Category Archives: Baptism

Baptism and Salvation: I Peter 3:21

baptists tarrytown united methodist church

By Spencer D Gear PhD

1. Does baptism bring eternal salvation?

It seems as though this issue is clear – people need to be baptised to receive salvation. The Scriptures state that: “Baptism that now saves you….” (I Peter 3:21 NIV) and Jesus states, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16 NIV).

This sounds clear enough, doesn’t it? In fact, I was interacting with Andy (not his real name) on a theological bulletin board. He stated: “Recent theology cannot make the truth of 1 Peter 3:21 go away – Baptism now saves you. This is a great and precious promise. Christians throughout all ages have found great comfort in that fact that their salvation did not rest on them, but on God who had chosen them through baptism. I do believe in baptismal regeneration and in infant baptism.”[1]

Baptismal regeneration is the theology that states “that baptism is necessary for salvation.” This view is supported by “Roman Catholic teaching…. Although there are different nuances in their teaching, such a position is held by many Episcopalians, many Lutherans, and by the Churches of Christ”(Grudem 1999, n10, p. 384).

baptism-now-saves-youDoes 1 Peter 3:21 (NIV) teach baptism as a necessity for salvation, i.e. baptismal regeneration? The verse states: “And this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also–not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge[2] of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ”.

The ESV reads: “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

Mark 16:16 (NIV) states, as the words of Jesus, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned”.

Let me say up front that I Peter 3:21 (NIV) is a difficult verse to interpret because of the content of the context (1 Pet 3:18-22 NIV):

· It is a challenge to know exactly what Peter is saying in connecting “save” with the waters of Noah’s flood;

· Elsewhere in the Scripture we know that salvation is by faith alone through Christ alone (Acts 4:12 NIV; Eph 2:8-9 NIV);

· In other places, the Bible teaches salvation and repentance prior to baptism (Romans 3:22, 24, 25, 26, 28, 30; 4:5; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8-9; Philippians 3:9);

· Some verses used to support baptismal regeneration have better explanations.

2. Mark 16:16 does not teach baptismal regeneration

This verse is fairly easily dealt with on two counts:

clip_image001 Mark 16:9-20, the long ending of Mark, is not included in the earliest manuscripts of the New Testament, so I am confident in not including it as part of the canon of Scripture. Mark 16:16 was a teaching that crept into the early church, but it is not original to Mark. See the explanations by Bruce Metzger (1964/1968/1992, pp. 227-228) and Walter W. Wessel (1984, pp. 792-793) in Appendix I.

clip_image001[1]Mark 16:16 states that “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” There is nothing in this statement about those who believe and are not baptised. In fact, this we do know that Jesus said to the dying thief on the cross, who did not have an opportunity to be baptised: “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). “It is simply absence of belief, not of baptism, which is correlated with condemnation” (Erickson 1985, p. 1098). Grudem (1999) contends that

it is doubtful whether this verse [Mark 16:16] should be used in support of a theological position at all, since there are many manuscripts that do not have this verse (or Mark 16:9-20), and it seems most likely that this verse was not in the gospel as Mark originally wrote it (n11, p. 384).

We also know that a Christian’s justification by faith, when he/she is declared righteous before God, happens at the point of faith in Christ and not at the time of baptism (see Rom. 3:20, 26, 28; 5:1; 8:30; 10:4, 10; Gal. 2:16; 3:24).

We’ll get to 1 Peter 3:21 shortly, but it is important to note that

3. The Bible teaches belief BEFORE baptism

We see belief or trust in Christ prior to baptism in passages such as the following:

clip_image003Those who were baptised must be able to be discipled and taught to be obedient to Christ’s commands (Matt. 28:19-20 ESV).

clip_image005One of the most profound examples is the thief on the cross. In Luke 23:42-43 (ESV) we read of the thief asking Jesus, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus’ response was: “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” Obviously baptism was not compulsory for a person to enter into paradise.

clip_image007Acts 2:38 (ESV) gives the apostolic command: “Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.'”

clip_image009Acts 2:41 affirms that belief precedes baptism: “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.”

clip_image011In Acts 10:47-48, those who were baptised were those who had “received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” This is hardly the language to support baptism for an infant. It is the language of believers’ baptism.

Old Testament believers were saved without being baptised. Therefore, we should expect that salvation, without baptism, is seen in the New Testament.

Church historian, Earle E. Cairns, stated that for the early church, baptism was “an act of initiation into the Christian church [and] was usually performed at Easter or Pentecost…. Baptism was normally by immersion; on occasion affusion, or pouring, was practiced. [There was the debate over] infant baptism which Tertullian opposed and Cyprian supported….” (Cairns 1954/1981, p. 119).

It was Martin Luther who rediscovered that “the just shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:17 KJV) or, “The righteous will live by faith” (NIV), which is a quote from Hab. 2:4. This is affirmed by Rom. 4:4-5; Titus 3:5-7 and Acts 16:31. The Scriptures do not support the view that the just shall live by faith and baptism. It could not be stated any cleared in Eph. 2:8-9, “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.”

4. Household baptisms

Sometimes the view is given that “I Corinthians 1:16; Acts 11:14, 16:15, 33, 18:8; these passages all refer to households being baptized. What an opponent of infant baptism must do is explain how they arrive at the conclusion that there were no infants or young children in these households. If infants were not intended to be baptized they would be excluded in the text, but we have no reason to believe that they are. In short there is nothing to exclude infants from baptism in the Bible.” This was Andy’s view when I interacted with him on a seminary bulletin board.[3]

Let’s examine these examples provided by Andy.

clip_image013“Household” baptism that was used by him to support infant baptism – 1 Cor. 1:16, which reads, “I did baptize also the household of Stephanas.” If we read that verse alone we could be led to think that this included infants and those who had not believed and these people could be members of households.

However, this is clarified in 1 Cor. 16:15 where we read that “the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints.” This verse clearly supports the opposite of infant baptism. They were Christian converts when they were baptised. They were not infants who were incapable of believing. They were converts to the Christian faith. Faith comes before baptism.

clip_image013[1]Acts 11:14 reads: “He [Peter] will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.”

This is clear. The “message” will be brought through which the “household will be saved.” The baptism referred to is not water baptism but the baptism in the Holy Spirit (11:16).

clip_image013[2] Acts 16:15 records what happened with Lydia who was “a worshiper of God” and “the Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul” (16:14). Chapter 16:15 records, “When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home.’ If you consider me a believer in the Lord,’ she said, ‘come and stay at my house.’ And she persuaded us.”

It is clear here that Lydia was a believer (“the Lord opened her heart”) when she was baptised as she affirms, “If you consider me a believer in the Lord.” It is not stated directly here that the “household” believed, but the precedent is set elsewhere in the Scripture that “households” that were baptised had previously believed. This is also consistent with the New Testament principle that faith alone in Christ alone is what brings eternal salvation.

clip_image013[3] In Acts 18:8, we have another example of “household” baptism. This verse states that “Crispus, the synagogue ruler, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptized.”

Again, baptism happens after belief in the Lord is experienced and this applies to believing “households.” Therefore, infant belief is not possible.

5. First Peter 3:21

This verse states, “And this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also–not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge[4] of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (NIV).

Let me state upfront that this is a most difficult verse to interpret because of the analogy of Scripture which refutes what this verse seems to be saying on the surface, “baptism that now saves you also.” This is especially in light of Colossians 2:12 “…. 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.” The key is “your faith in the power of God” and not through faith in water baptism. That’s what makes interpretation of 1 Peter 3:21 a challenging task.

Remember Andy’s words to me? “Baptism now saves you. This is a great and precious promise” and that Christians through the centuries have been comforted by the “God who had chosen them through baptism. I do believe in baptismal regeneration and in infant baptism.”[5]

What are the issues from this verse that seem, on the surface, to teach that “baptism now saves you”?

5.1 What is the context?

In vv. 18-19, the context is the death of Christ for sins, the “righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God” (v. 19), the resurrection (“made alive by the Spirit”, v. 18), and Noah, the ark, and eight people being saved through the flood (v. 20).

It is this flood that is used in some association with baptism.

5.2 What does it means that “water symbolizes baptism”?

The word translated, “symbolizes,” in the NIV is the Greek, antitypos. “Baptism is an antitype…. or counterpart of the type” (Blum 1981, p. 242). An antitype is ‘a person or thing that represents the opposite of someone or something else’ (Lexico/Oxford Dictionary 2019. s.v. antitype).There is some kind of resemblance between the waters of the flood and baptism. What is it? Baptism is a copy, representation or fulfillment of the Old Testament judgment that happened through the great flood.

The text allows for a resemblance between the flood and baptism. That is, as the flood waters cleansed the earth of man’s wickedness, so the water of baptism indicates man’s cleansing from sin. As the flood separated Noah and his family from the wicked world of their day, so baptism separates believers from the evil world of our day. Baptism, then, is the counterpart of the flood (Kistemaker 1987, p. 147).

5.3 In what sense can baptism be understood as that which “saves you”?

Does baptism bring salvation to the person baptised? In what sense can “save” be used here? We know from both Old and New Testaments that sins can be washed away.

  • Psalm 51:2, “Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.”
  • Ezekiel 36:25, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols.”
  • Ananias told the apostle Paul to “get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name” (Acts 22:16).
  • Titus 3:5, “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.”

How can baptism save?

Baptism is a symbol for cleansing the believer from sin, but Scripture does not teach that baptismal water saves a person. Rather, a believer is saved because of Christ’s atoning death on the cross and his resurrection from the grave (Rom. 6:4). Baptism is a symbol of the shed blood of Christ that cleanses the believer from sin” (Kistemaker 1987, p. 148).

This becomes clear through the next statement that baptism is “not the removal of dirt from the body.” That’s an obvious analogy to reject. But baptism is “the pledge of a good conscience toward God.”

5.4 How is baptism related to “the pledge of a good conscience toward God” (NIV)?

There are two ways of understanding, “pledge,” subjective, as in the NIV, or objective, as in the ESV, “as an appeal to God for a good conscience.”

As in the NIV, the subjective meaning of “pledge” is that “we look at baptism from our point of view and express ourselves subjectively.” There is a majority of translators who prefer the subjective approach, where “pledge” means “response.”

“In short, the believer receives not only the sign of baptism with water; he also responds by ‘keeping a clear conscience’ (see v. 16)” (Kistemaker 1987, p. 148). This kind of translation is supported by the KJV, NKJV, RV, ASV, NEB, Phillips, GNB, JB, NAB and NIV. So, baptism is the proper response of somebody who is already related to God through faith.

The objective meaning is that of the believer making an “appeal to God for a good conscience.” By appealing to God to help us, “we see the importance of baptism objectively. Without God’s aid we are unable to make a pledge to serve him” (Kistemaker 1987, p. 148). This type of translation is supported by the RSV, NRSV, ESV, MLB, NASB, Moffatt and ISV.

In supporting the objective sense, Grudem (1994) interprets “but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience” to mean “an inward, spiritual transaction between God and the individual, a transaction symbolized by the outward ceremony of baptism.” Grudem states that

we could paraphrase Peter’s statement by saying, “Baptism now saves you—not the outward physical ceremony of baptism but the inward spiritual reality which baptism represents.” In this way, Peter guards against any view of baptism that would attribute automatic saving power to the physical ceremony itself (p. 974).

This seems the most satisfactory kind of explanation of a very difficult passage, to be in line with the scriptural emphasis of salvation through faith alone, trusting in Christ alone.

5.5 How can baptism that “saves you” be linked to “saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ”?

This further indicates that the baptism which “saves you” is associated with the “the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Thus, it is an analogy of baptism, associating it with eternal salvation through Christ, through the resurrection of Christ. See verses such as 1 Cor. 15:3-4 and 1 Peter 1:3 for affirmations of the link between salvation and the death and resurrection of Christ.

6. What does Acts 22:16 mean?

The verse, being the words of Ananias, reads, “And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.” This is a more extensive statement than that in Acts 9:16. However, according to Acts 9:17, the “scales fell from his eyes” (the equivalent of belief) before he was baptised (9:18).

So, does baptism “wash your sins away,” thus making belief unnecessary? Is this a verse in support of baptismal regeneration?

While Acts 22:16 refers to Paul’s baptism, the apostle clearly distinguished between the gospel and baptism: “For 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” (1 Cor. 1:17).

It is the gospel that “is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:17), so baptism cannot have a salvific effect. Paul’s experience from Acts 9:17-18 involved a spiritual experience before baptism, so to “be baptized and wash your sins away” (Acts 22:16) cannot refer to baptismal regeneration.

Norman Geisler rightly concludes that “baptism then, like confession, is not a condition for eternal life but a manifestation of it. Baptism is a work that flows from the faith that alone brings salvation through the gospel” (2004, p. 498).

7. Examples from Church History

An example from the early church fathers was Justin Martyr (ca. 100-165), who wrote: “As many as are persuaded and believe that what we teach and say is true,… are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated [born-again] in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated” (Schaff, n.d., First Apology, Chapter LXI).

The regenerated were baptised according to Justin Martyr in the second century.

Professor of Church History & Historical Theology, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, summarised the biblical and historical evidence:

The patristic statements linking infant baptism with the apostles are fragmentary and unconvincing in the earlier stages…. Examples of believers’ baptism are common in the first centuries, and a continuing, if suppressed, witness has always been borne to this requirement…. The development of infant baptism seems to be linked with the incursion of pagan notions and practices. Finally, there is evidence of greater evangelistic incisiveness and evangelical purity of doctrine where [believers’ baptism] is recognized to be the baptism of the NT (Bromiley 1984, p. 116).

The facts are: The Bible (including the Apostles) and the Church established in the New Testament practised believers’ baptism. Why the change to paedobaptism?

This is not the place for a comprehensive documentation and assessment of the baptismal practices throughout church history. However, this we can note:

During the fifth century the towering figure of Augustine of Hippo with his powerful reassertion of the doctrine of original guilt settled the issue for a thousand years. Paedobaptism became the norm, and as by then the great expansion of the church among adults had run its course, adult baptism became increasingly rare and almost unknown. With the decline of adult baptism went, too, the decline of the catechumenate, as instruction before baptism was replaced, of necessity, with instruction after baptism. Yet that instruction became increasingly strange to modern ears. For although baptized infants grew up believing that their baptism had brought them forgiveness, eternal life, membership of the church and entry into the family of God, their position in that family became increasingly insecure. In time, a vast system of priests, penances and pilgrimages was needed to preserve their spiritual lives, while even after the intercession of saints, the assistance of Mary, the prayers of the church and the indulgences of the pope, centuries in purgatory still awaited them after death before their souls were cleansed from sin and prepared for heaven” (Bridge & Phypers 1977, pp. 82-83).

8. Appendix I

8.1 Bruce Metzger

Bruce Metzger, who has had a long and distinguished career in the discipline of textual criticism, which attempts “to determine the original text of the biblical books” (Erickson 1985, p. 83), states that:

The long ending [of Mark 16:9-20] in an expanded form existed, so Jerome tells us, in Greek copies current in his day, and since the discovery of W earlier this [20th] century we now have the Greek text of this expansion….

None of these four endings commends itself as original. The obvious and pervasive apocryphal flavour of the expansion [i.e. the long ending]…, as well as the extremely limited basis of evidence supporting it, condemns it as a totally secondary accretion.

The long ending [i.e. Mark 16:9-20, as in the Textus Receptus and, therefore, translated in the King James Version of the Bible], though present in a variety of witnesses, some of them ancient, must also be judged by internal evidence to be secondary. For example, the presence of seventeen non-Marcan words or words used in a non-Marcan sense; the lack of a smooth juncture between verses 8 and 9 (the subject in vs. 9 is the women, whereas Jesus is the presumed subject in vs. 9); and the way in which Mary is identified in verse 9 even though she has been mentioned previously (vs. 1) – all these features indicate that the section was added by someone who knew a form of Mark which ended abruptly with verse 8 and who wished to provide a more appropriate conclusion. An Armenian manuscript of the Gospels, copied A.D. 989 (see Plate XIVb) contains a brief rubic of two words in the space at the end of the lat line of verse 8 and before the last twelve verses, namely Ariston eritsou (‘of the Presbyter Ariston’). Many have interpreted this as a reference to Ariston, a contemporary of Papias in the early second century and traditionally a disciple of John the Apostle. But the probability that an Armenian rubricator [manuscript maker] would have access to historically valuable tradition on this point is almost nil, especially if, as has been argued, the rubric was added in the thirteenth or fourteenth century.

The internal evidence of the so-called intermediate ending . . . is decidedly against its being genuine. Besides containing a high percentage of non-Marcan words, its rhetorical tone differs totally from the simple style of Mark’s Gospel. The mouth-filling phrase at the close (‘the sacred and imperishable message of eternal salvation’) betrays the hand of a later Greek theologian. [See Appendix II for a translation of this “intermediate ending.”]

Thus we are left with the short ending, witnessed by the earliest Greek, versional, and patristic evidence. Both external and internal considerations lead one to conclude that the original text of the Second Gospel, as known today, closes at xvi. 8″ (Metzger 1964/1968/1992, pp. 227-228).

8.2 Walter W. Wessel

External and especially internal evidence make it difficult to escape the conclusion that vv. 9-20 [of Mark 16] were originally not a part of the Gospel of Mark.

One further question arises: Did Mark actually intend to end his Gospel at 16:8? If he did not, then either (1) the Gospel was never completed, or (2) the last page was lost before it was multiplied by copyists….

Thus the best solution seems to be that Mark did write an ending to his Gospel but that it was lost in the early transmission of the text. The endings we now possess represent attempts by the church to supply what was obviously lacking” (Wessel 1984, pp. 792-793).

9. Appendix II

The intermediate ending is translated by Metzger: “But they reported briefly to Peter and those with him all that they had been told. And after this Jesus himself sent out by means of them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.” Metzger stated that this intermediate reading “is present in several uncial manuscripts of the seventy, eighth and ninth centuries…. as well as in a few minuscule manuscripts…. and several ancient versions” (1964/1968/1992, p. 226).

10. Works consulted

Blum, Edwin A. 1981, ‘1 Peter’, in Frank E. Gaebelein (ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (vol. 12), Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, pp. 207-254.

Bridge, D. & Phypers, D. 1977, The Water That Divides: The Baptism Debate, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL.

Bromiley, G. W. 1984, ‘Baptism, Believers”, in W. A. Elwell (ed.), Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI.

Cairns, E. E. 1954, 1981, Christianity through the Centuries (rev. enl. ed.), Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI.

Erickson, Millard J. 1985, Christian Theology, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Geisler, Norman 2004, Systematic Theology: Sin, Salvation (vol. 3), Bethany House , Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Grudem, Wayne 1994, Systematic Theology: An introduction to Biblical Doctrine, Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester, England.

Grudem, Wayne 1999, Bible Doctrine: Essential Teachings of the Christian Faith, Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester, England.

Kistemaker, Simon J. 1987, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Epistles of Peter and of the Epistle of Jude, Evangelical Press, Welwyn, Hertfordshire.

Metzger, Bruce M. 1964, 1968, 1992, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, Oxford University Press, New York, Oxford.

Schaff, P. n.d., The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus‘, Polycarp, ‘Christian Baptism’, Available from: [17 March 2005].

Wessel, Walter W. 1984, ‘Mark’, in Frank E. Gaebelein (ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (vol. 8), Regency Reference Library (Zondervan Publishing House), Grand Rapids, Michigan, pp. 601-793.

11. Notes

[1] Jeremy Jack’s response to OzSpen, “Christian History Project,” Open Issues, Trinity College of the Bible & Theological Seminary, TDelta forum, 12.51 am, 12 March 2005, at: [17 March 2005].

[2] Or, “response.”

[3] Trinity Seminary’s TDelta forum, ‘Christian History Project’, (Open Issues), Jeremy Jack’s response to OzSpen, 11.25 am, 11 March 2005, Available from, [17 March 2005]. As of 9 October 2019, this forum was no longer available to me to interact.

[4] Or, “response.”

[5] See footnote no. 1 above.

Copyright © 2019 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 15 November 2019.

full immersion baptism clipart - Google Searchfull immersion baptism clipart - Google Searchfull immersion baptism clipart - Google Searchfull immersion baptism clipart - Google Searchfull immersion baptism clipart - Google Searchfull immersion baptism clipart - Google Searchfull immersion baptism clipart - Google Searchfull immersion baptism clipart - Google Searchfull immersion baptism clipart - Google Searchfull immersion baptism clipart - Google Search

When should a person be baptized?

water baptism

(courtesy HD Wallpaper)

By Spencer D Gear

I’m convinced that baptism is for those who believe. Therefore, believer’s baptism is the biblical mandate according to Scripture and it relates to making disciples:

‘And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:18-20 ESV).

Does a pastor have a right to reject a person’s baptism?

I met a person on a Christian forum who asked a sensible and practical question: ‘Does a pastor have a right to say when you can get baptized?’[1]

There were some provocative and hostile responses:

  • ‘No unless he is God, is he??’[2]
  • ‘No a pastor does not. If he will not, leave him and find a priest that IS ordained by the Holy Spirit, for that one is NOT’.[3]
  • ‘A pastor has an obligation to teach those who attend his church what the Bible says about baptism and who should be baptized.  He has the right and the duty to say when you can be baptized as long as he is passing along the teachings of the Bible and not just acting on his own authority’.[4]

Remember Paul, Silas and Philippian jailer?

I wrote:[5]

I’m reminded of what happened with Paul, Silas and the Philippian jailer’s conversion:

29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. 33 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized (Acts 16:29-33 NIV).

There are some fundamental biblical principles taught in this passage:

  1. A person must be saved (v 29);
  2. Salvation comes through continuing to believe in the Lord Jesus – it’s the Greek present tense of ‘believe’ (v. 31);
  3. There was teaching/speaking of the word of the Lord to those who believed (v. 32);
  4. That foundation means there is adequate belief and teaching to be baptized (v. 33).

Therefore, this should be all that is necessary for believer’s baptism to occur.

However, I speak as a former pastor who is ordained with a Christian denomination. I’ve seen some people who confess faith in Jesus and are baptized but within months or years they have fallen away from the faith and are no longer serving Jesus. Therefore, some pastors take a cautious approach to allow for people to be established in their faith and to continue to ‘bear fruit in keeping with repentance’ (Matt 3:8 ESV) before they baptize them.

I was baptized by immersion at age 16, but I can tell you that that was too early for me. I was not mature enough to demonstrate fruit of repentance. My wife was baptized at the same age, but both of us agree that for some youth at age 16, it can be too young as lack of knowledge of the faith and immaturity can influence this decision.

I’m not suggesting that this is the case with you because I don’t know you. For how long have you been a Christian and are you growing in your faith? If I were to speak with someone in your congregation who knows you and ask the question, ‘How strong is David in his faith?’ what would he/she say? Sometimes a pastor is demonstrating wisdom when he asks for baptism to be delayed.

Remember the truth of Hebrews 13:17 (ESV), as a demonstration of fruit of repentance, ‘Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be no advantage to you’.

I think it would be unwise to leave a congregation because the pastor (one of your leaders) does not think you are ready for baptism. Obey and submit will demonstrate that you understand Scripture and are growing in your faith.

Some oppose delaying baptism

Mack Tomlinson considers ‘reasons why withholding baptism from younger believers is wrong’ (August 29, 2013). M Wayne Benson writes of ‘The urgency of water baptism’ (2015. Enrichment Journal).

Others support delaying baptism

Early church father, Tertullian, wrote:

‘And so, according to the circumstances and disposition, and even age, of each individual, the delay of baptism is preferable; principally, however, in the case of little children…. If any understand the weighty import of baptism, they will fear its reception more than its delay: sound faith is secure of salvation. (New Advent, ‘On Baptism’, ch 18).

Is baptismal regeneration biblical?

Image result for immersion baptism clip art public domain

(courtesy christianholisticcenter)

Paul recounts his conversion experience in Jerusalem:

‘For you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard. 16 And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name’ (Acts 22:15-16 ESV).

However, the original explanation of what happened on the Damascus Road in Saul’s-Paul’s conversion was, ‘And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized’ (Acts 9:18 ESV). There is no mention of baptismal regeneration here, but there seems to be when he recounts the conversion in Acts 22:15-16. That is not Greek grammarian, A T Robertson’s, interpretation. His Greek reasons are:

22:16 By baptized (baptisai). First aorist middle (causative), not passive, Get thyself baptized (Robertson, Grammar, p. 808). Cf. I Cor. 10:2. Submit yourself to baptism. So as to apolousai, Get washed off as in I Cor. 6:11. It is possible, as in 2:38, to take these words as teaching baptismal remission or salvation by means of baptism, but to do so is in my opinion a complete subversion of Paul’s vivid and picturesque language. As in Rom. 6:4-6 where baptism is the picture of death, burial and resurrection, so here baptism pictures the change that had already taken place when Paul surrendered to Jesus on the way (verse 10). Baptism here pictures the washing away of sins by the blood of Christ (Robertson 1930:391-392).

For examples of church fathers who accepted the doctrine of baptismal regeneration, see this article by Bryan Cross, ‘The Church Fathers on Baptismal Regeneration’ (June 15, 2010).

Is Jesus the sole leader?

What kind of response do you think my above comment would receive on a Christian forum? One person wrote, ‘One should have only one leader and that is Christ’. He then gave references to Luke 22:24-26 (KJV 2000) and Isaiah 8:4-7 (KJV), but affirmed the helpfulness of my posts on this forum.[6]

However, this person did not address the specifics of what I wrote.

Violation of Hebrews 13:17

Therefore, I wrote:

‘What you have stated here violates Hebrews 13:17 (ESV) as this verse speaks about “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls”. “Leaders” is plural. And there are multiple Christian leaders around the world.

Thanks for your encouragement, brother. Or, are you sister?’[7]



When should a person be baptized? I leave that with the leaders of the church and the need for believers to submit to that leadership (this is not submission to abusive elders but submission to caring, pastoral leaders in the church). Has a person bearing fruit in his/her life that is in keeping with repentance (Matt 3:8 ESV)?

This will be demonstrated over a period of possibly years of Christian growth. As for me, I’d rather wait some months – even years – to be sure a person’s faith in Jesus is real and he/she is growing in the faith before baptising in water.

For the Philippian jailer, baptism was soon after his salvation. For others it may be years later. I pray that church leaders will be given wisdom in making these kinds of decisions and that they will engage in open communication – with feedback – with the person seeking baptism. This will include giving wisdom if there is a delay in baptism.

See also my other articles on this topic:

Works consulted

Robertson, A T 1930. Word Pictures in the New Testament: The Acts of the Apostles, vol 3. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press. Also available HERE.


[1] Christianity Board, Christian Forums (Christians only), Christian Debate Forum, ‘Regarding baptism’, June 21, 2015, davidnelson#1. Available at: (Accessed 9 August 2015).

[2] Ibid., mjrhealth#2.

[3] Ibid.,pom2014.

[4] Ibid., theophilus#8.

[5] Ibid., OzSpen#13.

[6] Ibid., mjrhealth#14.

[7] Ibid., OzSpen#15.


Copyright © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 21 November 2015.

Believer’s baptism or infant baptism?

Evangelical Protestant baptism by immersion (Wikipedia) Baptism of a child by affusion, (Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear

Should infants be baptised or is baptism only for believing adults? Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and some Protestant churches advocate and practise infant baptism. Baptists, many Pentecostals, Churches of Christ (Australia) and some other denominations consider baptism is only for Christians who have believed in Christ for salvation. Which is it?

But let me say at the outset that this is not core Christian doctrine. I will not use baptism as a divisive issue to separate Christians who love the Lord.

I was doing some posts on Christian Fellowship Forum and I stated: “Infant baptism is an addition from about the third century onwards”.[1] Tertullian was the first to mention infant baptism around AD 200 (see below).

Richard wrote:

“Unproven statement. Some evidence to the contrary exists, particularly the Biblical evidence that whole households were baptised, which would likely include infants. There is no evidence that a whole household excluded young children.

“You may want to maintain your position based on your doctrinal understanding, but you do not have a historically sound basis for it. Likewise, I may want to maintain my position, and I do have hints of a historical basis for it, although those hints do not rise to the level of historical proof”.[2]

Since he and his church (Roman Catholic) are advocates of and practise infant baptism, I expected this kind of response. I was baptised as an infant by my religious, but not born-again, parents in the Methodist church. When they came to faith in Christ in 1959, through the preaching ministry of Billy Graham, they investigated infant vs believer’s baptism. Why? The weight of evidence from the Scriptures supports believer’s baptism. When I came to faith in Christ alone for salvation, I investigated this issue and was baptised as a believer by immersion – even though I had been sprinkled as an infant.

This debate has been going on for centuries, so I am well aware of the baptism issues: infant baptism vs believer’s baptism. I’m aware of the “household” advocacy to include children in baptism that Richard was using (Reformed people will use the covenantal issue). Let’s look at the NT evidence.

A.  New Testament precedent

The Book of Acts demonstrates by example that those who were believers, following a confession of faith, were baptised. In the early chapters of Acts we read:

  • “Those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41 ESV).[3]
  • “But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women” (Acts 8:12).

B.  Household baptisms

Do household baptisms indicate that infants are included? We have three confirmed cases of “household” baptisms in the NT and one where there is a strong inference that an entire household was included. The implied inference is that of Cornelius (Acts 10:47-48; 11:14). Those of definite household baptism are: Lydia (Acts 16:15), the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:33-34, and Stephanas in 1 Cor. 1:16. The argument has been going on for centuries as to whether these “households” included children.

Let’s examine these:

1.  Cornelius (Acts 10:47-48; 11:14)

We know from Acts 11:14 that Peter “he will declare to you [Cornelius] a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household” (ESV). However, we know that infants could not have been included in the household because Acts 10:46 tells us that when Peter preached the Word and the Holy Spirit fell on them and they were speaking in tongues and extolling God (ESV). Then they were commanded to be baptised.

This could NOT have included infants because they could not speak in tongues and magnify the Lord by speaking. Peter commanded those who spoke in tongues and extolled the Lord to be baptised. This is impossible for infants. As I say, it is a strong inference from Acts 11:14 that those who spoke in tongues and praised the Lord were Cornelius and his household. If that inference is correct, there is no way that these believers could have been infants. Therefore, no infants could be baptised.

2.  Lydia (Acts 16:15)

Lydia was a worshipper of God (16:14) and “after she was baptized and her household”, Timothy, Paul and Silas were invited into her house to stay “if you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord” (16:15). There is nothing here to indicate that infants were baptised. Besides, Jesus required baptism to be part of discipleship (Matt. 28:19-20). This is impossibility for infants.

Let’s check out a few people who support infant baptism for their views on the “household” baptism of Lydia.

  • Henry Alford: “It may be that no inference of infant baptism is hence deducible”;
  • Paton J. Gloag: “Evidently the passage in itself cannot be adduced as a proof either for or against baptism; there is in it no indication whether there were or were not infants in the household of Lydia”.
  • H. A. W. Meyer: “No trace is to be found in the New Testament, speaking of the baptism of the children of Christians”.

However, it would not be inconsistent to use another example from Acts 16 as a template for whether or not “household” baptism included infants. Let’s examine….

3.  The Philippian jailer (Acts 16:33-34)

In the context, it states that “they spoke the Word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house” (Acts 16:32 ESV). Then 16:34 tells us that “he [the Philippian jailer] rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed”. It is impossible for infants to do this rejoicing over the jailer’s positive response to the speaking of the Word of the Lord. It is impossible for babies to have believed in the Lord. Therefore, this is another example of believer’s baptism.

4.  Stephanas (1 Cor. 1:16)

In the context of 1 Corinthians, we know that “the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia and that they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints” (1 Cor. 16:15).

Imagine that coming from infants! The household of Stephanas later devoted themselves to ministry to the saints. No theology of children’s baptism can be found in this passage. If we are to be consistent interpreters of Scripture (and we need to be), the children who are part of household baptism must also be devoted to service to Christian saints. This is impossibility, so the example of Stephanas proves again that it did not include infant baptism but believer’s baptism.

5. Jesus’ view on baptism after His resurrection

Jesus gave a very clear understanding of the association of baptism with Christian believing in Matt. 28:19-20:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age (ESV).

Jesus is crystal clear that baptism is associated with making disciples of all nations. Discipleship is an impossible task for infants. The foundational requirement cannot be achieved by infants.

Therefore, the consistent picture of the NT is that “household” baptism does not include infants, but, based on the words of Jesus, baptism is an important dimension of Christian discipleship. Infants are incapable of becoming disciples of Christ.

C.  Wayne Grudem on household baptism

Grudem’s view of household baptism is:

The examples of household baptisms in the New Testament are really not decisive for one position or another. When we look at the actual examples more closely, we see that in a number of them there are indications of saving faith on the part of all of those baptized. For example, it is true that the family of the Philippian jailer was baptized (Acts 16:33), but it is also true that Paul and Silas “spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all that were in his house” (Acts 16:32). If the Word of the Lord was spoken to all in the house, there is an assumption that all were old enough to understand the word and believe it. Moreover, after the family had been baptized, we read that the Philippian jailer “rejoiced with all his household that he had believed in God” (Acts 16:34). So we have not only a household baptism but also a household reception of the Word of God and a household rejoicing in faith in God. These facts suggest quite strongly that the entire household had individually come to faith in Christ.

With regard to the fact that Paul baptized “the household of Stephanas” (1 Cor. 1:16), we must also note that Paul says at the end of 1 Corinthians that “the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints” (1 Cor. 16:15). So they were not only baptized; they were also converted and had worked at serving other believers. Once again the example of household baptism gives indication of household faith.

In fact, there are other instances where baptism is not mentioned but where we see explicit testimony to the fact that an entire household had come to faith. After Jesus healed the official’s son, we read that the father “himself believed, and all his household” (John 4:53). Similarly, when Paul preached at Corinth, “Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with all his household” (Acts 18:8).

This means that of all the examples of “household baptisms” in the New Testament, the only one that does not have some indication of household faith as well is Acts 16:14-15, speaking of Lydia: “The Lord opened her heart to give heed to what was said by Paul. And when she was baptized, with her household.” The text simply does not contain any information about whether there were infants in her household or not. It is ambiguous and certainly not weighty evidence for infant baptism. It must be considered inconclusive in itself.

With regard to Peter’s statement at Pentecost that “the promise is to you and to your children,” we should note that the sentence continues as follows: “For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him” (Acts 2:39). Moreover, the same paragraph specifies not that believers and unbelieving children were baptized, but that “those who received his ward were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls”(Acts 2:41).[4]

For an extended discussion on baptism, see chapter 49 of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (1994), which is available HERE. He concludes in favour of believer’s baptism:

We have argued above that baptism symbolizes regeneration or spiritual rebirth. But does it only symbolize? Or is there some way in which it is also a “means of grace,” that is, a means that the Holy Spirit uses to bring blessing to people? We have already discussed this question in the previous chapter,23 so here it only is necessary to say that when baptism is properly carried out then of course it brings some spiritual benefit to believers as well. There is the blessing of God’s favor that comes with all obedience, as well as the joy that comes through public profession of one’s faith, and the reassurance of having a clear physical picture of dying and rising with Christ and of washing away sins. Certainly the Lord gave us baptism to strengthen and encourage our faith—and it should do so for everyone who is baptized and for every believer who witnesses a baptism.[5]

But Grudem also urges Christians not to make baptism a divisive issue:

Do Churches Need to Be Divided Over Baptism? In spite of many years of

division over this question among Protestants, is there a way in which Christians who differ on baptism can demonstrate greater unity of fellowship? And is there a way that progress can be made in bringing the church closer to unity on this question?

One way forward could be for paedobaptists and advocates of believers’ baptism both to come to a common admission that baptism is not a major doctrine of the faith, and that they are willing to live with each other’s views on this matter and not allow differences over baptism to be a cause for division within the body of Christ.29 Specifically, this would mean allowing both views of baptism to be taught and practiced in denominations on both sides of the question.[6]

D.  Evidence from the early church fathers

What do the early church fathers have to say about infant baptism?

1. Justin Martyr (ca. 100-165):

“As many as are persuaded and believe that what we teach and say is true, … are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated [born-again] in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated. For, in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Savior Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water. For Christ also said, “Except ye be born again, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. . . And for this we have learned from the apostles this reason. Since at our birth we were born without our own knowledge or choice, by our parents coming together, and were brought up in bad habits and wicked training; in order that we may not remain the children of necessity and of ignorance, but may become the children of choice and knowledge, and may obtain in the water the remission of sins formerly committed, there is pronounced over him who chooses to be born again, and has repented of his sins, the name of God the Father, . . . the name of Jesus Christ, . . . and in the name of the Holy Ghost. . .”.[7]

2. Tertullian (ca. 130-230) speaks of baptism for children who believe:

“Consequently in view of the circumstances and will, even the age of each person, a postponement of Baptism is most advantageous, particularly, however, in the case of children. For what need is there, if it is not so urgent, that the sponsors also should be brought into danger, being as they are themselves also by reason of their mortality capable of falling short of their promises and being deceived by the development of an evil disposition? The Lord indeed says: ‘Forbid them not to come unto Me.’ Let them come, then, while they are growing up; let them come while they are learning, while they are being taught whither to come; let them become Christians, when they have been able to know Christ. Why hurries the age of innocence to the remission of sins? Shall we act more cautiously in worldly matters? Shall one to whom earthly substance is not entrusted, be entrusted with heavenly? Let them know how to seek salvation, that you may be seen ‘to give to him that asketh'”.[8]

3. The Didache (ca. 95-150)

We don’t learn much about baptism and salvation from this document:


7:1 But concerning baptism, thus baptize ye: having first recited all these precepts, baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in running water;

7:2 but if thou hast not running water, baptize in some other water, and if thou canst not baptize in cold, in warm water;

7:3 but if thou hast neither, pour water three times on the head, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

7:4 But before the baptism, let him who baptizeth and him who is baptized fast previously, and any others who may be able. And thou shalt command him who is baptized to fast one or two days before. . .

9:5 And let none eat or drink of your Eucharist but such as have been baptized into the name of the Lord, for of a truth the Lord hath said concerning this, Give not that which is holy unto dogs”.[9]

4. Hippolytus of Rome (died ca. 235)

In his writing, ‘The Apostolic Tradition’, he wrote:

At the hour in which the cock crows, they shall first pray over the water. 2When they come to the water, the water shall be pure and flowing, that is, the water of a spring or a flowing body of water. 3Then they shall take off all their clothes. 4The children shall be baptized first. All of the children who can answer for themselves, let them answer. If there are any children who cannot answer for themselves, let their parents answer for them, or someone else from their family. 5After this, the men will be baptized. Finally, the women, after they have unbound their hair, and removed their jewelry. No one shall take any foreign object with themselves down into the water.

” 6At the time determined for baptism, the bishop shall give thanks over some oil, which he puts in a vessel. It is called the Oil of Thanksgiving. 7He shall take some more oil and exorcise it. It is called the Oil of Exorcism. 8A deacon shall hold the Oil of Exorcism and stand on the left. Another deacon shall hold the Oil of Thanksgiving and stand on the right.

9When the elder takes hold of each of them who are to receive baptism, he shall tell each of them to renounce, saying, “I renounce you Satan, all your service, and all your works.” 10After he has said this, he shall anoint each with the Oil of Exorcism, saying, “Let every evil spirit depart from you.” 11Then, after these things, the bishop passes each of them on nude to the elder who stands at the water. They shall stand in the water naked. A deacon, likewise, will go down with them into the water. 12When each of them to be baptized has gone down into the water, the one baptizing shall lay hands on each of them, asking, “Do you believe in God the Father Almighty?” 13And the one being baptized shall answer, “I believe.” 14He shall then baptize each of them once, laying his hand upon each of their heads. 15Then he shall ask, “Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and died, and rose on the third day living from the dead, and ascended into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of the Father, the one coming to judge the living and the dead?”

16When each has answered, “I believe,” he shall baptize a second time. 17Then he shall ask, “Do you believe in the Holy Spirit and the Holy Church and the resurrection of the flesh?” 18Then each being baptized shall answer, “I believe.” And thus let him baptize the third time.

19Afterward, when they have come up out of the water, they shall be anointed by the elder with the Oil of Thanksgiving, saying, “I anoint you with holy oil in the name of Jesus Christ.” 20Then, drying themselves, they shall dress and afterwards gather in the church.

21The bishop will then lay his hand upon them, invoking, saying, “Lord God, you who have made these worthy of the removal of sins through the bath of regeneration, make them worthy to be filled with your Holy Spirit, grant to them your grace, that they might serve you according to your will, for to you is the glory, Father and Son with the Holy Spirit, in the Holy Church, now and throughout the ages of the ages. Amen”.[10]

Verse 4 notes: ‘The children shall be baptized first. All of the children who can answer for themselves, let them answer. If there are any children who cannot answer for themselves, let their parents answer for them, or someone else from their family‘. This statement alone does not indicate that children who were baptised were not believers. In fact, defacto people (parents or relatives) could speak for those children who could not speak for themselves. This verse does not state that these children were infants who could not believe.

If we want to emulate Hippolytus exactly, then one would need to do all baptisms in pure running water and not in some baptismal font in a church building. In addition, with all baptisms, adults and children shall take off all of their clothes. I could not imagine that being acceptable in twenty-first century Western society. A fellow on a Christian forum (in a private message) challenged me with using Hippolytus to support believers’ baptism when Hippolytus was alleged to have included infant baptism. I could imagine that that fellow would create quite a ruckus if he were to go onto this public forum and be a full advocate of what Hippolytus recommended. As you know from what I’ve written above, I’m committed to what the Scriptures state about the nature of baptism.

I take up the challenge of this fellow in my inclusion of Hippolytus in support of believers’ baptism. However, from this passage in Hippolytus, there is no guarantee that he is supporting paedobaptism as practised by the infant baptism promoters in contemporary society. If we accept what Hippolytus wrote in relation to baptism, we would need to conclude:

(a) He was confused in his understanding of baptism (thus making Hippolytus just another author, but with no scriptural authority).

(b) He recommended baptism in the nuddy, and

(c) There shall be no baptism of anyone using a baptismal font in a church; the water MUST be pure and flowing.

I am convinced from the biblical evidence that a strong case can be made for believer’s baptism, but there are many Christians who love the Lord who support infant baptism. I will not use the mode of baptism as a means to cause division in the body of Christ.


[1] Fellowship Forum, The Fellowship Hall, “David Wilkerson killed”, #170, available at: (Accessed 15 May 2011).

[2] Ibid., #172, available at: (Accessed 15 May 2011). On 7 August 2019 this link was not working. The website has been closed down.

[3] Unless otherwise stated, all Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version of the Bible, available from Biblegateway.

[4] Wayne Grudem 1994. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Bible Doctrine. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, p. 978.

[5] Ibid., pp. 980-981.

[6] Ibid., p. 982.

[7] First Apology, Chapter LXI, available from: (Accessed 15 May 2011).

[8] Concerning Baptism, para 18, available at: (Accessed 15 May 2011).

[9] Available at: (Accessed 15 May 2011).

[10] Available at:, emphasis added (Accessed 15 May 2011).

Copyright © 2011 Spencer D. Gear.  This document last updated at Date:  07 August 2019.