Belief and baptism, but no Holy Spirit (Acts 8:12-17)

POST OVERVIEW. Another study from Acts 8 as the gospel spreads to the Samaritans. Here we consider the difficulty of the Samaritans believing in the name of Jesus Christ and not immediately receiving the Holy Spirit.

This post is part of a short series of articles wrestling with the difficulties of the events of Acts 8. Earlier we considered the situation of Simon the magician (post #597, #598) and now we look at the Samaritans who truly believed and were baptized and yet did not immediately receive the Holy Spirit in Acts 8:12-17.


Before we dig into this very interesting episode, we need to remember that we are reading the book of Acts, which is part of the New Testament’s history section. Acts covers a time of rapid change as the work of God on earth transitions from the ministry of Jesus to the ministry of the church.

To review our teaching from post #597 (12/7/2022), Jesus was sent from heaven to earth primarily to accomplish the atonement and to ransom His people from sin. In His crucifixion, He finished His work (John 19:30). Then He was resurrected, He commissioned His church to proclaim the gospel to the end of the age (Matt. 28:19-20) and to the remotest part of the earth (Acts 1:8), and He ascended into heaven until the Father’s appointed time for His return. That was Jesus’ ministry.

When Jesus ascended to heaven, the ministry of the church began. The book of Acts describes the initial spread of the church from one hundred twenty timid Jewish disciples in an upper room in Jerusalem with no new-covenant doctrine or practice to many thousands of mostly Gentile believers scattered all over the Mediterranean world with well-established doctrinal teaching and church practice. The result of this massive transition is that, while all the events of Acts certainly occurred and occurred as described, all the events that occurred were not normative for the church age. In other words, the student of Acts must carefully discern if the event under study is merely descriptive (just describing what happened) or if this event is prescriptive (giving a normative practice of the church until Jesus returns). Some of the events that occur in Acts are unique and simply occurred as part of this transition landscape.

How do we discern what is merely descriptive? There are two basic principles to detect these events. The first principle asks, “Is the event unique in the Scriptures?” For example, Acts 2 relates the coming of the Holy Spirit. This event is marked with a mighty rushing wind and tongues of fire resting on the disciples (Acts 2:2-3). Do we expect this to occur again? Should this be a regular occurrence in our local church? No, it is not normative. The events of Acts 2 are unique and unrepeated.

But a second principle is to consider whether the events of the scene are consistent with New Testament teaching on this subject. What do the epistles teach about this and did Jesus say anything about this subject during His ministry? For example, in our current study in Acts 8, we see that the Samaritans believe in Jesus and are baptized before they receive the Holy Spirit. Should we in our churches today teach that the Holy Spirit is received some time after we believe by the laying on of someone’s hands? No, we should not teach that, because the epistles contradict that doctrine (e.g. Ephesians 1:13-14).

With these principles, we read in Acts 8:12 that the Samaritans “believed Philip preaching the good news about the name of Jesus Christ.” There is no reason to doubt that these Samaritans genuinely believed. Philip had proclaimed Christ to them (8:5), he had performed signs of casting out unclean spirits and of healing the paralyzed and the lame (8:6, 7; see also 8:13). The expected result of preaching Christ and performing attesting miracles is that the people would believe. After they believe, the Samaritans are baptized, exactly according to the pattern at Pentecost.


“When the apostles in Jerusalem (8:1) heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John” to Samaria (8:14). Why did they send Peter to Samaria?

These events serve to introduce a KEY CONCEPT for understanding some of the events of Acts. Recall that Acts 1:8 is the theme verse for the book of Acts. According to that verse, the gospel of Jesus Christ will spread from Jerusalem to (all Judea and) Samaria and even to the remotest part of the earth (to the Gentiles). What we see happening is that, as each new threshold is crossed (the Jews in Jerusalem, the Samaritans in Samaria, and the Gentiles in Caesarea), the apostle Peter is required to confirm that salvation has actually come to each group and so that group may receive the Holy Spirit as a sign of their salvation. Accordingly, Peter is the one who preaches the sermon at Pentecost and declares that all those who repent and believe will receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). Here in Acts 8, although Philip has faithfully proclaimed the gospel and the Samaritans have genuinely believed, the Holy Spirit is withheld until Peter prays for them and lays his hands upon them (Acts 8:15-17). This is because Peter, as the lead apostle (Matt. 16:18-19; John 21:15-17), must confirm that the Samaritans are indeed included in the gospel before the Holy Spirit can be received. Finally, in Acts 10, when the gospel goes to the Gentiles, to Cornelius and his relatives in Caesarea, Peter is again there to confirm that “the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message” (Acts 10:44), when “the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also” (10:45). Peter “ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” (10:48) because they had “received the Holy Spirit” (10:47) just as the Jews in Jerusalem had received Him on Pentecost.


The point is that, in this transition period, as the gospel of Jesus Christ is going out first to the Jews, then to the Samaritans, and finally to the Gentiles, the apostle Peter must confirm that each new group is truly included in the gospel before the Holy spirit is received. Thus, what occurs in Samaria in Acts 8, where there is genuine belief without the receiving of the Holy Spirit, is a one-time, unrepeated event and is not normative for the church age.

What is normative for the church age? Now that Peter has confirmed that the gospel has gone to all groups, whether Jew or Gentile, anyone from any group who has genuinely believed in the Lord Jesus receives the Holy Spirit immediately at salvation (see Romans 8:5, 9, 11, 14; 1 Cor. 12:7, 11, 13; Eph. 1:13-14; etc.). The teaching of the New Testament is that all believers are sealed and in-dwelt by the Holy Spirit from the moment of initial faith.

Soli Deo gloria            rmb                 12/29/2022                 #605

Lessons and applications from Simon Magus (Acts 8:9-24)

POST OVERVIEW. In the last post (#597, 12/7/2022), we had studied the passage about Simon the magician in Acts 8:9-24. From that study we will observe a couple of lessons and also make a couple of applications.

In the most recent post (#597, 12/7/2022), we had studied the passage in Acts 8 about the false faith of Simon the magician and his baptism by Philip the evangelist. We saw that, despite his claim of belief in Jesus, Simon never truly believed. We also determined that Philip’s baptism of Simon based on his profession of faith was the appropriate thing to do, even though Simon’s profession was false.

In this post, we will extend our study into lessons learned and applications made.


What do we learn from this situation with Simon the magician?

First, this passage makes it unambiguously clear that baptism does not save. The proof is irrefutable: Simon the magician was baptized and yet he was not saved. A review of this passage should serve to silence those who hold to baptism as the means of salvation rather than as a marking of those who have believed and are saved.

Second, we learn that it is possible for a sincere minister of the gospel to baptize an unbeliever unintentionally. The New Testament teaches that a person is baptized upon their profession of faith in Jesus. It is possible, however, that the person’s professed belief is not genuine. Our study passage shows that Philip, already identified as a “man of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom” (Acts 6:3, 5), a sincere minister of the gospel who is identified in Scripture as an evangelist (Acts 21:8), baptized Simon the magician based on his profession of belief. The pattern in Acts, and so the practice in the church age, is that a person’s profession of faith, of declaring Jesus as Lord (1 Cor. 12:3), is assumed to be sincere and a person is baptized upon profession of faith.

By the way, it is interesting to note that the apostle Peter does not rebuke or correct Philip for baptizing Simon Magus. If Philip had done something that was wrong, then it is certain that, at this infant stage of the church, the Holy Spirit would have prompted Peter to correct that error so that the error was not repeated throughout the life of the church. The fact that Peter does not correct Philip in any way indicates that Philip’s baptism of Simon based on his profession of faith was entirely appropriate. The fault and guilt lay entirely with Simon because he had essentially lied about his belief (see also Acts 5:3, 4).


As we think about this episode with Simon the magician, we need to ask the question, “How does the church today avoid this situation of baptizing unbelievers?” Ultimately, the possibility of baptizing someone based on a false profession of faith cannot be removed. There are no apostles around today who have the gift to discern genuine faith from false. In the absence of this apostolic discernment, however, the church can take steps to try to ensure that a candidate for baptism is a genuine believer. For example, the person’s profession of faith can be examined carefully by wise elders to test the authenticity of their profession. Also, if the person has been a professing believer for some time, the persons interviewing the candidate for baptism can look for “the fruit of repentance” (Matt. 3:8; see also Luke 13:6-9; John 15:2) since their conversion. If after this investigation, the candidate’s profession of faith appears genuine, then baptism is done.

So, it is possible for even the most careful pastor to unintentionally baptize a person because the person made profession of a faith they did not possess. But this event is not a cause of undue concern, and that for two reasons.


First, the church does have a remedy for this situation. It is difficult for the person who is an “unsheep” to remain undetected in the flock forever. This is because every baptized believer is to bear fruit as a disciple of Jesus. The Spirit-sealed disciple says no to sin and yes to righteousness. He worships, he witnesses, he grows in his faith. So if, over time, it is discovered that a professing believer is not exhibiting the fruit of repentance, but is instead evidencing the fruit of unrighteousness, the church will respond and confront this problem. If the sinning church member does not change and does not repent of his unrighteousness, eventually the church will exercise discipline and will remove this one from the flock (Matt. 18:15-18; 1 Cor. 5) because the person’s unrepentance is counted as evidence of unbelief.


But second, there is an even more compelling reason that the unintentional baptism of an unbeliever is not a problem. The one who makes sure that His true church is composed only of genuine believers is the Lord Himself. If there are “unsheep” in the earthly flock, they are known to the Lord and will be removed by the Lord. The following are Scriptures that attest to this truth.  

The Lord knows those who are His” (2 Tim. 2:19). No matter how cleverly those who are not true believers disguise themselves, the Lord will find them out because He knows those who are His and those who are not.

“I am the good shepherd, and I know My own, and My own know Me” (John 10:14). Jesus plainly declares that He knows His sheep. Only His true sheep will be saved from the judgment. (Consider John 10:26 – “But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep.”)

In the parable of the wheat and the tares (Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43), Jesus teaches that there will be true believers (wheat) and unbelievers (tares) in His visible church until the end of the age. Then, at the end of the age, He will throw the unbelievers into the furnace of fire (13:42). Again we see that those who make false profession on earth do not deceive the Lord of heaven.

The parable of the dragnet is similar to the parable of the wheat and the tares. In this parable (Matt. 13:47-50), Jesus tells us that the dragnet of the gospel brings in both “good fish” (true believers) and “bad fish” (false), but at the end of the age, the Lord will take out the wicked from among the righteous and will throw them into the furnace of fire.

These Scriptures make clear that, even though man or the devil may sow those who are false in the field of the visible church (Matthew 13:38-39), the Lord is the One who reigns over His church and He will ensure that, at the last day, His bride has no wrinkle or spot.

Soli Deo gloria            rmb                 12/08/2022                 #598

The case of Simon the magician (Acts 8:9-24)

POST OVERVIEW. A study of Acts 8:9-24 and the episode involving Simon the magician. We consider the implications of Simon’s professed belief and subsequent baptism despite his unbelief.

In Acts 8:5-24, we read how Philip preaches “the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ” (8:12) in Samaria and, as a result, some of the Samaritans believe and are baptized. This is exciting news, indeed, but this event also presents to us a couple of situations which can be misinterpreted and thus cause doctrinal confusion. The first situation involves Simon the magician and his professed belief and baptism and the second situation relates to the Samaritans receiving the Holy Spirit well after they had believed in Jesus and been saved. We will carefully examine these two situations in an attempt to remove this potential confusion.


Before we begin looking at Simon the magician, we should note that there are several considerations to keep in mind as we study the book of Acts. First, Acts portrays a time of great transition in redemptive history. At this time, the Jew-Gentile divide is firmly in place; there are still people who have believed in “the baptism of John;” the gospel is spreading first to the Jews, then to the Samaritans, and finally to the Gentiles; and the apostles are the authority in this new gospel movement. The fact that this is a time of transition constrains our interpretations of the individual episodes in Acts.

Second, because things are in transition, we must repeatedly ask the question, “Is this event merely descriptive or is it also prescriptive?” Luke is an excellent historian and includes many details of these events in Acts. His accounts are very descriptive of what occurred. The bigger question, however, is whether this description is also the way things should occur. That is, is this event a prescription for what should happen in all churches or with all believers throughout the church age till Jesus returns? In other words, is this episode in Acts describing for us what is normal in the church? Carefully answering these questions helps keep our interpretations on solid ground.

Third, in the early chapters of Acts as the gospel is spreading from Jerusalem to Samaria to the Gentiles (“remotest parts of the earth” in Acts 1:8), each new group of believers must be folded into the church in the same way. The pattern is established at Pentecost (Acts 2), where those who believe are baptized and, upon apostolic confirmation, they receive the Holy Spirit. What happened at Pentecost with the first fruits of the Jews happened again in Samaria (our current study in Acts 8) as the Samaritans, a mixed race of Jew and Gentile, are brought into the fold, and finally this happened (as we will see later on) when the first Gentiles come to saving faith in Christ (Cornelius in Acts 10). This process of apostolic confirmation and incorporation in the Body was unique in redemptive history, but its occurrence can cause confusion for readers of Acts.

With that as background, let’s begin our study of Simon the magician (Acts 8:9-24).


The first situation we will address involves Simon the magician (“Simon Magus”). This Simon is a curious character. Before Philip came to Samaria preaching the gospel, Simon “was astonishing the people of Samaria” with his magical tricks (Acts 8:9). But when Philip performs miraculous signs and preaches the good news, the people give their attention to him, believe in the name of Jesus, and are baptized. The potential difficulty arises when the Scripture says, “Even Simon himself believed” and was baptized (8:13). To this point in Acts, when anyone believed and was baptized, it meant that they had been saved. Belief in the good news followed by baptism was the formula for salvation. But with Simon the magician, it becomes apparent that, despite his professed belief and his subsequent baptism, he is not a genuine believer but is still “in the bondage of iniquity” (8:23). How do we explain this?


To understand this situation, It is necessary to examine both professed belief and baptism to see what is happening here.

Our doctrine teaches us that water baptism does not save a person. We could say that “Baptism marks a person as saved, but it is not the means by which a person is saved.”

But we must go further. We can say “Baptism marks a person as saved” because their baptism is based on that person’s profession of faith (belief, trust) in the Lord Jesus Christ. The Bible teaches that faith and salvation precede baptism. “For by grace you have been saved through faith” (Eph. 2:8). In all examples of baptism in the New Testament, salvation by faith precedes baptism. Therefore, we can conclude that a person is baptized because they have professed Jesus Christ as Lord and are therefore assumed to be saved.

So then, as a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ, Philip appropriately baptized the Samaritans based on their profession of belief in the Lord Jesus. He assumed that their profession of faith was genuine, so he baptized them. In the same way, he also baptized Simon the magician based on Simon’s false profession of faith. But Philip was not an apostle, so he did not have the apostolic gift that allowed him to discern a false profession.


In Acts and during the apostolic period, one of the gifts of the apostles was the ability to discern genuine faith. When the three thousand believed on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), the apostle Peter was there to confirm the faith of those believers. But Peter was not there in Samaria when the gospel was proclaimed by Philip and so he could not confirm that these Samaritans had actually believed in Jesus and should now be included in the church. The Samaritans, including Simon the magician, had professed belief in Jesus, but without apostolic sanction, it was not certain that they possessed belief in Jesus.

Peter went down to Samaria for the purpose of putting his apostolic stamp on this move of the Spirit of God. In this instance, the apostle Peter was able to discern that Simon’s profession of belief was false. The Scripture makes clear that Simon had not truly believed in the Lord Jesus and was not saved, and so Peter exposed his unbelief and did not lay hands on him.

Having looked at Simon’s unbelief and his baptism and having determined what is happening in this passage, we also want to consider what lessons can learn and what applications we can draw from this study. The next post will take that next step.

Soli Deo gloria            rmb                 12/07/2022                 #597

Inauguration, identification, and commitment in Jesus’ baptism

INTRODUCTION. An examination of Matthew 3:13-17 with the goal of discovering why Jesus was baptized, then applying those ideas to the life of a believer/disciple.

When He was about thirty years old (Luke 3:23), Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. Here is the account from the gospel of Matthew 3:13-17:

13 Then Jesus *arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. 14 But John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” 15 But Jesus answering said to him, “Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he *permitted Him. 16 After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, 17 and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.”

The Scriptures are clear that Jesus was baptized. All four gospels unambiguously attest to this fact. But the question that must be answered is, “Why was Jesus baptized?”


Let’s explore this question. We can start by saying what is not the reason Jesus was baptized. John the Baptist was “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4). In Matthew 3:6 we read that John was baptizing people “in the Jordan River as they confessed their sins” (Matt. 3:6). But since Jesus was sinless (John 8:46; 2 Cor. 5:21; Hebrews 4:15; etc.), He had no sins to confess, so He was not being baptized for repentance.

So, we are back at square one. “Why was Jesus baptized?”


Jesus’ words in Matthew 3:15 seem to provide some helpful information. First, Jesus commands John to permit His baptism. In the Greek, this is an imperative, meaning Jesus is giving John a command. “Allow My baptism!” With this command, Jesus is telling John, “I know you do not understand why I am doing this, but I know why, and so I am commanding you to baptize Me and to trust Me about this.”

Notice also that John is to permit this baptism “at this time.” This phrase could also be translated from the Greek as “at the current time” or simply “now.” There is something about this particular time that is significant and that makes it “fitting” (or “proper”) for Jesus to be baptized at this specific time. This new information has changed our question to, “Why was Jesus baptized at this specific time?” As we consider the timing of this scene, we see that this is the time Jesus began His earthly ministry. And it is “fitting” (or “proper”) to mark the start of Jesus’ earthly ministry “in this way,” that is, with baptism.  


Putting these pieces together, then, we would say that it was appropriate and fitting to fulfill all righteousness for Jesus to mark the launch of His earthly ministry with baptism. To say this more simply, it was right (or righteous) for Jesus to mark the start of His earthly ministry with baptism. So, the answer to the question, “Why was Jesus baptized?” is that He was baptized to mark the start of His earthly ministry. But that is not the complete reason.

At His baptism, Jesus emerged from complete obscurity and was publicly identified as the Son of God when God the Father declared from heaven, “This is My beloved Son” (Matthew 3:17). Prior to this event, Jesus had been an unknown carpenter in the backwater town of Nazareth, quietly living His days with His mother and brothers. Now, by His baptism, His days of quiet obscurity are forever ended and His anonymity is gone. Through His baptism, He is now identified as the Son of God. Thus, a second reason for His baptism was His identification as the Son of God.

But there was another reason for Jesus to be baptized, for at His baptism, Jesus committed Himself to the cross. After He emerged from the waters of baptism, there was no turning back, there would be no distractions, there was no other possible ending to the story. His baptism was the visual sign that Jesus was committed to His mission all the way to His death. As Jesus went down into the waters of baptism, He was picturing His own physical death on the cross and subsequent burial, and when He was raised up out of the water, He was picturing His own glorious resurrection. His baptism, then, was also about His commitment to be obedient till death (Philippians 2:8).


We have seen that in His baptism, Jesus inaugurated His mission, He identified as the Son of God, and He committed to the cross. But Jesus’ baptism has even more significance than that.

When I was baptized, after my pastor requested from me a verbal testimony of my faith in Jesus Christ, he said these words before he plunged me under the water: “Based on your profession of faith, IN IMITATION OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST and in obedience to His divine command (Matthew 28:19), I baptize you, my brother in Christ, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Buried unto death in Christ (plunge into water), rise again to walk in newness of life (bring up out of the water).”

As believers, we worship a crucified Savior, but we also worship a baptized Savior. Jesus Christ was baptized, and He thus left His disciples an example of what we are to do when we make disciples, according to Matthew 28:19. And as Jesus was baptized as a sign of inauguration, identification, and commitment, so the baptism of a disciple is also a sign of inauguration, identification, and commitment.

In his public baptism, the disciple publicly inaugurates his discipleship and starts his lifelong walk with Jesus. Baptism is the fitting sign to mark the start of a disciple’s earthly journey with Jesus.

Also, in baptism the disciple publicly declares his faith in Jesus and vows to follow Jesus forever. His baptism publicly identifies him as a follower of Jesus Christ. From that moment on, the baptized disciple is always identified with the crucified and risen Savior.

Finally, in the disciple’s baptism he visually makes a commitment to follow Jesus until death, no matter the cost and no matter the consequences. To live is Christ and to die is gain (Phil. 1:21), and so as long as he draws breath, the disciple is a committed witness for Jesus Christ.


SDG                 rmb                 6/10/2022                   #542

Baptism in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) – Part 2

This article, “Baptism in the Great Commission,” will be a part of my next book to be published in late summer, A Look at Biblical Baptism.

INTRODUCTION. In the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus gives to His church not only their mission for the entire time between His ascension and His return, but He also gives them the strategy for accomplishing that mission. In my last post on the Great Commission (#504 on March 18, 2022), I looked at the beauty and simplicity of Christ’s commission to His church. Now I will look at the individual pieces of His church growth plan.


Jesus’ mission for His church is to make disciples. Since that is His command, His church needs to understand what He means by “disciple.”

It is often said that Jesus did not command us to make converts, but to make disciples. The intent behind this statement is to make sure that the goal of our ministry is to produce mature followers of Jesus who are obedient to the teaching of the Bible and who are faithful witnesses to Jesus. That is, the goal is not just to coax people to give a nod to Jesus but is to see people give their entire lives to Jesus and to manifest that by the visible means of worship and witness and obedience. Therefore, this distinction between “convert” and “disciple” is a worthwhile distinction, especially since Christians have been known to count conversions as the number of people who prayed a certain prayer. In this sense, there should be a distinction between “convert” and “disciple.”

In Matthew 28:19, however, a “disciple” is, in simplest terms, a convert. The meaning of “disciple” in the context of “make disciples” means “make people who have confessed Jesus as Lord” (Romans 10:9).  Make people who have passed from death to life (John 5:24). Make people who have been born again (John 3:3). Make people who have believed in the Lord Jesus (Acts 16:31). Make people who have been “made alive together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:5). Make people who have been justified by faith (Romans 5:1). Make people “who were lost and have been found” (Luke 15:24). Make people who have repented and believed in the gospel (Mark 1:15). The point is that the church is to proclaim the gospel to the whole world (Matthew 24:14; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:47) to the end that many will believe (John 20:31). In the context of Matthew 28:19, a “disciple” is simply one who has believed the gospel of the Lord Jesus.

The mission for the church, then, from Jesus’ ascension to the end of the age, is to make disciples. But if the church is to make those who have believed in Jesus, the question becomes, “How are we to go about making these disciples?” In His commission, Jesus gives a three-fold strategy for this.


According to Jesus, the church’s first activity is to go out to “all the nations” (Greek πάντα τὰ ἔθνη) and proclaim to them the gospel. This is the activity of evangelism, of telling unbelievers the good news of salvation so that those who are currently outside of Christ “will call upon the name of the Lord” (Romans 10:13, then 10:14-15) and be saved. Therefore, the church must go and proclaim. The existing disciples are to go anywhere and everywhere proclaiming the gospel to those who are not disciples so that they will make disciples. The goal is that, by going and proclaiming the gospel, some will believe and thus become disciples. The church is to continue going and proclaiming and making disciples until Jesus comes back at the end of the age.

The fruit of going and proclaiming is that some will believe and thus become disciples. According to Jesus’ strategy for accomplishing the Great Commission, what happens then?


It is unmistakably clear that, according to Jesus, the next step is to baptize the new disciples. Jesus commands the church to make disciples, then He says, “Baptizing them.” “Them” is the disciples who have just been made. Once it is verified that a person has believed and thus has been made a disciple, according to Jesus, that person is to be baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Why does Jesus’ strategy include baptism here?

First, because baptism serves as the sign that tells the world that this person is now a disciple of Jesus. The one baptized now identifies with Jesus, and they have decisively separated themselves from the world and joined themselves with the disciples of Jesus. Baptism also tells the church that this person is now one of them. Finally, baptism declares to the one baptized that they have forever left the world of the unbaptized. They have “come out of the closet,” so to speak. They have gone public. They have openly confessed Jesus Christ as Lord of their life and have then been plunged beneath the waters of baptism. They have been “buried unto death in Christ, rise again to walk in newness of life.” The old is gone, the new is come (2 Cor. 5:17), and there is no turning back to the old again.

But second, Jesus commands that disciples be baptized at this point in their spiritual journey because baptism is the sign that marks the successful end of evangelism and the beginning of discipleship. The church has been proclaiming the gospel to this person in the hopes of seeing this one come to faith and repentance, and the person’s baptism declares that evangelism has obtained its intended end and the person has come to faith. This person has been sealed with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13; 2 Cor. 1:22) and is, therefore, ready to begin the process of discipleship. Now the disciple becomes part of the church and begins to learn what it means “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called” (Eph. 4:1).

Finally, according to Jesus, what is the next step in His church growth strategy?


Jesus declares to His church (Matthew 28:20) that, after the disciple has publicly professed their faith through baptism, there is the responsibility of “teaching them (disciples) to observe (or “obey”) all that I commanded you.” But where and how will this “teaching to observe all” take place? What is the strategy for this?

The strategy for teaching disciples how to obey the Lord Jesus is called the local church. Now, “having been justified by faith” (Romans 5:1), the new disciple is as justified as they ever will be. They have also testified to their justification (salvation, conversion) through the waters of baptism (Romans 6:4), but they are brand new in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). Therefore, as a physical newborn relies on its parents to teach it everything the newborn needs to know to survive, so the spiritual newborn relies upon the church to teach him everything he needs to know to “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4b), to obey the Lord Jesus, and to behave as a witness for Christ. Therefore, the Lord Jesus has given His children the organism of the local church, the ἐκκλησία, where existing disciples teach and encourage newer disciples so that the entire church “causes the growth of the Body for the building up of itself in love” (Eph. 4:16). The local church, then, is the place where disciples of the Lord Jesus mutually encourage one another and teach one another to observe (obey) all that Jesus has commanded us. But the existing disciples of the local church are also those who go anywhere and everywhere proclaiming the gospel to those who are not disciples so that the existing disciples will make new disciples. In this way, the process of church growth perpetuates itself, as Jesus Christ said, “I will build My church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18 ESV).


What we have seen is that, in the Great Commission, given to His church by the resurrected Jesus Christ, the Lord has given us much more than a command for evangelism. He has given His people a church-growth plan for the entire age, and there is no piece of the Master’s plan that is not vital to the accomplishment of the church’s God-given task. The Great Commission is about making disciples by going out and proclaiming the gospel (evangelism), baptizing those who profess Christ, and then teaching these disciples what it means to live as disciples of Jesus (discipleship).

We have seen that baptizing disciples is commanded by the Lord so that the church and the world can identify those who are disciples of Jesus and so that the church can know whom to teach the doctrines, beliefs, and behaviors of the disciple of Jesus.

SDG                 rmb                 3/21/2022                   #506

Baptism in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) – Part 1

This article will be a part of my next book to be published in late summer, A Look at Biblical Baptism.

INTRODUCTION. In the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus gives to His church not only their mission for the entire time between His ascension and His return, but He also gives them the strategy for accomplishing that mission. The purpose of this post is to see how Jesus’ strategy is contained in the Great Commission and why baptism is a vital part of the church’s mission.


Here is the passage in Greek and in English.


19 πορευθέντες οὖν μαθητεύσατε πάντα τὰ ἔθνη, βαπτίζοντες αὐτοὺς εἰς τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ πατρὸς καὶ τοῦ υἱοῦ καὶ τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος, 20 διδάσκοντες αὐτοὺς τηρεῖν πάντα ὅσα ἐνετειλάμην ὑμῖν: 

καὶ ἰδοὺ ἐγὼ μεθ’ ὑμῶν εἰμι πάσας τὰς ἡμέρας ἕως τῆς συντελείας τοῦ αἰῶνος.


19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Notice that, in Jesus’ final and supreme charge to His church, our Lord gives them their mission and the God-ordained strategy for accomplishing the mission.


Before we begin considering the meaning and application of Jesus’ words, we need to spend a brief time making sure we understand what the words themselves mean.

There is one imperative verb in Jesus’ commission. Many readers will know that the only command is, “Make disciples!” The other verbs in English are actually participles and are not commands but serve as instructions for how to accomplish the command. Thus, a rough paraphrase could read, “Make disciples by going (to anyplace the people are), baptizing them (the disciples that you have made), and then teaching them (the disciples) to obey My commands.” Jesus finishes His commission by assuring His disciples that He is “with them always, even to the end (completion, culmination, consummation) of the age.”

I will use this interpretation as the working meaning of the Great Commission. Now that we have the meaning in hand, we will move on to a deeper understanding of its outworking in the growth of the church.


Before we look at the individual steps in the Great Commission, it is important to realize that, in this magnificent charge to His church in Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus gives not only the mission of the church for the entire time between His ascension and His return, but He also gives the church His strategy for accomplishing that mission. The Lord’s plan for building His church is clear and simple. His plan operates in any context: urban, rural, or suburban; subsistence farming, industrial age manufacturing, or Cloud-based technologies; rich or poor; in any language, in any culture, on any continent, under any form of government, in any ethnicity. Make disciples (mission) by (three-fold strategy) going out and proclaiming the gospel, then baptizing the disciples (those who believe), then teaching the disciples how to obey the Lord and to walk worthy of the gospel.

This post looked at the beauty and simplicity of Christ’s commission to His church. In the next post, we will now look at the individual pieces of His church growth plan.

SDG                 rmb                 3/18/2022                   #504

Baptism of Simon the magician (Acts 8)

INTRODUCTION. A study of the fascinating character of Simon the magician from Acts 8:9-24. Simon is a false convert who “believes” and is baptized during the ministry of Philip in Samaria but is later revealed to be still in his sins. What can we learn from him and his false profession that will help us in our own ministry?

In this study in Acts 8:5-24, we read about the fruitful ministry in Samaria of Philip the evangelist as men and women hear Philip’s gospel message, believe the message, and are baptized, a pattern that is typical of the apostolic ministry of the book of Acts. We also meet Simon the magician, who is anything but typical. Simon clams to believe and, as a result, is baptized, but his claim of believing is proven false by his actions and his words.

The key verses are Acts 8:18-19:

18 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give this authority to me as well, so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”

What we see here is that our magical friend had a very distorted view of the Holy Spirit and of the gospel of salvation. In fact, I suggest that Simon the magician is seeing this entire gospel event through a dark, occult lens. Remember, Simon is a magician, a wizard who was called “the Great Power of God” for astonishing the people of Samaria with his magic arts. But when Philip comes into Samaria performing signs and great miracles (8:13; see also 8:6-7), Simon is forgotten, and his fame and income vanish. The Samaritans “believe Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ” (8:12) and, when they believe the gospel, they forsake all their interest in the magic arts and thus give evidence of their true conversion.

By contrast, Simon claims to believe and yet he continues to pursue his magic arts. This is a first hint that his professed belief is suspect. Despite “believing” and falsely being baptized it seems Simon is still a magician. As a magician, Simon does not see Philip as an evangelist who is preaching the gospel of salvation, but he is a powerful fellow magician who can do amazing magic arts through the name of this Jesus Christ. And so Simon “continued on with Philip” (2:13) not so that he could hear more about Jesus, but so that he might learn how Philip was performing all these signs and miracles. Simon wanted to learn Philip’s magic, no to know Philip’s Christ.

In the same way Simon does not see Peter as an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ but as another powerful spiritist who is able to bestow occult powers on people simply by laying his hands on them. Not believing that the Holy Spirit is the third Person of the Trinity, but is instead some spiritual force, Simon appeals to Peter as his fellow magician and offers him money so that he too may bestow this “Holy Spirit” on others by laying hands on them.

Taking a closer look at 8:18-19, we see Simon’s errors.

  • Simon believed that the Holy Spirit was bestowed mechanically when anyone with power laid hands on anyone else. But the Holy Spirit is the gift of God that is given to the believer when they place their faith in the Lord Jesus. Thus, it is bestowed spiritually as a result of faith.
  • The magician thought that he could buy the Holy Spirit with money. It is typical of unbelievers to believe that money can buy anything, but the Holy Spirit is God and cannot be purchased at any price.
  • Simon assumed that he could buy the Holy Spirit and then dispense it to whoever would pay him money to get it. (“So that everyone (or anyone) on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”) He treated the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity, as a commodity that could be sold.

These were the thoughts of Simon the pretender. He pretended to be a genuine believer, but, as Peter pointed out, he was “in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity” (8:23). Simon the magician is thus guilty of the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:24-32), for he views the divine Spirit as a demonic force to be dispensed to anyone willing to pay money. Simon treats the Holy Spirit of the living God as an occult spirit, a commodity sold by the magician as part of his dark trade.

Finally, Simon betrays his unregenerate state by refusing to obey the instructions of the Apostle Peter. In Acts 8:22, Peter commands Simon to repent of his wickedness and to pray to the Lord for forgiveness (both “repent” and “pray” are in the imperative in the Greek), but Simon ignores the call to repent and tells Peter to pray, instead (8:24). Simon is either unwilling or unable to pray, and so he asks Peter to pray for him. But a man must repent for himself, and a man must ask for forgiveness himself. No one can repent for someone else, and no one can ask the Lord for forgiveness for someone else. Simon hears the gospel but does not believe. Simon is commanded to repent but ignores the command. He is commanded to beg the Lord for forgiveness, but he refuses to act. Thus, in the end Simon perishes.

SDG                 rmb                 3/9/2022                     #501

Examining “the sign of the covenant” (Genesis 17:11)

SUMMARY. Today’s article takes a look at the phrase “the sign of the covenant” that appears in Genesis 17:11, but that also factors prominently in the Presbyterian practice of Paedobaptism. We will examine the phrase in its context of Genesis 17:11 and compare that with the use of the same phrase when Presbyterians (and probably others) sprinkle water on the head of infants.

The most common use of “the sign of the covenant” is not in the exegesis of Genesis 17:11 but is instead in the words used by Presbyterians as the pastor of the church sprinkles water on the head of an infant (or small child, and so throughout the article). In this ritual, called Paedobaptism or infant baptism, the infant child of a professing believer is said to receive “the sign of the covenant” when they are sprinkled with water.

Now, while this practice has gone on for many centuries, first in the Roman Catholic church and then in most of the Protestant churches of the Reformation and beyond, there are difficulties in explaining or justifying this practice from the Bible. There are also difficulties in showing that “the sign of the covenant” commanded in Genesis 17:11 is analogous to “the sign of the covenant” given in the sprinkling of infants with water. This article is going to examine some of those difficulties.


The first difficulty is that there is no example anywhere in the Bible, in Old Testament or New, of any infant ever being sprinkled with water. Thus, the Presbyterians have no biblical basis whatsoever for assigning any significance to sprinkling water on the head of an infant. Whatever meaning is assigned to the sprinkling is entirely arbitrary. In fact, the ritual of sprinkling an infant and the assigned meaning of that ritual are simply invented with no reference to the Bible. (As an aside, the question should be asked, “How can you maintain ‘sola Scriptura’ and, at the same time, prominently practice a ritual that is absent from the Scriptures?”) In summary of this point, then, the ritual of sprinkling water on the head of an infant is extrabiblical and the meaning of this ritual is arbitrarily invented.


Next, we know that the phrase “sign of the covenant” appears four times in Scripture. Three of those appearances are in Genesis 9 with the covenant with Noah. The fourth, and most important, appearance of this phrase is in Genesis 17:11, and this is the one that gets the most attention, because this use of the phrase is alleged to hold the key to the Presbyterian practice of Paedobaptism. Let’s try to follow this.

In Genesis 17:2-8, God declares to Abraham what He is going to do for Abraham under this covenant. Since God is the one who declares these things, we know that they will certainly come to pass.

In Genesis 17:9-14, the pronouns change from I (God) to you (Abraham). In these verses, God tells Abraham what his responsibilities are under this covenant. Every male among Abraham’s descendants (seed) must be circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin (17:10-11). Further, males are to be circumcised when they are eight days old (17:12). This is “the sign of the covenant” between God and Abraham, and it is obligatory. Any male who is not circumcised has broken God’s covenant and shall be cut off from his people (17:14).

Thus, the terms of the Abrahamic covenant are clearly established. All male descendants of Abraham are obligated to be circumcised in the flesh of their foreskin as “the sign of the covenant” (17:11).

So far, so good. But now the real work begins, because the Presbyterian needs to show that, as circumcision is “the sign of the covenant” between God and Abraham in Genesis 17, so sprinkling water on the head of an infant is the sign of the new covenant which Christ established by His death on the cross (Matt. 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20).

There are difficulties presented by the task of showing this analogy. Here are a few.

  • Already mentioned is the fact that sprinkling infants with water is absent from all of Scripture. It is therefore difficult to draw an analogy between circumcision, which does exist in Scripture, and the sprinkling of infants, which does not.
  • The phrase “the sign of the covenant” does not appear in any verse of Scripture after Genesis 17:11, where male circumcision is explicitly stated to be the sign of the Abrahamic covenant. It is therefore difficult to connect circumcision with anything in the New Testament, since nowhere in the New Testament can we find a corresponding sign of the covenant.
  • If, despite the fact that there is no sprinkling of infants anywhere in the Bible and despite the fact that there is no identified “sign of the covenant” in the New Testament, we nevertheless made the arbitrary assumption that male circumcision in the flesh of the foreskin on the eighth day was analogous to sprinkling water on the head of an infant, we would need to address the fact that these two signs of the covenant are vastly different in their forms. As seen below, this presents a difficulty, namely, if these are, in fact, analogous, why are they so dissimilar?
circumcisionsprinkling on head
males onlymale and female
on the eighth dayno specific time
cutting with a knifesprinkling with water
“sign of covenant” explicit“sign of covenant” assigned
permanent sign in the fleshtransient sign leaves no trace
biblically commandednot in the Bible
Comparing circumcision and sprinkling
  • The final difficulty in showing that these two rituals are analogous to one another consists in looking at their purposes. We would assume that, if these practices are analogous to one another, then their purposes would provide clues of this analogy. In Genesis 17, the purpose of circumcision is clearly given: to mark the seed of Abraham by a permanent physical sign. But where do we go to find the purpose of sprinkling water on the head of an infant? Since this ritual does not appear in Scripture, we have no way of knowing its God-ordained purpose. In fact, since this sprinkling of infants with water does not appear in the word of God, we conclude there is no God-ordained purpose to this practice. Whatever purpose there is to this ritual must be arbitrarily assigned by man.

So far in this article we have examined the concept of “the sign of the covenant” and have encountered significant difficulties in trying to see how the phrase as used in Genesis 17:11 has any resemblance or connection to the words used by Presbyterians as they sprinkle infants. The magnitude of the difficulties leads us to conclude that there is, in fact, no connection between these two uses of the phrase “sign of the covenant” and that Presbyterians use the phrase when sprinkling infants for reasons that are based on other than exegetical concerns.

SDG                 rmb                 3/2/2022                     #494

“Household baptisms” are baptisms of believers

INTRODUCTION. One of the arguments used to justify the practice of Paedobaptism (Paedobaptism is the practice of sprinkling water on the head of an infant or a small child and calling that New Testament baptism) is based on the so-called “household baptisms” in the New Testament. Household baptisms appear in Acts 16:15 with Lydia’s household, in Acts 16:33 with the household of the Philippian jailer, and in 1 Corinthians 1:16 with the household of Stephanas in Corinth. This post will take a critical look at these passages and assess whether “household baptisms” provide any justification for the practice of Paedobaptism. The material used here will (hopefully) be part of a more complete work critiquing all the arguments attempting to justify Paedobaptism.


In my own words, the justification for Paedobaptism from household baptisms states that, in the New Testament there are clearly cases where whole households were baptized. These households are assumed to have contained infants or small children who could not repent or believe, but who were nevertheless baptized. From this, the Paedobaptists infer that it is biblically justified to sprinkle all infants and small children of believers.


To critique this Paedobaptist argument, we will question its major assumption, namely that there were unbelieving small children or infants in these households who were “baptized” (actually, sprinkled). It will be shown that, not only were there no unbelieving infants and small children (thus eliminating the need to sprinkle rather than properly immerse them), but in fact all those baptized were believers. The reason the members of these household were baptized was because the members were believers.

LYDIA’S HOUSEHOLD, ACTS 16:14-15. We begin by examining the verses about Lydia in Acts 16. In Acts 16:15, the Scriptures read, “And when she (Lydia) and her household had been baptized.” So, it is obvious that Lydia’s household was baptized. But now, for the Paedobaptist argument for infant baptism to hold, it must be shown that Lydia’s household included an unbelieving infant or small child. What is the evidence for this case?

  • The most obvious clue against there being infants or small children in the household is that no children are mentioned in Acts 16:14-15. None. At all. So, for there to be any children, they must be inferred and inserted into the household. Is there any good reason to infer that there were small children?
  • If there were children in Lydia’s household, there would need to be a father. This would necessitate Lydia having a husband, but there is no mention of a husband for Lydia. Ever. In the whole text, there is no suggestion that Lydia has a husband. In his typical detailed fashion, Luke tells us (16:14) Lydia’s name, where she is from (Thyatira), what she does for a living (seller of purple fabrics), that she was a worshiper of God, and that she was listening to Paul. Then, after “the Lord opened her heart” (16:14), we find out that Lydia has been judged to be faithful to the Lord (16:15), that she has a house that can accommodate a few travelers, and that she can invite male strangers into her home. In those days, it would have been scandalous for a woman to invite men into her home without her husband’s consent, unless, of course, there was no husband to ask.
  • All of this evidence suggests not that Lydia was a mother of infants or small children, but rather that she was a single woman, a merchant of some means, whose heart had been opened by the Lord as Paul proclaimed the gospel to her by the river. There is no evidence for any unbelieving infants or small children.
  • But it must be remembered that the central figure in this gospel scene is not an imaginary infant or small child, but is Lydia, the new believer. “The Lord opened Lydia’s heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul” (16:14). This certainly means that Lydia believed in the Lord Jesus Christ unto salvation. Then, following her coming to faith, she was baptized (16:15). According to the pattern given throughout the book of Acts, Lydia believed and was baptized (confirm Acts 2, twice in Acts 8, Acts 9 (Saul), Acts 10, twice in Acts 16, Acts 18, and Acts 19). And the only reason that Lydia was baptized was because she had believed in the Lord Jesus.
  • Now, since the only reason the apostle Paul ever baptized anyone was because they had believed in the Lord Jesus, we can conclude that all in Lydia’s “household” were baptized because they had believed in the Lord Jesus, just as Lydia had.

CONCLUSION ABOUT LYDIA’S HOUSEHOLD, ACTS 16:14-15. After examining this occurrence of a “household baptism,” we have seen, first, that there is no valid reason to infer that there are unbelieving infants or small children in Lydia’s household in this scene, and second, that the reason that Lydia’s household was baptized was because Lydia’s household believed. Thus, the household baptism in Acts 16:15 provides no justification whatsoever for Paedobaptism and, in fact, is correctly understood as portraying household faith.

THE PHILIPPIAN JAILER’S HOUSEHOLD, ACTS 16:31-34. Once again, we see the occurrence of a household baptism in Acts 16:33. (As a technical note, the word for “household” does not appear in the Greek in 16:33, but it is certainly allowed and implied. The Greek actually reads “he was baptized and all his.”) An examination of this passage will reveal that it provides no support for Paedobaptism.

Paul answers the jailer’s question, “What must I do to be saved?” with a clear call to faith in Jesus: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (16:31). Any salvation for this jailer or his household is clearly dependent on believing in the Lord Jesus. If the jailer (or his household) is to be saved, he must believe in Jesus.

Having given the jailer the key to being saved, Paul and Silas “spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house (Acts 16:32).” In the same way that Peter had preached to Cornelius and all those who had gathered in his house in Acts 10, now Paul preaches the word of the gospel to the jailer and all those in his house. Paul told the jailer to believe in Jesus (16:31), and now Paul is giving him the details of the gospel. He is explaining to him about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection and calling him (and his whole household) to faith in Jesus, the risen Savior. And because of what happens in 16:33 and what we read in 16:34, we know that the jailer and his household believed in God.

What happens next? In 16:33, the jailer washes Paul’s and Silas’ wounds (Maybe they go to the same place of prayer in the river where Paul first spoke the word to Lydia.) and then, since they have believed the message that Paul proclaimed, the jailer and his whole household are immediately baptized.

Their coming to faith is then celebrated with a meal as they “rejoiced greatly, having believed in God with his whole household” (16:34). Again, the reason that the whole household was baptized was because the whole household had believed, as is explicitly stated here.

CONCLUSION, ACTS 16:31-34. This passage about the Philippian jailer provides no justification for Paedobaptism. In fact, the only way to see Paedobaptism in this passage would be to forcibly introduce it into the text. Instead, what we see here is the power of the gospel to convert a hard and cruel man, and his household, to faith in Jesus Christ.

THE HOUSEHOLD OF STEPHANAS, 1 CORINTHIANS 1:16; 16:15. The final occurrence of household baptism is the household of Stephanas in 1 Corinthians 1:16. Paul writes, “Now I did baptize also the household of Stephanas.” Who is Stephanas, and does this baptism offer the Paedobaptist a justification for the practice of baptizing babies?

We find out who Stephanas and his household are by simply reading 1 Cor. 16:15-16: “Now I urge you, brethren (you know the household of Stephanas, that they were the first fruits of Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves for ministry to the saints), that you also be in subjection to such men and to everyone who helps in the work and labors.” It becomes immediately obvious from this glowing commendation from Paul and his testimony to their usefulness in his ministry, that “the household of Stephanas” was a household of believers, and that the reason Paul baptized them (1 Cor. 1:16) was because they had believed the gospel. No further comment needs to be made.

CONCLUSION, THE HOUSEHOLD OF STEPHANAS, 1 COR. 1:16; 16:15. Once again, there is no hint of Paedobaptism here in this text. Instead, we see that Paul baptized the household of Stephanas because the household of Stephanas believed the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. As is true of all baptism in the New Testament, the reason whole households are baptized is because whole households believed. There is no baptism in the New Testament apart from faith in the Lord Jesus Christ


Upon examination of the “household baptisms” in the New Testament, it has been shown that there is no basis for the Paedobaptist claim that these passages can be understood as justifying Paedobaptism. There are no hidden infants or small children in these household baptisms that were somehow given a faithless sprinkling. In these occurrences, the reason whole households were baptized because whole households believed. As is true of all baptisms in the New Testament, there is no baptism apart from faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

SDG                 rmb                 1/21/2022                   #487