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 (believer) first and then was baptized.
Meaning of Greek Word for Baptism
The Greek word for “baptism” is baptizo. This word Koine Greek word means 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, dated is a baptismal hymn. The text is in fragments, but we can still understand the concept of baptism as practiced in the time of Jesus Christ. Eisnman and Wise translated the text and states,
” . . . for the Laws of Holiness . . . to be cleansed from the pollution of . . . and after he enters the water . ..
. . . and washing in water.
The authors state that the “sheer number of ritual immersion facilities at the actual ruins of Qumran” demonstrate their baptismal practices. That is, they understood baptism to be by immersion. This gives an illustration of how baptism was practiced in the Qumran community at the time of Christ.
Baptism in the New Testament
In the New Testament, we have some passages about baptism that are important to examine. The first one is Matthew 3:4-6.
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)
First, observe that the Greek word for baptized is baptizo. The second important point to notice is that baptism occurred in a river. If sprinkling or pouring of water is all that was required for baptism, why use the Jordan River? John the Baptist could just have easily poured or sprinkled people at his home or camp in the wilderness. This is a strong reason to believe that baptizo refers to immersion.
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, the Greek word for “baptizing” and “baptized” is baptizo. But notice the requirement to perform the baptism was “much water.” If a cup or 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?” The Greek word used for “baptized” both times in this passage is baptizo. Now notice how Philip responded. He said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” The desire to be baptized is the response of one who believes in Jesus with his or her whole heart. They trust in Jesus with their whole heart for the forgiveness of his or her sins. Are you trusting in Jesus with your whole heart? The eunuch said. “Yes” and Philip responded by baptizing the eunuch. Now notice they both went 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? Baptism follows a person’s trust in Jesus for his or her salvation and submission to follow Christ. Baptism does not save! Baptism is not required for salvation.
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 to be like or in obedience to follow 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.
Suggested Links:Is Baptism Required For Salvation?
Is water baptism symbolic? — Meaning and Importance
Must we be baptized to be saved?
Do you believe that baptism is a part of salvation?
Does one have to be baptized and filled with the Holy Ghost to be saved?