The Importance of Water Baptism

The importance of water baptism – Jesus commanded it

And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every living creature. 16 He that believes and is baptized shall be saved; but he that does not believe shall be condemned. Mark 16:15-16

The importance of water baptism cannot be overstated as it is an important part of salvation for the new Christian. Jesus commanded it and the Early Church understood the importance of water baptism which is demonstrated in the book of Acts in many passages.

Baptize means to immerse or submerge

The word baptize comes from the greek word baptizo. In New Testament uses it is important to note that it is a requirement that involves complete submersion. Anything else, like dipping or sprinkling is not scriptural. Also, all of the occasions for baptizing in the New Testament involve people who have become believers in Jesus. The baptism of infants, or for the dead has no basis in Scripture.

What does baptism do?

The tenth reference to baptism in this list is perhaps the most revealing. It specifically references just exactly what water baptism does. In Acts 22:16, the Apostle Paul is speaking to Jews in Jerusalem as he is being arrested for allegedly starting a riot. Paul tells the story of his conversion (Acts 9) in which Ananias lays hands on him and he receives his sight. The interesting part of the verse in Acts 22:16 is what Ananias said to Paul.

And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins calling on the name of the Lord. —Acts 22:16

Ananias tells Paul that water baptism serves to wash away your sins. It is not clear from the above verse whether, “calling on the name of the Lord” is done by the person baptizing or the person being baptized. Ananias appears to say the person being baptized was to call upon the name of the Lord. It is more likely that the command, “calling on the name of the Lord” is done by the person doing the baptizing. This would be in line with the words of the Apostle Peter in Acts 2:38 when he says, “repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ.” As this is somewhat of a new concept relating to water baptism, I would imagine that either would be acceptable. Either way the importance of water baptism is made clear, and that should be enough.

10 instances of water baptism in the New Testament

1. Peter speaks to the crowd on the day of Pentecost, “repent and be baptized” – Acts 2:38

The first instance mentioning water baptism in the New Testament Church is found in Acts 2 when Peter was addressing the crowd on the day of Pentecost. This is when the Holy Spirit filled the believers present, and they began to speak in tongues. Peter then addressed the crowd of Jews present.

Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. —Acts 2:38 

2. Philip in Samaria baptizing many – Acts 8:12-13

This reference in Acts 8 states that after Philip preached the things of the Kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized. In the next verse, Simon the magician believed and was also baptized.

But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the Kingdom of God, and the Name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13 Then Simon himself believed also; and when he was baptized he continued with Philip, and was amazed, seeing the miracles and signs which were done. —Acts 8:12-13

3. The Ethiopian Eunuch Saved & Baptized – Acts 8:38

Some scholars believe that the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8:26-39 was the first reference to a Gentile being saved. It isn’t. (See The First Gentile Saved in the New Testament)

Regarding the importance of water baptism, however, the conversion and baptism of the Ethiopian Eunuch person is the first individual specifically mentioned in the New Testament as having been baptized in water. The Ethiopian eunuch was traveling to his home country and was sitting in his chariot reading the prophet Isaiah 53:7-8. Philip caught up to him and explained the Gospel to him. The Ethiopian eunuch saw some water and actually asked Philipp if he could be baptized. That seems to express some importance on the subject of water baptism as the eunuch was the one who asked about baptism. There is, however, no mention of the Ethiopian eunuch being baptized in the Holy Spirit.

Then Philip opened his mouth and began at the same Scripture, and preached Jesus to him. 36 And as they went on their way, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?” 37 And Phillip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” 38 And he commanded the chariot to stop, and both Philip and the eunuch went into the water, and he baptized him. —Acts 8:36-38

4. The Apostle Paul baptized – Acts 9:18

This is the baptism of the Saul (who later was called the Paul, the Apostle) after the Lord had appeared to him on the road to Damascus. When Ananias met with Paul, after being instructed to do so by the Lord, he laid his hands on Saul who received his sight, the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and was then baptized in water.

And immediately there fell from his eyes scales, and he received his sight instantly, and arose and was baptized. —Acts 9:18

5. The Apostle Peter and Cornelius (the 1st Gentile baptized) – Acts 10:45-48

This account of water baptism is unique. It is a record of the first Gentiles being baptized in water. It is even more unique in that they received the Baptism of the Holy Spirt while Peter was still speaking to them about the Gospel. There is no record of them saying a prayer or confessing Jesus as Lord. They were just listening to Peter speak and then they were filled with the Holy Spirit (no laying on of hands) and began speaking in tongues to the amazement of the Jews who were with Peter. After that, Peter said he couldn’t see any reason that they Gentiles shouldn’t be baptized in water.

And those of the circumcision (Jews) who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Gentiles, 46 for they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. the Peter said, 47 “Can anyone deny water that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. They they asked him to stay for a few days. —Acts 10:45-48

6. Lydia and her household – Acts 16:14-15

This is an account of a woman named Lydia and her family being baptized after the Lord opens her heart to respond to the message of the Gospel. She already had believed in God and worshipped him.

A certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshipped God, heard us, and the Lord opened her heart to give heed to the things spoken of by Paul. 15 And when she was baptized, and her household, she begged us saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and remain there.” And she persuaded us. —Acts 16:14-15

7. The Philippian jailer & his family – Acts 16:33

The Philippian jailer’s baptism is found in Acts 16:30-33. The importance of being baptized in water soon after being saved is again stated here.

And he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 And they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved, and your family. 32 And they spoke to him the Word of the Lord and to all that were in his house. 33 And they took them the same hour of the night (this was around midnight), and washed their stripes. And immediately he and his family were baptized. —Acts 16:30-33

Water baptism was important enough in the above Scriptures that it was done immediately and some time after midnight that night.

8. Crispus and his family baptized – Acts 18:8

The reference to baptism in this section follows Paul’s statement in Acts 18:6 that he was no longer going to preach to the Jews, “From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” In Acts 18:8 we have Crispus who is the president of the synagogue. He and his household, and many Corinthians who heard about the Gospel message, believed and were baptized.

And Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all of his household. And many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed, and were baptized. —Acts 18:8

9. Some disciples baptized – Acts 19:5

The reference to water baptism in the section also makes a reference to John’s baptism (John the Baptist), and to the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Paul had met some believers in Acts 19 and he asked them if they had received the Holy Spirit since they believed. They said they hadn’t heard of this and that they were only baptized into John’s baptism. When Paul explained a little about Jesus these men were baptized in water. This section further says that when Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit filled them and they began to speak in tongues and prophesy.

Paul, having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus. And finding some disciples 2 He said to them, “Have you received the Holy Ghost since you believed?” And they said to him, “We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Ghost.” 3 And he said to them, “Into what then were you baptized?” And they said, “Into John’s baptism.” 4 Then Paul said, “John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying to people that they should believe on Him which should come after him, that is on Christ Jesus.” 5 When they hear this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied. —Acts 19:1-6

The most important reference to water baptism!

10. Paul recounts his baptism – Acts 22:16 

This final section is when Paul was arrested in Jerusalem after trying to preach to Jews near the Temple. The Jews seized Paul and dragged him out of the Temple area courtyard. The commanding officer of the Roman guard heard the reports of a riot and took soldiers and centurions and ran down to where Paul was. It is interesting to note here, if you are interested in the actual location of Solomon’s Temple and where the Third Temple will be built (they are in the same place), that the reference to the commanding officer running down the steps is of critical importance to just where the location of Solomon’s Temple might be today (see The Location of Solomon’s Temple).

Paul asks the commanding officer if he can address the crowd. What Paul says here is perhaps the most important thing to know about water baptism, and it is a quote from Ananias who was sent directly by the Lord to pray for Paul. Paul recounts the words of Ananias who said:

And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins calling on the name of the Lord. —Acts 22:16

The amazing part of this description here is that it specifically says that baptism washes away your sins. It also says that the person being baptized is to call on the name of the Lord. Perhaps the person being baptized and calling on the name of the Lord is misunderstood in translation. Peter, in Acts 2:38 stated, “repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.” So it appears from both of the references above that when a person is baptized in water it is important to state that this is done in the name of Jesus Christ.

Gregg F. Swift, J.D.