Acts 19 teaches baptism by John is unrepeatable (says Calvin)
The men concerned were about twelve in number.100 In commenting,101 Calvin here denies that these confused men had been influenced by Apollos. "It is not likely that so few 'disciples' were left at Ephesus by Apollos." For then, "they would have been instructed more correctly by him — seeing that he himself had learnt the way of the Lord precisely…. I do not doubt the [Ephesian] ‘brethren’ whom Luke mentioned previously [Acts 18:27]…were different from these particular men" in Acts 19:1f.
"Then Paul said: 'John indeed baptized with the baptism of repentance!'" Thus records Luke.102 Here Calvin comments103 "that the baptism of John was a sign of repentance…. Today, there is no difference between it and our own baptism…. It [baptism by John] was a token and pledge of the same adoption and the same newness of life which we receive in our baptism today. Therefore we do not read that Christ baptized afresh those who came over to Him from John.
"In addition, Christ received baptism in His own flesh — so that He might associate Himself with us by that visible symbol. But if that fictitious difference [between baptism by John and our own baptism today] be admitted, there will vanish and be lost to us this unique favour — that we have a common baptism with the Son of God."
Calvin continues: "It [baptism by John] is the same baptism [as Christian baptism]. But now, the question is asked whether it was right to repeat it…. Fanatical men of our day, relying on this evidence [cf. Acts 19:3-5], have tried to introduce Anabaptism…. I deny that the baptism of water was repeated!"
Calvin also explains104 that the rebaptizing Anabaptists of his own day and age "seem to think the weapon which they brandish [to be] irresistible — when they allege that Paul rebaptized those who had been baptized ‘with the baptism of John.’ Acts 19:3-5.” Against that erroneous view, Calvin upholds his own correct conviction and “confession [that] the baptism of John was the same as ours."
Yet Calvin also clearly states that those ignorant heretics in Ephesus "had been improperly trained" before receiving their previous and so-called "John's baptism." Subsequently, however, "they learned the true faith" — from Paul.
Precisely here — continues Calvin — the Anabaptists maintain that it was only since the ignorant heretics "learned the true faith" from Paul, that they were "(re-)baptized into it." This was necessary, say the Anabaptists, because the previous 'baptism' of the ignorant heretics was in fact no baptism — because it occurred "without true doctrine" and should therefore "be accounted as nothing…. Hence, we ought to be baptized anew into the true religion with which we are now for the first time imbued."
Thus say the Anabaptists. And they add that those born and baptized and raised in the erroneous Church of Rome — were never truly baptized there, at all.
Calvin's explanation of the baptismal passage Acts 19:1-7
At this point, our concern with Acts 19:1-7 is to deal only with the bearing it has on the absolute impossibility of rebaptism. With that alone presently in view, let us now look at the relevant portion of Calvin's discussion thereof.
Calvin himself takes the position that the verses Acts 19:1-3 refer to true disciples of John. The Swiss Reformer then states 105 "The baptism of John was the same as ours."
Yet Dr. Calvin also very fairly admits: "It seems to some that it was a foolish imitator of John who…had initiated them [the ignorant heretics] into vain superstition. This, it is thought, may be conjectured from the fact that they acknowledge their entire ignorance of the Holy Spirit — an ignorance in which John never would have left his disciples." Calvin himself then adds that he regards this long-held view as "not probable."
That is, Calvin himself regards as improbable the long-held view that the 'disciples' mentioned in Acts 19:1-3 were disciples only of "a foolish imitator of John" — but not disciples of John himself. That long-held view,106 however, was — later still — very convincingly elaborated by the great Rev. Prof. Dr. Abraham Kuyper Sr. We ourselves also hold it. Calvin did present this view very fairly (though all too shortly). Indeed, he forthrightly acknowledges that "some" indeed hold it.
Magnificently, Calvin then goes on to insist107 that "John's baptism was a true baptism — and one and the same with the baptism of Christ. But I deny that they [these ignorant heretics] were re-baptized" in Acts 19. See too Calvin's Instructions Against the Anabaptists.
Calvin thus strongly opposes the repetition (or repetitions) of water baptism. Especially does he oppose this, because of intervening ignorance (or ignorances). For, he rightly concludes,107 "so numerous being the acts of ignorance which by the mercy of God are daily corrected in us — what rivers would suffice for so many repeated baptisms!"
Elsewhere, Calvin indicates108 that "the ministry of John was the very same as that which was afterwards delegated to the apostles. For the different hands by which baptism is administered, do not make it a different baptism.
“But sameness of doctrine proves it to be the same…. John baptized in the Name of Him Who was to come; the apostles in the Name of Him Who was already manifested. Luke 3:16; Acts 19:4…..
"Baptism, administered by the apostles while He was still on the earth, was called His baptism…. [Certain] ancient writers…say that the one baptism [of John the Baptizer] was only preparative to the other [baptism in the Name of the Triune God]…, because they read that those who had received the 'baptism of John' were again baptized by Paul (Acts 19:3-5 & Matthew 3:11). How greatly they are mistaken in this!"