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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 '19 at 19:03
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    What evidence is there that the thief on the cross was baptized? – Ken Graham Jan 9 '19 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 '19 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 '19 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 '19 at 22:35
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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.

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  • 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 '19 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 '19 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 '19 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 '19 at 11:42
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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.

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  • Romans 10:14 is an interesting connection I hadn't thought of before. – Samuel Bradshaw Jan 12 '19 at 5:53
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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.

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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.

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    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 '19 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 '19 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 '19 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 '19 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 '19 at 21:50
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John baptized with water, but Christian baptism began after Pentecost, following the commandment of the risen Christ to "go forth and make disciples of all nations, etc". In baptism, the minister of the sacrament (who could be a lay person in case of emergency) represents Christ and transmits the fruits of Christ's sacrifice on the cross (i.e. redemption) through the sacrament. Christ's promise of salvation to the good thief is the reality of which baptism is an efficacious symbol. So no, you don't need to be baptized if you are being crucified alongside Christ and he promises you salvation. For the rest of us, baptism is a sacramental way of conveying the salvation which the good thief received directly, without intermediary. Because he was there.

Note: I'm RC.

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I think the strongest evidence is that of crucifixion practice of the Romans would be that no one would be allowed to or possibly could survive a Roman crucifixion (see On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ in Journal of Medical American Association. This article is available online).

Now, this requires to explanation to respond to the suggestion that he could have already repented and been baptized before even being put on the cross.

Matthew and Mark both report a plurality of those being crucified to revile Jesus.

“Even the robbers who were crucified with Him reviled Him” (Matthew 27:44)

“Even those who were crucified with Him reviled Him” (Mark 15:32)

It is also reported that there were only 2 crucified with him. Luke reports that only one reviled him. Later, one of them defends Jesus, which is the topic of the question. (I'll ads all these references later). What is the best explanation? I take my discussion primarily from this apologetics article defending against the contradiction.

It is quite reasonable to say that one of them repented during his time on the cross (this interaction with Jesus, observing His prayers and offering of forgiveness, etc might be compelling, especially at this point in time and if he had no previous interaction with him, such as if he was in prison). If he repented during his time on the cross, and he certainly wouldn't be able to be baptized before death, then he would be unbaptized. This is the more common belief, that he repented during his time on the cross. In fact, I hadn't heard anyone suggest otherwise before; it may be due to the strangeness of saying someone who is a Christian is later being executed for being a "robber".

Other explanations may be that Matthew and Mark are using a literary device when making the plurality, or saying that they are contradictory, or some redactional value perhaps to have the repentent robber in Luke's Gospel.

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Jesus Saves: He has the power to do this by fiat

Which renders the question of baptism moot.

From the Apostle's Creed (shared by many Christian denominations)

He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

This is a case where he pronounced judgment on one of the living. Your question covers one instance. While Jesus was on Earth, exercising His power as the one who administers Final Judgment fits his being The Son. He had the power while on Earth to forgive sins. (Matthew 9:6)

6 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins" - he then said to the paralytic, "Rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home.

Another instance of making a similar ruling for one of the living is in Luke 7:50. After sharing the parable of the two debtors with Simon, Jesus tells the woman that she is saved.

But he said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."

Nobody questions her salvation either, since Jesus decreed it. Whether or not she was baptized (as a follower of Jesus, she may well have been) is moot because Jesus Saves.

Let's look at the thief on the cross again. He professies his faith that Jesus is the Messiah, the Annointed one.

39 Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us." 40 The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, "Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? 41 And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal." 42 Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." 43 He replied to him, "Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise."

It is a fair reading of that interaction that it is the same kind of ruling as in Luke 7:50 - the Thief's faith (professed) grants him salvation. (saves him).

Now that Jesus has ascended, he judges the dead, not the living, and Christian practice from the earliest church includes baptism as a means of professing their faith that Jesus is the baptizeds' hope of salvation. (If there is a denomination of Christians who do not profess their faith if Jesus as a part of Baptism, I am not aware of it).

Does the narrative of the thief on the Cross mean Baptism isn't necessary?

No; Jesus no longer walks among us as a man. He now administers judgment in heaven, having left instructions (the Great Commission) for baptism of, and sharing the gospel with, the whole world.

He does something similar in Mark 5:34 and Luke 17:19: "your faith has healed you" however whether that is simply the physical healing, or a deeper spiritual healing, is arguable. (I've seen arguments both ways ... )

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I'm going to answer your question by first answering a slightly different question. Instead of What evidence is there that the thief on the cross was not baptized, I will first answer What evidence is there that the thief on the cross was baptized?

There is the support that the thief may well have been baptized under the authority of Jesus Christ. First, let's acknowledge that much of Judea was being baptized by John the baptist.

Mark 1:4-5 4 John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins

Matthew 3:4-6 4 Now John wore a garment of camel's hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

Now of course when it says all of Jerusalem and Judea and all the region of the Jordan this may be a bit of hyperbole, but whatever large number of people were baptized by John, Jesus baptized more!

John 3:25-26 25 Now a discussion arose between some of John's disciples and a Jew over purification. 26 And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.”

John 4:1 ​1 Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John...

Also note that baptism was how Jesus was making disciples of the Jews, similar to how he later instructs the apostles to do to the nations.

Matthew 28:19-20 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.

So given the likely very large number of Jews that were disciples baptized by Jesus, it is very possible that the thief on the cross was one of their number who had somehow gotten lost along the way given his seemingly advanced knowledge and belief in the identity of Jesus.

Luke 23:42 “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

So given that evidence that the thief may have been a baptized believer, the evidence that he was not is simply the silence of the scriptures.

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