Modern Baptism vs. Biblical Baptism

In the New Testament there are many examples of people being baptized. Why is baptism in the Bible so much different from baptisms today?

Everybody loves a royal baby, so the world watched on Oct. 23 as Prince William and his wife, Catherine (Kate), had their new son, Prince George, baptized at St. James’s Palace in London.

Archbishop: “baptism is for all”

The ceremony was conducted by Justin Welby (the archbishop of Canterbury) and brought attention to the Anglican Church and the ceremony of infant baptism. In the time leading up to the baptism, Welby was interviewed on television and used the event to promote baptism and to publicly encourage others to go through the ceremony. He reminded the public that it is not just for royalty and that God welcomes all to be baptized.

Baptism of a different kind

The New Testament certainly teaches the importance of baptism. Unfortunately, there are major ways that the form of baptism practiced by the archbishop and much of traditional Christianity actually contradicts the teaching of the New Testament on baptism.

The fundamental differences between the baptism of the New Testament and the traditions of today are:

  • Who should be baptized.
  • The method of baptism.
  • And the reason for that method.

Who should be baptized?

Many churches today practice infant baptism. Many believe that baptizing children ensures they will be Christians and will be “saved.”

But nowhere in the Bible is infant baptism taught.

Notice what the apostle Peter explained should come before baptism: “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” (Acts 2:38).

Repentance is a process of recognizing sin in our life, feeling guilty for that sin, asking forgiveness for that sin, committing our whole heart and mind to changing our entire way of life, and allowing Jesus Christ to live within us to produce a changed life. It is all about leaving a sinful way of living and pursuing a righteous way of living. Read Romans 6 to learn more about what repentance is according to God’s definition.

A commitment to repentance and change prior to baptism is a theme that is repeated throughout the New Testament and is obviously aimed at the mature adult mind. There were no infant baptisms in the New Testament.

To learn more about this subject, read our article on infant baptism.

The proper method of baptism

Most infant baptisms are not even truly baptisms according to the biblical definition of the term. The word baptize literally means to “immerse.” It comes from the Greek baptizo, meaning to “dip, immerse … wash” (Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 1952, p. 131).

Notice what the Bible says about the baptisms performed by John the Baptist: “Now John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there. And they came and were baptized” (John 3:23). John the Baptist baptized where “there was much water,” because he literally performed baptism exactly the way the word baptize implies—by total immersion into water.

There is no place in the Bible that condones the practice of baptism by sprinkling.

Learn more about the proper method of baptism by reading “What Do the Symbols of Baptism Mean?

Proper reason for baptism

Many see baptism as a rite of passage or as a ceremony that declares someone a Christian. But there is much more to baptism than that!

The apostle Paul taught that baptism goes far deeper than a rite of passage or a declaration of a particular religion: “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried [in the watery grave of immersion] with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also [are raised from a watery grave and] should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:1-4, emphasis added).

Baptism is all about changing one’s life. When one is properly baptized for the right reasons, he or she literally has his or her past sins buried in the baptismal waters and rises out of the waters as a person dedicated to overcoming sin and being “transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2).

Proper baptism is a big subject. We have only scratched the surface in this blog. We encourage you to study this topic more deeply in the Bible. We have published other material designed to help you do that.

Read our articles on this subject on our “Baptism” page.

About the Author

Eddie Johnson

Eddie and Sandra Johnson serve the membership in the Tonbridge, England, congregation of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association. He is an ordained elder.