Acts 18:25 This man was instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in the spirit, he spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord, knowing only the baptism of John. 26 And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue: whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly.

I would like to know what the Baptism of John is. How does it differ from other forms of "baptism"?

4 Answers 4


John the Baptist was the fulfillment of prophecies about one who would prepare the way before the Lord - as per Isaiah 40:3. That Lord was the foretold Messiah; John was the messenger sent before him - as per Malachi 3:1. That Lord was the Messenger of the Covenant. John heralded his arrival as the Light, the Lamb of God. His ministry prepared the people of God back then for Christ's arrival.

The many people who came to John for baptism in Aenon, near to Salim ("because there was much water there" John. 3:23) were being prepared to then receive Jesus Christ as that Light, as that Lamb. Their hearts were being made ready to receive the implanted seed of gospel truth that would then grow and bring forth much fruit. (See the parable of the four types of 'soil', Mark 4:3-8 & 14-20.) As explained here:

"The beginning of the gospel is the changed mind which results from the ministry of a preparative messenger. A changed mind is suited to an honest and good heart. [See Hebrews 8:10-13.]

When God gives a man a new mind, in which he writes his laws; and a new heart, in which he also writes his laws; then, in such a condition, after such a baptism, is a man ready to receive the Messenger of the Covenant...

The ministry of John the Baptist, the preparative messenger, is a ministry that prepares the heart and mind for the coming of Christ to the soul, as conveyed in the gospel. It, itself, does not convey Christ. It prepares for that event. And if the preparation is not received, nor will Christ be received." The Beginning of the Gospel, Nigel Johnstone, pp.45-46 Belmont

John gladly proclaimed that he must decrease, while Christ would increase. He clearly said that he was the friend of the bridegroom. Christ was the bridegroom. And that is why, in Acts 18:24-28, Apollos (who knew only the baptism of John) readily received the gospel of Christ that Aquila and Priscilla opened up to him. He had been well prepared by John (and also by thoroughly knowing the Hebrew scriptures). This is where the first sign Jesus made, at Cana, comes in. It speaks of John's

"baptism of repentance which is unto [eis] the remission of sins. Under this baptism there is a confession of sins and an acknowledgement of sin. John cannot remit sins but the good and honest heart given under his ministry will freely confess the truth. This is to do truth and to do righteousness. Doing righteousness is a matter of being honest about one's past unrighteousnesses. It is a matter of being truthful about the iniquity that dwells within one by conception... Once filled with water to the brim by John's baptism and once the Lamb is present and once a union with him is arranged to which he has been called then, oh then, is the water no longer water... but wine.

They shall all be full of the Holy Ghost. These are they who, thus, enter the kingdom of God, John 3:5, being born of water and of the Spirit." (Ibid. pp.108-9)

This, I trust, will show what the water baptism of John means, and that it leads to the baptism of the Holy Spirit, for those prepared by John recognise Christ as the Light, and the Lamb, so that they begin to follow him - as did Apollos.


I have read some authors state that Apollos was not yet saved; however, Luke does not record anyone telling him to be rebaptized even when the way of God is explained to him better (vs. 26). If that had happened, Luke would have recorded it as he did in Acts 19. Combine that with the glowing description of Apollos just before, and Apollos' salvation seems sure.

So only having the "baptism of John" does not negatively impact one's salvation. What might it be? Three other texts in Acts use the phrase and show us what it means.

  1. Acts 1:5, Jesus juxtaposes the "baptism of John" with the "baptism of the Holy Spirit," which He would administer.
  2. Acts 11:16, Peter says, "John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit." The first gentile Christians he was talking about showed signs of spirit baptism before they were baptized in water (Acts 10:44-48).
  3. Acts 19:2f, new believers in Ephesus tell Paul they have been baptized "into John's baptism" but had not received the Spirit. They were rebaptized in Jesus' name and then received the Holy Spirit with the signs Luke attaches to that experience. (This is the only explicit rebaptism in the NT, and what it means is a great question in itself. It is my contention that these disciples were Christian.)

Therefore, based on the comparison between "baptism in the spirit" and "baptism of John," I conclude that the "baptism of John" is simply another phrase for "Water baptism." The phrase was used to distinguish water baptism from spirit baptism which only Jesus could administer.

It's rather easy to see that Holy Spirit baptism is not carried out by water. Matthew and Luke specify that Jesus will "baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire" (Matthew 3:11; Luke 3:16) while John's baptism was of water. Concluding a difference exists from just one instance would be fallacious, but the distinction between water baptism and Spirit baptism appears at least five times in Acts. (The phrases "filled with the Spirit" and "the Spirit falling on them" are synonymous with "Spirit baptism" as shown below).

  1. Acts 1:5. Jesus says, "For John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” John worked in water. Spirit baptism is something different. Moreover, when the Spirit filled the 120, there were three signs: the sound of rushing wind, tongues of flame over their heads, and speaking in tongues. There was no water present at the event for the 120.
  2. Acts 8:15ff. At the event commonly called "Samaritan Pentecost," the new believers had been baptized in Jesus name already but had not received the Holy Spirit. When Peter and John laid hands on them, then they received the Spirit. Receiving the Spirit is more than water, something happened here, because Simon the Sorcerer then begs Peter to sell him this ability that he can make it happen to other people. The Samaritan believers must have done something, though Luke does not say what. Looking at his examples throughout the rest of Acts, we may draw inferences and conclusions.
  3. In Acts 9, Paul was filled with the Spirit when Ananias of Damascus laid hands on him. Only afterwards, was Paul baptized in water.
  4. When the household of Cornelius believed in Acts 10, the Spirit "fell on" them (vs. 44). The next verse refers to this as "being poured out on" (vs. 45) and then "received the Holy Spirit" (vs. 47). Peter states, "how then can we forbid water?" Clearly, Peter saw water baptism as distinct from Spirit baptism and that Spirit baptism did not have water. In his explanation in the next chapter he makes the synonymous nature of "receiving" and "baptism" crystal clear. In Acts 11:15f, Peter says "the Holy Spirit fell on them" and how that event reminded him of Jesus' promise "you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit." By his own words, Peter recognized the Spirit falling on someone as being the same as being baptized in the Spirit.
  5. In Ephesus (Acts 19), Paul finds believers who had not received the Spirit. He water baptizes them in Jesus' name, lays hands on them, and then they received Spirit baptism as evidenced by tongues and prophecy.

The examples of Peter (Acts 10 and 11) and Jesus (Acts 1:4-5) state most clearly that water baptism is distinct from Spirit baptism. Likewise, Peter shows that "baptism in the Spirit" is the same as "being filled with" or "receiving" the Spirit.

[Coming from a Pentecostal hermeneutic. One of Luke's running themes is that Spirit baptism is accompanied by speaking in tongues.]


Scripture itself describes the differences between the Baptism of John and the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. Both Baptisms were carried out with water (here I disagree with another answer that has been posted).

Jesus Himself stated:

Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit (John 3:5-6)

Later Christ directed the Disciples to carry out this very baptism: Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost (Matthew 28:19).

John himself described the difference between the baptism he administered and that which would be administered by Christ (through His disciples): I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance ... He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire (Matthew 3:11; also Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16).

Some seem to be confused by the fact that (a) the Gospels don't actually depict Jesus baptizing with water; and (b) Jesus says in Acts (1:4-5) that John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost, falsely concluding that because water is not mentioned in context with being baptized with the Holy Ghost in this specific verse, that baptism with water equates to the baptism of John and that baptism of the with the Holy Ghost somehow excludes water. Not only would this contradict what we know about the practice from very early Christian writings (e.g. Didache 4:7, 1st century) and other early Christian writings (e.g. Barnabas 11; Justin Martyr, First Apology, ch. 61), but also from references elsewhere in the New Testament Praxapostolos. Paul alludes to baptism with water in Ephesians 5:25-26: Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, as well as in his Epistle to Titus, where he refers to the washing of regeneration (3:5). We also have the example of the Baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch:

And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him (Acts 8:36-38).

(One could, I suppose, maintain that the baptism that Philip administered was some water-only baptism of John and not that of the Holy Spirit, but that seems rather far-fetched).

  • 1
    The didache there explicitly states it is referring to water baptism. Barnabas also says "water." Justin likewise says this is water. They aren't speaking of Spirit baptism at all.
    – Frank Luke
    Commented Jun 14, 2017 at 17:21

The baptism of John was the Old Testament practice of mikveh, a ritual immersion in a bath of water. It should be noted that this immersion had nothing to do with washing away impurities - you took a thorough bath before entering the mikveh bath. It was a symbolic act only. Mikveh was performed for several reasons, one of which addresses your question so I will explain that first.

The New Testament makes several references to the baptism of John, specifically as an act of repentance. This act of repentance was part of the atonement process before Yom Kippur, in which you expressed a turning away from your sins of the past year and beginning a new year with a renewed relationship with God. This is why the Pharisees were coming to be baptized in Matt 3:7. The problem was that they were doing it for a superficial show of piety rather than out of a true heart repentance, which is why John the Baptist rebukes them.

Like the sacrifices of the Old Covenant, the water baptism of John served for a time and was meant to show a heart that was faithful to the Lord, but it was insufficient and had to be repeated. It was merely a temporary measure given until the Spirit of the New Covenant came. Through the Spirit, we are given grace and we no longer have to repeat the acts like mikveh/baptism as they did under the Mosaic Law to maintain a ritual purity. The act of baptism for us is a once and done association with Christ. I think the man in Acts 18:25 grasped the picture of baptism, but not the fulfillment of it. I think this is the gospel of grace that Aquila and Priscilla explained to him.

More information on mikveh and the picture of believers baptism in the Old Testament (the baptism of John).

Mikveh is also an association with Mikveh Israel - the Hope of Israel or Messiah (Jer 14:8, 17:13) which is why we see the question in John 1:24-25, "Now those who were sent were from the Pharisees. And they asked him, saying, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” From this verse we can see there was an expectation that the Messiah would be known by a baptism ministry. King David also uses this word in expressing a Messianic hope as he looks toward the building of the Temple and his son Solomon on the throne: “For we are sojourners before You, and tenants, as all our fathers were; our days on the earth are like a shadow, and there is no hope [mikveh]." (1 Chr 29:15)

Other times that mikveh was performed were for changes in covenant status such as at conversion or at the time of marriage (mikveh/baptism was part of the marriage ritual for both bride and groom).

Mikveh was also practiced by the married woman after her menses and childbirth (Lev. 12,15). There is a connection between this practice and the third day of Creation. In Genesis 1:9-10, it says "Then God said, 'Let the waters below the heavens be gathered into one place, and let the dry land appear'; and it was so. God called the dry land earth, and the gathering [mikveh] of the waters He called seas; and God saw that it was good." Out of the gathering of waters came new land and new life - a beginning. Similarly, when a child is born, there is a breaking of the mother's waters to facilitate entrance into new life. It came to be practiced in the law that at the onset of a cycle of renewed life in the married woman (and this only applied to the married woman) would be marked by a mikveh - a passage through water marking the renewed hope of new life. This is the understanding behind the passages in Lev 12 and 15.

All these aspects can be seen in the Christian practice of baptism. It is the mark of beginning again with new life in Christ. It is a permanent status change marking the entrance into the New Covenant. It marks a point of turning in repentance. It is an act of associating with the Messiah and the hope of His return. All of this is wrapped into our understanding of believers baptism, which is the baptism of John.


The information above came from the Jewish websites detailing the Jewish custom of mikvah, specifically from articles on mikveh and its significance for women. These articles include:






  • This looks like a potentially good answer. However, do you have any references your could add to support this information? In general, show us why we should believe something - don't just tell us it is true.
    – ThaddeusB
    Commented Nov 27, 2015 at 23:15
  • Duplicate answer being deleted. Please edit existing answers rather than posting new ones.
    – Dan
    Commented Nov 28, 2015 at 3:00
  • Sorry, I didn't understanding what you were asking for, nor did I understand the process for making edits. I will edit my original post with follow up references.
    – Christy V.
    Commented Nov 28, 2015 at 3:17
  • 2
    @ChristyV. Do review the meaning of "homonym", and cf. a post involving this concept. Isa 22:11 uses the lexeme miqvah, not miqveh; these words are not used "interchangeably". They are different words.
    – Dɑvïd
    Commented Nov 28, 2015 at 14:03
  • 1
    P.s. :) Do have a look at TDOT's article on "קוה qwh" (vol. 12, p. 565) which discusses the distinction between qwh I and qwh II. | You write: "Where it is translated as hope, miqveh renders a sense of being gathered or collected as a people by a Messianic King." No, it doesn't: this conflation is a result of not recognizing the homonym; you won't find any lexicon that glosses miqveh = "hope" in this way. I'll leave it at that, and hope it helps!
    – Dɑvïd
    Commented Nov 28, 2015 at 14:18

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