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A Quick, Compelling Bible Study Vol. 84: The Meaning of Baptism

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/Oded Balilty, File

Author’s Note: Interested readers can find all previous volumes of this series here. News Flash: The first 56 volumes are compiled into a book titled “Bible Study For Those Who Don’t Read The Bible.” More details at the end. Now back to our regular programming. 

Thanks for joining our Bible study today. Most readers have attended or participated in baptism — the ceremonial sacrament of faith in the name of Jesus Christ. Then, there’s the precious infant often wearing a frilly white gown passed down a generation or two — usually crying after being sprinkled with water. The adoring family pledges they will raise their child in faith, and guests anticipate brunch.

Why does a baby need to be baptized? I pose that question, having chosen to be baptized at age 20 as a non-practicing convert from Judaism. 

The biblical basis is found in the book of Acts when Peter said: 

“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call” (Act 2: 38-39).

In Greek, the word “teknon” refers to children or infants, and Greek is the original language of Acts and the entire New Testament. 

These days, more often than not, children grow and reject the baptismal promises made on their behalf. Yet, sometimes come back, especially when they become parents and understand how moral grounding in the tenets of Christianity can be a positive behavioral influence. 

Conversely, adults who choose to be baptized proudly engage in a powerful act of love and profession of faith in Him and His word. 

Here is a beautifully phrased definition of Baptism:

“Baptism is the outward act that symbolizes the inward phenomenon of coming to and accepting Jesus Christ as real, as God incarnate, as the sacrificial means by which those who believe in him can forever be reconciled to God. The purpose of baptism is to give visual testimony of our commitment to Christ. It is the first step of discipleship.”

The Greek word "baptidzo" literally means to “dip” or to “immerse.”

The first time baptism appears in the New Testament is in the third chapter of Matthew, the first book of the New Testament.  Matthew — a Jewish tax collector who became an apostle of Jesus — is credited with authorship.  Always remember why Matthew is the first book. Quoting my NIV Study Bible: “Matthew’s main purpose is to prove to his Jewish readers that Jesus is their Messiah. He does this primarily by showing how Jesus in his life and ministry fulfilled the Old Testament scripture.”

Thus, the reason why Matthew begins with “the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” 

Then — followed by His birth, escape to Egypt and return to Nazareth — chapter three starts with John the Baptist. (In Vol. 39 of this series, you can read more about John, and one can surmise he was second to recognize the Divinity of Jesus. First was his mother, Elizabeth. When Mary entered her home, she proclaimed, “my Lord” was in Mary’s womb, and in her own womb, John “leaped for joy.”)

Therefore, well before Jesus approached John to baptize him, John instinctively knew who he was expecting, as reflected in John’s first recorded words: 

“ ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: “ ‘A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him’ ” (Matthew 3:1-3).

John’s message resonated with people who were interested in making a radical change in their life — repenting of sin with the promise of entering the “kingdom of heaven”:

“People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.” (Matthew 3:5).

The concept of using water to make oneself more holy and closer to God is written in Exodus: 

“Then the LORD said to Moses… Aaron and his sons [the high priests] are to wash their hands and feet with water from it [a bronze basin]. Whenever they enter the tent of meeting, they shall wash with water so that they will not die” (Exodus 30:17-20).

God informed Moses to tell the high priests to “wash with water so that they will not die” when they came into His presence to offer sacrifices — which could be interpreted as a Messianic prophecy of baptism — the promise of eternal life through belief in Jesus. 

In John’s gospel, Jesus said:

“Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5).

And also from John:

“Whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:14).

The baptism of Jesus is recorded in all four gospels, the highest authentication of an event: (Matthew 3:13-17)(Mark 1: 9-11)(Luke 3:21-22), and (John 1:29-34)

In Matthew, when Jesus and John the Baptist meet, John insists that Jesus baptize him: 

“Jesus replied, ‘Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.’ ” 

Baptism was the beginning of Jesus’s ministry. He came to “fulfill all righteousness” — God’s plan for Him — to suffer, die, and conquer death for our sake. Although Jesus was sinless, through baptism, He showed that He was fully human, identifying with and ready to take on the sins of humankind.  Matthew continues:

“Then John consented. As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased’ ” (Matthew 3:13-17).  (Note at “The Transfiguration” in Vol. 26, God says similar words, only adds “listen to Him.”)

God consecrated Jesus at his Baptism with the Father’s words from heaven authenticating Him. The Jewish Messiah had arrived, and with Him, the Father spoke, the Son was baptized, and the Holy Spirit descended. 

The next time you attend a baptism, focus intently on Jesus’s glorious baptism as a way to forge a closer relationship with Him… and think less about the brunch.

Myra Kahn Adams is a media producer and conservative political and religious writer with numerous national credits. Her new book, “Bible Study For Those Who Don’t Read The Bible,” reprints the first 56 volumes of this popular study. Myra is also Executive Director of, a ministry dedicated to Shroud of Turin education. Contact: or Twitter @MyraKAdams.

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