Covenant Reformed News
October 2020 • Volume XVIII, Issue 6
Rebaptism in Acts 19?
One of our readers has asked about these verses from Acts 19:
4 Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. 5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied. 7 And all the men were about twelve.
His question is, “Is this not anabaptism? Can you explain or point to any articles addressing it? Would this mean that the baptized converts of John the Baptist were re-baptized with water by the apostles?”
I do not know of any articles addressing this question but have myself written the following in a manuscript of a book on baptism which is to be published by the CPRC, hopefully in late 2021.
Baptists understand the Word of God to be saying here that Paul rebaptized certain persons who had been baptized by John, though they are reluctant to say that Paul did this because he thought John’s baptism was illegitimate. After rebaptizing these people with water, he also laid hands on them so that they received the Spirit and spoke in tongues. He did this because they had not heard of the Holy Spirit.
This misreads the passage. The Baptist reading makes the pertinent part of verse 4 a quotation and then makes verse 5 a reference to what Paul did after he finished speaking. This is the Baptist reading of these verses (notice the quotation marks):
Then said Paul, “John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.” When they [i.e., the disciples of John the Baptist to whom Paul is speaking] heard this, they [i.e., these same disciples of whom the apostle is speaking] were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
According to this Baptist interpretation, “they” in verse 5 refers to those to whom Paul was speaking and they were baptized with water by Paul in Jesus’ name, having been previously baptized by John. Reading the passage that way, it teaches rebaptism but it also suggests that John’s baptism was not really Christian baptism at all.
The passage should be read in the following way (again notice the quotation marks):
Then said Paul, “John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they [i.e., the people who came to John’s baptism] heard this, they [i.e., the same people who came to John’s baptism] were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.”
In other words, “they” refers to the people whom John baptized and verse 5 refers not to Paul’s rebaptizing of certain persons in Ephesus but to John’s baptism of certain people at the Jordan. It also identifies John’s baptism as Christian baptism, not as something that needed to be re-administered.
The proper reading of the passage, therefore makes verse 5 part of what Paul said to these Ephesian disciples and not a description of his rebaptizing them. Indeed, if this is the proper way to the read the verse, then verse 5 is saying that John baptized them, the only time they were baptized, and did so in the name of the Lord Jesus, identifying John’s baptism with every other New Testament baptism.
Grammatically, this is the way to read the verse, since it is verse 6 that mentions Paul once again and continues the story of what he said and did with the word “and.” There is, therefore, no ground to be found for rebaptism in these verses, nor in any other passage of Scripture.
Rebaptism is, in fact, a denial of the great biblical truth that we can only be saved once. No one who believes in the sovereignty of God in salvation, in the redeeming power of Jesus, in the efficacy of the Holy Spirit’s work and in the perseverance of saints, ought to rebaptize, since water baptism is a picture of salvation and ought for that reason to be administered only once. The Reformed creeds state, “Therefore we believe, that every man, who is earnestly studious of obtaining life eternal, ought to be but once baptized with this only baptism, without ever repeating the same: since we cannot be born twice” (Belgic Confession 34) and “The sacrament of Baptism is but once to be administered unto any person” (Westminster Confession 28:7).
Christ accomplished His atonement once and for all (e.g., Heb. 10:10, 12, 14), and we are born again once and only once. Thus the Reformed faith rejects the errors of those “who teach that it is not absurd that one having lost his first regeneration is again and even often born anew. For these deny by this doctrine the incorruptibleness of the seed of God, whereby we are born again, contrary to the testimony of the apostle Peter: Having been begotten again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible (I Pet. 1:23).” (Canons V:R:8). Just as each of God’s children receives “one baptism” (Eph. 4:5)—a spiritual regenerating baptism by the Holy Ghost—so this ought to be signified and sealed by only one water baptism.
Let us note, however, that the usual interpretation of Acts 19:1-6 leads inevitably to the conclusion that John’s baptism was not (essentially) Christian baptism and that all John’s disciples would have needed to be rebaptized with water. This would have included Jesus and some of twelve as well. Yet not a hint of such rebaptism is suggested anywhere in Scripture.
What is more, if John’s water baptism was not Christian baptism, then John’s baptizing is of no value as far as determining the mode and subjects of baptism, nor is Christ’s baptism the same as ours. That leaves us with only a few other references to baptism in the New Testament. The Baptist, therefore, with his interpretation of Acts 19 puts himself in a dilemma.
Rev. Ron Hanko
Rev. Ronald Hanko (Wife: Nancy)
Ordained: November 1979
Pastorates: Wyckoff, NJ - 1979; Trinity, Houston, TX - 1986; Missionary to N.Ireland - 1993; Lynden, WA - 2002; Emeritus October 15, 2017Website: www.lyndenprc.org/sermons/
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