By J. Parnell McCarter


Recently on r-f-w list there arose a question of how we should understand John’s baptism.  Should we understand it as the beginning of Christian baptism, or should we understand it as different from Christian baptism?  Someone who understood it as different from Christian baptism posted thus:


>John, though he baptized in water, and though he was a minister

> of the

> gospel lawfully ordained, could not have administered Christian baptism;

> clearly, he did not

Ø    baptize in the name of the Lord Jesus (Acts 19:3-5). 


To which I responded:


Grant, it seems to me John did essentially baptize in the name of Jesus, for we read: "John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.”


But he asserted:

>Moreover, Christian baptism was not instituted until after the resurrection of Christ (Matt. 28), and thus after John's decease.


But I responded:


I see nothing in Mt 28 that would *necessarily* imply Christian baptism began then and not with John's baptism.


I personally find Calvin's arguments to be cogent: " we do not read that Christ did baptize those again who came from John unto him. Moreover, Christ received baptism in his own flesh, that he might couple himself with us by that visible sign, (Matthew 3:15) but if that reigned diversity be admitted, this singular benefit shall fall away and perish, that baptism is common to the Son of God and to us, or that we have all one baptism with him."


Furthermore, Calvin I think rightly answers the paradox of Acts 19:1-5 thus: "it is no new thing for the name of baptism to be translated unto the gifts of the Spirit, as we saw in the first and in the eleventh chapters, (Acts 1:5, and Acts 11:6) where Luke said, that when Christ promised to his apostles to send the Spirit visible, he called it baptism. Also, that when the Spirit came down upon Cornelius, Peter remembered the words of the Lord, “Ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost.” Again, we see that those visible gifts are spoken of by name in this place, and that the same are given with baptism."


Matthew Poole (an original signer of the Westminster Standards) well noted: “It is true, they had further manifestations of the mystery of the gospel brought unto them; but if men should be baptized for every degree of knowledge or grace which they do acquire, how many baptisms had they need to have, who ought daily to grow in grace and in knowledge! It is evident, that the apostles themselves were only baptized with the baptism of John, for there were none else to baptize them. And baptism being an ordinance for our regeneration and new birth, as we can be born but once in the flesh, we can be but once also born in the Spirit; and no more may Christians be baptized twice, than the Jews could be twice circumcised.” (based on Acts 15:5)


Scottish Presbyterian James Fisher of Glasgow (1697-1775) From Fisher's Catechism Q. 94 wrote:

Q. 5. When came baptism to have a divine warrant and restitution?.

A. When God SENT John the Baptist to baptise with water, John 1:33.

Q. 6. Was there any difference between the baptism of John, and the baptism dispensed by the apostles after Christ's ascension?

A. There was no essential difference between them; for both of them had the same visible sign, and the same blessings signified by it.   The difference was only circumstantial, in respect of time, and the
objects of administration.

Q. 7. How did they differ in respect of time?

A. The baptism of John was dispensed before Christ had finished the work which his Father gave him to do; but the baptism of the apostles was mostly after Christ had suffered, and had entered into his glory.

Q. 8. How did they differ as to the objects of administration?

A. The baptism of John was confined to Judea only; but the baptism of the apostles extended to all nations, to whom the gospel was preached, Matt. 28:19.

Q. 9. Did not Paul rebaptise some disciples at Ephesus who had been before baptised by John?

A. No; he only declares, that they who had heard John preach the doctrine of repentance and faith in Christ, were by John baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus, and so needed not to be rebaptised by any other.

Q. 10. Why did Christ, who had no need of it, condescend to be baptised by John?

A. He gives the reason himself; "It becometh us," says he, "to fulfil all righteousness," Matt. 3:15.



And Dr. Francis Nigel Lee has pointed out: “According to the Westminster Larger Catechism Q. 166g, baptism by John is plainly Christian baptism (as Calvin taught).  Indeed, on the Romish-Anabaptist position that the Apostles were allegedly rebaptized (by whom?!), the entire continuity between Christ's Own baptism by John and ours by Christ's Ministers is dispensationalistically vitiated.”


While I think this is a difficult question, it seems to me that Calvin is better able to answer the difficulties with his interpretation than those who disagree with Calvin on this matter would be able to answer his objections.



Note: Calvin’s commentary on this portion of Acts can be found at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom37.vii.i.html .