“Then Peter said to them, Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins….” (Acts 2:38). Within the Christian community, it is well understood that Jesus is Lord. And generally, believers agree that God calls for the redeemed to be baptized. However, one question regarding baptism has produced a split in the practices of the faithful: in whose name should believers be baptized?
Do the words of the apostle Peter suggest a mandate from God that the sole, valid form of baptism is one in Jesus’ name only?
Based on what we know from Scripture, it is understandable how some might believe that “Jesus only” baptism would be the only method of baptism validated by heaven.
Baptism in the name of Jesus, alone. What’s wrong with that?
Scripture declares “…for there is no other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). And, Paul writes: “Therefore, God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow…” (Philippians 2:9,10). But, does this suggest that baptism should occur in the name of Jesus, only? Furthermore, apart from Peter’s Acts 2:38 counsel, does the Bible offer other passages that support “Jesus only” baptism? We indeed hear it from Peter again in Acts 10:48, chapter 19, and Acts 22:16.
Taken as a whole, each of these passages would seem to establish Biblical authority for “Jesus only” baptism. Except Jesus’ own words in Matthew 28:19 say “…baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
For Christians, this is a simple process of deciding whether to obey the apostles or Jesus. The commands of God will ever outweigh the commandments of men. Because Jesus is God, His imperatives are to be obeyed. And, that’s how we can know that baptism in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit remains the valid approach to baptism. The words of Jesus are never nullified by His servants.
Early tension in the practice of baptism rise again.
Controversial Name of Jesus
So, what was taking place as Peter offered words of admonition in the Book of Acts?
Throughout Acts, we find great tension surrounding the name of Jesus. Acts 4:7 tells of Peter and John being challenged with the words, “…By what name have you done this?” In Acts 4:17, 18, the disciples were commanded not to “speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus.” Peter and John were rebuked by the high priest in Acts 5:28, who demanded, “…did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name?” Then, in Acts 5:40, the disciples are beaten and released with orders “that they should not speak in the name of Jesus…”
For the religious leaders in Jerusalem, the name of Jesus was a disturbing, disruptive name. Yet, as Peter preached the gospel he rehearsed the events of Calvary, all while establishing the identity of the One who had been nailed to the cross. He removed all doubt in Acts 2:36, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
Don’t miss the prophetic irony in the exchanges between Peter and the former spiritual leaders in Israel. He preached that Jesus, whom they had crucified was the Lord, and Messiah promised by God. Coming under the convicting power of the Holy Spirit, the Jews cried out for instructions. Peter’s response in Acts 2:38 is the key to the “Jesus only” baptism misunderstanding. He admonished the Jews to repent, and to be baptized. Then came the shocking news that they must be baptized in the name of the very Jesus they had rejected and murdered.
Writing in the book, Growing in Christ, J.I. Packer observed that Peter’s words represented a “…total renunciation of independence as a way of living and total submission to the rule of the risen Lord.”
Peter reminded the Jews that restoration to the Kingdom of God came at the cost of the life of the Son of God. However, the validation of baptism remained in the words of the great commission, “…baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Salvation through the Son, but, baptism in the fullness of the Godhead: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.