Matthew's gospel says that John's baptism was for repentance but Jesus would baptize in Holy Spirit and fire:

Matthew 3:11 "I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

Since Christ had not yet ascended to the Father the Spirit had not yet been given:

NIV John 16:7 But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.

The unnamed Jew that was disputing about ceremonial washing was under the impression that Jesus was baptizing but John says later that only his disciples did:

NIV John 4: 1Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John— 2although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. 3So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.

So was the baptism that Jesus' disciples were doing for repentance also?

NIV John 3: 22After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized. 23Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were coming and being baptized. 24(This was before John was put in prison.) 25An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. 26They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—look, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.”

27To this John replied, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. 28You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ 29The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. 30He must become greater; I must become less.”h

31The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all. 32He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony. 33Whoever has accepted it has certified that God is truthful. 34For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for Godi gives the Spirit without limit. 35The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. 36Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.

h 30 Some interpreters end the quotation with verse 36. i 34 Greek he

3 Answers 3


Yes, the baptism performed by the disciples was not ultimate baptism to be performed by Jesus through "Holy Spirit and Fire" (Matt. 3:11), that denotes the Pentecost, where tongues of fire represented visible tokens of the invisible Spirit, and also the "consuming fire" (Hebrews 12:29) is a symbol of working of God in human hearts, for the "fire" or operation of the Spirit of God consumes the infection of sins and sinful drives in humans, transforming his entire essence to the "new creation". Thus, the apostles' baptism was also preparatory and repentance-bringing, as a foundation for the acceptance of the Spirit and full transformation through the His (Spirit's) working. At least that is the position of some authoritative Ancient fathers of the Church, e.g. St. John Chrysostom (4th century).


In the scriptures mikveh (immersion) was related to cleansing from defilement in preparation for or upon completion of holy service. This was both for sanitary reasons as well as ritual cleanness. In the first century BC immersion became more significant in Jewish society

There are 3 main NT mikvehs aka "baptisms":

  • John baptized in water into repentance:

John's mission was to prepare the Jews to receive their messiah (promised Davidic king) so that judgment would be averted, messiah would humiliate the nations and exalt Israel. Baptism indicated one's response to John's message that the kingdom was at the doors and everyone must repent, be washed from their sins in the water and by immersion indicate that they believe on him that is to come. It is this baptism that the disciples participated in in John 4:1-2.

Eph 4:5 One Lord, one faith, one baptism,

1 Corinthians 12:13 For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.

Immersion in water was central to Jesus' gospel which is why he commanded the disciples to baptize:

KJV Mark 16:

15 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. 16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.

However Paul was not commanded to baptize:

KJV 1 Corinthians 1:17 For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.

  • Holy spirit baptizes the believer into Christ

1 Corinthians 12:13 For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.


Yes baptism is linked to repentance but you must understand biblical repentance. John the Baptist preached the "baptism of repentance" for the forgiveness of sin. He did not preach "repentance" for the forgiveness of sin. This is a huge distinction. The former is grace oriented as you are "given" repentance (ie repentance is a gift - Acts 5:31, Acts 11:18, 2 Timothy 2:25) and the latter is works oriented as you may think you need to repent of your sin "in order" for God to forgive you. That view is not the gospel.

Biblical repentance is best seen as depicted by Charles P. Bayliss of Dallas Theological Seminary in a published article in the Michigan Theological Journal on repentance (Repentance in Acts in Light of Deuteronomy 30, Michigan Theological Journal 1.1 (1990) pp. 19-34). Dr Bayliss explains that the baptism of repentance is connected to the "return" of the Jews to the covenant of Abraham. That is, repentance is a turning from your self righteous way of approaching God (the covenant of the law) and turning from that and turning toward the covenant of the Promise where God promised blessings to Abraham and his seed just because He loved them. There was nothing required to receive the blessing of God.

In the New Testament, this is best seen in the book of Acts where the Jews were told to "repent and return" (ie, leave the law and return to the promise) but the Gentiles were never told to "repent", they were told just to believe. Hence repentance is best understood as believing on the Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sin. Man does not "earn" God forgiveness by bringing contrition to God to get Him to forgive.

So whether John the Baptist or Jesus' disciples, all were symbolizing repentance, ie leave the law covenant (trying to earn your way into heaven) and turn toward grace and the sacrifice of Jesus alone for the forgiveness of sin.

  • 1
    "you may think you need to repent of your sin "in order" for God to forgive you. That view is not the gospel." How can this seriously be contested? "[God] commands all men everywhere to repent" (Acts 17:30). Yet not all do: but any who want to be saved must. Given this, "but the Gentiles were never told to "repent"" is also false. Commented Nov 9, 2017 at 21:22
  • You say, but the Gentiles were never told to 'repent', they were told just to believe. This contradicts what Paul said before king Agrippa when testifying of his encounter with Christ, "Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision: But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and [then] to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance." [Act 26:19-20 (KJV)]
    – enegue
    Commented Nov 9, 2017 at 22:02
  • There is no contradiction to Paul before Agrippa as the definition of "repent" would still be consistent with the "return" to the promise to Abraham and not "repent of your sin". Please look at the words of Christ just one verse prior to your quote (verse 18): "To open their (Gentiles same as Jews) and to turn (equal to Jews return) them from darkness to light.... that they may receive forgiveness of sins and INHERITANCE among them which are sanctified..." The concept of inheritance goes along with the promise. Encourage you to read the Bayliss article.
    – alb
    Commented Nov 9, 2017 at 22:24
  • Also, when you look at the real connection between Elijah and John the Baptist, you will find the concept of "return". Please see the incident with the 450 prophets of Baal; 1 Kings 18. Verse 37 "...that the people may know that thou are the Lord God and that thou hast turned (same Hebrew word as return) their heart back again." You will notice that it's God who does the "returning" not Israel. You have to understand the connection Deuteronomy 30 verse 6. It's God who circumcises the heart of Israel and "makes them to obey". Per Dr. Bayliss this is the first appearance to the new covenant.
    – alb
    Commented Nov 9, 2017 at 22:46
  • Paul said that the Jews were in bondage to the law suggesting that they could not simply decide to repent of it, they had to have the new covenant which had not yet been ratified. It wasn't ratified until Jesus died: "This cup is the new testament in [ratified by] my blood".
    – Ruminator
    Commented Dec 10, 2017 at 1:07

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