Ephesians 4:5 “one baptism”
There are many types of baptism that take place throughout the Old and New Testament. However, Paul writes in Ephesians 4:5 that there is “one baptism”. This is not to say that there is only one baptism in existence. Instead, there is only one in which the believer must obey and instruct. In this article, we examine the different baptisms of the Bible, and conclude which of these baptisms Paul is referencing.
Defining our Terms:
Baptism is transliterated from the Greek word βαπτίζω, meaning to immerse or make whelmed. That is to mean fully wet. Many baptisms are in water (see our article on can you baptize yourself?), but as we will see some are not. The Scriptures are very clear as to which baptisms were in water and which were not. We find Biblical water baptism practices included complete immersion, as opposed to sprinkling (i.e. Matt. 3:16, Acts 8:38-39).
1. Baptism of Moses
For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.1 Corinthians 10:1-4
The first of the 7 types of baptism we will discuss is the baptism of Moses. As they passed through the Red Sea, the Children of Israel found themselves surrounded by walls of water. In Moses’ account, we learn as they walked on dry ground, a cloud directing them. This cloud is the Spirit of the Lord leading them on (Ex. 14:21-31). Thus, God delivered (saved) the Children of Israel out of bondage to the Egyptians. We know this event as the “Exodus.” Accordingly, this is what Paul is referring to here in Corinthians. This baptism is symbolic and serves as a type of the one to come. This baptism believers must obey, yet it is not the “one baptism” Paul writes of in Ephesians 4.
2. Baptism of Suffering
Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized…Mark 10:38-39
The second of the 7 kinds of baptism is the baptism of suffering. This baptism is not in reference to water, but the suffering and shame associated with the death of Christ. Also called the “baptism of the cross,” Jesus knows the cup he must drink. It is that of shame and torment through scourging and through the cross (Matt. 26:36-46). So to speak, Jesus became whelmed and immersed in pain and dishonor by unjust men. James and John asked for glory and honor, but would receive the same treatment if they were to follow Christ. Similarly, our calling is to suffer for the sake of Christ (1 Peter 2:21). This also is not the “one baptism” that Paul references in Ephesians 4.
3. Baptism of John
John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”Mark 1:4-8
Third in the 7 types of baptism is the baptism of John. John was to prepare the way of the Lord, and make his paths straight (Mark 1:3). His baptism was in water (specifically the Jordan River) and was for repentance and the forgiveness of sins. The Pharisees and lawyers had rejected John’s baptism, and by doing so had rejected the purpose of God (Luke 7:29-30). Consequently, is this then the “one baptism” to which Paul is referring to in Ephesians 4?
Acts 18-19 shows otherwise. A Jew named Apollos was accurately teaching the things regarding Jesus, yet he knew only the Baptism of John. Consequently, Paul needed to correct those whom Apollos had taught in Ephesus. In this instance, Priscilla and Aquila explain the way of God to Apollos more accurately (Acts 18:24-26). Those under the baptism of John still needed it in the name of Jesus (Acts 19:1-7). Therefore, this shows that John’s baptism is not the “one baptism” to which Paul refers to, but shows that it will be baptism in the name of Jesus.
4. The Baptism of Jesus
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”Matthew 3:13-17
For our fourth type, this account tells us of Christ’s own baptism by water in the Jordan River administered by John the Baptist. Christ knew no sin, with no need of repentance or forgiveness (2 Corinthians 5:21). However, he still underwent baptism in order to “fulfill all righteousness.” Much unlike the Pharisee’s who rejected the purpose of God, Christ by way of example, shows the will of the Father by obedience in baptism. The Father confirms his love for his Son, and immediately after, the Father bestows the Spirit upon him, thus beginning his ministry. Because this account is specific to Christ, it is not what Paul refers to in Ephesians 4.
5. Baptism of Fire
I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.Matthew 3:11-12
The fifth in our list of the different types of baptism is the baptism of fire. In this context, three different baptisms are in view. First, the baptism of John. Second, the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Finally, the baptism of fire. Some suggest the fire refers to the “tongues as of fire” resting upon the Apostles in Acts 2:3. However, it seems that John explains what he means in the surrounding context. Christ will gather his wheat securely into his barn, but one day the chaff will burn with unquenchable fire. Seemingly, this speaks of the future administration of judgment on those who disobey the gospel.
Similarly, 2 Thessalonians 1:5-9 reveals Christ will return in “flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (v. 8). Therefore, this baptism is not of water. Instead, it is eternal “fire” to all those who do not obey the gospel or know the Lord. This is not the “one baptism” paul speaks of in Ephesians 4.
6. Baptism of the Holy Spirit
Again in Matthew 3:11-12, we see John’s words regarding the baptisms which Christ himself will deliver. This is not in reference to baptism in the name of Jesus also to come. Instead, to specific baptisms which will come directly from the hand of Christ. One of these, as promised in Joel 2, is the baptism of the Holy Spirit upon men. Though the Holy Spirit remains in many ways a mystery to us, the Scriptures have revealed several things about it. These revelations help us understand when and where these baptisms took place.
The pouring out of the Holy Spirit on “all flesh” was prophesied by Joel in chapter 2. This began on Pentecost, when the Apostles gathered in Jerusalem together waiting for Christ’s promise of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5, 8). With a mighty rushing sound, the Apostles became filled (baptized) with the Holy Spirit. They began to speak in many tongues (known languages, see vv. 8-11). This fulfilled John’s prophecy that Christ would baptize with the Holy Spirit. Additionally, it partially fulfilled the pouring out of the Spirit on “all flesh” in verse 17. In chapter 10 we see the fulfillment of the rest of the prophecy.
What is Holy Spirit Baptism?
A Symbol of God’s Approval
Holy Spirit Baptism is a symbol of God’s approval. Immediately after the baptism of Christ, the Spirit falls upon Him. God declares this is His son with whom He is “well pleased.” Similarly, in Acts 10, the extension of the Gospel of Christ does not yet include the Gentiles.
As a sign to show that God has granted salvation to the Jews and the Gentiles as well, the Holy Spirit falls upon the centurion Cornelius and all those who heard the words of Peter (Acts 10:30-48). Upon seeing the sign of God’s approval of the Gentiles, Peter remarks “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” (v. 47). Immediately, they undergo baptism in the name of Jesus Christ. Therefore, the Spirit poured out on “all flesh” both the Jews and the Gentiles, fulfilling the prophecy of Joel.
Holy Spirit Baptism vs. Spiritual Gifts
Gifts Through the Apostles
Baptism of the Holy Spirit differs from spiritual gifts. Administration of gifts occur by the Apostles through the Holy Spirit. In Acts 2 and 10, Christ sent down the Holy Spirit and baptized those select men. In both cases spiritual gifts follow. However, the spiritual gift given as a sign of the Holy Spirit baptism in Acts 2 and 10 is only tongues speaking (2:3, 10:46). In the case when the Apostles would lay their hands upon those who had been baptized in the name of Christ, gifts of tongues, prophecy, miracle working, interpretation and many others followed (1 Cor. 12, 2 Tim. 1:6). Passing spiritual gifts and the Spirit occur only through the laying on of the Apostles hands (Acts 8:17-19).
Baptism of the Holy Spirit differs from baptism in the name of Jesus Christ. For instance, upon baptism in the name of Jesus Christ we receive the “gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). However, Acts 8:16 shows that the Spirit had not yet fallen on those who obeyed the word in Samaria. In this case, their baptism occurred only in the name of the Lord Jesus.
We conclude that baptism of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament occurred only 3 times: once upon Christ, in Acts 2 on Pentecost to the Apostles, and in Acts 10 to Cornelius and his house. This baptism occurred directly from Christ as a sign of approval, followed by tongues speaking to show that such a baptism occurred. It is different than the instances in which the Apostles gave the Holy Spirit and its power to Christians through the laying on of hands, and is also different than baptism in the name of Jesus Christ. In conclusion, the fulfillment of Holy Spirit baptism occurs in the new testament church with the Apostles. It is not the “one baptism” Paul speaks of in Ephesians 4.
7. Baptism in the name of Jesus
Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “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.Act 2:36-38
For the final in our seven kinds of baptism we have baptism in the name of Jesus. The Jews realize they killed the son of God. Cut to their hearts, they ask Peter what hope they had – what could they possibly do? Peter instructs instructs repentance and baptism for each of them. Not in the name of John, but in the name of Jesus who is now both Lord and Christ! This baptism was not merely ceremonial, but as Peter says this baptism was for “the forgiveness of your sins”.
The Scriptures are very clear that baptism in the name of Jesus Christ is for the forgiveness of our sins, and that without this baptism there is no forgiveness. Our burial with Christ occurs in baptism (Romans 6:1-6) and the old self dies. Nailing our sins to the cross (Col. 2:11-15) Christ washes away our sins by His blood (Acts 22:16).
Other Effects of Baptism Into Jesus Christ
Baptism in the name of Jesus Christ also places us into his church, the body of Christ. Galatians 3:27 reads “For as many of you were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” and also makes us “sons of God, through faith” (v. 26). Acts 2:42-47 declares that those who were baptized were those who the Lord added to their number that were being saved.
Baptism in the name of Jesus Christ was also in water. As seen in Acts 10, Peter asks “who can refuse the water?” Baptism in the name of Jesus Christ occurred immediately. Also, in Acts 8:26-40, we read the story of Philip and the Eunuch. After preaching Jesus to him, the Eunuch asks, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?” (v. 36). They both went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.
Baptism in the name of Jesus Christ also saves us. See our article on “Do you have to be baptized to get to heaven?” After commanding all to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins, Peter tells them to “save themselves!” Consequently, baptism occurred for those who received his words (Acts 2:40-41). Peter writes in 1 Peter 3:21 “baptism now saves you.” Christ says in Mark 16:16 “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved, but he who does not believe shall be condemned.”
There are 7 types of baptism, but what is the “one baptism”?
Though there are many baptisms in scripture, the “one baptism” all believers must obey and teach is baptism in the name of Jesus Christ. This baptism occurs in water resulting in our forgiven sins. As a result, salvation exists by the blood of Christ as we participate in his death, burial, and resurrection.
You may still have questions about baptism. For example, if you were baptized previously in your life, perhaps as a baby, should you get baptized a second time? We have an article on re-baptism, but for any other questions, please comment below or contact us.