Do Romans 6:3-4 and Galatians 3:26-27 Refer to Spirit Baptism?

Is Christian baptism to be administered by men or by the Spirit? Some believe that Holy Spirit baptism is in view in Romans 6:3-4 and Galatians 3:26-27. But will this idea stand the scrutiny of sound biblical interpretation?
By Wayne Jackson | Christian Courier

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It is a tragedy of heart-breaking proportion that some otherwise credible scholars will go to such outlandish lengths to defend cherished theological theories. They hurl exegetical caution to the wind and adopt absurd views that are wholly without substance.

No better example can be mentioned than the desperate attempts that some make in attempting to avoid the connection between the commanded rite of water immersion and the forgiveness of sins. No responsible Bible student believes there is some magical power in water to wash away sins. The blood of Jesus Christ is the agent of cleansing power resident in God’s plan of redemption (Hebrews 9:14a).

It is undeniable, however, that the saving efficacy of that blood is accessed by faith when one submits to the command to be immersed “for the forgiveness of sins” (Acts 2:38; cf. 22:16). This is not salvation by meritorious works; it is salvation by obedience (Hebrews 5:9).

One novel approach of fairly recent vintage is the idea that the baptism of certain texts involves no water at all; rather, it is a “Spirit” baptism.

For example, a few sectarian scholars contend that the baptism of Romans 6:3-4 and Galatians 3:26-27 is not water baptism, but Spirit baptism. One writer says, of Paul’s statement in Romans, that some:

take Romans 6:3 to refer to water baptism, but the problem with that is that it seems to suggest that baptism saves. However, the New Testament consistently denies baptismal regeneration."

A similar argument is made concerning the Galatian passage (Walvoord and Zuck 1983, 461, 600). The position is false. Consider the following:

Spirit baptism never a command

In the New Testament, Spirit baptism is never a command. How could one possibly command the Holy Spirit to baptize him?

Water baptism is a command (Acts 2:38; 10:48). The baptism in view in Romans 6 was in response to a command, to which the Roman Christians previously had been obedient, thereby being “made free from sin” (6:17-18). It was not Spirit baptism.

Administered by man

The baptism of the Great Commission, which puts the candidate into a relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is an immersion administered by men. The command is: “Go . . . make disciples . . . baptizing them” (Matthew 28:19). This clearly is water baptism, for the act is administered by the one who has taught the candidate.

It would be the epitome of irresponsible exegesis to assert that this baptism is something different from the immersion that transitions one “into Christ,” as the case is in both Romans 6:3-4 and Galatians 3:26-27.

Look at it another way. When Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus, he declared there is “one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5). If this is Spirit baptism, water baptism has been removed. If it is water baptism, there is no Spirit baptism today. If both are still in effect, the apostle’s math was in error.

Which baptism, therefore, is now obsolete? It cannot be water baptism, for that baptism (as administered by a human teacher) was to continue to the end of the Christian age (Matthew 28:20). By default, then, Spirit baptism is no longer extant. It served a first-century purpose (Acts 2 and 10) and has not been a part of the divine plan since that time.

Identical to Paul’s baptism

The baptism of Romans 6:3 was identical with that which Paul himself had received (note the plural pronoun “we”). But Paul’s baptism in Damascus was in water (cf. Acts 22:16), a fact conceded by Professor Toussaint (Walvoord and Zuck, 418).

Baptism both a burial and resurrection

It is clear from a consideration of the language in Romans 6:3-4 that the baptism into which one is immersed is also that from which he emerges (i.e., is raised). Thus the apostle argues that our baptism, as to its mode of action, involves both a burial and a resurrection, just as Christ’s death did (cf. vv. 4-5). The same point is made in Colossians 2:12.

Consequently, if one (in his baptism), is immersed in the Spirit (as these gentlemen allege), he emerges out of the Spirit when raised. In that case, he would be without the Spirit. Elsewhere in Romans, Paul declares that those who are without the Spirit do not belong to Christ! (8:9b).

What a tangled web men weave when they pervert the Scriptures to buttress their own theological agenda.

Water connected to salvation

Numerous passages specifically connect salvation with a process that involves water.

Paul declared to the Ephesian saints that they had been cleansed by the washing of water with the word. Luke’s record of the Ephesian conversions certainly makes the mode of Christian baptism analogous to that of John the Baptist (Acts 19:3-5; cf. John 3:23).

This conforms perfectly with Jesus’ description of the new birth, which likewise involves water (John 3:3-5), as well as Titus 3:5 which speaks of the “washing of regeneration,” i.e., rebirth. First Peter 3:20-21 certainly connects the baptism that involves becoming saved with water.

Finally, a vast host of scholars—even those who do not view baptism as a condition of salvation—admit that the passages surveyed above relate to water baptism. The works of Thayer (1958, 94), Danker et al. (2000, 164), Kittel et al. (1985, 93-94), and Robertson (1931, 362, 298) readily come to mind. The late F. F. Bruce, who was professor of biblical criticism and exegesis at the University of Manchester in England, wrote:

I suggest that baptism in the New Testament is always baptism in water unless the context shows it to be something else; that is to say, the word is always to be understood literally unless the context indicates a figurative meaning (1973, 106).

Furthermore, the connection of John 3:5 with water baptism was not denied for the first fifteen centuries of the Christian era. William Wall, noted Anglican scholar, in his celebrated volume, The History of Infant Baptism (published in 1705), wrote:

All the ancient Christians (without the exception of one man) do understand that the rule of our Saviour (John iii.5): “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man [it is in the original ean me tis, ‘except a person,’ or ‘except one’] be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God,” of baptism. I had occasion in the first part [Vol. 1] to bring a great many instances of their sayings: where all that mention that text from Justin Martyr down to St. Austin do so apply it: and many more might be brought. Neither did I ever see it otherwise applied in any ancient writer. I believe Calvin was the first that ever denied this place to mean baptism. He gives it another interpretation which he confesses to be new (Wall n.d., 95-96; emphasis added).

  • Bruce, F. F. 1973. Answers to Questions. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
  • Calvin, John. 1975. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans. 2 Vols.
  • Danker, F. W. et al. 2000. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago
  • Kittel, G. et al., 1985. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament – Abridged. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
  • Robertson, A. T. 1931. Word Pictures in the New Testament. Vol. 4. Nashville, TN: Broadman.
  • Thayer, J. H. 1958. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Edinburgh, Scotland. T. &. T. Clark.
  • Wall, William. n.d. The History of Infant Baptism. Vol. 2. London, England: Griffith, Farran, Browne.
  • Walvoord, John and Roy Zuck, eds. 1983. The Bible Knowledge Commentary. Vol. 2. Wheaton, IL: Victor.