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Baptism in the Bible

by Brant Pitre July 18, 2019 0 Comments



 



Transcript:

Where is baptism in the Bible? Well, baptism is mentioned by Jesus Christ himself in John 3. This is your first quote. Let’s begin. This is the famous story of Jesus and the Pharisee named Nicodemus. They had a little dialogue with one another in which Jesus uttered the very first words in the New Testament about the importance of baptism and this is what he says (John’s gospel):

Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do, unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. (John 3:1-5)

Now what we see here is a very interesting exchange between Jesus and this Pharisee Nicodemus. Jesus is being confronted by this Pharisee and asked some questions. You’ll notice that the Pharisee doesn’t necessarily think he is the messiah. He recognizes him as what? A teacher from God, and so he asks him a question and basically Jesus responds to him by saying these words, “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Now how many of you have ever been asked by a non-Catholic friend or family member, “Have you been born again?” Anybody? Anybody been asked that? Ok, it is often tied to the question, “Have you been saved?” And sometimes when Catholics are asked that question, they don’t know exactly how to respond because the language is sometimes different between Catholics and non-Catholics. I remember the first time I was asked that question, “Have you been born again?” My response was (very eloquently), “Uh…well…um…what…what do you mean born again?” I had no idea where my friend was coming from who was a protestant Christian.  What they meant was, “Had I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and savior?” And sometimes you may find them refer to this very verse in the scripture. Jesus says right here, “unless a person is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” He can’t enter into heaven. But what does Jesus mean by “born again” here?

Notice, to our non-Catholic brothers and sisters it means “accept Jesus as your personal lord and savior.” Now, that’s a very important thing for us to do. But is that what Jesus is saying here? Is that what he means? One of the most important rules you can learn about interpreting the Bible as a Catholic is that you always have to look at the context, the surrounding context of the words, where they occur in the scripture and what Jesus is talking about. If you look at the context you can see two things. First of all, it’s very clear that when Jesus says the words “born again”, he’s not talking about a natural rebirth is he? Notice what Nicodemus says, “Well can a man get inside his mother’s womb and be born again a second time?” You might see him prodding Jesus here, he might be kind of nudging him to the absurd, right? Getting him to see, “Well, what you’re saying about being born again, that’s absurd if you take it on a merely natural level.” And Jesus responds to him by clarifying what he means by “born again”. What does he mean by “born again”? He repeats himself a second time and says “Amen, Amen I say to you. Unless a person accepts me as their personal Lord and savior, he cannot be saved.” Is that what he says? No, what does he say? "Unless a person is born of water and spirit.” See, Jesus is not talking here about a natural rebirth, he’s talking about a supernatural rebirth; he’s talking about being supernaturally born again. How? Through water and the spirit. And when as Catholics are we born again through water and the spirit? In baptism, in baptism.

This is such an important passage because it shows that for Jesus himself, baptism is not simply an outward sign of an inward conversion. It’s a spiritual sacrament. It’s a supernatural rebirth that takes place in the soul when a person is baptized in the power of the water and the spirit, and the Holy Spirit is united with the water and that person is given new life, becomes a new creation in Christ. And you can already see this in the expression of Jesus above in the earlier verses. When he says the words “born again”, in Greek the word “again” is anothen. It has a double meaning. It can mean born again, but it can also mean born from above. When were we born from above? When the Holy Spirit came down from heaven and entered into our souls at the very moment of baptism, making us a child of God, a temple of the Holy Spirit. So that’s a first text there. That should actually settle the matter as to whether baptism is a biblical sacrament or not. Jesus Christ himself taught not only the reality of baptism, but its necessity for salvation.

But let’s keep going on through the New Testament, because the apostles also taught about the importance of baptism. In the second quote there, we have St. Peter, the chief of the apostles, on the day of Pentecost, preaching to all those who had seen the descent of the Holy Spirit in the form of tongues of fire and realizing in Jerusalem that they had crucified not a criminal, but the messiah, and so Peter says to the crowds at Pentecost these words, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ.” For what? “For the forgiveness of your sins.”

Notice that. Baptism, as a sacrament, is what church calls efficacious. It’s efficacious. What is that? It’s just a big theological term to mean that it affects what it signifies. What it symbolizes it actually brings to reality, it actually brings into existence. It’s not merely a symbol of the washing away of sins, it actually accomplishes the washing away of sins. That’s why Jesus says be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins. And what happens when you are baptized? Not only are your sins forgiven, but he continues, and you shall receive what? The gift of the Holy Spirit. Wow, it’s almost as if Peter had gotten his teachings directly from Jesus. He did, right? He did get his teaching directly from Christ. He’s simply echoing the words of Christ in the gospel. So see, Peter here himself is talking about baptism, the Sacrament of Baptism, as a sacrament (i.e. as a real supernatural power), as a true gift of the Holy Spirit.

And look at this one final little thing that he says here that I think is quite interesting. Notice, after he describes what baptism does, he says, “For the promise is to you and to anyone to who can accept me (accept Jesus) who has reached the age of reason.” No, what is he saying? “It is for you and your children.” Now that’s a very interesting point, because one of the things that Catholics are often criticized for is for the baptism of what? Infants, right? Exactly. For example, many Christians in the Baptist tradition, that goes back into the Anabaptist days, = their churches were founded on the principle that infant baptism was unbiblical, and they rejected it. They think that people have to reach the age of reason (7 or 8), before they can accept Jesus as their savior and then (and only then) be baptized in what is essentially just a symbolic ritual.

But is that what the scriptures are saying? Is that what Peter’s saying? No, Peter says, “This promise is for you and for your children.” And if you have any doubts about this, this one final text here…in most of the passages I’m only going to give you two, but in baptism I want to give you a third here, because infant baptism is such an important part of the Catholic faith. It’s so critical that we give this gift to our children, the gift of divine life, the gift of the Holy Spirit, as soon as possible after their born.

Look at this in Acts 16; the third quote here. We have a witness to the early practice of the baptism of entire families. Now this is very interesting. Now before I read this I just want to say something to you. I will admit (and it is true), and the Catechism itself recognizes that nowhere in the New Testament does it explicitly say to baptize infants. But there are multiple occasions in the New Testament that talk about the baptism of “households” (in the Greek, oikos or oikoi), whole families. And there’s never any delineation made or any exclusion made for children or infants in those passages. So while it’s not explicit, it is implicit.

Let’s looks at the account here that we have from the book of Acts. This is a famous story of Paul and Silas in prison. An angel comes. There’s an earthquake. Paul and Silas were set free supernaturally from prison and the jailer, once he sees what happens, is going to kill himself, but Paul and Silas tell him, “Don’t kill yourself, come with us and we’ll teach you the faith.” And the jailor says to Paul and Silas these words:

“Men, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 

Isn’t that interesting? The notion that a father’s faith could somehow save his entire family. And look at what it says:

And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all that were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their wounds, and he was baptized at once…

With what?

…with all his family.

Notice it doesn’t say, “with the older people in his family” or “with the adults in his family”, but with what? His entire household. And then it’s says:

Then he brought them up into his house, and set food before them; and he rejoiced with all his household that he had believed in God.

Notice, it’s the faith of the father here that is the font through which the blessing of baptism flows into his whole family. And you can see this also in the in 1st  Corinthians 1 and elsewhere in the book of Acts. This practice of baptism, whole households, assumes that not only would adults have been baptized, but infants and children as well. That’s Acts 16:30-34. So I hope that you can already see that the very first sacrament, the Sacrament of Baptism, which is so to speak the gateway to all the other sacraments, is right there in the Bible, very clearly taught in the way that the Catholic Church teaches it.     

 



Brant Pitre
Brant Pitre

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