Bible Question:

Was the thief on the cross baptized in order to be saved?

Bible Answer:

Some teach that a person is saved by faith and baptism.Therefore, when someone asks the question, “Was the thief on the cross baptized in order to be saved? they answer with, “Yes!’ But there are major problems with their answer. What follows explains why the answer is no!

Was the thief on the cross baptized in order to be saved?

Was the Thief on the Cross Saved?

Only two gospels tell us that there were two thieves on crosses beside the cross on which Jesus Christ was hung. Matthew 27:38-44 refers to the two thieves as robbers, lestes. We are told that one was on Jesus’ left side and another on His right. Matthew says they were insulting Jesus and challenged Him to come down from the cross. But did the thief on the cross repent in order to be saved? Matthew does not tell us. What did Jesus say to the thief on the cross? Matthew does not tell us. In order to discover the answers, we must go to the gospel of Luke.

The gospel of Luke also says they were insulting Jesus! But Luke 23:39-43 calls these two men criminals, kakourgos. Yet, most Christians choose to describe these two men as thieves. Luke is unique since it tells us only one of the men defended Jesus. He is typically referred to as the thief on the cross. Here is Luke’s account.

One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” Luke 23:39-43 (NASB)

It may be that initially both of them were insulting Jesus and then later one of them changed his view of Jesus. The repentant thief’s faith in Jesus Christ was revealed when he acknowledged that Jesus was God (v. 40, 43), 2) confessed his own sin (v. 41), declared that Jesus was innocent (v. 41), believed Jesus had an invisible kingdom (v. 42), and that Jesus had the authority to grant him admission into Paradise or heaven (v. 43). When Jesus promised him that he would be in Paradise, Jesus revealed that he had the same faith as Old Testament believers.

Was the Thief on the Cross Baptized?

So, was the thief on the cross baptized before he was hanging on the cross in order to gain admission into Paradise or heaven? Those who claim that he was baptized before Jesus promised, “You shall be with Me in Paradise.” have a major problem. First, there are no verses to prove their point. One cannot find any verses in the gospels or in Isaiah 53 that say the thief on the cross was baptized. They do not exist.

Second, they violate the fundamental principle of Bible interpretation that states when Scripture is silent, we must be silent. That is, when there is no biblical support for a statement, then we are wise if we do not claim that something happened. Why? Because Scripture does not tell us. Only Scripture is the absolute authority, not our guesses or wishes. Therefore, since there is no biblical support that the thief on the cross was baptized, those who would teach that he was baptized should be silent and correct their false teaching.

Third, Abraham was saved by faith, without works according to Genesis 15:1-6.

He believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness. Genesis 15:6 (NASB)

That verse is quoted a number to times in Scripture to prove that Abraham believed in God and that belief alone resulted in his being declared righteous, or forgiven (Psalm 106:31; Romans 4:3; Galatians 3:6; James 2:23). That message is further explained in Roman 4:2-10. Then the Holy Spirit gives us the illustration in Romans 4:19-24 that Abraham was saved by faith and faith alone. The criminal was also saved by faith alone in Christ. It is important to notice that Jesus told the religious leaders that Abraham knew that He, the Christ, was coming. For in John 8:56-58, Jesus said, “Abraham rejoiced to see My day.”

Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.” So the Jews said to Him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.”  John 8:56-58 (NASB)

Abraham knew about Christ. The message is that Abraham was saved by faith in God without baptism. The thief on the cross was also saved without baptism. Baptism is not required for salvation, not for those who came before or for those who came after the cross.


Those who appeal to Mark 16:16 as proof that the thief on the cross had to be baptized have missed two important points. First, they cannot prove the thief was ever baptized. It does not exist. Mark 16:16 does not prove their claim. Second, they miss the last part of Mark 16:16 which says anyone who does not believe is condemned. That is, they are going to hell. Here is the verse,

He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned. Mark 16:16 (NASB)

Why is the last part of the verse important? Notice that if baptism is required for salvation, then the last part of the verse should say, “. . . he who has disbelieved or has not been baptized shall be condemned.” That is, the verse only says people are condemned if they do not believe. It never says the absence of baptism condemns anyone. Faith and only faith saves an individual. Baptism is simply a symbolic act of an inward change of heart and transformation brought by the Holy Spirit (see the articles below).

Suggested Links:

Is Baptism Required For Salvation?
Do you believe that baptism is a part of salvation?
Is water baptism symbolic? — Meaning and Importance
Should we baptize in Jesus’ name or in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit?
Can I be saved and never be baptized? — Mark 16:16
Do people need to repent before they are baptized?