Christian Symbols

A Study of Christian Baptism

Few Biblical doctrines have raised more questions and resulted in more disputes than the subject of Christian baptism. Its value, mode, and purpose have been debated for centuries. While dedicated believers may be united in their faith in and commitment to Jesus Christ, they often find it impossible to agree about the mode and purpose of baptism.

Because of this, the following study is based upon the fundamental principle that the New Testament is the infallible and unchanging Word of God. As such, it is the only source of divine truth regarding man's ultimate salvation. Man-made doctrines and personal opinions can never be allowed to replace or change what is specifically taught in Scripture.

When considering what the Bible actually teaches, there are two ways in which "truth" can be found. First, of course, are specific statements made regarding a matter. For example, Jesus said: "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6) Bible-believing Christians have no choice but to accept this statement as undeniable truth. As someone once observed: "God said it, I believe it, and that settles it for me."

A second means of discovering "truth" is through a study of New Testament example and precedent. The Apostles were promised: "when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all truth." (John 16:13) This means that a honest study of what the First Century church did and taught will provide an inspired guide for Christian faith and practice today.

The following "Study of Christian Baptism" seeks to answer four essential questions regarding this matter. It does this by referencing two different translations (King James and the New International Version) as well as "The Message", which is a contemporary version by Eugene Peterson (a Presbyterian minister and theologian). Space is then provided for the reader to personally answer each question based solely upon what is recorded in the revealed Word of God.


Matthew 28:18-20:

And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen. (King James)

Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age." (N.I.V.)

Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge: "God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I'll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age. (The Message)

Who commanded baptism? _____________________________________

Mark 16:15-16:

And He said unto them, Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. (King James)

He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. (N.I.V.)

Then he said, "Go into the world. Go everywhere and announce the Message of God's Good news to one and all. Whoever believes and is baptized is saved; whoever refuses to believe is damned. (The Message)

Who commanded baptism? _____________________________________


Acts 2:38:

Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (King James)

Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit". (N.I.V.)

Peter said, "Change your life. Turn to God and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, so your sins are forgiven. Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (The Message)

What must precede baptism? _____________________________________

Acts 16:29-33:

Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas, and brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his straightway. (King James)

The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He brought them out and asked, "Men, what must I do to be saved?" They replied, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved - you and your household." Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized. (N.I.V.)

The jailer got a torch and ran inside. Badly shaken, he collapsed in front of Paul and Silas. He led them out of the jail and asked, "Sirs, what do I have to do to be saved, to really live? They said, "Put your entire trust in the Master Jesus. Then you'll live as you were meant to live - and everyone in your house included!" They went on to spell out in detail the story of the Master - the entire family got in on this part.

They never did get to bed that night. The jailer made them feel at home, dressed their wounds, and then - he couldn't wait till morning! - was baptized, he and everyone in his family. (The Message)

What must precede baptism? ____________________________________

Acts 18:8:

And Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his house; and many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized.

(King James)

Crispus, the synagogue ruler, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptized. (N.I.V.)

Crispus, the meeting-place president, put his trust in the Master. His entire family believed with him. In the course of listening to Paul, a great many Corinthians believed and were baptized. (The Message)

What must precede baptism? _____________________________________


Acts 2:38: (Refer back to previous reference to this same verse)

What is the purpose of baptism? _________________________________

Acts 22:16:

And now why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord. (King James)

And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name. (N.I.V.)

So what are you waiting for? Get up and get yourself baptized, scrubbed clean of those sins and personally acquainted with God. (The Message)

What is the purpose of baptism? _________________________________

I Corinthians 12:13:

For by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body. (K.J.)

For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body. (N.I.V.)

We each used to independently call our own shots, but then we entered into a large and integrated life in which he has the final say in everything. (This is what we proclaimed in word and action when we were baptized.) Each of us is now a part of his resurrection body. (The Message)

What is the purpose of baptism? _________________________________

Galatians 3:26-27:

For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. (K.J.)

You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ. (N.I.V.)

By faith in Christ you are in direct relationship with God. Your baptism in Christ was not just washing you up for a fresh start. It also involved dressing you in an adult faith wardrobe - Christ's life, the fulfillment of God's original promise. (The Message)

What is the purpose of baptism? _________________________________

Colossians 2:11-13

In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead. And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses. (K.J.)

In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins. (N.I.V.)

It's not a matter of being circumcised or keeping a long list of laws. No, you're already in - insiders - not through some secretive initiation rite but rather through what Christ has already gone through for you, destroying the power of sin. If it's an initiation ritual you're after, you've already been through it by submitting to baptism. Going under the water was a burial of your old life; coming up out of it was a resurrection, God raising you from the dead as he did Christ. When you were stuck in your old sin-dead life, you were incapable of responding to God. God brought you alive - right along with Christ! Think of it! All sins forgiven, the slate wiped clean. (The Message)

What is the purpose of baptism? _________________________________

I Peter 3:20-21:

When once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein a few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. (K.J.)

God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also - not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. (N.I.V.)

You know, even though God waited patiently all the days that Noah built his ship, only a few were saved then, eight to be exact - saved from the water by the water. The waters of baptism do that for you, not by washing away dirt from your skin but by presenting you through Jesus' resurrection before God with a clear conscience. (The Message)

What is the purpose of baptism? _________________________________


Acts 8:36-38:

And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God [this verse is not found in the earliest manuscripts] And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip. (K.J.)

As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, "Look, here is water. Why shouldn't I be baptized? And he ordered the chariot to stop. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away. (N.I.V.)

As they continued down the road, they came to a stream of water. The eunuch said, "Here's water. Why can't I be baptized?" He ordered the chariot to stop. They both went down to the water and Philip baptized him on the spot. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of God took Philip off. (The Message)

What is the method of baptism? _________________________________

Romans 6:3-5:

Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death; that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall also be in the likeness of his resurrection. (K.J.)

Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the death through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. (N.I.V.)

Or didn't you realize we packed up and left there for good? That is what happened in baptism. When we went under the water, we left the old country of sin behind; when we came up out of the water, we entered into the new country of grace - a new life in a new land! That's what baptism into the life of Jesus means. When we are lowered into the water, it is like the burial of Jesus; when we are raised up out of the water, it is like the resurrection of Jesus. (The Message)

What is the method of baptism? _________________________________

What does the Bible teach about baptism?

(Go back and review your answers)

- Who commanded believers to be baptized? ______________________________________

- What was to precede baptism for it to be effective? ________________________________________

- What is the purpose and result of baptism? ________________________________________

- What was the original method of baptism? ________________________________________

In addition to this brief review of Scripture, it is also important to note that:

  1. Every conversion experience recorded in the New Testament after the day of Pentecost always included the act of baptism. Faith (believing that Jesus is the Son of God) is only specifically mentioned twice and repentance (turning from sin) is only mentioned once. This certainly doesn't imply that these, along with grace, a confession of faith, and godly living are not essential to the salvation experience. It does, however, show that Peter, Philip, Ananias and Paul all considered baptism to be an integral part of the conversion process.
  2. Nowhere in the New Testament is there either a command or an example of a person ever "praying to receive Christ". The commonly used "sinners prayer" was totally unknown in New Testament times. It appears to have emerged during the Reformation as an alternative to the doctrine of "salvation by works" as taught by the Catholic Church.
  3. The doctrine of Baptismal Regeneration (salvation by baptism alone) is also totally unscriptural. There is nothing holy or "mystical" about the water. New Testament baptisms took place in large pools, desert oases, rivers, and residential baths. The water was just plain water! Forgiveness and salvation only come as a result of the God's grace being given to a repentant believer who willingly submits to a watery reenactment of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ.
  4. Paul makes it evident that "we have been justified through faith" (Romans 5:1). He also states: "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9) Many have argued that baptism is a "work" and therefore not necessary for salvation. This is difficult to accept, however, since a "work" is obviously something a person does in an attempt to earn or merit salvation. Baptism, on the other hand, is something that is done to us in obedience to a specific command of Scripture. Such obedience can not to be considered a "good deed" rather it is an act of humble submission.
  5. The Bible tells us there were some who did received "the forgiveness of sins" without being baptized. But in each case, these individuals received forgiveness directly from the Lord Jesus Himself, prior to His death and resurrection. The crippled man lowered through the roof by his four friends (Mark 2), the woman caught in adultery (John 8), and the thief on the cross (Luke 23) were all forgiven outright by the Lord. After the Day of Pentecost and the establishment of Christ's church, however, forgiveness and salvation were only available through a person's faith, repentance and baptism. Had Jesus wanted to indicate otherwise, He could easily have forgiven Saul of Tarsus while on the road to Damascus. Instead he was sent to Ananias for instruction and baptism. (Acts 22)

One final observation. Since Christian baptism is mentioned in every recorded New Testament conversion, why do so many sincere believers in Christ still question its importance in the conversion process? Why has the "sinner's prayer", raising a hand, touching the radio or TV, or some other non-biblical alternative been substituted for what the Bible plainly teaches? Why is salvation by "faith only" an almost universally accepted doctrine in the religious world today?

Many reasons for this have been given and they usually come from a genuine desire to bring as many people as possible to salvation in Christ. Obviously it is much easier to reach out to large numbers of people through the "faith only" method than it is to "go, teach, baptize and teach" each person individually. This desire is admirable, but it was never the practice of the early New Testament church.

In view of this, what about the many sincere believers today who live godly lives and do their best to faithfully serve the Lord and His church yet they have never been immersed. These people may be members of our own family, our closest friends, our neighbors, or those with whom we work every day. In view of the Biblical concept of baptism, what will happen to them?

Unfortunately, the Bible does not answer this question. Nowhere does the Word of God tell us how God will respond to those who sincerely believe in Christ but have not been baptized by immersion. In the New Testament there is not a single reference to anyone being an "unimmersed Christian". Baptism and becoming a Christian have always been unalterably linked.

You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. (Galatians 3:26-27)

The Word of God has made the Will of God very plain. Therefore, our responsibility is not to question or argue about it, but to obey and share this truth with others.

It is my sincere prayer that this study has helped clarify what the Scriptures teach regarding this very important matter. Baptism is not a doctrine of men rather it is an essential element in the conversion process as revealed in the inspired Word of God.

If you sincerely believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, have repented of your sins, and are willing to commit the rest of your life to Him, your question needs to be the same as that of the Ethiopian eunuch: "Look, here is water. Why shouldn't I be baptized?" (Acts 8:36)

Remember the words of Jesus: "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:31-32)

---Bob Mallett