What is the “one baptism” of Ephesians 4:5?

Topic(s): Baptism, Bible Study, Salvation

There is widespread debate today about the nature, purpose, and value of baptism. Some thirty years after the beginning of the church, the apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesian Christians, “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Ephesians 4:4-6). Although there is agreement that there is one Lord, one Spirit, and one Father, there is disagreement that there is only one baptism. But as Paul clearly stated, there is only one baptism in effect today.

The New Testament mentions four baptisms: the baptism of John, fire baptism, Holy Spirit baptism, and the water baptism of the great commission (Matthew 28:18-20). It is not possible that the baptism of John could be the one baptism, because John’s baptism pointed ahead to the death of Christ, and was no longer administered after the establishment of the church. Acts 19 tells of twelve men baptized “unto John’s baptism,” who were baptized again in the name of Jesus. They were “rebaptized” because they had been baptized with John’s baptism when it was no longer in effect.

The one baptism cannot be the baptism of fire, because the Lord will administer the baptism of fire at the end of time, and it will be a cleansing fire. The Lord “shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire: whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:11-12). The baptism of fire is a description of sinners being committed to torment for their disobedience.

The one baptism cannot be Holy Sprit baptism, because this promised baptism was temporary. The apostles were baptized with the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, fulfilling John’s promise (Matthew 3:11), and beginning the church. The only other recorded instance of Holy Spirit baptism is in the household of Cornelius, the first recorded Gentile convert. Peter said, “Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized [with water], which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?” (Acts 10:47).

The one baptism of the Christian age (in which we now live) is the baptism of the great commission, which is immersion in water. In the great commission, Jesus told his followers to “teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” He then promised to be with His followers “alway, even unto the end of the world,” or until the end of the age (Matthew 28:18-20). Jesus commanded His followers to baptize, but men cannot administer Holy Spirit baptism or fire baptism. Water baptism is the only baptism that God has authorized for men to administer, and it is the only baptism men are capable of administering. All the New Testament examples of baptism administered by men are of water baptism, such as was given to the Ethiopian nobleman by Philip. The Ethiopian asked Philip, “See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?” (Acts 8:36). The “one baptism” is immersion in water.

By Bob Prichard

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