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The One Baptism of Ephesians 4:5

By V. Glenn McCoy

religion, articles, christianity

Too often we assume that we do not need to teach or preach on a particular subject because "everyone knows all about it." The truth of the matter is that everyone never "knows about it" The subject of baptism falls into this category. In many congregations of the Lord's church, long periods go by and the subject receives little or no attention. In the meantime, new people come into the congregation, young people grow up, new converts are made. These do not receive proper teaching on this vital theme. And to many others in the congregation the sharpness of the Biblical teaching on the subject is lost. Neglect of the subject leaves too many who are ready candidates to receive false teaching on the subject. It is essential that we never get too "sophisticated" to preach, teach, and write about basic truths of the Scriptures.

The Christian's "Seven-fold Platform for Unity" is found in Ephesians 4:4-6: "There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all" (NASB). You will notice that there are seven words, each of which is preceded by the word one. Please give special attention to the expression "one baptism." When some of our brethren went to Japan shortly after World War II, they had a great deal of difficulty in convincing the people that there was only one true God. Reportedly, they thought they had 600 million gods. In the United States the difficulty is not in convincing people that there is one God, but there is much difficulty in convincing some that there is one baptism.

In the above text we learn that there is one God. We accept that, for after all, "one God" is exactly what it says. Why then should there be any difficulty in accepting the fact that there is one baptism? After all, that's exactly what it says. When the Bible says one baptism, it means exactly the same number as when it says one God. The person who believes there is one God does well. When he wants to show proof of the Bible teaching as to the number of gods he turns to this passage. However, having established that there is only one God, he may skip over the phrase "one baptism" and teach that there is a plurality of baptisms today. Whatever the passage means regarding the number of true gods, it means that we have just that many valid baptisms.

Holy Spirit Baptism?

Someone might suggest that the one baptism is the baptism of the Holy Spirit. This just couldn't be the one baptism that we are looking for because of what the New Testament reveals about it:

  1. The Holy Spirit baptism was for a specific purpose.
  2. The Holy Spirit baptism was for a specific time — the infancy of the church.
  3. The Holy Spirit baptism was for a specific people, namely the apostles and the house of Cornelius (Acts 2; Acts 10).
  4. The Holy Spirit baptism was never commended, but only promised (Acts 1:8).
  5. The Holy Spirit baptism could not be administered by men, but only by Jesus (Matt. 3:11-12).

It should be obvious to all that the baptism of the Holy Spirit cannot be the one baptism. We are looking for a baptism that was commanded for all people for all time, and one that could be administered by men in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Three Baptisms?

Your dictionary may say that there are three baptisms: immersion, sprinkling, and pouring. Obviously, the writer of the dictionary definition is only reporting what is being practiced by various religious groups. No effort is made by the dictionary to define the word as it is used in the Bible. Therefore, we do not go to the dictionary to learn about the one baptism. If the one baptism is sprinkling, then pouring and immersion are excluded. If the one baptism is immersion, then sprinkling and pouring are excluded. Whatever the one baptism is, keep in mind that only one now is authorized. Every other baptism except that one is in error.

The One Baptism Is the Baptism of the Great Commission

To correctly identify the one baptism, we must find the baptism that was intended to continue from Pentecost to the end of the world. In giving the Great Commission Jesus said, "Go ... make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matt. 28:19-20). That preaching and baptizing began on the day of Pentecost as the church was ushered into existence. It is the baptism of the Great Commission that is valid today, and will continue to be valid until the end of time. It was commanded. It was to be administered by men. It was for people of all nations who were capable of believing (Mark 16:16).

Baptism of the Great Commission Was in Water

"And as they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, 'Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?'" (Acts 8:36). There was enough water for the one who was being baptized and the one who was baptizing to go down into the water. This was not a "sprinkling" or a "pouring." It was a burial, an immersion. "And he ordered the chariot to stop; ... they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away" (Acts 8:38-39).

The One Baptism Is a Burial one Resurrection

It was the apostle Paul who wrote in Ephesians 4:5 that there is one baptism. Clearly, he understood what the one baptism was. In Romans 6:4 he described it as a burial and a resurrection: "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. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection."

Again, it was Paul who described the one baptism to the Colossians: "Having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead" (Col. 2:12). Without question, the one baptism was a burial in water and a resurrection from the water.

Sprinkling and Pouring Excluded by Original Words Used

There are three distinct words used in the Greek for "sprinking," "pouring," and "immersion."

The word for "sprinkle" is rantizo. The word for "pour" is keo. The word for "baptize" is baptizo. The Greek word baptize is transliterated — anglicized. If the word had been translated properly, there would be no question as to the so-called mode of baptism.

The One Baptism Is for the Remission of Sins

When Peter stood up with the other apostles on the day of Pentecost and preached the gospel for the first time, the plan of salvation was revealed. Those who wanted to be saved were commanded to repent and be baptized. The purpose of that baptism was: "For the remission of sins" (Acts 2:38). At the time of Paul's conversion the preacher not only instructed him to be baptized, he also told him the purpose of that baptism, "Arise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord." Today, in order for a baptism to be the one baptism, it must be for the same purpose—the remission of sins.

Description of the One Baptism

Putting together what we have learned from these Bible passages, the following is a description of the one baptism:

  1. The one baptism is in water (Acts 8:36).
  2. The one baptism is a burial in water and a resurrection from the water (Rom. 6:4; Acts 8:38-39).
  3. The one baptism is to be administered by men (Matt. 28: 19).
  4. The one baptism is to last until the end of time (Matt. 28:20).
  5. The one baptism is for the people of the whole world (Matt. 28:19; Mark 16:15).
  6. The one baptism is to be done in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19).
  7. The one baptism is for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 22:16; Acts 2:38).
  8. The one baptism is for those who are capable of believing (Mark 16: 16).


Any baptism that does not fit the description above cannot be the one baptism of the New Testament. But, what about those people who thought they were being baptized in the Holy Spirit? What about those people who have had water poured or sprinkled on them? It simply means that they have never been baptized as the Bible teaches. What should they do? Let the Bible answer the question: "Repent and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38).

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Published May 1996