Bible Question:

Should we baptize in Jesus’ name or in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit?

Bible Answer:

While there are various views about how to baptize someone, the majority of clergy and churches believe that Christians should be baptized with water and use the phrase “in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” But a smaller number use the phrase “in the name of Jesus Christ” or “in the name of the Lord Jesus.” Therefore, our question is, “Should we baptize in Jesus’ name or in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit?” In theology this is called the baptismal formula.[1]

Baptism By Immersion

Name of The Father And The Son And The Holy Spirit

Baptism requires a genuine believer, some water, a pastor and words that describe the meaning of the ceremony. The individual must profess that he or she believes Christ died on the cross and rose again in order for their sins to be forgiven. He or she must understand that there is nothing more for them to do. Jesus did everything necessary for them to go to heaven and have their sins forgiven. They must believe that Christ was resurrected (1 Corinthians 15:3-8) and must yield their life to Him (Romans 10:9-11).

When someone is baptized, it should be by immersion into water since the Greek word for “to baptize” is baptizo which means “immerse or dip.” The verb was used to refer to a ship sinking.[2]  The ship was not sprinkled with water. We have discussed the mode of baptism; now what words should be said at the time someone is baptized.? The most common words used at the time a Christian is immersed into the water are the words, “in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” These words are taken from the Lord Jesus’ command in Matthew 28:18-20.

 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20 (NASB)

Name of Jesus Christ

Yet, in the book of Acts we find statements that seem to suggest that professing Christians were baptized in the “name of Jesus Christ” and in the “name of Lord Jesus.” Here are the four passages.

Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:38 (NASB)

For He had not yet come down on any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Acts 8:16 (NASB)

And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay on for a few days. Acts 10:48 (NASB)

When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Acts 19:5 (NASB)

Acts 2:38 and 8:16 both use the phrase “in the name of Jesus Christ” and the other two passages use “in the name of the Lord Jesus.” But does this mean that at the time these Christians were immersed into the water that someone used the expression “in the name of Jesus Christ” or “in the name of the Lord Jesus?”

What Wording Should Be Used?

Which wording should be used at the time a Christian is immersed into the water? The answer is found by noticing that in several New Testament passages similar wording is used for the apostle Paul and Moses.

Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 1 Corinthians 1:13 (NASB)

For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea . . . 1 Corinthians 10:1-2 (NASB)

When Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 1:13 he was not referring to the wording, “I baptize you in the name of Paul.” Further, 1 Corinthians 10:1-2  was not describing Christian baptism. It is figuratively referring to the Israelites being baptized.

Both passages reveal that they are not referring to a prescribed statement of words for believers’ baptism. Instead, they are referring to an identification with Paul or Moses. The phrase “in the name of” does not refer to authority of the person as some claim. There is no Greek or biblical support for such a claim. It cannot be found. Instead, the phrase refers to the disciple’s identification with and allegiance to his leader.  This is the obvious meaning of Deuteronomy 18:22; 1 Chronicles 21:19; Ephesians 5:20 and Colossians 3:17. In the following two verses,

He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. John 3:18 (NASB)

These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. 1 John 5:13    (NASB)

Both verses reveal that “in the name of” refers to identification, trust and allegiance to the Son of God. It does not refer to an important phrase or official wording that should be pronounced at the baptism of a Christian.

John MacArthur makes this comment about Matthew 28:19.

He also emphasizes the unity of the Trinity by declaring that baptism should be done in Their one name (singular), not in Their separate names As it does in many parts of Scripture, the phrase the name here embodies the fullness of a person, encompassing all that he is, has, and represents. When he is baptized, the believer is identified with everything that God is, has, and represents.[3]

Louis Berkof has an extensive statement about “in the name of” in Matthew 28:19, but we only provide a portion of the statement,

The preposition eis (into) is indicative rather of an end, and may therefore be interpreted to mean “in relation to” . . . It is quite in harmony with this when Allen says in his commentary on Matthew: “The person baptized was symbolically introduced ‘into the name of Christ,’ that is, became His disciple, that is, entered into a state of allegiance to Him and fellowship with Him.” This is the meaning of Thayer, Robinson, and, substantially, also by Cremer-Koegel and Baljon, in their lexicons. It is also that adopted by the commentators such as Meyer, Alford, Allen, Bruce, Grosheide, and Van Leeuwen. This meaning of the term is fully borne out by such parallel expressions as eis ton Mousen, 1 Cor. 10:2; eis to onoma Paulou, 1 Cor. 1:13; eis hen soma, 1 Cor. 12:13; and eis Christon, Rom. 6:3; Gal. 3:27. . . . It is not necessary to assume that, when Jesus employed the words, He intended them as a formula to be used ever after. He merely used them as descriptive of the character of the baptism which He instituted . . . [4]

Thus when someone is baptized, it is okay to say, “in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” or “in the name of Jesus Christ” or “in the name of the Lord Jesus.” To insist on some precise wording misses Jesus’ point in Matthew 28:19 that baptism is complete and total identification and allegiance to God the Father, Christ and the Holy Spirit. Believers’ baptism is a declaration of allegiance to someone as that Person’s disciple! Jesus was not giving precise wording to use at the time of baptisms. Instead He was stating to whom believers are declaring allegiance by being baptized.


The most important truth about baptism is that when a person is baptized, they are declaring to everyone that they believe in Christ and have become His disciple—His follower!


1. Berkhof, L., Systematic Theology, W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1939, p. 624.
2. Albrecht Oepke, “Βάπτω, Βαπτίζω, Βαπτισμός, Βάπτισμα, Βαπτιστής,” ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Eerdmans Publishing. 1995. vol. 1,  p. 530. Here is the quote,

The intens. [βαπτίζω occurs in the sense of “to immerse” (trans.) from the time of Hippocrates, in Plato and esp. in later writers, a. strictly, act. βαπτίζειν τὸ σκάφος, “to sink the ship,” Jos. Bell., 3, 368, ὁ κλύδων (τὰς ναῦς) ἐβάπτιζεν, Bell., 3, 423; pass. “to sink”: ἐν ὕλῃ (in the mud), Plot. Enn., I, 8, 13 (I, p. 112, 6, Volkmann; → 532), “to suffer shipwreck,” “to drown,” “to perish”: Jos. Bell., 3, 525; Epict. Gnom. Stob. Fr. 47, p. 489

3. John MacArthur. Matthew 24-28. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary. Moody press. 1989. p. 344-345.
4. Louis Berkof. Systematic Theology. Eerdmans Publishing. 1991. p. 625.

Suggested Links:

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Is baptism (immersion) essential for salvation?
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