Water is the element into which we are baptized. Water was used by John and in the same way, water was used by the apostles in the book of Acts. This is how the word baptism is frequently used in the New Testament. Unless we have other reasons, we should always understand baptism to be in water. This is the usual element into which a person or a thing was dipped, as that the Greek word Baptizo was used, which we will examine in the next paragraph,
The Baptismal Formula
We are to use the full formula of baptism as given by Jesus when He said: “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19). Baptism in the Name of the God Triune shows that we belong to Him. John Frame observes, “To be baptized into the name of someone is to belong to that person. Cf. 1 Cor. 1:13, 15; 10:2.” We identify with this Triune God and we show, through our baptism, that we belong to Him. John Norcott wrote, “And surely it is one Reason, why Baptism is special is to be administered in the Name of the Father, Son, & Holy Ghost; because he who doth sincerely believe, and is baptized, the whole Trinity, the Father, Son and Spirit is his portion; and that glorious Union of the Trinity in Christ’s Baptism, is in every Believers Baptism commemorated.”John Dagg explains that '“into the name of,” makes it signify the new relation into which the act brings the subject of the rite. He is baptized into a state of professed subjection to the Trinity. It is the public act of initiation into the new service.’ Everett Ferguson explains:
The Greek phrase “into the name of” (εἰς τὸ ὄνομα) occurs mainly in commercial or legal documents and carries the idea of “into the ownership or possession” of someone. The Hebrew phrase “into the name of” (לֵֹשְם) carries the idea of “with reference to,” defining the intention or purpose of the act, or even in some instances “in worship to.” A Hebrew background has greater probability with reference to Matthaean usage, but the practical results may not have been greatly different. Something done by a person as an act of worship toward another brought the first person into a relationship of belonging to the object of the act, and someone whom a person belonged or was obligated received acts of homage from that person.
Therefore, the Trinitarian formula which is spoken at our baptism expresses the fact that God claims us as His own and also that we are obliged to honor, worship, and serve this great trinitarian God.
It is quite interesting that the full, trinitarian baptismal formula is not repeated in the book of Acts. Rather, what we have are people being baptized in:
- in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38; 10:48);
- in the name of the Lord Jesus (Acts 8:16; 19:5).
We should notice that in none of these passages do we have a declaration of “and they were baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” So, what went wrong? Nothing went wrong. None of these passages present a baptismal formula. We read in none of these passages a citation of what the apostles actually said at the time of baptism. We don’t read of Peter or Paul saying, “I baptize you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ,” rather, what we h...