughout the Old Testament and up to the Day of Pentecost recorded in Acts 2, water (and related liquid terminology) is metaphorically used in Scripture to refer to the spirit of God, that which He gave certain people to equip them for service on His behalf. The old, ceremonial, outer washing in water prescribed in the Mosaic Law for Israel pointed toward, and has now been superseded by, the new, actual, inner cleansing in holy spirit (the divine nature of God, who is the Holy Spirit). The old water baptism could not, and still cannot, change the heart of a man, but the spirit of the Holy God can revolutionize a person from the inside out and enable him to be like Jesus Christ, his true baptizer.

Baptism in water was one of the Old Testament “shadows” cast by the approaching light of Christ. Bringing into reality that greater cleansing, which water baptism only symbolized, required Jesus’ sinless life, sacrificial death, resurrection, ascension, and pouring out of the gift of holy spirit. The Good News is that he did it all—for us!

At this point you may be thinking: “Hold it! You are saying that water baptism is passé, but then why did the early Christians do it?” Good question! And Scripture has a good answer.

Many Christians think that it was John the Baptist who introduced the idea of water baptism. No, the truth is that it was part of the Mosaic Law, and deeply ingrained in every Jew. What John actually did introduce was the phrase “baptized in holy spirit,” showing that water baptism was a symbolic precursor to the greater reality of an internal cleansing via holy spirit.

Remember that for a number of years after the Day of Pentecost when the Church, the Body of Christ, began, all of the first-century Christians were former Jews, and were steeped in Jewish tradition, including the practice of water baptism. Such a mindset is not easy to break away from, as evidenced by the fact that they continued to practice the old water baptism even after Jesus had clearly told them that there was a new baptism (Acts 1:5).

It is critical to note that although those early ex-Jewish Christians did, as do many Christians today, practice water baptism, there neither was nor is any command or requirement from God to do so. Prior to Pentecost, and the beginning of the Church, there was such a command—for Israel. But as Jesus said, that command was superseded by a new kind of “baptism,” one specifically for those who would believe on him as “Lord” and by way of it, be born again.

If you are currently an advocate of water baptism for believers today, what you have read here so far should bring to your mind other verses that might seem to contradict our thesis. We trust you will find that our booklet (What is True Baptism?) cogently explains those verses so that you see how they fit logically with the greater number of clear verses on this subject.

Water baptism is one of the oldest and most cherished Christian traditions, and we realize that our challenging its relevance to believers today may seem to you akin to jeopardizing a family heirloom. But please consider our exposition of this subject in Scripture, the only valid standard for separating truth from error.

You may find that what we set before you is true, and therefore more spiritually invigorating and liberating than the position you now hold. Our hope is that you are enlightened to reach for the greater possibility, the awesome spiritual reality of holy spirit baptism, that is, the new birth and all that is contained in this glorious gift. You need not settle for a “shadow” when you can have the real thing.

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  1. Agreed. I often find ministers saying that water baptism is a command; but not necessary for salvation, which in and of itself, is a potential problem. In Matthew 8:4 we see our Lord clearly in Mosaic mode when He told the leper to appropriately go to the priests and make the offering that Moses commanded. Such a command had to be done in the Mosaic era. The Lord would never give such a command to a Gentile. However, as you indicated, the ostensible command in Matthew 22:19 had to be speaking to a Jewish mind. On the other hand, when a disciple brings the good news to someone, and it results in the recipient receiving Jesus into his/her heart — one person suggested the disciple inadvertently participates in the process of regeneration by the command to proclaim the gospel, which results in the baptism of the Holy Spirit. And so on…

    1. I have read this article, And I am “Whole Heartily In Agreement with this… Please continue to give revelation of the word of God to his lost sheep. We are lost still in more ways than one even as claimers of being Holy-Ghost filled, when we lack the KNOWLEDGE of God’s word which is designed to bring us closer to God as in coming into the “LIGHT” rather then remaining in darkness which is caused by our own rejection to the Knowledge of His word.
      Thank you for this, May God Bless and Keep Us All.

  2. Hi I enjoyed your presentation but would like to ask you one question. The “body of Christ” according to Paul has to be made up of believing Jews and believing Gentiles, “to make of Himself of twain one new man”, you suggest this “body” was formed at Pentecost but how could it when no Gentiles were converted some 8-10 years after Pentecost? Your comments appreciated.

    1. Pentecost was the initiating event and the body started on that day but was not fully formed, meaning consisting of all members, on that day. Initially it did consist of Jews alone and since then Gentiles were added too.

    2. Hi Paul. The Day of Pentecost was the initial day that the Body of Christ started. Thus there were only believing Jews who were members in the beginning, but then as Gentiles believed they were added.

      1. One disagreement with you Dan. Jesus told His followers that if He did not go, the Comforter could not come. The Holy Spirit that He was referring to was a He, the Holy Spirit indwelling in each true Christian, not a “gift.”

        1. HI . I was thinking that too. I was wondering how the difference came about between the holy spirit and THE HOLY SPIRIT. Never heard of it before. Can someone explain this please?

  3. Thank you for the power of truth .Gentiles are more erronuos because because they are inheriting things of the jews

    1. As a devout man of God, could you please offer an explanation for this comment. How am I more “erronous” because I am inheriting things of the jews? Do you know who the jews are and what that name means?

    2. I think you are confused. Scripture makes it clear that there are NO MORE JEWS, or Gentiles. The two are one. If there were differences in things inherited, then the Bible would be a lie since it clearly states that there is no longer ANY distinction between believers. God doesn’t have children and step-children.

  4. Very good site.Thanks.

  5. My dear fellow brethren in the Lord. As im commenting on this matter I had a water baptism today after much explanation on the real baptism.. I have done the Holy Spirit baptism as a child. Now the question is am I at the right path? But to me because that name Jesus was used I have accepted it and believe on His Name.

    1. You are on the right path..Just keep walking and stay on it. Blessings brother.

  6. Excellent teaching, I attend a church that is always advocating water Baptism. We are now studying Galatians almost verse by verse and I want to burst, because we are negating the doctrine taught there. We rip off the Holy Spirit any time we add anything to the finished work of the cross.

    1. so far this is the best comment i have read. when we try to accomplish as humans what the Lord has already accomplished on our behalf and for only one good reason that we could not do it properly ourselves, we in turn insult his job at the cross. whatever the jewish rituals did that were pointing to christ if not everything, had to stop when christ took to the cross fulfil everything.

  7. Thank you for this meaningful facts about the real baptizm. For now I am in a argument, if you could call it like that, I told him (the one who posted water baptism is required, and said that I am not totaly save because I am only baptized by the Holy Spirit and repent, and accepted Christ). He is telling that my whole church is wrong. Thank you for this. Looking forward for more knowledge to acquire as a Christian. Godbless you more 🙂


  9. This is a good submission, but many so call Elders, Apostles, Pastors and other church administrator’s don’t study, they get to the highest authority through doctrine and traditions. This folks believe that deep knowledge of God are infinite, indeterminable to man. There fore water, oil, mantles e.tc can inhabit the power and the Spirit of God which can not be separated from things of God. The DANGER! is that many Christian folks are not deep in Wisdom, Knowledge and Understanding of God. This pop up conflicts which was concluded ” Judgment shall start in the house of God. My big Question is “Can Tradition and the Truth be separated, Is Truth not the foundation of Tradition, Is Tradition independent of Truth or depended.

  10. Between the ages of 18 and 35, I tried water baptism 3 different times. The only result was, I was just a wet sinful church member.
    At age 33, at home, alone in a bedroom writing a letter, suddenly I began to cry. I laid my head on my desk and said, “I have looked everywhere for Jesus…and cannot find Him”. That was when I was baptized in the Holy Spirit.
    I immediately went to the end of the bed and prayed a most serious prayer. Stating I hated a person, whom I would gladly shoot, but fear of jail restrained me, that I was not sorry for my attitude, knowing that to hate is to be guilty of murder. I asked God for help, in Jesus’ Name.
    The evidence of my New Birth became clear over the next few days, I quit swearing. spontaneously. I had this habit since I was about 8 years old, and had tried earnestly to quit several times, I could not.
    The next evidence, I wanted to be baptized in water. My pastor tried to talk me out of that…unsuccessfully.
    I was working in an electronic laboratory with about 60 people, who had listened to my foul mouth for several years. As a result of my new birth, I know of at least 3 of the other workers were born again. A couple of them were good church members, already.
    This all happened in the fall of ’64. I am 88 now and still right in the middle of a Great Adventure. Jesus did for me just like Paul. Poured His Holy Spirit on me unexpectedly.

  11. Amen, this information is such an eye opener. Was wondering what the difference could be as I personally believed in Baptism through the Holy Spirit. As I was reading this article, it made me realise that when God asked for John to baptise Him, he was doing it on our behalf, meaning it is done. Now the only baptism is through the Holy Spirit. Feeling answered.

  12. Thank you so much for putting this on the internet. After a long time reading and studying the Bible I believe what you say and have wanted to see someone else say it. I first got my insight years ago starting with a sermon I heard by my Presbyterian pastor, John Wood at East Ridge Presbyterian Church. He taught about the waters of purification and the water containers for that at the Wedding in Cana was a pointing to Jesus being the New Way of cleansing when He changed the water into wine. Then recently I was shone by the Holy Spirit as I was thinking about “why the Jordan River?” where Jesus was Baptized by John the Baptist. I remembered Naaman was told by Elijah to dip in the Jordan river 7 times to be cleansed of his leprosy. The number 7 is perfection, meaning God. Naaman received not only physical healing but spiritual healing because he accepted the God of the old testament. Then Jesus comes to the Jordan river to show that He is the way for spiritual cleansing.

  13. This is pretty good stuff. This is also why I joined a house church. One of the first lessons I had learned was to get my knowledge by comparing scripture with scripture, not scripture with calvin or luther (1 cor 2:13). Some other things is that we are cleansed by the washing of water with the of the word (Eph 5:26), that there is one faith and one baptism(Eph 4: 5-6), That john baptized with water, but christ with the holy spirit (Mat 3:11). We also see in acts chapter 2 that the people were baptized because they received the word (Acts 2:38-41). When Jesus is asked what the work we must do and Jesus replies, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.” (John 6:29).

  14. Though these things are said I often ask people what must a person believe to be saved and when I ask them what the gospel is they cannot tell me. Anyone who sees this I would encourage you to read Romans 1 and 7 and see that this is who we once were and still can be like: sinners and that just because we become Christians does not mean we no longer sin. We see this in Pauls conflict in Romans 7. Next head to 1 cor 15: 3-5 to learn the only thing that can save and what the true gospel is. Then you can go to Romans 10 to see how salvation truly is acquired

  15. Being a follower of Jesus Christ first and a Baptist second, I believe I received the water baptism the moment I accepted Jesus Christ as my savior. Jesus is the Living Water, the Water of Life. Though i did follow with a physical water baptism about 8 years later I know i was saved by The Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, before the physical water baptism. For we must have a baptism of water (Jesus) and spirit (the Holy Ghost).

  16. There is still a lot of debate on this issue. Even among biblical unitarians. I tend to agree with this series. Context is so important. The whole of the law of Moses and its ordinances were a shadow of the fullfillment in Jesus. In the new covenant Jesus is our Sabbath and also our Mikvah. It is all spiritual now. True repentance and baptism in holy spirit of our Father and His firstborn Son.

  17. Is it necessary to be water baptized to be a disciple or follower of Jesus? Are we able to earn rewards as believers in Jesus without water baptism?

  18. I believe that is the new the best way of baptism. Important thing is the new soul to Christ Jesus our Lord

  19. This is a very good presentation and its a first time my eyes come across with the truth like this one, this all what the church I BELONG to advocates, surprisingly other Christian church regard us as liars the people who are deceiving other Christians . I wish any person who is going to read my comment can be able to UNDERSTAND the word FAITH. In conclusion I am so glad there are some Christians who are able to know that WATER BAPTISM belongs to mosaic law not to Christian

  20. Is there even a single scripture in the Bible which states that baptism of the holy spirit was to continue till today.as Peter said in acts 2:17 that’s the fulfillment of the prophecy,now where is it stated that the prophecy was to continue to fulfill ,how many times can a prophecy be fulfilled ?????

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