Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water. It symbolizes his belief that Christ died for his sins, was buried, and rose again. It indicates that the believer has entered into a personal, vital relationship with Christ, and that he has appropriated to himself the benefits of Christ's sacrificial death. Baptism is that symbolic rite wherein the believer pictures the fact that his old nature has been put to death and buried, and that he has risen to newness of life in Christ.

1. Authority for Baptism

Baptism is one of the three elements of conversion. Repentance from sin and faith in Christ must be accompanied by baptism into Christ. Apart from baptism, the process of conversion is incomplete. Christian baptism is not an optional provision; it is a divine requirement.

1. An ordinance of Christ. Baptism is an ordinance of Christ. The command to baptize is included in the Great Commission. Christ instructed His disciples to teach and to baptize all nations. Our Lord's command that sinners should be baptized is as binding as is His command that they should be taught. "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" (Mark 16:15, 16). " 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 1 have commanded you" (Matt. 28: 18-20).

Having received all authority, our Lord authorized His disciples to carry His message of salvation to all nations. In fulfilling His instructions, the missionary disciples served as His representatives. They received their authority to teach and baptize from Him. The phrase "in the name of" means "in the authority of" or "as an agent of." The disciples, therefore, baptized "in the name of Jesus Christ" (Acts 2:38) and "in the name of the Lord" (Acts 10:48). They taught and baptized with authority received from Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit. The phrase "in the name of Jesus Christ" conveys the same declaration of authority as do the words of Matthew 28:19. This verse does not teach that believers should be immersed three times during the act of baptism. Jesus died, was buried, and was resurrected only once.

2. Example of New Testament Church. The example of the New Testament Church indicates that baptism is an ordinance which must be observed by believers today. Apostles and early disciples taught and practiced baptism. Members of New Testament churches were baptized believers.

Acts 2:38, 41


Three thousand on Pentecost

Acts 8:12


People of Samaria

Acts 8:13


Simon the sorcerer

Acts 8:38, 39


Ethiopian eunuch

Acts 9:18; 22:16


Saul of Tarsus

Acts 10:47, 48



Acts 16:14, 15



Acts 16:30-34


Jailer at Philippi

Acts 18:8


Crispus at Corinth

Acts 19:5


Believers at Ephesus

Romans 6:3-5


Christians at Rome

Galatians 3:27


Christians of Galatia

Colossians 2:12


Christians at Colosse

1 Peter 3:21


Christians scattered in Asia

The Acts of the Apostles tells about sinners becoming Christians. The epistles were written to men who had already been baptized and had become Christians. It is not surprising, therefore, to find that baptism is mentioned more frequently in the Acts than in the epistles.


3. Example of Jesus. The importance of baptism is revealed by the fact that Jesus requested baptism. (Matt. 3:13-17.) Our Lord's baptism by John marked the beginning of His earthly ministry. His immersion in the Jordan River pointed forward to His immersion in suffering and death. (Matt. 20:22, 23; Luke 12:50.) Jesus rose from the waters of baptism and walked in the shadow of the cross. The baptism of believers points backward to Christ's death, burial, and resurrection.



II. Manner of Baptism

1. Baptism Means Immersion. Sprinkling or pouring water upon a person is not Bible baptism. The word "baptism" means immersion. It is translated from the Greek word baptizo, to dip, to immerse, to sink. It is never translated "to sprinkle" or "to pour." The Greek word for sprinkle is rhantizo, and for pour is ekcheo. It is significant that the Greek Orthodox Church has never used anything but immersion. In the Greek language, the language of the New Testament, baptism means immersion.

2. Revealed by Bible Baptisms. Bible baptisms were immersions in water. This fact is indicated by the truth that John performed this sacred service where there was much water. "And John also was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there" (John 3:23). If John the Baptist had been sprinkling water upon the people who came to him, there would have been no need for him to seek a place where there was much water. Jesus was immersed in the Jordan River. "And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water" (Matt. 3:16). The Ethiopian was immersed by Philip. They both went down into the water, and they came up out of the water. "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" (Acts 8:38, 39).

3. Proved by What Baptism Symbolizes. Baptism is an external rite which symbolizes burial and resurrection. Immersion alone pictures that which baptism symbolizes. Sprinkling or pouring does not picture burial and resurrection in any way. " 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 be also in the likeness of his resurrection" (Rom. 6:4, 5). "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" (Col. 2:12).

Baptism and immersion are interchangeable words. Wherever "baptism" occurs in the Bible, the word "immersion" can be substituted. This fact is not true of the words " sprinkling " and " pouring. " The meaning of the text is retained if one read, "We are buried with him by immersion. " The verse would be without meaning if one read, "We are buried with him by sprinkling." Sprinkling and pouring do not picture burial. Immersion alone presents a picture of burial and resurrection.

4. Authorities Admit Baptism Is Immersion. Lexicographers, authors of Bible dictionaries and encyclopedias, reformers, church historians, Bible commentators, and other scholars admit that Bible baptism is immersion. They acknowledge that New Testament baptisms were immersions in water.

Lexicographers, including H. G. Liddell and Robert Scott, Greek-English Lexicon (Oxford, 1843), Joseph Henry Thayer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (New York, 1886), Samuel Bagster's The Analytical Greek Lexicon (New York: Harpers), Sophocles, Lexicon of Greek Usage in the Roman and Byzantine Periods, and many others, unite in stating that the Greek word baptizo means "to dip, to immerse, to submerge, or to put under water." Prof. Goodwin of Harvard said:

The classical meaning of baptizo, which seldom occurs, and of the more common bapto, is dip (literally and metaphorically), and I never heard of its having any other meaning anywhere. Certainly I never saw a lexicon which gives either sprinkle or pour, as meanings of either. I must be allowed to ask why I am so often asked this question, which seems to me to have but one perfectly plain answer. (Strong, Op. Cit., p. 933.)

A. H. Strong refers to the Appendix of the American Bible Union's Version of Matthew, which was edited by Thomas J. Conant (1802-1891). In this work, Conant lists examples of the usage of words for baptism

drawn from writers in almost every department of literature and science; from poets, rhetoricians, philosophers, critics, historians, geographers; from writers on husbandry, on medicine, on natural history, on grammar, on theology; from almost every form and style of composition, romances, epistles, orations, fables, odes, epigrams, sermons, narratives; from writers of various nations and religions, Pagan, Jew, and Christian, belonging to many countries and through a long succession of ages.

In all, the word has retained its ground-meaning without change. From the earliest age of Greek literature down to its close, a period of nearly two thousand years, not an example has been found in which the word has any other meaning. There is no instance in which it signifies to make a partial application of water by affusion or sprinkling, or to cleanse, to purify, apart from the literal act of immersion as the means of cleansing or purifying. (lbid, p. 933.)

The truths that baptism means immersion and that immersion was the New Testament mode of baptism are stated in many Bible dictionaries, e.g., William Smith, A Dictionary of the Bible; and James Hastings, A Dictionary of the Bible(New York: Scribners, 1903), and A Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels (New York: Scribners, 1906). These facts are presented also in Hastings, Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics (New York: Scribners, 1910, Vol. II, pp. 375, 378); Encyclopaedia Britannica (Chicago, 1958, Vol. 3, p. 83); Encyclopedia Americana (New York, 1958, Vol. 3, p. 218); Edinburgh Encyclopedia; Catholic Encyclopedia; The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge; Brande's Encyclopedia; John Kitto's Cyclopaedia of Biblical Literature; et. al. The Catholic Encyclopedia (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907), for example, states:

The most ancient form usually employed was unquestionably immersion. This is not only evident from the writings of the Fathers and the early rituals of both the Latin and Oriental churches, but it can also be gathered from the Epistles of St. Paul, who speaks of baptism as a bath (Eph. 5:26; Rom. 6:4; Titus 3:5). In the Latin Church, immersion seems to have prevailed until the twelfth centurv. After that time it is found in some places even as late as the sixteenth century. Infusion and aspersion, however, were growing common in the thirteenth century and gradually prevailed in the Western Church. (Vol. II, pp. 261, 262.)

Martin Luther recognized immersion as the true mode of baptism. Philip Schaff, the church historian, observed, "Luther sought to restore immersion, but without effect" (History of the Christian Church. Vol. II, p. 251). Martin Luther wrote: "Baptism is a sign both of death and resurrection. Being moved by this reason, I would have those that are baptized to be altogether dipped into the water, as the word means and the mystery signifies" (Babylonian Captivity of the Church, Section 103). Although John Calvin, another leader of the Reformation, believed that other forms of baptism were as valid as immersion, he admitted that immersion was the Bible mode. He wrote: "The very word baptize, however, signifies to immerse; and it is certain that immersion was the practice of the ancient Church" (Institutes of the Christian Religion. Book IV, Chapter XV). John Wesley, founder of Methodism, practiced baptism by immersion. Commenting on Romans 6:4, in his Explanatory Notes on the New Testament (1755), he wrote: "We are buried with him--alluding to the ancient manner of baptizing by immersion."

Church historians record the fact that immersion was the New Testament manner of baptism. Philip Schaff wrote: "The usual form of the act was immersion, as is plain from the original meaning of the Greek baptizein andbaptisma" (Op. cit., Vol. I, p. 122). Johann Neander (1789-1850) wrote: "In respect to the form of baptism, it was, in conformity with the original institution and the original import of the symbol, performed by immersion, as a sign of entire baptism into the Holy Spirit, of being entirely penetrated by the same" (Church History). George P. Fisher, in his The Beginnings of Christianity (1877), observed: "Baptism, it is now generally agreed among scholars, was commonly administered by immersion." Mosheim, the German Lutheran church historian (1694-1755), wrote: "Baptism was performed in the first century by immersing the whole body" (Ecclesiastical History. London, 1765). W. J. Conybeare and J. S. Howson, in their standard work, The Life and Epistles of St. Paul, made the following comment on Romans 6:4, "This passage cannot be understood unless it be borne in mind that the primitive baptism was by immersion."

The Greek Orthodox Church has always practiced immersion. In the Greek language, of course, that word for baptism means immersion. For many centuries, the Roman Catholic Church practiced immersion also. Some of the earliest church buildings erected by the Roman Church included large baptistries. Sprinkling and pouring began to be substituted for immersion as the church gradually drifted away from teachings of the Bible. Sprinkling, at first, was used only in exceptional cases. Centuries later, sprinkling became a common practice. At first, sprinkling was employed only in such cases as in the baptism of infirm or sick persons. These cases were called "clinical" or sickbed baptisms. Philip Schaff wrote:

The validity of this baptism was even doubted by many in the third century. According to ecclesiastical law clinical baptism at least incapacitated for the clerical office. Pouring and sprinkling were still exceptional in the ninth century according to Walafrid Strabo (De Rel. Eccl., c. 26), but they made gradual progress with the spread of infant baptism, as the most convenient mode, especially in northern climates, and came into common use in the west at the end of the thirteenth century. (Op. cit., Vol. II, pp. 249, 250.)

5. Manner of Baptism Is Important. When advocates of sprinkling or pouring are confronted with the overwhelming proof that Bible baptism is immersion, they retreat to the theory that the manner of baptism is without importance. They assert that any form may be used provided the believer's heart is right. This theory is without merit; it seeks to evade the issue.

The fallacy of this theory is easily recognized when its reasoning is applied to other symbols. A nation's flag is also a symbol, being of importance because of the country it represents. One might remark that the identity of the cloth waving from the flagpole is without importance, just so the citizen's heart is filled with patriotism. This is not true. The structure of the flag is of major importance because of the things for which it stands. One cannot alter a flag without changing its meaning. What if the reasoning of the advocates of sprinkling were applied to the Communion service? If one can change the manner of baptism, why cannot one change the manner of the Communion service? Instead of having bread, why cannot some other food be used? Instead of having the fruit of the vine, why cannot some other beverage be used? The two great symbolic ordinances of the Church, baptism and Communion, cannot be changed. The outward forms of these ordinances cannot be changed because they are pictures of spiritual realities. It is important that baptism by immersion be unchanged. The immersion of a believer in water pictures his burial and resurrection with Christ into newness of life.

III. Essential Conditions for Baptism

Baptism must be preceded by repentance and faith. He who is to be baptized must first turn his back to sin through repentance and turn his face toward Christ through faith. When Peter said, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you" (Acts 2:38), he taught that repentance must precede baptism. When Jesus said, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16:16), He showed that man must believe before he is baptized. Baptism is the sinner's outward testimony that he is a repentant believer. As the burial of the old life, baptism reveals that the believer has died to his old nature. As entrance into Christ, baptism reveals that the repentant sinner has exercised faith in Christ.

Some men seem to have the idea that baptism is magical. They indicate that there is supernatural virtue in the water itself, apart from any meaning it might have for one being baptized. According to this thought, if a person were baptized and did not realize its meaning, he would still receive all the spiritual benefits of the rite. The Bible clearly teaches that immersion in water has spiritual significance only if the symbolic rite has proper meaning for the person being baptized.

IV. Subjects for Baptism

The proper subjects for baptism are individuals who have been converted to Christ and who have indicated their desire to repent from sins and to enter into a vital relationship with Christ.

No precise minimum age can be established for baptism because individuals differ in personal development, religious training, and ability to understand the gospel message. It is certain, however, that subjects for baptism should be sufficiently mature to understand the meaning of baptism.

Infants cannot be scripturally baptized. Infant baptism is not valid. Infants cannot possess the essential conditions for baptism, namely, repentance and faith. Conversion is a personal matter; conversion by proxy does not exist. Parents cannot exercise faith as a substitute for a child's faith. Baptism of infants and baptism for the dead are useless and without value. Infant baptism is harmful. It gives false assurance to the individual in later years. It indicates that a change of heart is unnecessary. Infant baptism is not taught in the Bible. There is no example of such practice in the New Testament Church.

V. Results of Baptism

Baptism is that outward act whereby the believer reveals his obedience to Christ and his desire to enter into the benefits of salvation made possible by Christ's sacrifice. Like repentance and faith, baptism saves us (1 Pet. 3:21) because it brings us into the required position so that Jesus can save us.

1. Remission of Sins. One of the results of baptism is remission of sins. Forgiveness of sins was made possible by Christ's sacrifice. (Rom. 3:25; 1 John 1:7; Rev. 1:5.) Remission of sins becomes effective in the sinner's life through repentance, faith, and baptism. "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins" (Acts 2:38). "And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord" (Acts 22:16). As the Egyptians were drowned in the Red Sea (Ex. 14:13-31), so the sins of believers were drowned in the waters of baptism (1 Cor. 10:1, 2, 11).

2. Entrance Into Christ. Believers are baptized into Christ. "For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ" (Gal. 3:27). They acquire a new standing before God in Christ. Through conversion, man establishes a personal, vital relationship with Christ. The sinner enters into Christ through conversion; Christ enters into the believer through His power. The sinner becomes a believer, a branch, a body, a building, and a bride. The believer casts himself upon Christ, his Sacrifice. The branch is grafted into Christ, the Vine (John 15:1-5). The body is united to Christ, the Head (Eph. 1:22, 23; 1 Cor. 11:3). The building is placed upon Christ, the Foundation (Eph. 2:20-22; 1 Pet. 2:5). The bride is linked with Christ, the Bridegroom (Eph. 5:23-32).


(Adapted from Systematic Theology, by Alva Huffer, published by Church of God General Conference, Oregon, Illinois 61061, U.S.A.)

© Church of God General Conference. This lesson may be reproduced without change for non-commercial purposes without prior permission.