1 Corinthians 12:13
ESV - 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body - Jews or Greeks, slaves or free - and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
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Baptism, as taught in the bible, is strictly a New Testament activity. It began with John the Baptist who came preaching a message of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. People came to John, confessing their sins, and then John baptized them as a physical sign that they had repented in their hearts (turned away from their sins to live a holy and righteous life). Jesus was baptized to set the example that every believer needs to be baptized. See Matthew chapter 3. The baptism instituted by the Christian church is illustrated throughout the book of Acts. People hear the gospel message, confess their sins, accept Jesus as their personal saviour, are baptized in water as a physical symbol of repentance and faith, and then are baptized by the Holy Spirit who comes to live in every believer. The Christian view of baptism is that we are buried with Christ in baptism (our old nature is put to death) and we are raised with him to live a new life (we are born again spiritually and become a new creation). See Romans 6:4-11. John baptized in the Jordan River, During the flood season there was enough water to immerse people, but during the dry season there was likely only enough water to sprinkle people. In my view, the amount of water is not important, but the correct theology underlying the physical act of baptism is of paramount Importance. I came from a church background that taught that “your baptism saves you”. As I grew in my faith, I couldn’t reconcile this teaching with my own understanding of baptism as I studied the bible. So I moved to a church denomination that did practice what I believed was in harmony with the bible.
As far as I am aware, any ritual cleansing prescribed in the Old Testament that Levitical priests would have undergone for purification purposes before putting their sacred garments on (such as that described in Leviticus 16) would have involved complete immersion. However, those rituals were not referred to as baptism, nor did they involve the identification of New Testament baptism as a symbolic representation of being buried and resurrected with Christ. That symbolism, as well as the lack of any specific mention in the New Testament of baptism by sprinkling, causes some Christians to regard baptism by complete immersion as the only valid form of baptism. However, the fact that the Bible refers (in passages such as Acts 16:33) to the baptism of entire households (presumably including children), as well as passages such as Matthew 18:6, Mark 10:13-16, Luke 1:15, Acts 2:39, and 2 Timothy 3:15, which speak of the ability of children (even in the womb) to express faith, have resulted in various denominations practicing the baptism of infants, but doing it by sprinkling (since complete immersion would not be feasible in those cases).
The Bible baptism is only by immersion – the baptism by sprinkling cannot be found anywhere in the Bible. Some denominations today practice the baptism by sprinkling and point to Leviticus 14:15-16 as a divine endorsement of this practice. However, the text refers to the process of purification of lepers after they recovered from their disease. Leviticus 14 is totally unrelated to the NT baptism and cannot be used to justify sprinkling or pouring as an appropriate mode of baptism. The first recorded baptism by sprinkling is that of an individual by the name of Novatian in AD 251 noted in Mosheim’s Historical Commentaries. Apparently Novatian was bedridden and gravely ill and a baptism by immersion could not be accommodated. In AD 753 Pope Steven II was the first to officially allow the baptism by pouring or sprinkling, but only in case of necessity. The Catholic Council of Ravenna in AD 1311, declared immersion or sprinkling to be indifferent, allowing the priests to use their discretion in administering the baptism. From that point on, the pouring or sprinkling became the preferred mode of baptism in the Catholic church as well as other denomination like Greek and Russian Orthodox.
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