Continuing with my effort to answer the question of this series, we come to baptism. If I read the whole thing freshly and believe, what do I understand about baptism? I think this is the first response to Jesus with which a present-day reader would have some trouble understanding. I’ll try to talk through what I think an objective thought process would be and highlight likely difficulties.
The first encounter with baptism in the New Testament is Matthew 3:5-6: “Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins” (ESV). Reading on through reveals baptism is done in a river, in water, for repentance, for remission of sins, to make one a disciple, with belief, for salvation, as an appeal to God for a clean conscience, as a symbol of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection, to wash away sins, and in obedience to command. Jesus was baptized “to fulfill all righteousness.” There is “one baptism.” All that is as clear as a bell, so coming to the text without prejudice, the believing reader just accepts the aforementioned truths about baptism and moves forward to do it. But, to do what?
I’m writing this with the understanding that the reader has an English translation of the New Testament. Baptism is in water. Philip and the Ethiopian went “down into the water” (Acts 8:38). Jesus was baptized “in the Jordan” (Mark 1:9). We are “buried” in baptism (Romans 6:4). All this clearly points to burial in water, or immersion, but the word baptism in English doesn’t make that clear, and if the reader went to any number of churches for baptism he may be taught sprinkling or pouring water on his head is sufficient. Another reader might get confused about water baptism versus Holy Spirit Baptism. It would be very easy at this point for our first-time reader to be misguided, and is the first step along the way where centuries of disagreement and division make simple obedience to the gospel difficult. The reader needs to do his homework at this point. I’ll write something about that next.
It also occurs to me there are still deeper things such as what does "salvation" mean, and what does "remission of sins" mean. I don't want to take for granted a new reader understands those things. Assuming things like that is how prejudice creeps into our interpretation. I'll try to write something about these things soon as well.