I recently finished Everett Ferguson’s Baptism in the Early Church.  This massive tome of 860 pages thoroughly explores the theology and practice of baptism in the first five centuries of the church.  What follows is a brief summary of Ferguson’s main findings.


Baptism was a big deal to the early Christians.  It was modeled on John’s practice, as well as Jesus’ example and command.  Unlike Jewish and pagan precursors which saw ritual washings as related ritual purification, Christian baptism was intended for spiritual cleansing and moral transformation.


Great pomp and ceremony developed very early around the church’s practice of baptism. While traditions differed from region to region as well as over time, in general, baptism was performed in the nude, via triple immersion, with the laying on of hands, exorcisms, renunciation of the devil, anointing with oil, confession of the creed, post-baptismal eucharist, and the wearing of a white garment.  (more…)

I have been asked on several occasions what my thoughts are regarding re-baptism.  I have in mind those who were previously baptized in a legitimate Biblical manner, but want to be baptized again for various reasons.  The Bible does not directly address this issue, so we cannot cite chapter and verse to settle it.  We have to think about it theologically and practically.  Here are my thoughts on the matter.

First, we have to consider what makes baptism effective.  According to Paul, it is one’s faith in what God is doing through the act of baptism:

In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. (Col 2:11-12)

If one exercised genuine faith in Jesus when they were baptized, then their baptism was legitimate and spiritually efficacious, and there is no spiritual need to be rebaptized.  They already have the spiritual benefits of baptism applied to their life.  Being rebaptized will add nothing to their spiritual life that they do not possess already.  However, if one did not have faith in Jesus when they were baptized, or if they are not certain whether they had genuine faith at the time and they feel the need to be rebaptized, then by all means they should do so.


I’ve been giving some additional thought to the traditional OP interpretation of Matthew 28:19, particularly our emphasis on the importance of the singular nature of “name.” We argue that if Jesus meant for us to actually invoke three names over the baptizee (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), He should have used the plural form, “names.” Instead, He used the singular form, “name,” which is grammatically incorrect. Why did He do so? Because He only had one name in view. The disciples properly discerned that name to be His name-Jesus-and used His name exclusively in their baptismal formula. They obeyed, rather than repeated Jesus’ words.

I’m not so sure our emphasis on the singular form of “name” is justified. The use of the singular “name” is grammatically justifiable. “Of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” is a string of three genitival phrases modifying “name.” It could be argued that the prepositional phrase, “in the name,” is implied for both the Son and the Holy Spirit, so that the intended sense of the verse is, “Baptizing them in the name of the Father, and [in the name] of the Son, and [in the name] of the Holy Spirit.” It would be similar to my saying, “Arrest them in the name of the king, and the queen, and the motherland.” Here, the singular use of “name” is justified because “in the name of” is implied for both the queen and the motherland. The sentence should really read, “Arrest them in the name of the king, and [the name of] the queen, and [the name of] the motherland.” If the same is true of Matthew 28:19, then the singular “name” is being applied to each of the three appellations individually, and hence the singular use of name is grammatically justified.

If I am right, then making an ado over the singular use of “name” as an obvious signal that Jesus meant for the disciples to pick up on some deeper meaning is misguided, and irrelevant to understanding how Matthew 28:19 squares with the baptismal formula used by the apostles in Acts.

If I am right, how should we understand what Jesus said against what the apostles did? Why did they baptize in Jesus’ name? What clued them in to the fact that Jesus did not mean for them to literally repeat His words? If it wasn’t His singular use of “name,” maybe it was what Jesus said before speaking those controversial words. He prefaced His command to make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the F/S/HS by saying, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me, therefore…” (28:18). After He issued His command He continued to speak exclusively of Himself: “Teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always” (28:20). The emphasis was on Christ alone. Together with the disciples recognition that Jesus encapsulates our experience of God, they understood His words to mean that they were to baptize in His name. The authority (name) in which we are baptized is the same as the one who just claimed all authority in heaven and earth: Jesus Christ. It is for that reason that we are baptized in His name.

Whether it was due to the singular use of “name,” or the context of Jesus’ command, the fact remains that the apostles understood Jesus to mean they were to baptize in His name, and we should follow their lead.

Any thoughts? Any grammatical or theological insights?

UPDATE: Someone emailed me a link to an article by a Oneness Pentecostal making the same points I made here, but in expanded form. The author, Mark Kennicott, also exegetes some of the key passages cited in support of the conclusion that Jesus is the singular name of the Father and Spirit. Check it out.

Oneness Pentecostals (OPs) understand Matthew 28:19 to refer to the name of Jesus Christ. Jesus said we are to be baptized in the name (singular) of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He did not say names (plural), which we would expect grammatically if He literally wanted us to repeat “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” over the baptizee. His use of the singular “name,” as well as the context indicates He had a singular name in mind: His own = Jesus. Looking at how the apostles obeyed His command confirms this interpretation, for they always and only baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.

I’m taking this as a given. What I want to focus on is how “Jesus” is the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. OPs often interpret this verse to mean the name of the Father is Jesus, the name of the Son is Jesus, and the name of the Holy Spirit is Jesus. I am not persuaded this is the correct interpretation. Such an interpretation is foreign to the rest of Scripture. While Scripture identifies the name of the Son as Jesus, nowhere does it identify “Jesus” as the name of the Father and the name of the Holy Spirit. In fact, Scripture consistently uses Jesus/Son in contradistinction to Father and Holy Spirit. Jesus is used to refer to God’s human mode of existence as the Son/Messiah. Father is used to refer to God’s supracarnate existence (i.e. God’s existence beyond the incarnation). Scripture does not call the Father “Jesus” anymore than it calls Jesus “Father.” While Scripture teaches us that Jesus’ deity is the deity of the Father, it consistently distinguishes between the appellations “Father” and “Jesus” because these appellations are representative of the distinction in the uni-personal God’s modes of existence. To confuse the appellations is to confuse God’s two modes of existence: as God, as man. If we interpret Matthew 28:19 to mean the name of the Father is Jesus, however, we are doing just that: confusing the existential distinction between God’s existence as God, and His existence as man. If Scripture uses the name Jesus to refer to the Son and only the Son, we should not use it to refer to the Father and Holy Spirit as if it equally applies. While we may understand God to be one person, and recognize that Jesus’ deity is that of the Father, it does not give us license to use Biblical terms in unbiblical ways.


If you accept my reason for questioning the traditional interpretation, how do you think we should understand Jesus’ words? I have my own take on it, but I want to hold off sharing it until after I hear from you.


If you object to my reason for objecting to the traditional OP interpretation, and maintain the traditional view, what do you find problematic about my objection? Do you have any reasons you can provide me for accepting the traditional OP interpretation?

A blogger asked a question in the comments section of the “The Oneness of God and Baptism in Jesus’ Name are not Joined at the Hip” thread that deserves its own post. The question had to do with the validity of hybrid baptismal formulas.

Do you think it is acceptable to baptize someone with either of these hybrid baptismal formulas?:

  1. “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, which is the name of Jesus Christ.”
  2. “In the name of Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

Why or why not? Do you think someone who was baptized with such a formula is saved? Would you require them to be rebaptized?

I would like to hear your thoughts on this matter.

All of my Pentecostal life I have heard how the issues of baptism and the Oneness of God are joined at the hip. It’s been taught over and over again that one will not “see” baptism in Jesus’ name until they “see” the Oneness of God. That idea never sat quite right with me. I saw the connection, but did not see any logical connection. While an understanding of the Oneness of God is sufficient to see that we are to be baptized in Jesus’ name, I do not think it is necessary to see that we are to be baptized in Jesus’ name.

One not need not believe in the Oneness of God to see the validity of Jesus’ name baptism (I have heard there are Trinitarian churches that baptize in Jesus’ name, although I cannot point to any specific church). Indeed, even if God were a Trinity, it would not change the fact that the intended baptismal formula is the Jesus’ name formula. Think of prayer. The Bible is clear that prayer is to be “in Jesus’ name.” No Trinitarian argues that since God is a Trinity, one should pray “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” They accept the teaching of Scripture that prayer is to be said exclusively in Jesus’ name, and do not see that as detracting from the Trinity. Likewise, the Jesus’ name formula-if the intended formula-poses no challenge to Trinitarian theology.

The question of how many persons are in the Godhead and the question of the proper baptismal formula are two related, but separate issues. To determine the number of persons in the Godhead we examine those passages that teach us about God. To determine the proper baptismal formula we look to those passages that instruct us on that matter. When we do, it becomes apparent that the early church interpreted Jesus’ command in Matthew 28:19 to baptize in the singular name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as a command to baptize in Jesus’ own name, as evidenced by their exclusive use of the Jesus’ name formula in evangelism.

The Jesus’ name formula makes sense given the purpose of baptism: to identify us with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection (see Romans 6:1-4). In Trinitarian theology, the Father and Spirit did not die, were not buried, and were not resurrected. It was only Jesus. Therefore, even on a Trinitarian view it would be entirely reasonable to be baptized only in the name of Jesus.

I think all can agree that baptism in Jesus’ name makes more sense on a Oneness view of God, but the fact remains that both Trinitarians and Oneness believers alike can see (1) that the Jesus’ name formula is taught in Scripture, (2) that it is the authoritative apostolic interpretation of Jesus’ words in Matthew 28:19, (3) and that it makes theological sense to be baptized using the Jesus’ name formula given the purpose of baptism. We should continue to reach out to Trinitarians to help them understand the nature of God more perfectly, but we should not think their ability to see the validity of Jesus’ name baptism depends on their ability to see the Oneness of God.

Awhile back a blog dedicated to Biblical theology was discussing what it meant for Jesus’ baptism to “fulfill all righteousness.” One of the commentators brought up Broughton Knox’s take on the passage. Know writes:
In other words, Jesus said that it was right for him to identify with John’s messianic movement, for John’s baptism was “from God” (Matt 21:25) and Jesus would not stand aloof from it but ‘while all the people were being baptized’ (Lk 3:21) it was suitable that Jesus too should be baptized. It was the ‘right thing to do’. It was right for John, who was sent from God to baptize with water (John 1:33) to baptize Jesus and so include him in the movement along with all other God-fearing Jews who were awaiting the kingdom, and it was right for Jesus to accept John as the God-sent leader at that time and so accept baptism at his hands. In this way it was appropriate for both of them that John should baptize Jesus and that Jesus should identify with John’s message in the way that God had ordained, i.e., by being baptized by him in water, for God had sent him to baptize with water (John 1:33). That is, the baptism of Jesus was a baptism of discipleship, for at that time John was the leader. When the providence of God removed John from the leadership through Herod shutting him up in prison, then Jesus took over the leadership, preaching the same gospel. However, it would seem that he dropped the rite of baptizing with water, though his disciples revived it on the day of Pentecost.
What do you think of this interpretation? What is your interpretation of this intriguing and perplexing passage?

What did Paul mean when he said, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel…” (I Cor 1:17)? Here is the full context:
Now I mean this, that each of you is saying, “I am with Paul,” or “I am with Apollos,” or “I am with Cephas,” or “I am with Christ.” 1:13 Is Christ divided? Paul wasn’t crucified for you, was he? Or were you in fact baptized in the name of Paul? 1:14 I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 1:15 so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name! 1:16 (I also baptized the household of Stephanus. Otherwise, I do not remember whether I baptized anyone else.) 1:17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel – and not with clever speech, so that the cross of Christ would not become useless. (I Cor 1:11-17)


This passage poses a challenge to those of us who understand the Bible to teach that baptism is essential to salvation. It’s one thing to say, “I did not baptize many of you,” but it is an entirely other matter to say, “Christ did not send me to baptize.” The first is an incidental fact of history and circumstance, but the latter appears to speak of purpose. Paul seems to be saying that baptizing people is not part of His ministerial call. It seems strange that Paul, a minister of the Gospel, would not be sent to baptize when baptism is a proper response to the Gospel message. And it’s not as if Paul’s type of ministry would not have required him to baptize much. A teacher may not be required to baptize much because his ministerial function is primarily to believers, but Paul was an apostle. It would seem strange that someone whose job was to make converts for Christ would not be sent to baptize, if baptism was essential to their conversion. Taken at face value, this appears to diminish the importance of baptism, calling into question whether it is indeed necessary for regeneration. So how do we understand Paul, then?

One possibility is that Paul is employing a Hebraism. Hebrews used a “not this, but this” construction to communicate the idea of “not only this, but also and especially this other.” It is a way of emphasizing what’s named second over what’s named first. For example, when Jesus said “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that remains unto everlasting life” (Jn 6:27). Clearly He did not mean we should not work so that we can buy food, but rather that we need to do more than that. We need to work to obtain food that is more important: food that will last forever.

The problem with this explanation is that it still doesn’t fit with our understanding of the importance of baptism. If baptism is necessary to salvation, how could preaching the Gospel be said to be of more importance? It would seem to me that both would be equally important. Without the preaching of the Gospel one could not have faith; without baptism one could not properly exercise their faith to be born again. So while this explanation seems plausible at first, it ends up just recycling the problem. In the end the role of baptism is denigrated.

What are your thoughts on this passage? How would you explain it in light of other Biblical passages?



All I have ever heard in my Pentecostal life is that the purpose of baptism is the forgiveness of sins. I do not doubt that baptism involves the forgiveness of sins, but I think it is more proper to understand forgiveness as the consequence of the primary purpose of baptism: to unify us with Christ. Romans 6:1-6 and Galatians 3:27 are key texts: 

What shall we say then? Are we to remain in sin so that grace may increase? 6:2 Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 6:3 Or do you not know that as many as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 6:4 Therefore we have been buried with him through baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too may live a new life. 6:5 For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we will certainly also be united in the likeness of his resurrection. 6:6 We know that our old man was crucified with him so that the body of sin would no longer dominate us, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. (Rom 6:1-6) 

For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. (Gal 3:27) 

According to Paul, when we are baptized in Jesus’ name we are clothed with Christ. We are baptized into Him, not merely unto Him. This union Paul describes appears to be a legal union. When we are baptized into Christ we join ourselves to Him so that what He accomplished spiritually on our behalf can be legally credited to us as if we had done it ourselves. When we are baptized into Christ we die to sin just as He died to sin; when we are baptized into Christ our old man is buried with Him; when we are baptized into Christ we are raised with Christ to newness of resurrection life (Notice how baptism is connected with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. This is in contradistinction to our normal way of explaining salvation wherein we die at repentance, are buried by baptism, and rise to new life in Spirit baptism. According to Paul baptism does all three.) Baptism allows for Christ’s victory over sin to be accounted to us as if it were our own. Understood in such a fashion it is obvious why Scripture says baptism if for the forgiveness of sins. It is the natural byproduct of this spiritual-legal transaction. To be dead to sin and experience new life in Christ is to be forgiven. So while forgiveness is definitely a purpose of baptism, it seems to be secondary in effect. It is a consequence of our union with Christ. 

As a side point, is anyone willing to take a stab at explaining the relationship between the forgiveness we receive when we repent of our sins, and the forgiveness we receive when we are united to Christ through baptism?