Baptism and Becoming a Christian in the New Testament -- By: Robert H. Stein

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 02:1 (Spring 1998)
Article: Baptism and Becoming a Christian in the New Testament
Author: Robert H. Stein

Baptism and Becoming a Christian in the New Testament

Robert H. Stein

Robert H. Stein is the Mildred Hogan Professor of New Testament Interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, a position he has held since 1997. One of evangelicalism’s most respected Gospels scholars, Stein is the author of Jesus the Messiah, The Method and Message of Jesus’ Teachings, An Introduction to the Parables of Jesus, and several other books and articles. This article was first presented at a session on Baptism for the Baptist General Conference. All biblical quotations are from the New International Version.

The purpose of this article is to investigate how baptism is related to the experience of conversion in the New Testament. As a result I shall not deal with the following important subjects: the meaning of the term “to baptize” (baptidzein is generally conceded to mean “to dip or immerse”); the origin of Christian baptism (it is probably not dependent upon Jewish proselyte baptism since there is no evidence of this practice before A.D. 70 and proselyte baptism was self-administered; it is unlikely that it has any direct relationship to Qumran’s lustrations [1 QS 3:4–9, 6:14–23]; it is probably dependent upon the baptism of John the Baptist [Jn 3:22, 4:1–3] but the origin of John’s baptism is unknown); the relationship of “laying on hands” to receiving the Spirit; etc.

In order to facilitate the discussion, I shall state a general thesis of how baptism in the New Testament is related to the experience of conversion. Although this thesis, like any thesis, cannot be “proven,” I shall seek to demonstrate that it is able to explain the majority of the New Testament evidence quite well. The thesis is as follows:

In the New Testament, conversion involves five integrally related components or aspects, all of which took place at the same time, usually on the same day. These five components are repentance, faith, and confession by the individual, regeneration, or the giving of the Holy Spirit by God, and baptism by representatives of the Christian community.

It should be noted that the individual is the “doer” of the first three components. He/she repents, believes, and confesses. In the other two components, however, the individual is the recipient and is acted upon. He/she receives or is given the Spirit by God and is baptized by the church.

I shall seek to prove this thesis in three ways. First, I shall demonstrate that the New Testament presents these five elements in various combinations as being intimately interrelated and as occurring at the same time, so that we should a...

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