What is the context of Ezekiel 36:25? Was Ezekiel speaking of water baptism?
In the case of Ezekiel 36:25, it is important to understand exactly what Ezekiel was describing and whether it relates to baptism. Was Ezekiel speaking of water baptism or of something else?
Consider the context of that quote:
In this chapter, Ezekiel records the Lord's words spoken to the nation of Israel. The Lord said He was prepared to act to bring Israel back to Himself in a future day. In that future day, the Lord says He will regather Israel from among the nations where they have been scattered, which is a reference to the current regathering that is taking place in Israel.
Next, the Lord says He will vindicate His name among the nations of the world, so that the world will come to know that the God of Israel is the true, living God, holy in all His ways. Once the nation of Israel in in the land, the Lord will accomplish three things for Israel. First, He will sprinkle them with clean water, so that they will no longer have any sin nor ever again turn from the Lord to worship idols. Secondly, He will give each Jew a "new heart" and "new spirit" so they will have hearts to have faith in the Lord forever. Finally, He will put His Spirit within them so they will obey Him and walk in His commandments forever.
As we consider these statements, notice that each refers to spiritual outcomes. The sprinkling of water describes the removal of sin, the new heart symbolizes coming to faith, and the placing of God's Spirit refers to an obedient walk. The Lord is speaking about the way He will bring salvation to the nation of Israel in the last days of Tribulation, immediately before the Millennial Kingdom. (You can learn more about this event in our Isaiah or Revelation studies on our website.) So Ezekiel 36:25 is a spiritual statement describing Israel's justification by faith resulting in the removal of Israel's sin.
By our analysis of the context, it becomes immediately clear that Ezekiel was NOT prescribing a method for Christian baptism. In fact, he was not speaking of baptism at all. The mere fact that God used the term "sprinkling water" poetically to refer to removing Israel's sin does not permit us to twist the meaning of the passage to explain how believers perform water baptism. As we demonstrated, Ezekiel was speaking solely about God's plan of salvation for Israel, and in that context he used the term "sprinkling" in an entirely different (and unrelated) context. So, Ezekiel's teaching has nothing to say whatsoever about the proper method for Christian baptism.
On the other hand, additional texts found in the New Testament DO offer clear instruction on the manner and purpose of baptism. For example, Paul taught:
The New Testament teaches that the manner of Christian baptism follows naturally from it's intended purpose. Since water baptism is intended to depict our belief in Christ's death and resurrection, the manner of baptism was designed to fit that purpose. Therefore, we are "buried" (i.e., immersed into a body of water) and we are "raised" (i.e., lifted out of water) to mimic Christ's death and resurrection.
The early church practiced immersion as the only form of baptism. This is why in the Bible whenever we see the manner of baptism described, we always see new converts in a body of water (e.g., Matthew 3:6; Matthew 3:16; Acts 8:36). Never once is infant baptism or baptism by springing of water ever depicted, described or endorsed by scripture.
Immersion was the only method of baptism in the church until the Catholic church corrupted the practice by inventing "baptism" for infants. By distorting the Bible's teaching on original sin, the Catholic church began claiming it possessed the power to save children from Hell through infant baptism (which is a corrupt and unbiblical claim). The Catholic church first began to practice infant baptism in 416 AD, and later in 1311 AD, the Catholic church substituted pouring water on the child's forehead for full immersion. (These dates can be found in the Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume V.)
While the Catholic church is ultimately responsible for instituting this meaningless and unbiblical substitute for true believer baptism, sadly, some Reformation churches (i.e., Lutherans, Presbyterians, etc.) chose to continue this practice even after breaking free from Rome. Today, many Christian families perform this ritual on their children completely unaware they are repeating the sins of Rome while accomplishing nothing spiritually. Only a believer can make the decision to be baptized - baptism can't be done to us - so an infant baptism is no baptism at all. It is merely a public bath.