Know Your Bible
January 2004

Why Was John Called The Baptist?

Why was John called "the Baptist"?, Mt. 3:1-3. He preached that "the Kingdom of heaven is at hand." Mt. 3:2. "At hand" means "come nigh." Isa.13:6; Deut. 32:35; Joel 1:15; 2 Tim. 4:6. It was still future when Jesus began to preach. Mt. 4:17; Mk. 1:15. It was still future and only "at hand" when the apostles were sent out under the limited commission. Mt. 10:7. Also, it had only "come nigh" when Jesus sent out the seventy. Lk.10:9-11. After John's death, Jesus said, "I will build my church." Mt.16:18. The kingdom was to come with power. Mk. 9:1. The power was to come with the Holy Spirit. Lk. 24:49; Acts 1:8. The power and the Spirit came on Pentecost. Acts 2:1-4. This is called "the beginning." Acts 11:15. After Pentecost, Christians were said to have received the kingdom. Heb.12:28. They were in the kingdom. Col. 1:13; Rev. 1:9. John the Baptist died in Mt. 14 before Christ promised to build His church in Mt. 16:18. John died during the personal ministry of Christ before the kingdom came on Pentecost and before the church of Christ was built. Therefore, John was not called "Baptist" because of being a member of the New Testament church. The least in the kingdom was greater than he. Mt. 11:11. Therefore, he was not in the kingdom, or church of Christ.

The church belongs to Christ and not to John the Baptist. Mt. 16:18. Christ purchased the church with His blood, and it belongs to him. Acts 20:28. Paul speaks of "churches of Christ". Rom. 16:16. They had no denominations in the days of the apostles. The disciples then were simply "Christians". Acts 11:26; 1 Pet. 4:16.

The name "Baptist" was never applied to but one man in the Bible, and he died before Christ established His church. Mt. 14:1-12; 16:18. His name was simply "John" at his birth. Lk. 1:13, 60-63. When he began to baptize he became a baptizer or "Baptist". Necessarily, this name was to decrease when other men by the name of "John" would begin to baptize, else confusion would prevail. The surname "Baptist" ceased with John the Baptist and was never afterward applied to anyone else in the New Testament. John was never called "a" Baptist, as though he were one Baptist among many, but he was rather called "the" Baptist. Though he baptized many people, none of them were ever call Baptists, even though some of them also baptized.

In giving the primary meaning of the word "Baptist", Webster says it means, "One who administers baptism; specifically applied to John, the fore-runner of Christ." Having given the primary and scriptural meaning of the word, he then gives the modern meaning and applies it to a "denomination". The modern meaning of words is not always the Bible meaning. The modern meaning of baptism is sprinkling and pouring. But the New Testament meaning involves the idea of a burial and resurrection. Rom. 6:3,4; Col. 2:12; Acts 8:38,39. The word "Baptist" is from the Greek word Baptestes and means "A baptizer; one who administers the rite of baptism; the surname of John, the fore-runner of Christ." Thayer's Greek English Lexicon. Liddell and Scott's Greek English Lexicon says this Greek word means "One that dips; a baptizer the baptist". Bagster's Greek English Lexicon defines the word as "One who baptizes, a baptist, Mt. 3:1;11:11,12." The name is the "surname"of John, the fore-runner of Christ. Thayer. Instead of being a denominational name, the word Baptist was only a "surname". In a letter to C.W. Landers, W.H. Davis, associate professor of New Testament interpretation, in the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Louisville, Kentucky, says: "My dear sir: The term can be correctly translated John the Immerser." So the word Baptist only means an "Immerser". In Bible times, it did not refer to disciples generally. In the latter part of the nineteenth century, the Baptist denomination made a new translation of the New Testament which does not contain the word "Baptist". This translation says: "In those days came John the Immerser" etc. Mt. 3:1. Bible Union Translation. Anderson's translation also translates it, "John the Immerser". Mt. 3:1. So do Macknight's and Wilson's translations.

It is a matter of common fairness when using the words of another to use them in the same sense in which the speaker used them. To use the name Baptist as a denominational name is to misapply the word of God. The word had no such meaning in the New Testament, and the Bible means exactly now what it did when it was first written by inspired men. Its meaning was then as unchangeably fixed as the text itself. Denominationalism is wrong. Religious division is contrary to the Lord's prayer for unity. All should simply obey the gospel, live and worship as Christians only, with no denominational membership. Each Christian should determine in his heart to be a member of a congregation which is scriptural in origin, name, faith, doctrine and practice.


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Acts 9:17 And The Purpose Of Baptism

If baptism is for the remission of sins, why did Ananias call Saul "brother" previous to his baptism? This objection is sometimes raised regarding Saul's conversion. Acts 22:16 does point out that Saul was baptized to wash away his sins. However, the response of the objector would be that Saul was called "brother" by Ananias (Acts 9:17) prior to his baptism, and thus Saul was saved prior to baptism. The objector would then con-clude that baptism is not necessary for salvation.

In considering this argument, we need to first examine the use of the word "brother." It is used in the Bible at times to refer to one who is a Christian. However, it has another use in the Bible as it is also used in the sense of "nationality," i.e., speaking of one who is a fellow Jew of one who is a fellow Jew. Stephen's defense before the Sanhedrin council is one such example. In Acts 7, we learn that although these people were not Christian, Stephen addressed them as "brethren" (v. 1). On another occasion, Paul addressed certain Jews who opposed Christianity as "brethren" when he told them of his conversion to Christ (Acts 22:1). In both cases, the terms are used in the sense of "nationality" (a fellow country man) and are not used in any spiritual sense (note also Acts 2:29, Acts 28:17).

Since the term "brother" can be used in both ways, how then is it used in our text (Acts 9:17)? It must have been used in a national sense. This can be concluded by what the other passages teach about the purpose of baptism. However, it can especially be seen in light of what Paul was told that his baptism was for. Again, recall Acts 22:16 where he was told, "And now why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord." The Bible teaches that one must believe (Heb.11:6; Jn.3:16); repent (Acts 2:38; 17:30-31); confess Christ (Rom.10:10;Acts 8:36-37); be baptized (Acts 2:38; 22:16; I Pet. 3:21) to be saved.

---Mike Johnson

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