The majority of references to baptism in the gospels refer to John's baptism, but it is only a shadow of true Christian baptism. The key verse in the gospels is John's statement,

I baptize you with water,
but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.

There are only nine references to baptism in the epistles. This makes the Acts of the Apostles important for discovering the true nature of baptism.

The Effect of Baptism

A number of passages in the New Testament speak of the meaning of baptism. It is worthwhile looking at these in detail.


Baptism is a public testimony to what God has done in the life of a believer. It is a sign that through faith and repentance, he has died with Christ and risen with him to new life. Baptism is also a sign to Satan that his power over us is broken. Most important of all, baptism is the means whereby Jesus normally baptises his followers in the Spirit. By baptism, they are baptised in the Spirit and into the body of Christ.

Conditions for Baptism

The Bible gives five conditions that must be fulfilled before a person can be baptised.


It should be noted that children and infants can fulfil these conditions.

The faith and repentance that are necessary for salvation are a gift from God. No one can achieve salvation through his own ability. Even adults need this gift of faith and repentance before they can come to salvation. God can give them to whoever he chooses. It all depends on his calling.

I will have mercy on whom, I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion. It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on Gods mercy (Romans 9:15,16).

Our salvation depends on the mercy and compassion of God. He is sovereign and can grant salvation to whomever he chooses. This means that where it is God's choice, children can be born again.

Limiting salvation to those of a certain age implies that it depends on human ability. But as Paul points out, salvation does not depend on man's effort, but on the mercy of God. Even little children can be born again by the power of God.

Children should be baptised as soon as they give evidence of faith in Jesus Christ. Where this is neglected, believing children are left without the gift of the Spirit. This limits their Christian growth and effectiveness in ministry. Neglecting baptism also leaves them open to satanic attack.

Of course, because some children are born again, it does not follow that all the children of believers are. It depends on the calling and mercy of God. Only those children who are called and regenerated by God should be baptised. General Infant Baptism is wrong.

The Time of Baptism

Baptism should take place as soon as possible after conversion. If believers are to stand firm in their new faith and grow in maturity, they will need the power that comes with the gift of the Holy Spirit. They should be baptised straight away so that they have this power. This was the practice of the New Testament church.

As baptism is a testimony that a person has become a Christian, it should take place as soon as possible. It is a clear sign to everyone that they have left their old life and joined the Kingdom of God. If baptism is postponed, they may be tempted to vacillate between the Kingdom and the world. It would also leave them open to satanic attack, at the time when they are most vulnerable. Both children and adults should be baptised as soon as there is evidence that they have been born again.

The Administration of Baptism

There is no biblical basis for the common belief that only pastors or elders should administer baptism. Philip is an example of a deacon who baptised his converts. Anyone who is capable of making disciples must be free to baptise those whom he wins for Jesus (Matthew 28:19).

The Mode of Baptism

The Greek word baptizo has a wide variety of meanings. It can mean immerse, overflow with water, wet thoroughly, moisten, pour upon, drench, be overwhelmed or overpowered. It indicates an effect produced, without expressing the kind of action by which the effect is brought about.

The New Testament does not state clearly what form of baptism is intended. Some passages indicate a going under the water (Acts 8:38). The references to baptism in the Spirit indicate more of an outpouring (Acts 2:17). Numbers 8:7 refers to sprinkling of water for purification.

It seems that the mode of baptism is not of paramount importance. If only immersion is allowed, the Greek word for immerse kataduo could have been used. If only sprinkling is permissible, the word rhantizo could have been used. Because these specific words are not used, we can assume that any mode of baptism is permissible.

Immersion is probably the best mode of baptism because it dramatically portrays burial with Christ. However, where water is scarce, as it probably was in Jerusalem, pouring would also be a valid form of baptism. It would testify to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Baptism is so important that it should be carried out straight after conversion, even in situations where there is insufficient water for full immersion.

Baptism should always be administered in the name of the Father, and of the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).

The Validity of Baptism

For a baptism to be valid, it must be administered according to the prescription given in the Bible.

  1. The one baptising must be a Christian, who is capable of making disciples, and explaining the significance of baptism. They must intend to do what Christ commanded, and expect the believer to be baptised in the Holy Spirit.

  2. The person being baptised must fulfil the conditions necessary for baptism. Where there is no faith or repentance, a baptism is invalid.

  3. The Trinitarian formula should be used, and water applied.

Where a baptism is invalid, baptism can be repeated once the proper conditions are fulfilled. Paul baptised the Ephesians Christians who had received John's baptism once they understood the faith adequately (Acts 19:5).