Lipscomb on Rebaptism: A Succinct Statement

David Lipscomb, Queries and Answers, ed. by J. W. Shepherd (Cincinnati: Rowe  Publishers, 1918), p. 53.  lipscomb20david

Question: “May a person who believes his sins forgiven submit to a scriptural baptism while thus believing?”

Answer:  “There is something unscriptural in the case as presented; but what is it? Is it the baptism, or is it the understanding of when a person is pardoned? If the latter, does that invalidate the former? This is the point of issue in this question, and it is continually ignored.  “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” (Mark 16:16.) The thing to be believed is that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. A person that believes this, and, on this faith, is baptized, is scripturally baptized; but if he believe he has been forgiven before he is baptized his faith is unscriptural–that is, he mistakes the point in the path of obedience at which pardon is promised and can be claimed. Does a mistake as to the point at which God bestows the blessing cause God to withhold the blessing form one who, through faith, does what God tells him? If so, where is the precept or example that shows it? If it is so, it must be because God requires a person to understand at what point in the path of obedience a blessing is promised before he can receive it.  Does any one believe this? I have never found one that would affirm it. I have asked for a single precept or example in the New Testament or the Old Testament that would prove it. I have never seen one produced that was claimed to teach it. I can produce scores of examples and precepts from the Old Testament and the New Testament showing that a misunderstanding on the part of man as to when, in the path of obedience, a blessing was promised, or even of what the blessing was, did not prevent God bestowing the blessingwhen the point was reached. To deny the blessing would be given in this instance because the person mistook the point at which the blessing was bestowed is to set at defiance the teachings of God through the Old Testament and the New Testament, which were written for our example and admonition. God is pleased with the faith that does what he tells to be done without waiting to know when and how God will bless.”

Another Statement (pp. 52-53):  “Christ was baptized ‘to fulfill all righteousness,’ or to obey all the commands of God to make men righteous. (Matt. 3:15.) It is difficult to improve on the examples of Christ. All blessings and all the promises of God connected with the service of God ought to be proclaimed to encourage men to trust in and obey God. But when man does so trust God as to do what he commands, God accepts that service from the humblest of mortals, and man should throw no stumbling-blocks in the way of these little ones of God. There is no greater hindrance to the cause of God at this day than magnifying things not taught by God into questions that create strife among the people of God and divert their minds from the great work of saving men and women from death.”

My Comment:  Lipcomb consistently stresses (1) the example of Jesus and (2) the faith that saves.  If Jesus was baptized to obey God, then following that example is sufficient, and the faith that is required for baptism is a faith in Jesus and not a faith in the promise or blessing of baptism.  Anyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ and obeys God in baptism through that faith receives the blessings God promised in connection with baptism whether they know it or not (not only the remission of sins, but the gift of the Holy Spirit as well) and even if they had a mistaken notion of what God had promised.  God’s promises do not depend upon a perfectionistic understanding of what God has promised but rather are received through faith in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  God gives his grace (blessings) through faith and not through perfectionistic understanding.

7 Responses to “Lipscomb on Rebaptism: A Succinct Statement”

  1.   Brian Says:

    Wow, for a second there, I had a flashback and thought I was back in a law school classroom.

    This is how law school goes. A professor establishes a priniciple, then a dialogue between student and professor occurs where the “what if” questions are thrown out with fact patterns slightly different from th norm in order to test the principle and see how it stretches and applies. In this case (to use both Lipscomb’s term and a good legal word), the principle is “baptism for remission of sins” and the “what if” is the straw man’s belief about when remission of sin occurs.

    I have really been struck recently by how much the CEI hermeneutic is rooted in the American legal system…not just American/Enlightenment culture.

    Within the law, we first look for either an applicable provision of the Constitution or a statute (Command). If we find one, our analysis is over. If there is not a Constitutional provision or statute that directly addresses the issue, then we have to start researching the case law (Approved/Authorized Example) to see if there is a precedent. If there is no precedent directly on point, then we have to start analogizing from the common law (Necessary Inference). This is how a good lawyer approaches any problem and this is how we have approached the Bible for many years. We haven’t just turned the Bible into a code or rule book, we have turned it into an entire legal system.

  2.   Brian Says:

    I meant to day:
    the CEI hermeneutinc is rooted SPECIFICALLY in the American legal system…not just the American/Enlightenment culture as a whole. Of course, I also say this recognizing that the American legal system is very much a product of the Enlightenment culture. But having spent four years in law school class rooms, plus two years of practice, the paralells really fascinate me.

  3.   Bobby Valentine Says:

    I suppose I better do another rebaptism post to keep this theme going!! 😉 Delighted to have more of Lipscomb …

  4.   Terrell Lee Says:

    Lipscomb’s logic is compelling and non-denominational. Thanks.

  5.   Brian Says:


    I know I reaching back to an older post, so I hope you will see this and respond because we having this very discussion right now within a group at my church.

    How do Lipscomb/Tennessee Tradition handle Acts 19 where there were some Ephesian disciples who had received John’s baptism? Were these men formerly disciples of John who believed in Christ? When did they receive John’s baptism? Some could construe this passage to mean that their rebaptism was necessary because they needed to be baptized with the understanding of the promise of the Holy Spirit in order to receive that promise. Any insight you could provide regarding this passage and how TN would understand it would be greatly appreciated.

    Thank you.

  6.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    The usual way of understanding Acts 19 by Lipscomb and others was something like this. These Ephesian disciples were baptized by Apollos. They needed to be rebaptized because their baptism under John’s authority was invalid after the pouring out of the Spirit, that is, John’s baptism was no longer effective. Apollos was not, apparently, rebaptized (and neither were the apostles), and presumably because he was baptized by John himself or when John’s baptism was in effect.

    I will see if I can find an article where Lipscomb or Harding deal with this and post it with some comment…in the near future.

  7.   FK Says:

    Does anyone have a pdf they can share of Lipscomb’s “Queries On Baptism.” Gospel Advocate, 1873, 1146? Much appreciated!

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