Acts 16:30-33, “Then he brought them outside and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ They answered, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.’ They spoke the word of the Lord to him and all who were in his house. At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay.”
Context: When an earthquake frees Paul and Silas from prison, they decide to convert the jailer and return to prison rather than run for their freedom, which would have left the jailer responsible and likely punished by death.
Analysis: The words, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household,” indicate that even salvation covers the children of a believer. This message is contrary to modern theology which says that salvation can only result from a personal decision of faith. To explore this conundrum further, we’d have to examine every salvation verse in the Bible. But this study is about baptism, not salvation, so we’ll just have to move on.
Here we see that Paul and Silas shared the gospel with the entire household, so this leads us to conclude that all who were old enough to understand it chose to believe and be baptized. However, we don’t know for a fact that everyone in the household believed. It may be that only some believed, but all were baptized as a symbol of their father’s covenant with God through Christ.
Let’s imagine that there were seven people in the jailer’s household and seven people in Lydia’s household. What are the odds that all fourteen of them instantly made a personal decision to convert to Christianity? It’s much more likely that some of them didn’t believe than that all of them believed. However, unanimous belief is certainly possible.
These stories of Lydia and the jailer may indicate that infant baptism is God’s will and that we need not be baptized as adults if we were baptized as children. Everyone else baptized in Acts did so out of a personal decision of faith, because none of them had been raised as Christians, since Christianity was brand new.
Since the book of Acts covers a period of only a few decades, it never shows us how baptism worked for children born to someone who was already a believer. Even the stories of Lydia and the jailer only tell us of existing children. What would have happened had either of these families bore more children later? Would they have been baptized as a symbol of their parents’ covenant? Or would they have waited until making a personal decision of faith later in life to be baptized? Unfortunately, while many of us have strong opinions on this, none of us can say for sure.
Acts 18:8, “Crispus, the official of the synagogue, became a believer in the Lord, together with all his household; and many of the Corinthians who heard Paul became believers and were baptized.”
Context: Paul preaches the gospel in Corinth.
Analysis: Here we see an entire household believing in Christ, despite the odds against everyone believing with no dissenters. Should we, as a result of their belief, assume that Lydia’s and the jailer’s families all believed in the same manner? Or should we conclude that since Acts 18:8 specifies that the whole household believed, while Acts 16 does not, that only Crispus’ entire household believed, not Lydia’s and the jailer’s households?
Acts 19:1-7, While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the interior regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. He said to them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?’ They replied, ‘No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.’ Then he said, ‘Into what then were you baptized?’ They answered, ‘Into John’s baptism.’ Paul said, ‘John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.’ On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophecied—altogether there were about twelve of them.”
Context: The story pretty much tells it.
Analysis: Here we find the Bible’s first double baptism. The first was a baptism of repentance from John the Baptist, and it looked forward to Christ. The second was apparently nothing more than a baptism in Christ’s name, since these Corinthians had already repented when baptized by John.
It wasn’t until these Corinthians believed in Jesus and were baptized in His name that they received the Holy Spirit—more evidence that a person may only receive the Holy Spirit after believing in Jesus.
Acts 22:16, “And now why do you delay? Get up, be baptized, and have your sins washed away, calling on his name.”
Context: Paul recounts the story of his conversion and how he came to be baptized.
Analysis: This is the only biblical instance in which baptism is said to wash away sin. This wording makes it sound as though sin remains if we are not baptized. Those who insist that baptism is a requirement for salvation probably love this verse. But is it enough to prove their point? Or are the words, “have your sins washed away,” nothing more than symbolic of God’s forgiveness of those who repent in Jesus’ name?
Romans 6:1-8, “What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin would be destroyed, and we might no longer be a slave to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin.”
Context: Paul explains how we are not to abuse God’s grace by choosing to sin. We are to avoid sin, since we died to it when we submitted to Christ and symbolized the commitment in baptism.
Analysis: Those who insist on baptism by submersion (dunking) rely on these verses for support, because these verses imply that being under water is similar to being underground in burial. This watery burial is symbolic of our dying to our old sinful ways.
These verses also support Baptist theology by saying that we are buried with Christ in death in order to then “walk in newness of life.” This newness of life is eternal life. Does this mean that we must be “buried with Him by baptism into death” in order to “walk in the newness of life?” Or does it mean that baptism is symbolic of our repentance in which we die to our old ways and “walk in the newness of life” in Christ?
1 Corinthians 1:12-15, 17, “What I mean is each of you says, ‘I belong to Paul,’ or ‘I belong to Apollos,’ or ‘I belong to Cephas,’ or ‘I belong to Christ.’ Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name…For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.”
Context: Paul expresses concern over Christians dividing over which early church leader they favored.
Analysis: In the early Middle Ages, church leaders debated over whether the credibility of a sacrament, such as baptism or marriage, was dependent upon the person who performed it. For example, if a priest was caught in adultery, did that nullify all of the baptisms he had performed?
Few of us today would answer, “Yes.” to that question. And this Bible quote, to some extent, supports our view. Paul indicates that it doesn’t matter who performs the baptism, because everyone is baptized into the name of Christ and nobody else.
1 Corinthians 10:1-4, “I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ.
Context: Paul warns Christians to avoid the sinful ways of the Israelites who rebelled against God by worshipping the golden calf.
Analysis: Since baptism didn’t exist in the Old Testament, the Israelites were not literally baptized into Moses. This terminology must be symbolic of their covenant with God through Moses, which looked forward to the covenant that God’s people would one day have with God through Christ.
1 Corinthians 15:29, “Otherwise, what will those people do who receive baptism on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?”
Context: Paul refutes those in and around the church who claim there’s no resurrection of the dead.
Analysis: The practice of being baptized for those already dead is mentioned nowhere else in the Bible and is inconsistent with modern-day salvation theology. It suggests that we can accept Christ and be baptized in the name of those who never had the opportunity to accept Him. Let’s not forget, however, that these dead folks never had an opportunity to hear of Christ, so their situation differs from ours today. Most people who pass away in our culture had a chance to choose Jesus when they were alive.
Some say that these people received baptism for those who believed but died before they could be baptized. This is unlikely, however, since all biblical baptisms appear to take place the day of conversion.
It’s worth asking why people would bother to be baptized on behalf of those who passed. Since Paul explains that doing so would be pointless if there were no such thing as resurrection, we must conclude that they were baptized so that the dead could be resurrected, and that these deceased people could not have been resurrected without these acts of baptism. Therefore, these verses lend further support to the Baptist view that baptism is necessary for salvation.
To delve into this issue further would lead us into salvation theology more than it would baptism theology, so I’ll stop here.
Ephesians 2:12-13, “In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision on Christ; when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.”
Context: Paul goes on to warn of giving into man-made religious rules that burden the believer but miss the point of Christianity altogether.
Analysis: This passage is the foundation for the idea that baptism replaces circumcision as a symbol of our covenant with God. Our circumcision is no longer a physical one, but a spiritual one, that is now symbolized by the physical act of baptism. Through this baptism, we die to our old selves and are resurrected by God as new creatures in Christ. This is not a resurrection that occurs after the death of our earthly bodies; rather, it is a spiritual resurrection during this life, in which we are reunited with God in a new relationship, reversing the separation between God and man that resulted from Adam’s fall. After our earthly lives end, then God will literally resurrect our bodies, just like He resurrected Jesus.
1 Corinthians 18:18-21, “For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…”
Context: Peter encourages Christians to be willing to suffer for having done good rather than for having done bad.
Analysis: The words, “And baptism…now saves you,” gives us our fifth verse that indicates baptism is required for salvation. The other four verses were found in Mark 16, Acts 22, Romans 6, and 1 Corinthians 15. That’s more support for Baptist theology than I expected. Conducting this study has made me more of a Baptist that I was before. The Bible proves that baptism is a must for every Christian.
However, I’m still uncertain about whether to baptize children as a symbol of the covenant, and whether these children should be baptized of their own accord as adults. Since the Bible leaves us hanging on this issue, it mustn’t be important that we understand it perfectly.
My personal recommendation is to do both. I’ve noticed, just from people I’ve known in my life, that those baptized as children tend to stray less from God than those who aren’t, even if those who aren’t are children of devout Christians. Some might argue that we shouldn’t have two baptisms in a lifetime, but I’ve yet to see what harm it does. I’ve known numerous people, including myself, who did both, and we seem to have turned out just fine. There’s no biblical indication that the second baptism reverses the first.
As we conclude this study, you may find yourself disappointed. Most Every-Verse method studies give us clear answers. But this one gave us few of those. That’s why there’s so much confusion and disagreement over baptism today. Nonetheless, you now have a better understanding of what the whole Bible says about baptism, and that’s never a bad thing.