Jesus' burial had nothing to do with His work in saving sinners! No doubt this statement offends many, but let us examine the truth of it. What would have been different if, after dying at about the ninth hour, Jesus' body had been left on the cross until Sunday morning, and then He had come back to life and come down from the cross? Nothing. Is burial essential to prove His death? No. Is the essential part of His resurrection the point of His coming out of the tomb, or simply coming back to life? Clearly, coming back to life, which he could have done even if He had not been buried. Ergo, Jesus' burial had nothing to do with His work in saving sinners. There is nothing worth commemorating there.
The Lord's Supper commemorates the death of Jesus. We see the brokenness of His body in the breaking of the bread, and we see the shedding of His blood in the drinking of the wine. The Lord's resurrection is commemorated every Sunday when we gather together for worship. So what does baptism commemorate?
What would you think of a denomination that bases its fundamental position on a passage of Scripture written thirty or forty years after Christ's ascension, when the writer had no intention to teach anything on the subject? This is what Baptists do with Romans 6:2-4. They interpret this passage eisegetically. Paul referred to it only incidentally, to illustrate a point that had no bearing on his main subject. We could search through the four Gospels and Acts (or, for that matter, the entire Bible) and not find any other references that imply anything like what the Baptists suggest.
May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
What were the circumstances of Jesus' burial? He was taken down from the cross and put in a new tomb by Joseph of Arimathea. What was the tomb like? It was carved out of rock. What do the Scriptures say about the burial? His body was carefully laid in the tomb, and a stone was rolled against the door (Mark 15:46). Was Jesus' body, when he was buried, put down into the earth, and when it was resurrected, did it come up out of the earth? Clearly not. Did the burial of Jesus bear any resemblance to a burial from today? No. If Jesus' burial had been exactly like a burial today, would immersion be the proper way to symbolize it? Of course. But that is not how Jesus was buried.
In Romans 6:2-4, baptism is being used as an illustration. But what is Paul actually illustrating? Paul has been saying that where sin increases, grace abounds all the more. Some might conclude that since grace is greatest where sin is strongest, we should let sin continue so that grace may abound. But Paul says, "May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?" Then he introduces his illustration in verse 3. If "baptized into Christ Jesus" means to be united with Christ, that is, to be "in Christ," as it clearly does, then what is meant by "baptized into His death"? Jesus is our substitute, so obviously Jesus' death becomes ours. Jesus is our representative. Jesus' death becomes our death through our union with Him. Colossians 2:12 bears the same truth. How do we secure that union? Through baptism. Being "baptized into Christ Jesus."
The passage uses the word "therefore," which means we should ask the question, "What is it there for?" The word "buried" is tied to the overall topic by the word "therefore," indicating that it results from something previously stated. The phrase "buried with" means "buried together with." Both burials (Jesus and His people) were one—they were buried together. How are we buried with Him? By "baptism into death." This cannot mean anything different than the previously-discovered fact. Where is there a reference to the mode of baptism in this passage? Based on what we have just discussed, no one can draw the ridiculous conclusion that water baptism itself is what unites us to Christ.
If circumcision were still the rite of initiation into the church and signified our union with Christ, Romans 6:3-4 would read, "Or do you not know that all of us who have been circumcised into Christ Jesus have been circumcised into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through circumcision into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life." Both circumcision and baptism are symbols of the Spirit's work. As Matthew Henry made application in Romans 2:28-29: "For he is not a Christian who is one outwardly; neither is baptism that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Christian who is one inwardly; and baptism is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God." Circumcision and baptism both represent the cleansing of the heart.
Baptism was not meant to symbolize or commemorate burial. It was intended to symbolize the work of the Spirit. This symbolism does help to shed some light on the mode of baptism, though. If the Bible had said, "Christ will be buried in the earth, but you shall be buried by baptism in the water," that would settle the issue of immersion. Nobody could explain away a statement like that. So what do we do with this statement, "I baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit"? The great work of the Spirit is to cleanse, purify, and sanctify. Using water in baptism commemorates or symbolizes the work of the Spirit. The Bible frequently states that we are cleansed by Christ's blood, too. "For there are three that bear witness, the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement" (1 John 5:8). The Bible teaches us that all three—the Holy Spirit, the water, and the blood—cleanse and purify us. While this verse is contested as to whether or not is belongs in the text, nevertheless it agrees with the whole of Scripture on this point.
The Holy Spirit plays an integral part in our salvation. He convicts us of sin, draws us to turn to Jesus, regenerates and sanctifies us. If the Lord's Supper refers exclusively to the work of Christ, then baptism refers exclusively to the work of the Holy Spirit. Let us look at some passages dealing with the work of the Spirit:
"Until the Spirit is poured out upon us from on high." Isaiah 32:15a
"For I will pour out water on the thirsty land And streams on the dry ground; I will pour out My Spirit on your offspring, And My blessing on your descendants." Isaiah 44:3
"And I will not hide My face from them any longer, for I shall have poured out My Spirit on the house of Israel," declares the Lord GOD." Ezekiel 39:29
"And it will come about after this That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; And your sons and daughters will prophesy, Your old men will dream dreams, Your young men will see visions. And even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days." Joel 2:28-29
"And I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, 'He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the one who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.'" John 1:33
"And immediately coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opening, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him." Mark 1:10
"By the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior." Titus 3:5c-6
"Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear." Acts 2:33 (Keep in mind the passage from Joel quoted in Acts 2:17-21.)
The words used to describe the work of the Holy Spirit are baptized with, poured upon, poured out, and descending on. Are there any passages that represent the work of the Holy Spirit as being anything like immersion? Some might attempt to refer to Acts 2:2, trying violently to force the word "filled" to somehow refer to being "enveloped" or "buried": "And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent, rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting." Note that this passage says nothing about the Spirit Himself, but that the sound filled the entire room. Not until the third verse do we see a manifestation of the Spirit's baptism. When it comes to baptism, is the individual put into the element, or is the element applied to him/her?
Baptism is meant to commemorate or symbolize the work of the Holy Spirit. What light does the work of the Holy Spirit throw on the question of the mode of baptism? Romans 6 is the only place where immersion seems to be taking place, and yet we have proven that that is not the case. Based on the use of the Greek words, we see pouring in Acts 1:5, Acts 11:15-16, and Acts 2:17; we see dipping (or partial immersion) in Matthew 26:23 and John 13:26; we see complete identification in 1 Corinthians 10:1-4; and we see sprinkling when we compare Hebrews 9:9-10 with Numbers 19:4, 13, 17-30, and then look at Hebrews 9:13-14. But where do we see complete immersion? The commitment to just one mode is not necessary based on the historical use of the words, but the work of the Spirit clearly indicates a pouring. Shower (pouring), bath (immersion).
Consider finally John 2:6: "Now there were six stone waterpots set there for the Jewish custom of purification, containing twenty or thirty gallons each." Jews could not possibly have immersed themselves in one of these jars, let alone their tables or couches (see Mark 7:4). Immersion in Scripture is purely speculation. Second Timothy 2:15 applied like a Berean will exegetically eliminate all concepts of immersion imposed on the texts (including those of Jesus going to the Jordan to be baptized by John). There is no biblical grounds for baptism by immersion.
When you study this subject out for yourself, use only the Bible as your authoritative source and do so in three stages:
- Find the meanings of the words used based on their contexts.
- Study the significance of the ceremony, looking at what baptism was meant to symbolize or commemorate.
- Carefully look at examples of baptism in the New Testament in order to discern the mode used.