What Does the Bible Say About Baptism?
Frequently Asked Questions
- Is baptism necessary to be saved?
- Is it okay to be baptized in a river or ocean?
- Should baptism be in the name of Jesus or in the name of the Father, Son
and Holy Spirit?
- Will babies who die before being baptized go to heaven?
- Is it necessary to be baptized by full immersion?
- Can anyone baptize a person, or does it have to be done by a pastor?
- What does the Bible say about baptizing children?
- Can a person be baptized more than once?
Baptism is a rite practiced in most Christian churches. Commonly, a minister or
priest sprinkles or pours water over the head of the person to be baptized. In
some churches the person is briefly immersed entirely in water.
Before the time of Jesus, there were Jewish forms of baptism for ceremonial purification
(Leviticus 8:5-6, Leviticus 16:23-24, Exodus 30:17-21). John the Baptist practiced
a baptism of repentance in anticipation of the coming of Christ (Matthew 3:11-12).
Jesus was baptized by John at the beginning of His ministry (Matthew 3:13-17).
However, the rite of Christian baptism was initiated and mandated by Jesus, Himself:
Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the
name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. (NLT, Matthew 28:19)
And then he told them, "Go into all the world and preach the Good News
to everyone, everywhere. Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved.
But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned. (NLT, Mark 16:15-16)
Jesus' disciples went on to baptize many people (John 4:1-2, Acts 2:38-41,
8:12-13, 16:14-15, 16:32-33, Romans 6:3-4, Galatians 3:26-29), and it has been universally practiced since the beginnings of the Christian
Neither Jesus nor His disciples laid down any rules about how baptism was to
be done, nor did they provide much interpretation of its spiritual significance.
As a result, many different beliefs and practices have developed within Christianity
over the centuries.
What Is the Spiritual Meaning of Baptism?
There are three main beliefs:
The sacramental view holds that baptism is a means
God uses to convey grace. The person baptized is set free from the power of sin
and given a new spiritual life (John 3:5-7).
covenantal view holds that baptism is not a means of spiritual rebirth, but
a sign and seal of God's covenant of salvation. Baptism depicts the freeing from
sin that occurs with repentance (Acts 2:38), and serves the same covenantal purpose
for Christians that circumcision does for Jews.
The symbolical view holds
that no spiritual benefit results from baptism, itself. Rather, it is a public symbol
of a spiritual rebirth that has already occurred in the person being baptized.
Should a Person Be Baptized in the Name of Jesus or in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit?
Both ways are mentioned in the Bible. Some churches baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy
Spirit (Matthew 28:19). Others baptize in the name of Jesus (Acts 2:38,
Who Should Be Baptized?
Many Christian churches practice infant baptism, citing Acts 16:15 and
Acts 16:33, where entire families, presumably including infants, were baptized.
Some churches baptize only infants of believing parents, while others will baptize
all infants. The Baptist Church and some other churches practice believer's baptism;
excluding infants and restricting baptism to those who consciously repent of sin
and experience spiritual rebirth. In favor of this position, they note that most
baptisms recorded in the New Testament were of adults who had repented and joined
the ranks of the faithful.
What Is the Proper Method of Baptism?
The Baptist Church and some other churches hold that full-body immersion
is necessary for valid baptism. They note that the original Greek word for baptize,
baptizo, meant to immerse or submerge. In addition, most of the early church
baptisms were apparently by immersion. However, a majority of churches use sprinkling
or pouring of water over the head instead of immersion. They note that
baptizo could also mean a simple washing, as it does in Luke 11:38. In addition,
the Old Testament baptisms were performed in a variety of ways, and some of the
New Testament baptisms apparently did not involve immersion (Acts 10:47-48, Acts
16:29-34). The Christian Church's expansion from the Mediterranean area into colder
climates may help explain the decline of the immersion method of baptism.
What About Persons Who Die Before They Are Baptized?
A common concern
of Christians holding the sacramental view of baptism is whether infants and children who die before being baptized
will be granted salvation and eternal life. The Bible does not mention this topic,
so different beliefs have developed.
The predominant belief among Christians is that God makes provision for salvation
for those who, through no fault of their own, die without being baptized. It is
only those who have heard and understood the Gospel, but willfully refuse to believe
and be baptized, who are not eligible for salvation (Mark 16:15-16). (See
What Does the Bible Say About Salvation?)
It used to be a common belief among
Catholics that babies who died without being baptized would end up in Limbo,
an intermediate state between heaven and hell. However, there is no mention of
Limbo in the latest
version of the Catholic Catechism (see below).
Here is a sampling of official church teachings about baptism from the three
largest Christian denominations in the U.S.:
- Every person not yet baptized and only such a person is able to be baptized.
- Since the beginning of the Church, adult Baptism is the common practice
where the proclamation of the Gospel is still new. The catechumenate (preparation
for Baptism) therefore occupies an important place. This initiation into Christian
faith and life should dispose the catechumen to receive the gift of God in Baptism,
Confirmation, and the Eucharist.
- Born with a fallen human nature and tainted by original sin, children also
have need of the new birth in Baptism to be freed from the power of darkness
and brought into the realm of the freedom of the children of God, to which all
men all called. The sheer gratuitousness of the grace of salvation is particularly
manifest in infant Baptism. The Church and the parents would deny a child the
priceless grace of becoming a child of God were they not to confer Baptism shortly
- For all the baptized, children or adults, faith must grow after Baptism.
For this reason the Church celebrates each year at the Easter Vigil the renewal
of baptismal promises. Preparation for Baptism leads only to the threshold of
new life. Baptism is the source of that new life in Christ from which the entire
Christian life springs forth.
- The Lord himself affirms that Baptism is necessary for salvation. He also
commands his disciples to proclaim the Gospel to all nations and to baptize
them. Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been
proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament...
- As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust
them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed,
the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus'
tenderness toward children which caused him to say: "Let the children come
to me, do not hinder them" (Mk 10:14; cf. 1 Tim 2:4), allow us to hope
that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism.
All the more urgent is the Church's call not to prevent little children coming
to Christ through the gift of holy Baptism.
- By Baptism, all sins are forgiven, original sin and all personal
sins, as well as all punishment for sin...
- Baptism not only purifies from all sins, but also
makes the neophyte "a new creature," an adopted son of God, who has
become a "partaker of the divine nature," member of Christ and co-heir
with him, and a temple of the Holy Spirit.
From Catechism of the Catholic Church, (c) 1994, United States Catholic Conference,
Inc., paragraphs 1246, 1247, 1250, 1254, 1257, 1261, 1263, 1265.
Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing
the believer's faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer's
death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness
of life in Christ Jesus. It is a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection
of the dead. Being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to the privileges
of church membership and to the Lord's Supper.
From Position Statements, Copyright (c) 1999 - 2001, Executive Committee
of the Southern Baptist Convention, http://sbc.net/default.asp?url=position-statements.html
- Baptism is a crucial threshold that we cross on our journey in faith. But
there are many others, including the final transition from death to life eternal.
Through baptism we are incorporated into the ongoing history of Christ's mission,
and we are identified and made participants in God's new history in Jesus Christ
and the new age that Christ is bringing.
- Baptism is grounded in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ;
the grace which baptism makes available is that of the atonement of Christ which
makes possible our reconciliation with God. Baptism involves dying to sin, newness
of life, union with Christ, receiving the Holy Spirit, and incorporation into
- In the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God fulfilled the prophecy
of a new covenant and called forth the Church as a servant community (Jeremiah
31:31-34, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26). The baptism of infants and adults, both male
and female, is the sign of this covenant...
- In baptism God offers and we accept the forgiveness of our sin (Acts 2:38)...
- Baptism is the sacramental sign of new life through and in Christ by the
power of the Holy Spirit...
- There is one baptism as there is one source of salvation -- the gracious
love of God. The baptizing of a person, whether as an infant or an adult, is
a sign of God's saving grace...
- Since baptism is primarily an act of God in the Church, the sacrament is
to be received by an individual only once.
- The sacraments do not convey grace either magically or irrevocably, but
they are powerful channels through which God has chosen to make grace available
to us. Wesley identified baptism as the initiatory sacrament by which we enter
into the covenant with God and are admitted as members of Christ's Church.
From "By Water & the Spirit, a United Methodist Understanding of