The gospels of Mark and Luke both portray John the Baptist's ministry as being done "for the remission of sins":

John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. (Mark 1:4)

And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. (Luke 3:3)

On the other hand, Hebrews declares:

without shedding of blood is no remission. (Heb. 9:22)

Can the concept affirmed in Hebrews be reconciled with the teaching of Mark and Luke that, long before Jesus shed blood on the Cross, people could receive remission from sins through the baptism of John? If so how?

Related point: In Acts 18, Apollos became an important figure in the church. He had been baptized under John's authority and needed to be more fully instructed in "the Way." However he does not seem to have been required to undergo baptism again:

a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man, and mighty in the scriptures, came to Ephesus. 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. 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. And when he was disposed to pass into Achaia, the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him: who, when he was come, helped them much which had believed through grace(Acts 18:24-27)

  • ouch. You would need to make a case as to why you think "repentance for the remission of sins" is the same as "remission of sins" because I'm pretty sure to almost all people, these are considered separate concepts and so there is no contradiction.
    – Robert
    Commented Sep 15, 2022 at 6:09
  • 2
    John the Baptist's preaching of the baptism of repentance was unto (it is eis) the remission of sins. It, itself, did not produce remission. It was the beginning of a process that resulted in remission. The shedding of the blood of Jesus Christ concluded that process. (Both in historic procedure and also in the soul's experience.)
    – Nigel J
    Commented Sep 15, 2022 at 15:01

2 Answers 2


Statements about John's baptism in Mark and Luke can't be interpreted without considering the wider context. The release (ἄφεσις (aphesis)) in LXX is mainly used to describe the year of jubilee. It is also linked with the release from sins at the day of atonement. The year of release/jubilee was announced on the day of atonement, when the goat for Azazel bearing people's sins was released to the dessert. John's baptism was only the marker indicating the beginning of the release. Just like washing by Aaron on Yom Kippur (Leviticus 16). John himself openly declared that he was not the redeemer (goel).

19 And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou? 20 And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ. 21 And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias? And he saith, I am not. Art thou that prophet? And he answered, No. 22 Then said they unto him, Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself? 23 He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias. 24 And they which were sent were of the Pharisees. 25 And they asked him, and said unto him, Why baptizest thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet? 26 John answered them, saying, I baptize with water: but there standeth one among you, whom ye know not; 27 He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe's latchet I am not worthy to unloose. John 1

By mentioning the shoe, he alluded to The Book of Ruth. John wasn't the redeemer, the Messiah was.

7 Now thiswas the manner in former time in Israel concerning redeeming and concerning changing, for to confirm all things; a man plucked off his shoe, and gave it to his neighbour: and this was a testimony in Israel. Ruth 4

So the statement from The Book Of Hebrews is true. Which is confirmed by John the Baptist himself again.

29 The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. John 1

The verse combines the OT images of the sacrificial lamb and the goat that carried the sins of the people away from them, because ”without shedding of blood is no remission”. What John the Baptist started by the Jordan River, was finalized by Jesus on the cross.

3 And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John's baptism. 4 Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. 5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied. Acts 19


The explanation for this is quite simple - different words are involved. Specifically:

Repentance is the translation of μετάνοια (metanoia) is a "change of mind", ie, "repentance, turning about, conversion" (BDAG).

Forgiveness/remission is the translation of ἄφεσις (aphesis) is (BDAG)

  • the act of freeing and liberating from something that confines, release
  • the act of freeing from an obligation, guilt or punishment, pardon, cancellation

The relationship between these two words is the difference between

  • the internal change of mind of the converted sinner - a turning away from sin that involves confession of sin and a recognition of its sinfulness
  • the external freeing (by God) of the debt incurred by sin.

Both are the initiative of God (Phil 2:13, John 6:44, Rom 2:4, Acts 5:31, 11:18, 2 Tim 2:25). That is, our response to salvation and God’s grace can only occur because God prompts us to have these responses. The relationship between confession/repentance and forgiveness famously is recorded by John:

1 John 1:9 - If we should confess our sins, He is faithful and just, that He may forgive us our sins and might cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

John's Ministry

John's ministry was a ministry of repentance and baptism (which symbolizes repentance/conversion) and had the same effect as all the sinners who came before Jesus' death.

  • Mark 1:4 - John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Many people in the OT are recorded as repenting of sin in order to be forgiven. Further, we have numerous places where such repentance is encouraged.

  • Eze 14:6 - Therefore tell the house of Israel that this is what the Lord GOD says: ‘Repent and turn away from your idols; turn your faces away from all your abominations.
  • Eze 18:30 - “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord GOD. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin.
  • 1 Kings 8:47 - and when they come to their senses in the land to which they were taken, and they repent and plead with You in the land of their captors, saying, ‘We have sinned and done wrong; we have acted wickedly,’
  • Ps 7:12 - If one does not repent, God will sharpen His sword; He has bent and strung His bow.
  • Isa 1:27 - Zion shall be redeemed by justice, and those in her who repent, by righteousness.

Forgiveness of sin has always been the same - repent and confess for the forgiveness of sin. This is possible by the merits and grace of Christ ALONE. (Acts 4:12). before the cross, it was in anticipation of Jesus' sacrifice, and the after the cross, the forgiveness still depended on the sacrifice of Jesus. No difference.


As best I can find, these is only a single case of rebaptism in the NT, ie, Acts 19:1-7. In that case, people who had accepted John's ministry and message of repentance (without understanding the role of the Holy Spirit) were rebaptized. Not all decided to do this, and Apollos is a good counterexample. Thus, the choice for or against rebaptism appears to have been a personal choice.

  • Thanks... thorough as usual. But it leaves us with the problem of those who were baptized by John but never joined the Christian church. John himself was one of these. Commented Sep 15, 2022 at 0:51
  • @Dan What is the 'problem'?
    – Steve
    Commented Sep 15, 2022 at 1:07
  • Those who were baptized only by John apparently did not benefit from John's ministry in terms of remission of their sins, if "before the cross, it was in anticipation of Jesus' sacrifice." This even applies to John himself. Commented Sep 15, 2022 at 16:48
  • @DanFefferman - are you suggesting that those before the cross were not forgiven?
    – Dottard
    Commented Sep 15, 2022 at 21:27
  • Sorry I missed this question. I think they were indeed forgiven, but to me this implies a remission of their sins, often without blood. Commented Apr 8 at 3:42

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