The baptism of John the Baptist was a fixture in the opening of all four gospel accounts in the New Testament. John the cousin of Jesus, also known as “John the Baptist”, is not to be confused with the Apostle John who wrote the Gospel of John and the epistles of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd John.

How Scripture answers "What is the baptism of John the Baptist?"

The baptism of John was an immersion in water1,2,3,4 to forgive individuals turned from (e.g. “repentance”2) and confessed their sin2. It was an obedient, contrite act whereby the individual publicly declared God’s just nature3. Jesus, the Son submitted to the baptism of John the Baptist4 (another marker of the fact that Jesus lived under the old covenant).

The baptism of John was also a deliberate/designed precursor1,3,5,10 to the baptism of Jesus. Each baptism shared the qualities of immersion in water, repentance, confession, and forgiveness of sin. They also share the fact that Jesus personally never baptized anyone into either6. However, the baptism of John was distinguished from the baptism of Jesus10 since:

  • The covenants changed – the baptism of John was associated with the old covenant, and the baptism of Jesus was initiated under the new covenant7,8,9,10.
  • Jesus was greater than John1,5,10.
  • The baptism of Jesus included the promise/gift of the Holy Spirit7,8,9,10.

Have you been baptized in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of sin and the gift of the Holy Spirit8?

Answer built on scripture-blocks below

They asked him, Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet? John answered them, I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.
They [sent by Pharisees] asked him [John the Baptist] why he was baptizing if we wasn’t the Christ, Elijah, or the Prophet.  He told them that he baptized with water, but that there was among them that they didn’t know, coming after him and whose sandal strap he was not even worthy to untie.
A delegation from the Pharisees was sent to inquire of John and his purpose. He answers by contrasting himself to the Christ, the one who John was sent as a forerunner.

Scripture-block application to this question

John baptized with water.

!! scripture-block context extra important here !!

John makes this statement after having been asked who exactly he was (vs 19). It’s clear that after admitting that he was not the Christ (vs 20), they were challenging the authority by which he would be baptizing — just as they would later do with Jesus5.

John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
John appeared baptizing in the wilderness proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. All across Judea and Jerusalem, people were going out to John to confess their sins and be baptized in the Jordan river.

Mark’s succinct gospel introduction gives an account of John the Baptist’s fulfilling the Isaiah prophesy that he would “prepare the way of the Lord” (vss 2-3) and the nature of his message.

Parallel, and more detailed, accounts are found in Matthew 3:1-12, Luke 3:1-18, and John 1:19-28

Scripture-block application to this question

John baptized in the wilderness, but specifically in the Jordan river1. It was “a baptism of repentance10 for the forgiveness of sins” and was accompanied by the baptized individuals “confessing their sins”.

!! scripture-block context extra important here !!

Mark’s succinct gospel introduction gives an account of John the Baptist’s fulfilling the Isaiah prophesy that he would “prepare the way of the Lord” (vss 2-3) and the nature of his message.

(When all the people heard this, and the tax collectors too, they declared God just, having been baptized with the baptism of John, but the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.)
The common people, including the tax collectors, who heard this [Jesus’ testimony that John the Baptist was “the messenger” that the prophet Malachi said would come] and had been baptized with John’s baptism declared God’s way was right. However, the “experts” among them rejected God’s way and were not baptized.
John the Baptist is in prison and soon to die at the hands of Herod (Matthew 14:3-12), and Jesus confirms that John the Baptist is “the messenger” (Malachi 3:1) that God said would come (vs 27).

Matthew 11:2-30 is a parallel account generally, but he doesn’t record this specific parenthetical offered by Luke.

Scripture-block application to this question

The baptism of John was from God the Father and those who wanted to obey the Father submitted to it.

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.
During this time, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. When Jesus came up out of the water, He saw the heavens open and the Holy Spirit descended on Him like a dove while a voice came from heaven saying, “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.”

The early days of John the Baptist’s ministry to prepare the way for his cousin, Jesus. He was known for “baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance” (vs 4).

Parallel accounts of this appear in Matthew 3:16-17, Luke 3:21-22, John 1:32-34.

Scripture-block application to this question

Jesus was baptized with the baptism of John being immersed in water (e.g. “he came up out of the water“).

He answered them, I also will ask you a question. Now tell me, was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? And they discussed it with one another, saying, If we say, From heaven, he will say, Why did you not believe him? But if we say, From man, all the people will stone us to death, for they are convinced that John was a prophet.
Jesus challenged them [the chief priests and the scribes with elders] by asking by whose authority the baptism of John was from – whether from God or man. They discussed it among themselves and decided neither choice was good. If they said it was from God, Jesus would ask why they didn’t believe him and if they said it was from man, they would be stoned since the people were convinced that John was a prophet [from God].

It is Jesus’ final week and He is teaching in the temple and “the chief priests and the scribes with the elders” (vs 1) have asked Him where His authority comes from (vs 2).

Scripture-block application to this question

Jesus’ question forced a decision to be made between whether the baptism of John was from God or from man.

!! scripture-block context extra important here !!

Jesus refused to answer (vs 8) their challenge about where His authority came from (vs 2) when they refused to answer His question about where the baptism of John came from. However, it’s clear Jesus’ point is that both His and John’s authority came from God, the Father.

Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), he left Judea and departed again for Galilee.

Jesus left Judea and returned to Galilee when He heard that the Pharisees learned about His following growing larger than even John the Baptist’s.

In the early days of Jesus’ public ministry, following the wedding in Cana (John 2) and His private meeting with Nicodemus (John 3) as recorded by the apostle John.
Scripture-block application to this question

Jesus, during His time on earth, never personally baptized anyone.

And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
While Jesus was still with them [the eleven], He told them to remain in Jerusalem and wait for the promise from God.  Jesus had already told them about this and further told them that while John baptized with water, they would soon be baptized with the Holy Spirit.
Luke’s “part 2” account to Theophilus, where he opens with a brief summary (vss 1-11) that recaps/overlaps with the ending of the “part 1” (Luke 24:36-53).

Jesus, with His apostles (vs 2), is reminding them of the “promise of the Father” (“the Helper”) that He first told them about in the upper room before His crucifixion (John 14:15-17, 16:7-14). He is also referring back to the same thing John the Baptist had originally proclaimed, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” (Luke 3:16)

This is just before He ascends into heaven (vs 9) and the day of Pentecost (chapter 2).

Scripture-block application to this question

Jesus tells the apostles that in a few days, they would be “baptized with the Holy Spirit” – a baptism that was both distinguished from the baptism of John’s water baptism and something that was “the promise of the Father”8.

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, Brothers, what shall we do? And Peter said to them, Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.

When they heard the preaching of Peter and the rest of the apostles, they were convicted by them and asked what they should do [to be saved].  Peter told them that they each should repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ so that they could receive the remission of their sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit.  This “gift” was the promise made for all Jews, but also all Gentiles — everyone whom God calls to himself.

Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost where he recalled several prophetic statements from Joel and David (vss 16-36). By divine inspiration, Peter interpreted these statements to apply their fulfillment to Jesus and the ushering in of the “last days”.

He also specifically refers to the “promise of the Holy Spirit” earlier – given by the Father to the Son (vs 33). More were continuing to be saved and they began meeting together as the Lord’s church (vss 41-47).

Scripture-block application to this question

For the first time — “the beginning”9 as Peter would later refer to it — the baptism of Jesus was preached (not the baptism of John) which included the promised “gift of the Holy Spirit”.

!! scripture-block context extra important here !!

Earlier in the chapter before Peter addressed the crowd, the apostles themselves were baptized with the Holy Spirit (vss 1-4) as Jesus had promised days earlier7.

As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.

Peter was speaking as the Holy Spirit fell on Cornelius and his family/friends. He recalls Jesus telling him that while John had baptized with water, you (Peter) will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.

Peter is reporting back to the church in Jerusalem about his journey to Joppa and the conversion of the first Gentiles (Cornelius and his family/friends – chap 10).

Scripture-block application to this question

Peter remembers what Jesus had told them “at the beginning”7 as he repeats how “the Holy Spirit fell on them”.

!! scripture-block context extra important here !!

Peter is telling the church in Jerusalem about what had transpired when he preached to Cornelius’ household (Acts 10 — conversion of the first Gentiles).

And it happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. And he said to them, Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed? And they said, No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit. And he said, Into what then were you baptized? They said, Into John’s baptism. And Paul said, John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus. On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying.
While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed inland and came to Ephesus. There he found some converts and asked if they received the Holy Spirit when they had believed.  They had not and didn’t even know there was a Holy Spirit.  So Paul asked what they had been baptized into?  They said John’s baptism.  Paul then explained the difference between John’s baptism and Jesus’ baptism – that the former was only of repentance and pointing toward Jesus.  When they heard this, they were baptized into Jesus.  At that point, Paul laid his hands on them which gave them the power of the Holy Spirit – to speak in tongues and prophesy.
Paul is on his third missionary journey in 52AD.

Scripture-block application to this question

Paul encounters believers (e.g. “disciples”) who had been baptized “into John’s baptism” which Paul defines as “the baptism of repentance” accompanied by the instruction to believe in Jesus who would come after him. He judges the validity and currency of their baptism — whether it was old/John’s or new/Jesus’ — by asking if they had received the Holy Spirit, the distinguishing characteristic between the baptism of John and the baptism of Jesus.

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