In Luke chapter 23, there is an interaction between Jesus and two thieves on the cross. One of the thieves mocks the Savior, telling him to save himself. The other thief rebukes the first, and confesses that he deserves to be on the cross, but Jesus doesn't:

“And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us.

“But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss.

“And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:39–43, KJV).

This passage is frequently referenced (sometimes along with others) as evidence that baptism isn't a prerequisite for salvation. However, it's not clear to me how this passage can be used to make that assertion.

What evidence is there that the penitent thief was not baptized? (He already knew who the Savior was, so it would make sense that he had followed him at some point during his ministry.)

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    Do you mean, baptized with Water? For example, Paul says when you are baptized you are crucified with Christ, wasn't the thief by virtue of repenting, recognizing Christ as Lord and King and proclaiming it while hanging on a Cross with Christ crucified with Christ, the Baptism for which Christ himself was Baptized? – Marc Jan 9 at 19:03
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    What evidence is there that the thief on the cross was baptized? – Ken Graham Jan 9 at 23:25
  • 'He already knew the Saviour'. 'He had followed him at some point.' There is no evidence for these two statements. 'This man hath done nothing amiss' (Luke 23:41) and 'remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom' could have been the result of the several hours the man spent in the company of Jesus as they were both being crucified. – Nigel J Jan 10 at 13:41
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    If the repentant criminal was Jewish he may have been familiar with ceremonial cleansing by water (Numbers 19:14-19), or he may have met John the Baptist. Significantly, Jesus used the word 'paradise' which, in Jewish literature can refer to heaven and the afterlife (Abraham's bosom). The criminal may have believed in the resurrection, but he could not have been baptised in the name of Jesus because that didn't happen till after Jesus' resurrection. There is zero "evidence" (only speculation) because the Bible simply doesn't say if the repentant thief was ever baptised - or not. – Lesley Jan 10 at 17:48
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    There is no evidence of anything here. Anything is POSSIBLE! Let us confine our discussion to what is known! – user43409 Jan 10 at 22:35

There is no biblical evidence to support any suggestion that the repentant criminal on the cross had ever been baptised, or not. The Bible doesn’t say. However, the fact that he knew about Jesus coming into his Kingdom may suggest he was thinking of the resurrection at the end of the time, when Jesus would be raised up and vindicated by God. The Pharisees believed in a future resurrection, although the Sadducees did not (Matthew 22:23).

It is significant that Jesus used the word translated “paradise” which was used in Jewish literature for the Garden of Eden and also as a reference to heaven, the place of eternal bliss for God’s people. The New International Version Study Bible says this by way of explanation:

In the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) the word designated a garden (Genesis 2:8-10) or forest (Nehemiah 2:8), but in the New Testament (used only here and in 2 Corinthians 12:4; Revelation 2:7) it refers to the place of bliss and rest between death and resurrection (cf. Luke 16:22; 2 Corinthians 12:2).

If the repentant criminal next to Jesus was a circumcised and practising Jew, then he may have practised Jewish ceremonial cleansing by water. As to whether he had ever been baptised by full water immersion by someone like John the Baptist, we shall never know. Neither does Scripture say if he had heard the gospel message. All we know is that this criminal acknowledged he was a sinner and deserved his punishment, but that Jesus did not. When he asked Jesus to remember him when he came into his Kingdom, it was a request for mercy and a declaration of faith in the Kingdom to come. Jesus, knowing the innermost thoughts and motivations of people, knew that this man was sincere and that is why he promised that he would enter into paradise.

Christian baptism (by full water immersion) in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit is first recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, after the death of Jesus. Jesus did not issue this instruction till after his resurrection (Matthew 28:19). It is therefore impossible that the repentant criminal experienced such a baptism. And the Holy Spirit did not come till after Jesus’ resurrection, at Pentecost (Acts 1:5). The New Living Translation Study Bible makes this comment on Jesus’ post-resurrection instruction to make disciples:

A disciple is one who repents of sin, trusts in Jesus for salvation and obeys his teachings.

There is no evidence that the repentant thief had heard the gospel message and obeyed Jesus’ teachings. But his words to Jesus indicate repentance and trust in Jesus for salvation. That was sufficient.

  • you say there is no evidence the thief had ever heard the gospel but scripture makes clear we must hear before we can believe. S – Little miss piper Jan 12 at 13:47
  • you say ther is no evidence the thief had ever heard the gospel but scripture makes clear one must hear before we can believe. God presented the 1st promise of redemption in the garden (Gen.:15) this promise was carried from generation to generation even up till the time of Jesus..He had heard and he did know otherwise we can no longer depend on scripture as truth because it clearly states one must hear before he can have faith. (Romans 10:14 ,10:17 – Little miss piper Jan 12 at 14:04
  • I see the great commission as the commandment to take the gospel to everyone, not necessarily the first time Jesus commanded baptism. Jesus teaches baptism during his mortal ministry in John 3:5 – but, that's the only example I could find, and the New Testament doesn't cover everything Jesus said or did, so either might be a valid interpretation given the sparse record. – Samuel Bradshaw Jan 12 at 16:38
  • I agree the great commission was to preach the gospel throughout the world, but prior to Jesus' death and resurrection, Jesus had come to save the lostsheep of Israel It is POSSIBLE the repentant thief heard Jesus preach, but zero EVIDENCE, which is what you ask for. The Bible is silent and so any conclusions people draw as to whether or not the thief had heard the gospel, repented and been baptised is only speculation. – Lesley Jan 14 at 11:42

The OP has not ask for a particular denomination to give answers to his question so I will bring in my reformed/calvinist belief. Although this will be just my thoughts from scripture, there are some things that God's word does not share with us perhaps leaving us with different meanings to encourage us at different points or growth with our walk with Him.

Scripture is clear that we must hear His word before we can believe.

"so then faith comes by hearing the word of God. ( Roman's 10:17)

"How shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? (Romans 10:14)

This indicates that the thief had indeed heard the word. Whether he had believed or not has not been answered for us but all indication is that he had not been born again when he was on his cross with our Lord Jesus. Perhaps the thief has heard John the Baptist or even Jesus in the past.

Now this is where it will get sticky for many of you but please bear with me.

(Romans 8:30) " Moreover those He predestined, them he called; and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified; them he also glorified".

This is a speculative question as with all answers should be considered. Of course my answer comes from a calvinist point of view.

This thief was predestined from the foundation of world. God knew him intimately before conception. Our Lord made and took this thief as His own on His death bed! The thief confessed Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour in his final hours. Our Lord heard his pleas as God had planned from the very beginning. Wow, what a Saviour!

This gives each and everyone of us a hope even for our loved ones that have not yet been called. We must "wait on the Lord."

There is no proof for if the thief was or was not baptized.we can only believe what Gods word tells us and what His Holy Spirit lays upon our hearts. Thank you for your time and giving me a box to stand on.

  • Romans 10:14 is an interesting connection I hadn't thought of before. – Samuel Bradshaw Jan 12 at 5:53

Since the OP mentions that the thief's baptismal state is used by some to draw conclusions about salvation, I will do more than answer the title question.

As others have said, we are not told one way or the other whether the thief had undergone baptism of any sort. We do know that he died prior to the commandment being given under the Christian dispensation; his legs were broken so that he would suffocate on the cross and thus he died long before Pentecost. Any baptism he had undergone would have been done under the Law, which was still in effect at the time this exchange took place. However, it is impossible to arrive at any reliable conclusion. We simply are not told.

Call me crazy, but I hold the position that if we need to know something in order to be saved, God will tell us.

From this I conclude that the thief's baptismal state has no bearing on our salvation.


Remember that the original Greek didn't use punctuation, and whatever you see in English versions has been added by the translators, often based on their previous understanding of tradition.

In this case, the appropriate place for a comma in that verse could have been inserted after, rather than before the word "today".

That would give it a completely different meaning. Compare:

  • Verily I say unto thee, today shalt thou be with me in paradise.
  • Verily I say unto thee today, shalt thou be with me in paradise.

How can we know which one is the correct interpretation?

One way is to observe the use of sentence structure in Greek. The thief's statement was "remember me when thou ...". A balanced response to that would match the "when" with the "today". That is, Jesus tells him that there is no need to wait until the Kingdom, that He can tell him right away.

An even stronger indication that this is what was actually meant is given by matching more explicit facts given elsewhere in the Bible. In John 20:17, Jesus says "I am not yet ascended to my Father" and this is after the Resurrection. He had just spent three days and three nights in the grave, so the thief couldn't possibly have been in paradise with Jesus on the "today" mentioned during the crucifixion.

The comma goes before "today", Jesus lied, or the Bible contradicts itself. Which do you think it is?

All we know for sure then is that Jesus assured the thief that he would be with Jesus in "Paradise" when Jesus has his Kingdom.

Some denominations teach that the Kingdom of God is here on Earth now, so I can't speak for them. But others believe that the Kingdom will be here on Earth for a thousand years following Christ's return. At the end of that Millennium, there will be a second resurrection of those that died without ever being offered salvation (Rev 20:5), the vast majority of mankind. It is then that they will live in God's Kingdom, as physically resurrected people, and then that the vast majority of them will be saved. Finally, those few that still reject God, along with those in the third resurrection (Rev 20:13), who had previously died after rejecting salvation, will all be destroyed in fire (Rev 20:15), turned to ashes under our feet (Mal 4:3).

That second general resurrection into the Kingdom is when the thief will be given his first chance at salvation. It is then that he will be baptized.

And, assuming the other thief hadn't previously accepted God's holy spirit and then later rejected it, he too will be there.

  • The question asks "What evidence is there that the penitent thief was not baptized?" It's not asking for personal opinions about whether Jesus said "Truly I tell you today," or whether Jesus said "Truly I tell you, today." How does your answer address the question asking for evidence that the penitent thief had, or had not, been baptised before he got nailed to the cross next to Jesus? Forgive me, but I just don't see how your answer deals with the specific question here. – Lesley Jan 11 at 15:55
  • @Lesley asks how this answers the question. The central part of the question is about "evidence that baptism isn't a prerequisite for salvation". I'm pointing out that this passage doesn't indicate that the thief has already received salvation, and therefore is useless as "evidence" against salvation requiring baptism. – Ray Butterworth Jan 11 at 16:02
  • Yes, I note the comment that "This passage is frequently referenced (sometimes along with others) as evidence that baptism isn't a prerequisite for salvation." However, I did not think that the question was actually about baptism being a prerequisite for salvation. Perhaps the O.P. needs to clarify that. – Lesley Jan 11 at 16:13
  • @lesley says "Perhaps the O.P. needs to clarify that". Agreed. The question I really answered was "What evidence is there that the thief on the cross was saved but not baptized?" – Ray Butterworth Jan 11 at 16:18
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    The thief requests 'Remember me, Lord, when thou comest in thy kingdom.' Jesus' reply promises an immediacy for which the thief did not ask. 'Today, with me, thou shalt be in paradise'. To remove 'today' from 'with me' is not a valid exegesis of the Greek text. – Nigel J Jan 11 at 21:50

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