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Matthew 3 begins with the story of John the Baptist’s ministry: “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!’ For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying: ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the LORD; make His paths straight.”’ …
“Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins” (Matthew 3:1-3, 5-6).
John preached the need for people to repent of their sins, and they understood and were baptized by immersion in water.
This account is important to the question of rebaptism for several reasons. Let’s look further at another related story.
“And it happened, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus. And finding some disciples he said to them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?’ So they said to him, ‘We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.’ And he said to them, ‘Into what then were you baptized?’ So they said, ‘Into John’s baptism.’
“Then Paul said, ‘John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.’ When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 19:1-5).
From this passage, we see the biblical example of individuals being rebaptized. Let’s understand the reasons for this.
We see that they had knowledge of repentance, but not of Jesus Christ or of the Holy Spirit. They were rebaptized because of lack of knowledge and understanding. (This is evidence of the need to fully understand the biblical requirements before a person is baptized. This is reinforced by the fact that there is no example in the Bible of infants or children being baptized. Baptism is an adult decision that requires maturity and understanding.)
The need for those who were baptized by John to be rebaptized shows that something important was missing at their first baptism. They were not baptized into the name of Jesus Christ, and they did not understand the role of the Holy Spirit.
After Christ’s death and resurrection, He gave some very clear instruction regarding baptism: “And Jesus came 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 of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’ Amen” (Matthew 28:18-20).
In Acts 2:37-38, a large crowd listened to Peter’s sermon. When they understood who Jesus Christ was and the role that He played in their life, they asked: “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”
Then Peter told them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
The people who were rebaptized in Ephesus had understood repentance; but once they understood who Jesus Christ really was and the need for the Holy Spirit, they were rebaptized.
The lack of vital spiritual knowledge and understanding is a valid reason for rebaptism. If one was baptized as an infant or child, or even as an adult, but later came to the understanding of sin, repentance, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and the role of the Holy Spirit, that person should consider rebaptism. Anyone in that situation ought to counsel with a minister who can guide the person through the process of rebaptism.
If a person was “baptized” but was not fully immersed in water, then that baptism would also be inadequate based on the biblical examples and symbolism of baptism: “When He [Jesus] had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water” (Matthew 3:16). “Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him” (Acts 8:38).
Christ said to His disciples, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16).
What is that gospel? How can one be properly baptized without knowing and understanding what that gospel is? The Scriptures explain that we need to “believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). For more information about the gospel of the Kingdom of God, please see our section on the Kingdom of God.
The Holy Spirit is a vital part of Christianity! When a person believes, repents and is properly immersed at baptism, God promises to give that person the Holy Spirit through the ceremony of the laying on of hands (Acts 8:18). The individuals baptized with John’s baptism did not understand the promise of the gift of God’s Holy Spirit. Paul showed the need for them to then be rebaptized after being given the knowledge of Jesus Christ and the Spirit of God.
The symbols of baptism go beyond just simply understanding repentance. We are baptized into “the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19)—the family and name of God. We allow that Holy Spirit, the power of God, to work in us, and we are to be “led by the Spirit of God” (Romans 8:14).
Some people question whether their baptism was valid. Some felt ill-prepared or pressured into being baptized. They may ask themselves, “Did I fully understand repentance and repent of the sins I knew I had in my life?” Or maybe they ask, “Did I receive the Holy Spirit after I was baptized?” These are questions that need to be answered.
Only those who have repented of their sins, who believe the gospel and who understand the meaning and commitment of baptism should be baptized. Baptism should be done by full immersion, in the name of Jesus Christ, and should be followed by the laying on of hands for receiving the Holy Spirit.
Rebaptism is not something to take lightly or in a casual manner. Baptism is a covenant that one makes with God, accepting the blood of Jesus Christ for the remission of sin, and it is a decision that will last for eternity. If you would like to contact a trained and caring minister about your particular circumstances, please use the Contact form to send your request to a minister of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association.