Baptism: More Common Questions Answered, Part 2


In Part 1, we introduced a set of sermons by Martin Luther that answer many common questions about Baptism that are both classic and contemporary. The classic questions asked in his day continue to be asked in ours. His sermons speak for today .

To bring Luther’s help to our day and to English readers, Concordia Publishing House published a priceless resource in 2018, Martin Luther on Holy Baptism: Sermons to the People (1525-30).

This book is so valuable I decided to read it a third time and take notes. In case the notes benefit anyone else, they are being published here. The selection and numbering of propositions and questions are mine. They are not presented in the volume. Others would extract different items and number their selections differently. The book contains a good set of study questions at the end.

Part 1 covered the first sermon in the volume. In this post, we continue to the second sermon.

Sermons on Holy Baptism (1534)


The text for this sermon was Matthew 3:13-17.

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. And John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?” But Jesus answered and said to him, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him. When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”


The world thinks it knows how God should act. It thinks that when God is doing a great work, He should do it with a glorious show that fills the eyes and ears. Because God offers Baptism

in such an insignificant way and without any pomp, only through one insignificant person’s mouth and hand with such an ordinary sign (water), it must be despised and rejected.  The world will and can esteem nothing that does not make the eyes stare and the mouth gape. “What can it be” (the world says), “that someone dips a child into water or pours out a handful upon it?” [p. 15]

Question 2

What is Baptism?

This question centers on what Baptism is in itself, in its essence, and not on what Baptism effects and accomplishes. Luther will take up what Baptism effects and accomplishes later under another heading.

Proposition 12

Baptism has three parts: water, Word, and God’s command or order.

Proposition 13

The three parts of Baptism must be viewed in and with one another and not separated or divorced from one another. In Baptism, the Word is in and with the water

God uses an outward tangible sign or created thing by which He visibly deals with us, so that we may be sure of it.

The outward work or sign does not by itself avail anything unless joined by His Word, by which the sign is made effective and we are made aware of what God is doing in us by this sign.

The Anabaptists turn Baptism into nothing but water. They say, “Water is water and remains water.”

They, of course, are most learned masters and wonderfully lofty spirits, who teach us this new, lofty trick that water is water. Who could have known or imagined this, if those most enlightened doctors had not come along? [p. 17]

I am surprised that, with all their emphasis on this and their shameful despising of water Baptism, that they do not follow their own teaching and do away with it completely. They are still rebaptizing themselves and others, and then reproving themselves with their own deeds. If they do not let our Baptism stand (for which we have God’s Word and command), then their baptism, which they regard as nothing but water, must count for far less. [p. 18]

They ask, “How can the same water that cows drink benefit souls and wash away sin? . . . The innocent masses  . . . say, ‘That’s the truth for sure!’” [p. 18]  They tear apart Baptism. They sever and cut off the two best parts: God’s Word and command. They refuse to look at our constant emphasis on these two parts.

Proposition 14

God  and his Name are in and with the water of Baptism.

““Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Matthew 28:19

Others grant that water and Word belong together, but omit the third part: God’s command and order.

Some think it sufficient to speak the words in the same way that a blessing is spoken over a created thing and suppose that by such speaking or by virtue of the same words something special is made of Baptism so that it becomes a Sacrament. [p. 20]

Still others say the Sacrament is made out of water and Word, not because the Word is spoken, but because it is believed.

Thus they base Baptism not on God’s order but on men, as if the Word with the water is not efficacious for producing a Baptism until our faith is added to it; thus God’s Word and work would first have to receive its power and effect from us. [p. 21]

From this last-mentioned error arose the false argument against infant Baptism. The argument “is really the same as saying: ‘If you do not believe, God’s Word and Sacrament are nothing.’” [p. 21]

Still others say that Baptism administered by heretics and unbelievers is invalid. “This is getting personally involved in Baptism, that is, basing and building it on men.” [P. 22]

It all comes from disregarding and severing the third part which belongs to Baptism (and which should probably be called the first), that is, God’s order and command. It is by this that He has reserved Baptism completely for himself and permits neither you nor anyone else to add something to it in order for it to be a Baptism. I may be the one baptizing, and you the one baptized, but it is not therefore mine or yours, but Christ’s Baptism. [p. 22]

The distinction between the Word of Baptism and the order and command is this:  Words of institution

are not  the words which we speak over Baptism, but the words of command which institute Baptism. For it is not the priest or minister but He who makes Baptism who says, “Go and baptize.” [p. 22]

Putting it all together, then:

This is My will and bidding: that you baptize in the name of the Father, Sone, and Holy Spirit. If anyone receives Word and water together, it is a Baptism; if anyone believes in addition, he will be saved thereby. Here there is something beyond the two parts of Word and water; otherwise it would be far from sufficient to dip in water and speaks the words “I baptize you,” etc.—even if faith were present͞—without having a clear, certain command to do so.  Above all, it is necessary to know whence Baptism comes, or by what means it is a Baptism, so that it is possible to answer the question “Who told you to put water and Word together?” or “From what source and by what means are you certain that this is a holy Sacrament?” [p. 22]

Proposition 15

The command of Christ to baptize, not just the joining of Word and element, make Baptism a Sacrament.

The Papists concoct many practices joining a word and an element – and even the Triune Name – to bless or consecrate. These sound good and pious, but they are not sacraments, because Christ never gave a command, set it in order, or instituted it.

Proposition 16

To speak words other than commanded by Christ or use an element other than commanded by Christ would not be true Baptism.

So that we may be sure of this, He guards them so closely that He Himself specifically identifies all the parts, clearly expresses what signs or created things He wants, and personally provides the form of the words and how they should go. We must use these exact signs and none other, and these very words and none other. [p. 24]

For your assurance of the benefit of Baptism, call this to mind: Christ commanded that you be baptized into God’s Name with water.  This was not men trying to find a way to God. It was God commanding his way to you. Trusting God at his command is faith that receives the benefit of Baptism.  ““He who believes and is baptized will be saved.” Mark 16:16a. It is a washing of regeneration. Titus 3.5.

Proposition 17

Our assurance lies outside of ourselves in the Word and Sacrament, not in an empty corner where we would gape after the Spirit and seek private revelation.

Even if a crafty person pretended he wanted to become a Christian and requested Baptism, if the pastor, at the command of Christ, baptized the pretender into the Triune Name with water, it would be Baptism. Baptism depends on Christ’s command and order, not on man’s faith.

Proposition 18

If you believe Christ’s Word and order and use it rightly, you are blessed in Baptism. If you do not believe, you receive it to your damnation.

Like the Sacrament of the Altar, “we can use Baptism . . . for harm and ruin, so that by the same kind of Baptism one man is saved and another damned.” [p. 28]

When you touch a piece of iron that is lying in the forge and glowing, you touch not mere iron but fire which burns. Even if you see no fire but only iron (just as it is not seen to glow by day as much as by night), it is nevertheless not only iron but both iron and fire. In fact, it is so permeated by fire that nothing is felt or detected but pure fire. In the same way, Baptism should be viewed as incorporated into God’s name and completely permeated by it so that it is one essence, and thus has become a thing far different from other water. [p. 29]

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