Q. Last Sunday we celebrated the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Was the baptism of John, which Jesus received, the same as Christian baptism?
A. The baptism administered by John was not the Christian baptism which the Church administers. This difference was most clearly demonstrated when St. Paul encountered some men in the city of Ephesus who had received John’s baptism. The Apostle insisted that they still had to receive Christian baptism (Acts 19:1–6). In a similar way, we’re told, a man named Apollos, who had actually been preaching Jesus, “knew only the baptism of John,” with the implication that such baptism was insufficient (Acts 18:24–25).
John’s baptism, St. Paul explained, was simply a “baptism of repentance, telling people to believe in the One who was to come after Him, that is, Jesus” (Acts 18:4). But Christian baptism is much more. Through it, we are buried with Christ in His death, and raised with Him to new life (Romans 6:1–5). Christian baptism cleanses us of both original sin and actual sin committed up to that point (Acts 2:3, 38–39; 22:16). It causes us to be “born again” into the family of God (John 3:3–5; Galatians 3:27). It incorporates us into Christ as members of His body, initiating us into life in Christ and His Church (1 Corinthians 12:13). It restores to us the supernatural life of God and infuses in us the graces and gifts of the Holy Spirit.
All this comes about through the action of the Holy Spirit—divine activity that was absent in John’s baptism. St. John himself declared: “I have baptized you with water; but He [Jesus] will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:8). The men in Ephesus whom St. Paul encountered, who had received John’s baptism, had never even heard that there was a Holy Spirit. But when they received Christian baptism, “the Holy Spirit came on them” (Acts 19:2, 6). When we were baptized, the Spirit came upon us as well, with life-giving consequences.