New Creation and Baptism

In Genesis 1, we see that the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters of creation. It was out of this water that the dry land of the new earth was brought forth on the third day. The waters were separated, and dry land appeared (Gen. 1:9-10). On the sixth day when man was created out of the dust of the ground, which corresponds to the filling of that which was formed on the third day, we see that there was a mist coming up from the ground and watered the whole land from which man was created.Thus man was created from the dust that was covered in water (Gen. 2:6-7).

After the flood, we see a similar picture, with the dove, like the Spirit of God hovering over the flood waters, looking for a place to rest its feet (8:6-9).  Later, during the Exodus, when Israel was brought out of Egypt, a similar picture is given in the crossing of the Red Sea. “And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to the on their right and on their left” (Ex. 14:22). St. Paul looks back to this account in 1 Corinthians 10:2 and says that Israel was ‘baptized in to Moses.’ Deut. 32:11 even pictures God as a fluttering eagle over Israel when He brought them out through the water. This is a striking resemblance to the creation and flood accounts, when the Spirit was hovering over the waters of creation and ‘new creation.’ A similar account is recorded for us in Joshua 3:15-17 when the Israelites went into the land and the water from the Jordan River was overflowing. The Priests who bore the Ark of the Covenant went into the water, and the water ceased to flow, and Israel went over into Canaan on dry land. We might possibly see the Cherubim with their wings spread out over the Ark, which was placed in the hands of the priests who were “in the midst” of the water, as picture of the Spirit of God hovering over the water here also.

Skipping ahead to Jesus, we see the one who is the True Israel going into the water for baptism, when the Spirit of God descends upon Him in the form of a dove. This is an obvious recapitulation of all those Old Testament types, all of which find their fulfillment in Christ. Then on Pentecost, when the Spirit of God came to the Church, there was a sound like a mighty rushing wind (Acts 2:2), which might be a veiled reference to the sound of hovering fluttering wings of the Holy Spirit, since  Jesus in Acts 1:5 does refer to the coming of the Spirit as a‘baptism.’

Directly connected to these water “baptisms” is the doctrine of the eschaton. Jesus Himself speaks of the “times of restoration” that come by the hand of Elijah (John the Baptist) in Matt. 17:11; He also speaks of the time of the “regeneration” in Matt. 19:28[1]; Peter and John in Acts 3 exhort the people to repent so that the “times of refreshing” and “the time of restoring all things” can come about; Hebrews talks about “the time of reformation” (9:10); Peter in his first epistle says that their salvation is ready to be revealed in this ‘last time’ (1:5). This grace of salvation will be brought to them at the “revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ.” When this revelation occurs, “the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise, we are waiting for a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:12-13). Peter looks for that day of wrath when the old covenant would be brought to a close. This day of wrath finds comparison with the destruction of the flood of Noah, and the manner in which they were saved from that wrath. The wrath that God indeed did pour out ended the old covenant “heavens and earth” was in the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. Peter thus concludes that “Baptism, which corresponds to this [the ark which saved them from the destruction of the old world and which brought them into the new] now saves you” (1 Peter 3:21).

How is it that Baptism saves? In just that way that Peter said. The Ark was the vessel that saved people from God’s wrath which destroyed the old “heavens and earth” and brought them into “a new heavens and earth.”  Paul tells us if anyone be in Christ, “new creation.” The old has passed away, the new has come (2 Cor. 5:17). The question then is; how does one participate in this new creation? Answer: By being “in Christ.” How does a person come to be, “in Christ”? By Baptism. For Paul says, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:27-28).  Paralleling that statement, Paul says at the end of his Galatians epistle, “For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor un-circumcision, but a new creation” (Gal. 6:15). Paul therefore seems to equate being “in Christ” with “new creation.”  He also says in Titus 3:5 that we are saved “by the washing of regeneration.”

Though this passage has been debated, I believe that the proper rendering of the text should be understood as: we are saved by the washing [baptism] that brings about the new birth (i.e., new creation). ‘Regeneration’ literally means “New Birth” and so we are born anew through the waters of baptism, not by any internal “regeneration” as classic reformed theology has understood the term, but in the external objective sense. Baptism brings us into the regeneration, the eschatological kingdom of God on earth. Connecting this Jesus Himself said that a man cannot see the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the spirit. It is not just the spirit, but it is also the water, that is, the waters of baptism.

Thus, from a biblical theological perspective, Christ Himself is the New Creation, and it is baptism which then brings us into this new creation, i.e. Christ. All of those Old Testament types find their significance in baptism, which was the means whereby a person came into the “New Creation.” It is the not only the same in the New Covenant, but it is here where the fulfillment is.


[1] See R.T. France, The Gospel According to Matthew: Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984), 287-288.