Is baptism (immersion) essential for salvation?
The following discussion defines the meaning of the Greek word that is translated as baptism and then an example of how an Ethiopian Eunuch became a Christian is given. We will discover that he became a Christian first and then was baptized.
Greek meaning of baptism
The Greek word for “baptism” is baptizo. This word is in ancient literature to refer to “dipping,” “to dip under,” “to sink a ship,” “to drown” and “to go under.” Let me illustrate from the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Qumran Text 4Q414 is a baptismal hymn. The text is in fragments but we can still understand how the word was used in Jesus day. In it we read,
” . . . for the Laws of Holiness . . . to be cleansed from the pollution of . . . and after he enters the water . ..
. . . and washing in water.
That is, baptizo refers to immersion into water.
Baptism in the New Testament
In the New Testament we have some passages about baptism that are often overlooked. Here are a few,
Now John himself had a garment of camel’s hair, and a leather belt about his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem was going out to him, and all Judea, and all the district around the Jordan; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins. Matthew 3:4-6 (NASB)
Notice they were baptized in a river. If sprinkling of water is all that was required for baptism, why use the Jordan River? Also notice these folks were not baptized until they had confessed their sins. The next important passage is,
And John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there; and they were coming and were being baptized. John 3:23 (NASB)
Again we see a requirement for “much water.” If a water jug was all that was required for sprinkling, why did John need “much water?” Our next passage is found in Acts,
And Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him And as they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” And Philip 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.” And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch; and he baptized him. Acts 8:35-38 (NASB)
This passage is special. This is the story of the eunuch and Philip. Philip has just explained to the eunuch who Jesus was. The eunuch responds wanting to be baptized. He sees water at a distance and says, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” Notice Philips’ response. “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” The desire to be baptized is the response of one who is a true Christian. They believe in Jesus with their whole heart. They trust in Jesus with their whole heart for forgiveness of their sins. Are you trusting in Jesus with your whole heart? The eunuch says. “Yes” and Philip responds by baptizing the eunuch. Now notice they both go down into the water. Why go down into the water to get wet if all you need to do is reach down, “cup some water in your hands” and drop it over the eunuch’s head? It follows a person’s trust in Jesus for his or her salvation and his or her submission to follow Christ. Baptism does not save!
We have seen that baptism is immersion into water. We have also seen from scripture that baptism occurred after one confessed their sins and believed in Jesus with their whole heart. Baptism is not required for a person to be saved or to become a Christian. If it was essential for salvation, the thief on the cross could not have been saved. It is an act of obedience that demonstrates a desire to die to self and be like Christ (Romans 6:1-5). All we need to do is trust in Jesus with all of our heart. That is all!
1. Eisnman, Robert and Michael Wise. The Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered. Barnes & Noble, New York, 1992, pp. 232-233.
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