Many baptisms and ceremonial washings existed in the first century A.D. Yet, by about 60 A.D. Paul could affirm there is “one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5). God meant for this one baptism to be one of the foundations for a united people.
What follows are aspects of Jesus’ story and how the baptism that is “in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19) fits into the spread of Christianity. This water baptism is commonly referred to as Christian baptism.
The Gospels reveal Jesus wants to give us hope and a new life. Acts provides a sequel explaining how Christianity’s growth then crossed all barriers. Essential to the story of this growth is Christian baptism.
While Jesus walked the earth he repeatedly demonstrated his desire to forgive people. On one occasion he forgave a paralytic and then healed him to prove he had the power to forgive (Luke 5:17-25). Jesus forgave a sinful woman and a thief on a cross (Luke 7:47; 23:43). He also announced salvation had come to a tax collector, named Zacchaeus (Luke 19:9). Luke’s clear message to us is that Jesus can and wants to help us no matter what we have done in the past!
Then after several years of ministry, Jesus died and was resurrected providing the foundation for Christianity’s explosive growth. His death enabled forgiveness to be offered to all nations based on himself, not on our goodness.
Today for us to be forgiven, Jesus does not speak a word like he did during his earthly ministry. Rather, we receive forgiveness by trusting in his blood (Romans 3:25). Thus those earlier stories about forgiveness before Jesus’ death cannot provide a model for how we need to rely upon Christ crucified. Rather, those stories underscore the good news that Jesus wants us to be forgiven and forgiveness comes through him.
After his resurrection, Christ announced that he had all authority and the nations should respond by repenting and being baptized (Luke 24:46-47; Matthew 28:18-19; Mark 16:15-16). With this announcement Jesus inaugurated a new baptism no one during his ministry could have received. This baptism would unite a person with Christ’s death and it was based upon his authority, that is, it was “in his name” (Romans 6:3; Acts 2:38; 8:16; 10:48; 19:5).
50 days after his crucifixion, Peter opened the gates for Jews to begin streaming into Christ’s new community. Peter told the crowd to repent and to be baptized in Jesus’ name for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38). As people obeyed the gospel by being baptized, the community of disciples grew (Acts 2:41, 47).
Later the gospel breached strict Judaic ethnic lines when Philip preached Christ and the kingdom to Samaritans as well as to an Ethiopian, who had worshipped in Jerusalem. Both were baptized (Acts 8:12, 35-39).
God revealed that he wanted the gospel to also go to the Gentiles, so Peter taught and then baptized Cornelius and his family (Acts 10:1-11:18). Shortly after this Paul became an apostle whose ministry focused upon the Gentiles. As Paul proclaimed Christ, people were baptized wherever he traveled. Christianity spread!
About thirty years after Jesus had died, Paul wrote the letter we call Ephesians. In it, he announced:
“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you too were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-46).