What is Baptism?
(The Doctrine of Baptisms)
Hebrews 6:2

by Pastor Matthew Norville, Sr.


The word “baptism” is a noun and means, “an immersing or submerging.” “Baptize” is the verb form of the word and means “to immerse or submerge (into).” The adjective form is “baptismal.”

The word “baptize,” in and of itself, has nothing to do with water. A person could be immersed (baptized) with or into almost anything. They could be immersed with or into sand. They could be immersed with or into dirt. They could be immersed with or into garbage. They could be immersed with or into darkness. They could be immersed with or into problems. They could be immersed with or into work. And, of course, they could be immersed with or into water.

In the Bible, there are several different “baptisms” spoken of. There is not just one baptism. Hebrews 6:1–2 says,

“Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of the resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.”

The Bible lists the six basic doctrines of Christianity.

1) the doctrine of repentance from dead works

2) the doctrine of faith toward God

3) the doctrine of baptisms

4) the doctrine of laying on of hands

5) the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead

6) the doctrine of eternal judgment

These are the six fundamental principles of the doctrine of Christ. A Christian who does not understand these six basic principles of Christianity is still a baby Christian. They are not spiritually mature yet—regardless of how long they have been a Christian. This is why the Bible says, starting in verse 11 of chapter 5,

11 Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing.
12 For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat (food).
13 For every one that useth milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe (baby).
14 But strong meat (food) belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.
1 Therefore, leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection (maturity); not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God,
2 Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of the resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.

One of these six fundamental principles is the doctrine of baptisms. If a Christian does not understand the doctrine of baptisms (as well as the other five fundamental doctrines of Christianity), they cannot grow beyond the babyhood stage in their Christian life. Oh, they may be mature physically. They may be mature mentally. They may be mature socially. But they cannot be mature spiritually unless they understand the six fundamental principles of the doctrine of Christ—all six of them.

A baptism is an event or an experience where you are immersed with or submerged into something. It is not necessarily water, because the word “baptism,” in and of itself, has nothing to do with water.

Jesus said in Luke 12:50, “But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!” Jesus was not talking about getting baptized with water. He was talking about the tremendous suffering He was about to go through. He was about to be immersed with great suffering.

In the Word of God there are seven different baptisms mentioned. Three of them took place only under the Old Covenant, three of them take place only under the New Covenant that we presently live under, and one of them took/takes place under both covenants. Two of the Old Covenant baptisms are mentioned in I Corinthians 10:1–2 which says,

“Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea;”

The Israelites were “baptized” unto (immersed into) Moses (meaning, “the Law of Moses”) in the cloud, and they were “baptized” unto (immersed into) Moses (the Law of Moses) in the sea. This has reference to the Israelites being led by the pillar of a cloud by day (Exodus 13:21–22, which says, “And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way...He took not away the pillar of the cloud by day....”) and passing through the Red Sea on dry ground (Exodus 14). These two events are referred to as “baptisms.”

The third Old Covenant baptism was John the Baptist's baptism of repentance. This was a baptism where the person repented of their sins and then was immersed into water by John the Baptist or his disciples. This was to prepare people for the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

The fourth baptism mentioned in the Scriptures is the baptism that took place under the Old Covenant and still takes place under the New Covenant—the baptism of “fire.” Fire is sometimes symbolic of trials and tribulations and suffering. Jesus said in Matthew 20:22,

“Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”

Jesus was referring to the trials and tribulations and tremendous suffering that He was about to go through. This baptism has nothing to do with water. Sometimes in our Christian lives, we also, are baptized “with fire” when we are inundated with trials and tribulations and suffering.

The fifth baptism is when the Holy Spirit baptizes (immerses) a person into the body of Christ when they become a Christian. I Corinthians 12:13 says:

“For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.”

When a person becomes a Christian (gets “born again” or “saved” as it is called), the Holy Spirit performs a work and “immerses” them into the body of Christ. They become a part of the body of Christ. They are “baptized” into the body of Christ. This baptism also, has nothing to do with water.

Then, after the person has become a Christian, they are then eligible to be “baptized with water.” (We sometimes call this “New Covenant water baptism,” in order to distinguish it from John the Baptist's “Old Covenant water baptism.”) Jesus told us in Matthew 28:19 that we are to baptize the disciples of Christ (the Christians) in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

The seventh baptism mentioned in the Scriptures is getting baptized with (or filled with) the Holy Spirit. Jesus said in Acts 1:5:

“For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days hence.”

When this came to pass eight days later, Acts 2:4 calls it, “filled with the Holy Spirit.”

Acts 2:4 “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.”

Therefore, (under the New Covenant) getting “filled with the Holy Spirit” is the same thing as getting “baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

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This page last updated May 8, 2016.