Question: I keep encountering the teaching that water baptism has no place in this dispensation; that the entire subject of water baptism is Jewish;…that all mention of “baptism” in the Pauline epistles is baptism of the Holy Spirit;…[and that] baptism in the gospels and the Acts applies to Jewish believers only…. Can you help me?
Response: Testing this theory against the Scriptures quickly disproves it. In the Great Commission, Jesus very clearly tells the disciples (and us today) to “preach the gospel to every creature [i.e., to every race, tribe, and individual, not only to the Jews]. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark:16:15-16). It is clear that although failure to be baptized does not damn the soul (not one verse says so!), and although it is not part of the gospel (“Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel”—1 Corinthians:1:17; see also 1 Corinthians:15:1-4). Yet all who believe the gospel are to be baptized. Christ told the disciples to teach or disciple “all nations, [i.e., not only Jews but every nationality], baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matthew:28:19).
The Great Commission required the disciples to teach their converts to obey everything Christ had commanded them (v. 20). Thus each new convert was also to make disciples and teach them to obey all that Christ had taught the original twelve—which included, then and today, baptizing converts from every nation. We have the record that every Gentile convert was baptized. The Corinthians, who were surely not all Jews but mostly Gentiles, were baptized (1 Corinthians:1:14-17), as was an Ethiopian when he believed the gospel (Acts:8:35-39). So were the Roman centurion, Cornelius, and his relatives when they believed (Acts:10:47-48). Likewise the Philippian jailor (a Gentile) and his house were baptized after they believed on Christ (Acts:16:30-33). There are other scriptures, but these should be sufficient to show that baptism is for today and for all (not just Jews) who believe the gospel. If this generation is to preach the gospel, which it is commanded to do, then it must continue to baptize all who believe it. If only Jews are to be baptized, then the gospel must be only for them. But that is not biblical and would leave the rest of us unsaved. The gospel is “to the Jew first, and also to the Greek [non-Jew]” (Romans:1:16).
Although baptism doesn’t save, it is an act of obedience on the part of believers who are saved, a declaration to the world that they have been saved not by their good works but by the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, of which baptism is a symbol: “Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans:6:4). Baptism is therefore not appropriate for infants who cannot understand the gospel and therefore have made no choice to believe on Christ. Paul makes it clear in 1 Corinthians:1:14-17 that baptism is not part of the gospel; one is saved without being baptized. But those who believe are baptized, and since salvation is for all, baptism is for all, Gentiles as well as Jews.