Some people believe that if you have not been baptized, you cannot be saved.

Others (including myself) believe that it is merely the outward declaration of what has already happened in the heart.

Given that Jesus baptized no one, and that one of the most famous conversions involved no baptism (the thief on the cross), what Biblical basis does the argument for baptism giving or being a prerequisite to salvation have?


8 Answers 8


I second the answer of @mason-wheeler that Acts 2:37-38 represents the basic Christian assumption that repentance and baptism, and indeed the entire Christian life that is "the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and breaking of bread, and prayers," is critical to salvation, and pursuit of salvation outside this life is perilous. Furthermore, resisting a known means of salvation is foolishness and approaching the mindset of the damned. If you are asking whether baptism is required of you, then the answer is almost certainly an emphatic yes, unless you are severely ill or have some other similarly extenuating circumstance such that no one will consent to baptize you.

If, however, we ask whether baptism is required of our neighbors for their salvation, then we must examine our hearts, for then we are prying into their business.

If, instead, this is a more abstract question, then the answer is that God saves Whom He will save, and we know that He is just. This categorically does not mean that if you die outside of this life, specifically outside of traditional baptism, then you are not favored by God, or that then you are eternally consigned to hell. For Abraham was surely among those raised by Christ in His resurrection, and he was not baptized. Noah was not even circumcised. And surely Christ would not leave his "very good" creations Adam and Eve to languish in the grave!

It is instructive to consider the case of the thief on Christ's right hand. For even if this thief were not baptized by water and the Spirit, he certainly was baptized with the baptism with which Christ was baptized (Mark 10:38). Many seemingly unbaptized and uncircumcised-of-heart will certainly enter the kingdom of heaven ahead of many of us who are baptized and sell this birthright for bodily pleasure or, worse, spiritual delusion. There are last which shall be first, and there are first which shall be last. (Luke 13:30). (By the way, the thief too is considered a saint of the Orthodox Church, and is celebrated in hymnody as the first man to come back to paradise. The last thing he stole was salvation!)

It is not baptism that saves, but God Who saves. In His wisdom, God has appointed baptism, and anointing with oil, and communion, and marriage, and countless other wonderful mysteries to be effective tools in His inscrutable working-out of our salvation.


On the contrary. Salvation is a prerequisite for baptism. Have a look at Acts 10:44-48 NASB (emphasis added):

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God. Then Peter answered, “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?” And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay on for a few days.

Notice from the passage that

(1) The listeners had not been baptized.

(2) The Holy Spirit fell upon the listeners as Peter was still speaking. Not during baptism.

(3) The circumsized believers were amazed that the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. Some proponents of baptism-for-salvation claim that the Holy Spirit came upon the Gentiles in a special manner, not indicative of true salvation. This seems unlikely, considering the presence of spiritual gifts (speaking in tongues), and the use of the word "also".

(4) The circumcised believers were amazed that the Gentiles were able to be saved, because they were Gentiles (it is more clear, if you read the context around this passage, that this is the source of their amazement). However, if baptism was the means of salvation, wouldn't the circumcised believers have been equally amazed that the Gentiles were saved without baptism? Yet there is no mention of this incident being an anomaly with respect to baptism (it is an anomaly only because they were Gentiles).

(5) Peter seems to consider receiving the Holy Spirit a prerequisite for baptism. If Peter had believed that water baptism was the means of salvation, why would he see a need for their baptism? This indicates that Peter saw baptism as a command for believers, and not as a means of salvation.

Baptism is not a part of our salvation, but it is an important command that, as believers, we should follow. It symbolizes the inward change that has already taken place in our lives: our death to ourselves, and resurrection in Christ. (Romans 6:3-4 NASB)


There are two key passages which are used in support of this position: Acts 2:38 and John 3:5-6. Let's take them one at a time:

Acts 2:38

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" And Peter said to them, "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. Acts 2:37-38 ESV

Reading this in English, it seems to indicate that Peter was instructing the people to both repent and be baptized for salvation, so they would need to do both. A Greek-speaking person who read this at that time would not likely draw the same conclusion, though, because the verb tenses of "Repent" and "be baptized" are different.

"Repent" is 2nd Person Plural (all of you) Active Imperative, while "be baptized" is 3rd Person Singular Passive Imperative. So, it doesn't appear to really say "All of you must repent and all of you must be baptized", but rather "All of you must repent and then let him (who has done so) be baptized." So, it seems that the translation into English has led to the uncertainty and misunderstanding. More Info

John 3

Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. John 3:5-6 ESV

For this passage, the assumption is made that being "born of water" must necessarily be equivalent to being baptized in water. This is definitely one interpretation, but certainly not the only one. That assumption cannot just be "assumed" without a good reason to do so.

We must note that there are two times in which two things are joined by the "and"--one is water and spirit, and the other is the flesh and the Spirit: "born of flesh" and "born of the Spirit". Consequently, a valid interpretation is that water is referring to the flesh, as when someone is born the mother's water breaks. We also must recall that Nicodemus was tripped up thinking that he had to be born physically again and enter his mother's womb a second time. Jesus clarifies by indicating there are two distinct types of birth--a physical one and a spiritual one. Nicodemus had no need to be born physically a second time, but he did have need of being born spiritually.

The Scarcity of the Mention of Baptism

There are dozens of places where the word "believe" is used with regard to salvation where baptism is not mentioned at all. To hold to the position of baptism being required for salvation, one needs to give an explanation for this. If faith were insufficient for salvation apart from baptism in water, it is curious as to why it is so infrequently mentioned in these passages where faith is given as the means of salvation.

Why the Baptism of John rather than the Baptism of Jesus

John the Baptist stated very clearly that he was nothing compared to the Messiah who was coming. John baptized with water, but he spoke of One who would not baptize with water, but with the Holy Spirit.

I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit. Mark 1:8 ESV

It is curious, then, that so often when the word baptism is seen in Scriptures that it is assumed to refer to John's baptism rather than that of Jesus.


So, the doctrine of baptismal regeneration comes mostly from interpretations of Acts 2:37-38 and John 3:5-6 that are a bit problematic.

  • 1
    Scarcity? Baptism is mentioned more than 80 times in the new testament. Commented Nov 11, 2011 at 4:01
  • 1
    @JoelCoehoorn Yes, but it is peculiarly absent in the vast majority of times that "belief" appears in regard to salvation.
    – Narnian
    Commented Nov 11, 2011 at 12:33

Acts makes it quite clear that baptism is a requirement. On the day of Pentecost, when the gathered people heard the apostles' words and were persuaded, they asked what they should do. The answer was not "simply profess belief and you'll be fine," but "repent and be baptized every one of you."

Also, not only is a baptism necessary, it has to be done right, and the people being baptized have to have a correct understanding of what they're participating in, or it doesn't count and has to be done again. (See Acts 19.)

The thief on the cross is a red herring. Jesus tells him that he will be with him that day in paradise, but clearly this is not the same thing as going to his final reward in heaven. (See 2 Corinthians 12, where paradise is spoken of separately from heaven, also John 20:17, where Jesus, after his resurrection, reveals that he has not yet been to heaven to present himself to his Father.)

  • 6
    I believe the wording is key: "repent and be baptized" - it does not say "be baptized and repent" :)
    – warren
    Commented Aug 24, 2011 at 17:24
  • 3
    @warren: You say that as if the order of the words somehow makes one of them necessary and the other unnecessary. Seems to me that if it says to do both things, they're both necessary.
    – Mason Wheeler
    Commented Aug 24, 2011 at 17:28
  • 1
    +1 For Acts reference, -1 for saying that the thief isn't saved. Commented Aug 27, 2011 at 18:48
  • 3
    @mason-wheeler My apologies. I just really love the thief on the cross story. Just when all of humanity has abandoned God on the cross, a miserable criminal right next to him professes faith in Christ! I must have had a chip on my shoulder; thank you for flicking it off. Commented Aug 28, 2011 at 0:45
  • 3
    Masons points are biblically supported, are people are down-voting simply because they do not like the conclusion? Commented Nov 4, 2011 at 21:36

Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. (John 3:5, KJV)


The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ: (1 Peter 3:21, KJV)


He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. (Mark 16:16, KJV)

I like to think of the path to salvation as a marathon: you can have full confidence in yourself, and even run the race, but if you haven't signed up, you can't win.

  • 6
    you assume (but do not provide support for it) that "birth of water" is equivalent to baptism. Can you back that up?
    – Ray
    Commented Aug 24, 2011 at 15:34
  • @Ray: See chapters 2 and 19 of Acts for two separate descriptions of baptism by water and then receiving the Holy Ghost afterwards being necessary. While these rites are not explicitly connected to Jesus's doctrine of being born again of water and the Spirit, they fit the symbolism better than anything else described in the NT.
    – Mason Wheeler
    Commented Aug 24, 2011 at 16:04
  • 4
    I've always taken "Born of water" to refer to the water breaking at childbirth, not baptism. Baptism is a ritual that symbolizes the "answer of a good concience...", not the salvation itself (Check out other translations--the KJV is quite awkward in this verse). Thirdly, Mark 16 does NOT say anything about damnation due to non-baptism. It does talk about baptism in the positive sense, but not in the negative. Again we're stuck with awkward translations, and the meaning is not clear. Commented Nov 10, 2011 at 17:51
  • 2
    I second @ChrisCudmore's points. As he pointed out John 3:5 is used very deceptively here, taken out of context. Read in context, it is a huge stretch to read baptism into this passage. 1 Peter 3:21 seems to hurt your case rather than help it - Peter says "not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God". This indicates that Peter is talking about spiritual baptism, and not water baptism.
    – user971
    Commented Nov 28, 2011 at 16:01

You need to look at this article. Look at 1 Corinthians 1 (ESV):

17For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

Paul also writes in the same chapter (ESV):

14I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name.

Though vs. 14-15 don't say that baptism is a requirement, they do imply that baptism is a secondary symbol. Baptism is an outer symbol and testament of your faith. Also look at this article.

  • 4
    Paul said that he didn't baptize people, for a specific reason. He didn't want those he did baptize to go around bragging about having been baptized by a celebrity, as it were, and thereby creating dissensions and disunity in the Church. (Going out of his way to avoid creating disunity was sort of a theme of his.) He didn't say that the people he taught weren't baptized by someone else, such as local members of the church in the areas he taught in. Paul not doing it himself doesn't diminish the essential nature of baptism.
    – Mason Wheeler
    Commented Aug 24, 2011 at 17:17
  • The title of verse 10-17 is called A Church Divided Over Leaders. Paul is not addressing baptism itself, but rather the reason why he didn't baptize: to avoid division. "Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?"
    – styfle
    Commented Aug 29, 2011 at 0:02
  • He also never said anything about baptism as a requirement. Notice he didn't say "I thank God that I didn't baptize, you, but I'm glad that you were baptized because it is a requirement" (paraphrased). Don't you think Paul would have written about it? He wrote much of the NT, many of the letters full of doctrine. And yet, not once does he mention baptism as a requirement to be saved.
    – daviesgeek
    Commented Aug 29, 2011 at 0:58
  • @Daviesgeek: First, we don't necessarily have all writings of Paul. Second, Paul didn't need to lay down this doctrine, as Peter had already done so on the day of Pentecost.
    – Mason Wheeler
    Commented Aug 29, 2011 at 23:06

One passage I look to here is I Peter 3:21:

And baptism, which now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body, but an appeal to God for a clean conscience

The idea here is that baptism does nothing to "wash away sins". However, baptism is the method by which God proscribes that we ask Him to wash away the sins. If you choose another route to ask for salvation, God may still choose to save you; that is his sovereign right. But if you want to be sure your request is heard, baptism is the way to do it. That baptism is really the more appropriate choice in place of what is often referred to as "The sinner's prayer".


Mark 16:15-16 KJV
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.

Just try to spread the gospel omitting that part in that verses! :) I imagine the arguments: "Just ignore that part, Jesus was not serious about it, just check the thief in the cross, he was salved..."

Now speaking serious, just understand that some rules has exceptions, and of course, God is fair to save someone that cannot be baptized by some "major force".

Personally I feel myself odd if I say "I will not follow that Jesus's commandment, it isn't needed to salvation...", looks realy contradictory to me!

Most person will happily go to pool in the weekend to play with your childs, but the near effort to be baptized is avoided as a cancer...


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .