Reading "Why Baptism As Symbol And Not A Saving Ordinance" by J. B. Moody, D. D. (First Baptist Church), he made the following statement:

If we are saved now as men were saved in the olden times, then salvation does not depend on baptism, and baptism like other outward ordinances becomes symbolic.1

I may be misunderstanding this, but the statement seems to presume there was no baptism in olden times, but John the Baptist was baptizing before Jesus and the New Covenant. Indeed, even Paul asks the Corinthians:

Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead? (1 Cor 15:29)

And Judiasm believes in baptism all the way back to Adam and Eve:

Baptism was practised in ancient (Ḥasidic or Essene) Judaism, first as a means of penitence, as is learned from the story of Adam and Eve, who, in order to atone for their sin, stood up to the neck in the water, fasting and doing penance... (Source)

Baptism appears to have pre-dated Jesus, but baptists appear to be using the belief that it did not to justify the idea that baptism is not a saving ordinance (e.g, Mark 16:16).

Question: Do baptists believe baptism did not pre-date Jesus Christ?

1The beginning of the article leading to this sentence is lengthy and, frankly, doesn't clearly say one way or the other that baptism was or was not used by the ancients. It's, at best, assumed, which is part of my confusion. But, for reference and completeness, here's everything before the quote I used:

THE question as stated indicates the Baptist view, and the ”why” calls for the reasons. It will be my aim to clearly express some of the reasons, and to compress them in the fewest words possible for me.

Baptists believe that baptism is symbolical, because it is an outward ordinance, ”to be seen of men.” There are spiritual qualifications for those seeking the ordinance, but these are preparations for the ordinance, and not the ordinance itself. The visible features of the ordinance are to declare the spiritual features, not to procure them. It expresses a saving faith, not procures it. It expresses repentance not procures it. And so of all other related doctrines. If baptism is for the saved, it is not for the unsaved; if for the believer, it is not for the unbeliever; if for the justified, it is not for ”the already condemned.” Baptists believe that forgiveness, justification, and salvation are of Christ, through faith, and that this saving and justifying faith must precede baptism and hence the relation these sustain to baptism makes baptism symbolical. Baptists are confirmed in this view from several considerations. I will mention a few.

There is but one plan of salvation for all ages. When the writers of the New Testament argue the plan of salvation by grace, and justification by faith, and other vital doctrines, they prove these doctrines by quotations and references to the Old Scriptures. Take the Epistle to the Romans as sufficient proof of this position. There, Paul goes over the whole ground covered by the gospel, beginning with the fall and ruin of man and proceeding step by step through all the - doctrines of the gospel, and he supports every argument by: ”Thus is it written” or ”Thus saith the Scriptures;” showing that he was preaching the same gospel that the Old Scriptures contained. So Peter in the house of the Gentile said: ”To him give all the prophets witness that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.” Acts 10:43. So Paul in Rom. 3:21-22. Christ and the Apostles preached salvation according to the Scriptures and that meant always the Old Scriptures. When the writer of the Hebrews said, ”we are not of them that draw back unto perdition, but of them that believe to the saving of the soul;” he proceeded to define faith-the faith that is ”unto the saving of the soul,” and then to illustrate it in the persons of the Ancients, beginning as far back as Abel, and Enoch, and when he was through with the exemplars of the olden times, he closed by joining ”us” to the list. ”Wherefore seeing we (of this time) are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses (referred to in the previous chapter) let us (as they did) lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race set before us (as they did), looking (as they did) unto the author and finisher of faith.” (Not our faith, but the faith defined and exemplified by them, and us, and which was ”unto the saving of the soul.”)

  • I don't see anything in your first quote to suggest that baptism didn't exist before Christianity. Maybe you could extend the quote if you're sure that's what Moody is meaning?
    – curiousdannii
    Jul 31, 2018 at 0:16
  • @curiousdannii, OK, I added everything else before my quote. It's part of the confusion and should have been added, but it's bulky. Sorry for the inconvenience.
    – JBH
    Jul 31, 2018 at 0:21
  • No problem at all, it helps a lot to better see how you're understanding Moody.
    – curiousdannii
    Jul 31, 2018 at 0:36

1 Answer 1


The short answer is, "they know that baptism pre-dates Christ."

Baptists are aware of the fact that baptism was practiced before Christ's incarnation, ministry, death, and resurrection. Baptists tend to a very literal interpretation of Scripture, and are well aware of the history behind baptism, and the fact that it's been practiced since well before Christ.

The difference, to Baptists is not "Baptism", it's "The Believer's Baptism". The Baptist doctrine of a Believer's Baptism doesn't teach that there is no other teaching on Baptism, it holds that the Believer's Baptism is the Baptism taught specifically in the New Testament for Christians.

From Baptist Disctintives

Baptists: Believer’s Baptism

“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.” Romans 6:4

Ask most non-Baptists (and even some Baptists!) what is the Baptist distinctive and they likely will say, “Baptism of adults by immersion.” Of course, there is no one Baptist distinctive. Why then do many people regard baptism as practiced by Baptists to be our distinctive? A possible reason is that Baptists are one of the very few denominations which practice believer’s baptism by immersion and do so as a symbol of having been saved, not as a requirement for salvation.

In previous centuries, rulers of both state and church launched persecutions against Baptists for this practice. In the face of such harsh resistance, as well as the inconvenience of immersion, why have Baptists stubbornly held to the belief in and practice of believer’s immersion? The answer is found in basic Baptist convictions.

The Baptist belief is that pre-Christ, Baptism had different meanings. In some cases, it was a ritual purification, in others, a cleansing to prevent the spread of disease, etc.

From another source: Bible Believer's Baptist Church:

In Eph 4:5, the “one baptism” is the baptism by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ.

In the Bible there are actually seven (7) different baptisms. And the only one that can save you is the spiritual baptism that you undergo when you receive the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior. Not surprisingly, most religions teach some form of water baptism for salvation, thinking that all references to baptism have something to do with water and salvation.

Probably a better, more succinct version from Olivet Baptist Church:

The purpose of baptism has always been for identification. Long before John the Baptist, religious sects and secret societies required baptism as an official part of initiation or acceptance thus proclaiming ones identification as part of that group or sect. So long before Christian baptism, Satan had a counterfit baptism as explained so well by Rev. Hislop in his work called Two Babylons. Because the method was by immersion, and the purpose was for identification, this prevented what is currently practiced around the globe regarding infant baptism which is by sprinkling or pouring. This is why it is called, believers Baptism.

When you think about it, it's not that odd. Baptism has a different meaning to modern day Catholic teaching, vs. the LDS teaching vs. the Baptist teaching.

The article you're referencing is specifically speaking about the Baptist view on Baptism. (A Baptist will tell you it's the "Biblical" or "Christian" view on Baptism).

Thus is would be wrong to say that "Baptists don't believe Baptism existed before Christ", it would be accurate to say that "Baptists believe hat there are all sorts of teachings and beliefs around Baptism, and there were before Christ, but the Believer's baptism is the one described in Scripture".

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