Baptism - A Study On The Ordiance of Baptism

By Haddon A. Haynes

In this study on Baptism we will address six basic questions.  They are as follows:

  1. Who should be baptized?
  2. Why be baptized?
  3. What is the meaning of baptism?
  4. What is the mode?
  5. When should one be baptized?
  6. How important is baptism?


I. Who should be baptized? ~ Believers

We practice "believers" baptism as opposed to infant or adult baptism. We believe it is not the age or maturity of the individual that is of chief concern, but their spiritual condition.  To be candidate for baptism, one must be a "saved" individual - having personally expressed repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

An examination of the following texts demonstrates that every baptism recorded in the book of Acts is of an individual who had heard the gospel, consciously repented and believed on the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. 

            Acts    2:38-47

            Acts    8:12 and 13.

            Acts    8:34-39

            Acts    9:17 and 18.

            Acts   10:44-48

            Acts   16:14, 15, also 31, 32, 33

            Acts   18:8

            Acts   19:5

In the above mentioned passages we see that "those who believed" or "who gladly received the Word" were baptized.  There is no record of the baptism of infants who could not be conscious of what was being done.  Both repentance of sin and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ are prerequisites for baptism.

II. Why be Baptized? ~ Obedience to Christ's Command

The Bible teaches that every Christian should be baptized and therefore is not an option. We would give the following four arguments as to why baptism is mandatory.

  • 1. Jesus exemplified it. Our Lord set the example.

      Matt. 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-23.

If Jesus willingly submitted to baptism (in fact He insisted on it) why should any of His disciples refuse to be baptized?

2.   Jesus commanded it.  He requires believers to be baptized.

Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16.

As Christians we certainly cannot disregard what Christ clearly commands, and to do so is an outright act of disobedience.

3.   The Apostles practised it.  They baptized believers.           

John 4:1-2; Acts 2:41.

In Acts 10:47-48 we find Peter commanding that Cornelius and those who believed along with him be baptized. Then Peter said, "Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have."  So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.

Every Christian denomination recognizes that the New Testament believers practised baptism.  It was normative.

4. It serves as a public confession of faith in Christ's death and resurrection for our salvation.

Rom. 6:3-5. 

Matt. 10:32-33

"Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven."

The lack of Biblical baptism does not indicate a lack of salvation.  Un-baptized believers will be in heaven along with the repentant thief on the cross who had no opportunity to be immersed.   Those who are informed of Jesus' command to be baptized and do not submit to this ordinance are living in open disobedience to the will of Christ.   An open refusal to be baptized is to live contrary to one of the most foundational teachings of the New Testament.  Let us remember that every Christian denomination practises Baptism.

III. What is the Meaning of Baptism? ~ Identification with Christ

In baptism the professing Christian identifies himself with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

1.   It is symbolic of Christ's death, burial and resurrection.

Rom. 6:3-4

Col. 2:12 

2.  A symbol of our identification with Christ.  It is an expression of our belief in and identification with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.

3.   It is a profession of our desire to be dead to a worldly, sinful life and to be raised to new and Christ like living. 

Col. 2:12; 3:1-4.

Colossian 2:9-12

"For in Christ all the fullness of the deity lives in bodily form, 10 and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. 11 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, 12 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."

Colossians 3:1-4

"Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your  life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory."

We must keep this uppermost in our thoughts - Baptism is identification with Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection.

In order to be a profession of our faith in Christ and an expression of our desire to be like Him, baptism must be the voluntary act of an intelligent person, not an infant.  The individual must have personally experienced the realities they are seeking to identify with.

IV. What is the Mode? ~ Immersion

Three different modes of baptism are practised in the "modern" church.  They are sprinkling (aspersion), pouring (infusion) and immersion.  We reject the practice of sprinkling and pouring as valid modes for baptism.  From the following arguments it is obvious that immersion was the only mode practiced by the New Testament Church.

1.      The Greek word baptizo means "to immerse".

2.      Jesus was baptized in the Jordan. Matt. 3:13; Mark 1:9-11.

3.      John baptized where there was much water. John 3:23.

John Calvin recognized the significance of these words when he wrote, "From these words, we may infer that John and Christ administered baptism by plunging the whole body beneath the water. (Commentaries, Vol. 17, p. 130)

4.      The act of going down into the water.               Acts 8:38

5.      Symbol of death, burial and resurrection         Rom. 6:4.

6.      Symbol of resurrection.                                        Col. 2:12.

The meaning of the Greek word baptizo and the practice of the New Testament Church clearly establishes that immersion is the Biblical mode of baptism.

In order to teach truth by symbol it is necessary that the exact form which best represents the facts to be symbolized be maintained. Baptism symbolizes death and resurrection -- hence immersion, being buried in the water and coming up out of the water bests symbolizes the intended meaning.

Immersion is always used in the New Testament Church era for baptism.  No other form would symbolize death and resurrection.  There is no place in the Bible where sprinkling or pouring is ever used for baptism.

In reading Roman 6:1-11, we note that the waters of baptism represent a grave; Baptism is a burial, the baptized one is buried into the likeness of Christ's death and comes up from the baptismal waters in the likeness of His resurrection.

Please see Appendix #1 and #2 for further arguments as to why we hold that immersion must be the only mode of baptism.

If sprinkling was not the original mode of baptism, then when was it introduced?  The following article from the Edinburgh Encyclopaedia sheds some light on the matter.

The Introduction of Sprinkling

"It is impossible to mark the precise period when sprinkling was introduced. It is probable, however, that it was invented in Africa, in the second century, in favor of clinics. But it was so far from being approved by the Church in general that the Africans themselves did not account it valid."

"The first law for sprinkling was obtained in the following manner: Pope Stephen III., being driven from Rome by Astulphus, king of the Lombards, in 753, fled to Papin, who, a short time before, had usurped the crown of France: Whilst he remained there, the monks of Cressy, in Brittany, consulted him whether, in a case of necessity, baptism performed by pouring water on the head of the infant would be lawful. Stephen replied that it would. But, though the truth of this fact should be allowed, which some Catholics deny, yet pouring or sprinkling was only admitted in cases of necessity."

"It was not till 1311 that the legislature, in a council held at Ravenna, declared immersion or sprinkling to be indifferent. In this country (Scotland), however, sprinkling was never practiced, in ordinary cases, until after the Reformation; and in England, even in the reign of Edward VI. trine immersion-dipping first the right side, secondly the left side, and last the face of the infant-was commonly observed. But, during the persecution of Mary, many persons, most of whom were Scotsmen, fled from England to Geneva, and there greedily imbibed the opinions of that church.  In 1556, a book was published at that place, containing 'The form of prayers and ministration of the sacraments, approved by the famous and godly learned man, John Calvin,' in which the administrator is enjoined to take water in his hand and lay it upon the child's forehead. These Scottish exiles, who had renounced the authority of the Pope, implicitly acknowledged the authority of Calvin; and, returning to their own country, with Knox at their head, in 1559, established sprinkling in Scotland. From Scotland this practice made its way into England, in the reign of Elizabeth, but was not authorized by the Established church. In the Assembly of Divines, held at Westminster in 1643, it was keenly debated whether immersion or sprinkling should be adopted. Twenty-five voted for sprinkling and twenty-four for immersion; and even this small majority was obtained at the earnest request of Dr. Lightfoot, who had acquired great influence in that assembly. Sprinkling is, therefore, the general practice of this country. Many Christians, however, especially the Baptists, reject it. The Greek church universally adheres to immersion."

"The origin of sprinkling and pouring for baptism is of historical interest, and tends to confirm the position that "only immersion is baptism." They are clearly of post-apostolic origin. Our chief reliance, however, for the support of immersion is on the import of the word "baptize," as its meaning is disclosed in the Scriptures and confirmed by the highest lexicographical authority. If, as Moses Stuart says-and this country has produced no scholar more eminent than he was-"all lexicographers and critics of any note are agreed" that "baptizo (baptize) means to dip, plunge, or immerse into any liquid," then to baptize by sprinkling or pouring is a gross solecism. The incongruity of the language appears, if we substitute immerse for baptize. To immerse by sprinkling is an absurdity. To immerse by pouring is equally impossible, if the pouring is not sufficiently copious to overwhelm. How can a man be immersed by pouring a cup of water on his head?" (J. B. Jeter)


V.  When should one be Baptized? ~ As soon as possible

Baptism should follow as soon as possible after taking Christ as Saviour.  We are guided in this by the custom of the early Church.

                        Acts 2:37-42

                        Acts 8:5; 12-13; 35-39

                        Acts 9:10-18.

                        Acts 10:42-48.

                        Acts 16:13, 15; 29-34

                        Acts 18:8

                        Acts 19:4, 5

There is no record in the New Testament of any person receiving Christian baptism until he had personally believed in the Lord Jesus Christ.  There is ample evidence that the New Testament believers were baptized very soon after their conversion.

VI. How Important is Baptism? ~ A matter of submission to Christ.

There are some who make too much of baptism.  They teach that it is essential to salvation.  Others make too little of baptism implying that we do not need to be exercised over the fact that some believers are not immersed after their profession of faith.  Both extremes are to be rejected.

1. Some individuals make too much of baptism.  These individuals usually consider baptism a means to salvation.  To them the failure to be baptized means that the person will not be qualified to enter heaven.  We would disagree and cite the story of the thief on the cross who was not baptized but yet assured by Christ that he would enter Paradise that very day (Luke 23:39-43).  The lack of baptism does not exclude any believer from eternal life.

We are saved by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and not by the act of baptism.

If you asked a Roman Catholic friend this question ("How important is baptism?")  they might answer something like this: "It is essential that every infant be baptized into the Church in order to be saved."

You see, as far back as 1544 A.D. at the 19th Ecumenical Council of the Roman Catholic Church, the Trent Catechism stated:

"Infants unless regenerated unto God through the grace of baptism whether their parents be Christian or infidel are born to eternal misery and perdition."

In Catechism of the Catholic Church the Roman Catholic teaches:

"The Lord himself affirms that Baptism is necessary for salvation.  ...The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude; this is why she takes care not to neglect the mission she has received from the Lord to see that all who can be baptized are "reborn of water and the Spirit."  God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments."

(Catechism of the Catholic Church  Liguori Publications, pg. 320)

The Roman Catholic Church clearly teaches that salvation is found in the act of Baptism.  Without baptism there is no salvation.  Little wonder then, that practising Roman Catholics are concerned to have their babies baptized as soon as possible after they are born.

The Apostle Paul taught that it is the gospel that saves and not the act of baptism.  He was more concerned that the message of the Gospel be given out than the act of baptism is administered.  He establishes this in I Corinthians 1:10-17. 

10I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.  11My brothers, some from Chloe's household have informed me that there are quarrels among you.  12What I mean is this:  One of you says, "I follow Paul"; another, "I follow Apollos"; another, "I follow Cephas"; still another, "I follow Christ."

13Is Christ divided?  Was Paul crucified for you?  Were you baptized into the name of Paul?  14I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15so no one can say that you were baptized into my name.  16(Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don't remember if I baptized anyone else.)  17For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel - not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

Paul's primary mission wasn't to baptize people.  He understood that baptism did not save.  His focus was on preaching the saving gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.  In 1 Corinthians 1:21b Paul says this of preaching the gospel - "God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe".   You will never find Paul making such a statement about baptism. 

2. Some people make too little of baptism?  There are some who say that baptism is of little consequence because it does not affect one's salvation and is not necessary to eternal life.  They dismiss the need for it.  They have no issue with Christians who live their faith without submitting to this ordinance.  We would maintain that it is necessary for a life of gospel obedience.   Not to be baptized is to be disobedient.

In Luke 6:46-49 Jesus said this:

46"Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not what I say47I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice.  48He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock.  When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built.  49But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation.  The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete."

Why do you call me "Lord, Lord," and then do not do what I say?  If we call Jesus our Lord and Saviour, then we need to be obedient to what he commands us to do.  It is clear that he has commanded His disciples to be baptized.  It stands to reason then, that those who are taught the truths about baptism but refuse to obey Jesus' command are, in fact, making light of the Lordship of Christ.  It is open defiance.

What are the parting instructions of the Lord Jesus to His church?  We have them in Matthew 28:19-20

"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 am with you always, to the very end of the age."

The church of Jesus Christ is to:

  • 1. Make disciples
  • 2. Baptize those who become disciples of Jesus
  • 3. Teach the baptized disciples to live in obedience to all that Jesus has taught.

We have three questions for you.  When did you become a disciple of Jesus Christ?  When were you baptized after becoming a disciple of Jesus?  Are you living with this as your guiding principle - I must obey all that Jesus commands me?

Appendix #1

Testimony of the Scholars Regarding Immersion

The following are some unprejudiced testimonies of scholars and religious teachers about the mode of baptism.

Martin Luther - Protestant Reformer, says: "In the primitive church, baptism was a total immersion, or burial, as it were."

John Calvin - Presbyterian, says: "Baptize signifies to immerse, and it is certain that immersion was the practice of the primitive church."

Archbishop Cranmer - "By baptism we die with Christ, and are buried, as it were."

John Wesley - Methodist, says: "Buried with Him, alluding to baptizing by immersion, according to the custom of the first church."

Dr. Chalmers - First Moderator of the Free Church, Scotland, says: "Baptism is immersion."

Dr. Pain - Congregationalist, Prof. of Ecclesiastical History, says: "Immersion was the baptism of the Christian church for thirteen centuries."

Dean Stanley - Episcopalian, says: "In the Apostolic age, those who came to baptism came in full age, and of their own choice.  Those who were baptized were immersed in the water."

Bishop Boussuet - Roman Catholic, says: "For thirteen hundred years baptism was administered by immersion."

Dr. Adam Clark - Methodist, Bible Commentator, says: "The mode of administering baptism was by immersion, the whole body being put under water."

Philip Schaff - Presbyterian, Church Historian, says: "Immersion was unquestionably the original form of baptism."

Bishop White - Anglican: "Immersion was the primitive and apostolic baptism.  Immersion was the only mode of baptism in the early church:  God in His Providence has permitted the Baptist denomination to restore the long lost primitive mode of immersion, teaching the death, burial and resurrection of Christ."

The R.C study book Path Through Catholicism (pg. 111): "Paul's words explain why early Christians began baptizing new members by immersing them in a large pool of running water - a practice the Church approves and recommends today. This way of baptizing new members better symbolizes their participation in Jesus' death and resurrection."

Appendix #2

The Greek Word Clearly Indicates Immersion

What is baptism?

In the broad spectrum of what is termed the "Christian Church," the word baptism is used to refer to any one of several modes of water baptism.  Sometimes it will be used to speak of sprinkling, at other times of pouring, and at still other times, of total immersion in water.

The reformer, John Calvin

Calvin, in his book Institutes of the Christian Religion, stated:

But whether the person being baptized should be wholly immersed, and whether he should only be sprinkled with poured water - these details are of no importance but ought to be optional to churches according to the diversity of countries.  Yet the word baptize means 'to immerse,' and it is clear that the rite of immersion was observed in the ancient church.[1]  IV,xv,19

It is helpful for us to note two things here.  First of all, as Calvin correctly observed, the word baptize in the Greek New Testament means to immerse.  Secondly, the rite of immersion was practised in the ancient church (referring here to the New Testament church).

It is also interesting to note that John Calvin's life and ministry in the early 1500s was contemporary with that of Martin Luther.  Both men were significant leaders in the Great Protestant Reformation.  Yet while Calvin and Luther knew that the word baptize in the Bible meant to immerse (i.e., to put someone totally under the water), and also knew that this was the word used to describe how the New Testament churches baptized people, neither leader viewed the matter as important.

This is ironic, since one of the major objectives of the Protestant Reformation was to call the church back to the study of God's Word and to obedience to its teachings.

Is the mode of baptism significant in the Scriptures?

The Greeks had a wonderful language capable of expressing many shades of meaning.  The writers of the New Testament were at no loss for words to convey exactly what they meant to say under the influence and direction of the Holy Spirit.

It is significant, therefore, that while many words might have been used to describe the mode of water baptism in the New Testament, only one was used exclusively.

Let us examine some of the words that might have been used to refer to the mode of water baptism in Scripture.  Then we'll look at the only word used for baptism.

Words not used to describe baptism in the Greek New Testament

Luow (Pronounced: louo)

The word signifies either to bathe the whole body in water or to bathe the body all over by the application of water.  It appears in John 13:10[2].

10Jesus answered, "A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean.  And you are clean, though not every one of you."

Nipto (Pronounced: nipto) 

This term signifies washing some particular part of the body or some item.  It appears in Matthew 6:16-17.

16When you fast, do not look sombre as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting.  I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.  17But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face,

Ekcew  (Pronounced: Ex-echo). 

To pour out.  It is applied to the pouring out of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:17-18.


17In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.  Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.  18Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.

Katapontizw  (Pronounced: Katapontizo). 

To plunge down, to plunge under, to drown.  It is found in Matthew 18:6

6But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large mill stone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.

Rantizw (Pronounced: rhantizo). 

To sprinkle.  It is found in Hebrews 9:19.

19When Moses had proclaimed every commandment of the law to all the people, he took the blood of the calves, together with water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people.

Brecw (Pronounced: brecho). 

To moisten or make lightly wet.  It is used in Luke 7:38.

38and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears.  Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

All the words we have looked at are found in the New Testament.  Several of them clearly convey ideas which express the variety of modes of water baptism used in Christian churches today.  However, none of these words ever appear in the Scriptures with reference to water baptism.

The only word used in the Greek New Testament for baptism

The word baptism (baptizw) in English is actually a transliteration of the sounds of the letters of the Greek word baptizo, which translated means to immerse.  It is derived from the word baptw, pronounced bapto, 'to dip under.'  (Bapto came to mean 'to dye,' a reference to the dipping under of a garment in a vat of dye.)

So baptizw (baptizo) clearly means to immerse - put down under.  And it is the only Greek word used to describe water baptism in the New Testament.

If - and we say if, remember! - several of the other words (such as sprinkle or pour) had been used interchangeably in the New Testament in passages about baptism, what would that have told us about the mode of baptism we should use?

Believer's Baptism - A Personal Study Guide

Prepared by Rev. John Greb

The Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches in Canada pg. 2-4

Appendix #3

1689 Confession of Faith on Baptism

Chapter 28

Baptism and the Lord's Supper

1. BAPTISM and the Lord's Supper are ordinances which have been explicitly and sovereignly instituted by the Lord Jesus, the only lawgiver, who has appointed that they are to be continued in His church to the end of the world.

Matt. 28:19-20; 1 Cor. 11:26

Chapter 29


1. BAPTISM is an ordinance of the New Testament instituted by Jesus Christ.  It is intended to be, to the person baptized, a sign of his fellowship with Christ in His death and resurrection, and of his being engrafted into Christ, and of the remission of sins.  It also indicates that the baptized person has given himself up to God, through Jesus Christ, so that he may live and conduct himself 'in newness of life'.

Mark1:4; Acts 22:16; Rom. 6:3-5; Gal. 3:27; Col.2:12.

2. The only persons who can rightly submit themselves to this ordinance are those who actually profess repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, being willing to yield obedience to Him.  

Mark 16:16; Acts 2:41; 8:12, 36, 37; 18:8.

3. The outward element to be used in this ordinance is water, in which the believer is to be baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Matt. 28:19, 20; Acts 8:38.

4. Immersion, that is to say, the dipping of the believer in water, is essential for the due administration of this ordinance.

Matt. 3:16; John 3:23.

Appendix #4

RHBC Articles of Faith

"We believe that there are only two ordinances for the church regularly observed in the New Testament in the following order:
  - Baptism, which is the immersion of the believer in water, whereby he obeys Christ's command and sets forth his identification with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection.
  - The Lord's Supper, which is the memorial wherein the believer partakes of the two elements, bread and wine, which symbolize the Lord's body and shed blood, proclaiming His death until He come."

[1] Keesecker, William F., Editor. A Calvin Treasury, selections from Institutes of the Christian Religion.  New York: Harper & Brothers, 1961.

[2] Scripture quotations are taken from the New International Version, International Bible Society, 1978.Italics and bold print are only for emphasis.