Acts 19:1-8 by Robert Dean
Imagine everything you believed being turned on its head! Jews who believed Christ was the promised Messiah were still connected to the Temple culturally and were just learning about the Holy Spirit and Christian baptism. Most of the rest of the world still worshiped pagan gods and goddesses. Into this maelstrom stepped the Apostle Paul who began leading people to Christ and forming churches. Dig into this riveting account of the history of baptism, the eight types of baptism, and what distinguishes believers' baptism from all others.

Baptism in Ephesus
Acts 19:1-8

Paul spent two to two and a half years in Ephesus establishing a school where he taught and sent missionaries throughout the Roman province of Asia and that established all of the churches we read about, some of them in the seven letters to the churches at the beginning of Revelation and some that are not mentioned there. All of these churches were established during this time as Paul trained pastors in Ephesus who went out witnessing and establishing churches in these and other locations.

Paul arrives in September of AD 53 near the beginning of his third missionary journey. Luke just gives us a brief travelogue as he goes from Jerusalem up to Antioch, visits the brethren there, and then leaves and goes across southern Galatia and makes his way to Ephesus which will be his basic operating center for the next two and a half years. 

Acts 19:1 NASB "It happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus, and found some disciples." In this transition period there were still a number of people who were Old Testament saints, or in the case of these disciples in this chapter, disciples of John the Baptist. They don't have as much information as Apollos had.

Apollos has gone to Corinth and we see is a principle that there doesn't seem to be only one pastor per congregation. There are in various places here different pastors coming along in different congregations. In Ephesus we are going to see Paul, Timothy later on, and John the apostle who was known in Ephesus as John the Elder. All of these men pastured in this area. The plan of God has never depended on one person, one individual.

Here we read that Paul finds some disciples. Disciple is one of those "holy" words that is used a lot and people think it means something that it doesn't. It is the simple Greek word mathetes, which means a student, a learner, somebody who is a dedicated follower of some teacher. It doesn't necessarily mean a believer in Jesus Christ. These men hadn't even heard about Jesus Christ. But they were students of the Word and they were followers of John the Baptist.

Acts 19:2 NASB "He said to them, 'Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?' And they {said} to him, 'No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.'" Paul wants to clarify that they have actually entered into the church age Christian life. So one of the first things we see as we get into this section is the focus on the unique role of God the Holy Spirit in the spiritual life of the church age believer. This is distinct from Old Testament believers who did not have the Holy Spirit in the way we do in the church age.

Acts 19:3 NASB "And he said, 'Into what then were you baptized?' And they said, 'Into John's baptism.'" This is one of those passages where we see the significance of baptism in the early church. The word baptism in the Greek means to immerse. But it has a figurative sense that is often used and that is to indicate identification with something. The baptism of John the Baptist wasn't the baptism of Jesus, it wasn't believer's baptism; it was a baptism of repentance…'"   

Acts 19:4 NASB "Paul said, 'John baptized with the baptism of repentance …" What kind of baptism was John's baptism? It was a water baptism by immersion. In Israel's history, especially in the second temple period, there were a number of different washings. These washings involved complete immersion and they were for the purpose of demonstrating ritual cleanliness. Someone coming to the temple to worship had to make sure that they were ritually cleansed when they worshipped. We make sure that we are spiritually clean before we worship by confessing our sins. That is what the whole function of washing represented. It was a ritual demonstration of a spiritual truth. Before a person could worship God their sin problem had to be dealt with and so there was this physical imagery of washing, of cleansing. John is using that same thing going out into the area along the Jordan, and he is baptizing people by immersing them in the waters of the Jordan. The significance of that baptism was it was identifying the people with repentance, going back to the principle of Deuteronomy 30:1, 2 where God said that if Israel turns back to God then He would recover all of the scattered Jews from around the world and restore them to the land and establish the kingdom. So the sign that they were identifying with John's message and with the kingdom was that they would be baptized. Its picture was one of identification with something. (It also has the idea of inauguration into new life) They are identified with repentance.

"…telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus." That is a focus on the gospel. Notice it is not believe and be baptized to be saved, they were baptized that they might in the future when the one who came after Him came along and believe on Him.   

Acts 19:5 NASB "When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus." This is what distinguishes believer's baptism from the baptism of John the Baptist and the baptism of Christ. We often hear in some circles that we are to "follow the Lord is baptism." The Lord's baptism, as we will see, had nothing to do with either John's baptism or believers' baptism. John's baptism had to do with repentance and Jesus had nothing to repent of; believer's baptism is a picture of our identification and union with Christ, and that does not apply to Christ because His was for inauguration—the inauguration of His public ministry. Baptism here in verse 5 is distinguished by the fact that he says they were to be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.

What is interesting here is that not long after he arrived September of 53 Paul received a letter from Corinth describing various problems in Corinth, and also attached to it was a list of questions. One of the first things that Paul deals with regarding the Corinthians was their problem of divisiveness; their choosing of sides: "I follow this pastor; I follow that pastor." Then there was the holiness crowd who thought they were more spiritual than anybody else, and they followed Jesus. But it was all wrong, and Paul makes the statement in 1 Corinthians chapter one where he said he baptized two or three of them and thanked God he didn't baptize more. He wasn't saying it was because baptism wasn't important, he was say he didn't want to be used as part of their nasty little self-absorbed, arrogant games. He didn't want anyone to use what he did in order to further an agenda. At the same time Paul was castigating the Corinthians for using baptism as a means for dividing people he is personally baptizing these twelve disciples of John the Baptist in Ephesus. So Paul is totally consistent, there is no basis for saying that Paul is phasing out baptism at all. When it is understood correctly it is understood as the sign of the church age.

Acts 19:6 NASB "And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they {began} speaking with tongues and prophesying." They received the Holy Spirit, not when they believed. They believed when they heard the gospel related to Jesus, then they were baptized by water in the name of Jesus, then Paul laid hands on them, and then they received the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues. Each of these events—Pentecost, the Samaritan Pentecost, the salvation of the Gentiles in Cornelius's household, and then here in Ephesus—is a different order. That is a key point in understanding this.

The Pentecostal doctrine which came into the twentieth century that speaking in tongues was the only and necessary sign of being baptized by the Holy Spirit was completely false, because it took this as normative and it took the pattern as normative that first you are saved and as time goes by you then get the "second blessing", speak in tongues, and that showed that you were baptized by the Holy Spirit. But Acts shows that there is a different pattern, a different order of events, and the Samaritans didn't speak in tongues. It was only the Jews, the Gentiles, and then these Old Testament saints that spoke in tongues. So nothing here is normative, nothing is setting a pattern; it is all demonstrating something though about a major shift that is occurring in relation to God's plan for Israel and for the Gentiles. This is all tied up around the doctrine of baptism and the role of God the Holy Spirit. 

The doctrine of baptism

Definition. The English word baptize is not an English word. It is a transliteration because the Reformers were cowards, basically. They didn't want to translate the word immerse because by the time of the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century (The Roman Catholic Church had been practicing infant baptism by sprinkling since about the 4th or 5th century) being baptized was viewed also as being a member of the state. If you said that infant baptism had no value then you were not a member of the state, you were not a good citizen. This mixture of church and state had many ramifications and you could be called not only heretics but treasonous heretics, traitors to the state. And so for belief in baptism by immersion one could be executed, ironically enough, by drowning. When baptism came into English at that time, rather than translating it as immersion, the translators—William Tyndale, John Wycliffe, others who were involved in the translation of the Geneva Bible, then later the King James—rather than translation baptizo as immersion took the cowards way out and transliterated. They avoided all of the arguments.

baptizo means to dip, to plunge, or to immerse. There are many uses of this word that can be found down through the centuries where different writers used it to describe different things. For example, in the 4th century BC Xenophon used it to describe new recruits who had just graduated from basic training in the Spartan Army. They would take their spears and dip them in pig's blood to identify their spear with death. Blood signified death. In the 5th century Euripides used it to describe a ship sinking, being immersed, into the ocean. It indicated a change in the nature of the ship because it was now identified with the water so that it could not float. So as an action baptism signifies identification with something—an action, a person or an object, and indicates a new status in life. Immersion, identification and inauguration are the three key words to use in relationship to baptism.

A lot of times when people hear the word baptism they think about water. But there are a total of eight baptisms in the New Testament and five of them are called real baptisms. A real baptism is one that signifies a true changing status or condition, and these are dry. Whereas three of the baptisms in the New Testament are ritual baptisms and they are all wet.

The three water or ritual baptisms are the ones familiar to everybody. The first of these is the baptism of Jesus, a unique baptism identifying Him with the plan of God. It was inaugurating Him into His ministry as prophet, priest and king to Israel (Matthew 3:13-17). The second ritual baptism is the baptism of John the Baptist which was a baptism of repentance toward God, repentance in relation to God's plan, and repentance in relation to the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 3:1-11). Third, the baptism of believers (Acts 2:38, 41; 8:36-38). The key verse for believers' baptism is Matthew 28:19, 20.

The real or dry baptisms are: a) the baptism Noah (1 Peter 3:20, 21); the baptism of Moses (1 Corinthians 10:2); the baptism of fire (Matthew 3:11, 12); the baptism of the cross (Mark 10:38, 39); the baptism of the Holy Spirit 91 Corinthians 12:13).

The baptism of Jesus

Matthew 3:13 NASB "Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan {coming} to John, to be baptized by him. [14] But John tried to prevent Him, saying, 'I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?' …" John is thinking at this point. Jesus is not a sinner, He doesn't need to repent. [15] "But Jesus answering said to him, 'Permit {it} at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.' Then he permitted Him. [16] After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove {and} lighting on Him, [17] and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, 'This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.'" This is the inauguration of Jesus' ministry as He is identified with God's plan for His life.

John's baptism

John said: "I baptize you with water for repentance." He is using water to signify cleansing, which is what takes place in terms of repentance towards God in preparation for the coming kingdom.

Matthew 28:19, 20 is when Jesus gives the great commission to the disciples. "Go therefore and make disciples …" This is one of only three times in Matthew where the verb to "make disciples" is used. A lot of people make issues of making disciples and being disciple-makers, but without denying the significance this word is only used three times in the Gospels and one time in Acts. This simply means to make students or learners. How do you make somebody a learner of the Word? Teach the Word of God!  "… of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit." This is one of those cases where an effect it put for a cause. The effect is to be baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This cannot be identified with the baptism of the Holy Spirit; this is talking about water baptism, believers' baptism.

But in the early church, as signified in Acts 8 with the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch, it was normative that when a person believed in Jesus he was baptized almost immediately. It was not something he waited for. Water baptism was viewed not as something that brought grace or made one savable, or do anything for you, other than as a teaching aid for your positional truth, your position in Christ. That was so closely linked in time to your conversion, belief in Christ that that is what this first section talks about—evangelism, leading people to Christ and when they believe they will be baptized. The second thing is that you take these new converts and you teach them to "observe all things that I have commanded you." That command has never been rescinded. It is for every single believer, and that is our action plan.   

The five dry baptisms are interesting. They all have something to say and to teach related to spiritual truth.

The first of these is the baptism of Noah. This is one that is usually not on most people's list. Most list seven baptisms and they forget this one. But this is a significant one because the baptism of Noah is used by Peter to teach about the baptism of the Holy Spirit. In the baptism of Noah the people who got baptized were the only ones who didn't get wet.   

1 Peter 3:20 NASB "who [the fallen angels] once were disobedient, when the patience of God …" He identifies those fallen angels with the invasion of the sons of God who intermarried with the daughters of men. " … kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through {the} water." God gave Noah 120 years to preach the gospel throughout the world and he didn't have a single convert. The ministry is hard because you can't quantify the results of a ministry. Today we live in a world where everything has to be quantified. By those standards Noah was a complete and abject failure because he didn't have a single convert. Yet God said he passed with flying colors. 

1 Peter 3:21 NASB "Corresponding to that …" The Greek word translated "corresponding" is antitupos. tupos in Greek is a thing, an example or a mold that is used to depict something. We bring it over into the English as the word "type", like a type of Christ. But the antitupos is what it corresponded to. So there is the shadow or foreshadowing or image—for example, the lamb of God—and that was the type, a picture or example of something in the future, which was Jesus. So Jesus as the Lamb of God is the antitype. And corresponding to that "… baptism now saves you …" Baptism now is an antitype. It is portrayed by something that happened in the days of Noah. "…— not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ." It looks like this. There is the ark and those who are in the ark who are identified with Noah in the Old Testament. That corresponds to a current baptism that Peter is talking about that now saves us, and it is not the removal of dirt from the flesh, so it is not about the literal, physical washing by water.

The current baptism represents the antitype, and this is foreshadowed by the type in the Old Testament—the ark. If the antitype is a baptism, and it is, it is clearly stated, then that which is corresponds to, what pictures it, must also be a baptism. This is the baptism of Noah, which pictures something. It is not the removal of dirt from the flesh but the appeal to God for a good conscience. In other words, the washing of baptism is a picture of the positional cleansing that takes place when a person trusts in Christ as savior. That is all that Peter is talking about here. And that is that washing of regeneration that happens when what we refer to as the baptism by means of the Holy Spirit when we are identified with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection.

So what do we have? We have an immersion in the Holy Spirit in the sense that the Holy Spirit is the one who is used by Jesus to effect that cleansing. That is the immersion aspect, the identification with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection. As we come out of the water, that is a picture of entry into a new life (Romans 6:3, 4). That is the inauguration. So there are the three I-s—identification, immersion, inauguration. So 1 Peter 3:21 is talking about the spiritual baptism of God the Holy Spirit.  

When Peter writes this and says, "the baptism that now saves you," the Greek has two different words for now. Sometimes they are synonymous and there is not really a difference but in some places there is a significant difference. In this case it is a broader noun—now in this age, in this generation, in this decade. This is talking about the church age. Now in the church age we have this new baptism which is the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Peter knew about this because he was there in Acts 1:5 when Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit was going to come upon them. He was there with the disciples who waited in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit descended. And he declared that this prophecy was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost, and he later described this as having been fulfilled in Acts 11:15-17.

The baptism of the Holy Spirit never occurred in the Old Testament. That is the distinguishing feature of the church age. The first few verses in Romans chapter six point out that the significance of this in the sense that baptism saves you is that in that identification with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection the tyranny of the sin nature over us is broken. The sin nature isn't removed but it is broken so that we can be sanctified. This is what sets apart the church age believer and it is depicted in the event of Noah's ark, that those who were identified with Noah are protected and preserved from God's judgment on everyone around them. There was no condemnation for those who were in the ark, just as there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Second, we have the baptism of Moses. This is talking about the Israelites who crossed the Red Sea. 1 Corinthians 10:2 NASB "and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea." They were identified with Moses, and it is an immersion but it is a dry immersion because they are crossing the Red Sea. In that process they are being inaugurated into a new life as a new people of God. When you baptize into something using that preposition eis, that indicates the ultimate goal. The baptism of Moses was identification with Moses in terms of his faith, following him through the Red Sea and emerging on the eastern side where there was new life.

Then we have the baptism of fire (Matthew 3:11, 12). "As for me, I baptize you with water for [eis –to repentance] repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with [en] the Holy Spirit and fire." So just as the cloud and the sea were the means of identification with Moses, the Holy Spirit and fire are the means of identification here. Jesus in the future is going have two different baptisms, one by means the Holy Spirit and the other by means of fire. Fire is a judgment but it is also a picture of cleansing. "His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire." This is a picture of the judgment that will occur at the end of the Tribulation period when the Lord returns at the Second Advent.

There is the baptism of the cross. Mark 10:39 NASB "They said to Him, 'We are able.' And Jesus said to them, 'The cup that I drink you shall drink [identified with His suffering]; and you shall be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized [judgment].'" When you drink something it becomes part of you; you are identifying with it. But the baptism of the cross is really identification with our sins in His judgment on the cross.