10 Key Bible Verses on Baptism

This article is part of the Key Bible Verses series.

All commentary notes adapted from the ESV Study Bible.

1. Acts 2:38–41

And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. Read More

Repent and be baptized This does not imply that people can be saved without having faith in Christ as Savior, because the need to believe is implied both in the command to “repent” and also in the command to “be baptized . . . in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” The willingness to submit to baptism is an outward expression of inward faith in Christ (cf. 1 Pet. 3:21).The gospel can be summarized in different ways. Sometimes faith alone is named as the one thing necessary for salvation (see John 3:16; Acts 16:31; Rom. 10:9; Eph. 2:8–9), other times repentance alone is named (Luke 24:47; Acts 3:19; Acts 5:31; Acts 17:30; 2 Cor. 7:10), and sometimes both are named (Acts 20:21). Genuine faith always involves repentance, and vice versa. Repentance includes a change of mind that ends up trusting God (i.e., having faith). On repentance, see notes on Matt. 3:2; Matt. 3:5–6. The gift of the Holy Spirit does not mean some specific spiritual “gift” as in 1 Corinthians 12–14 but rather the gift of the Spirit himself, coming to dwell within the believer.

2. Ephesians 4:4–6

There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. Read More

One Lord refers to Jesus Christ. One faith refers to the doctrinal truths Christians commonly confess. “One Spirit” (Eph.4:4), “one Lord [Christ]” (Eph.4:5), and “one God and Father” (Eph.4:6) constitute a Trinitarian formula. one baptism. Christians have disagreed about the proper mode of baptism beginning in the early history of the church. “One baptism” here, however, may refer to the baptism of all believers into one body (as described in 1 Cor. 12:13), which is the result of the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit when one becomes a genuine believer in Christ. If this view is correct, water baptism would be an outward sign of the inward reality of the believer being in Christ as the result of the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit (cf. John 3:5, 8; Titus 3:5). There is therefore a profound spiritual unity of all genuine believers who are “in Christ” (see John 17:21, 23), founded on “one faith” in “one Lord,” irrespective of denominational differences. Others hold that the reference here is to water baptism, but would disagree concerning the proper mode.

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3. Galatians 3:27

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. Read More

In addition to sonship (Gal. 3:26), Paul adds two more pictures of what is involved in this new age. Being baptized, believers have gone down into death, dying to the old era of law, sin, and death (Rom. 6:3–4; Gal. 2:19; Gal. 6:14) and have come up out of the water as participants in the new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). put on Christ. The language of “putting on,” as used of clothing, suggests taking on a new life and purpose through being spiritually united to Christ.

4. Romans 6:1–4

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. Read More

Paul is likely responding to a question posed regularly by his Jewish opponents. They did not raise this question so that they would have an excuse to sin, though in every age some have wrongly interpreted and applied Paul’s gospel of grace to rationalize sin. Instead, Paul’s opponents argued that his gospel must be mistaken since, in their view, it led people to continue in sin. Paul will now show why their interpretation of his gospel is mistaken.

Paul’s gospel does not lead to more sin, since those who belong to Christ have died to sin (as explained in the following verses).

Christians died to sin when they were baptized into Christ. Paul is not arguing that baptism magically destroys the power of sin. Baptism is an outward, physical symbol of the inward, spiritual conversion of Christians.

In the early church, baptism was probably by immersion, at least as a general rule, though Christians dispute whether such a practice must always be followed literally today. Therefore, baptism pictures a person being buried with Christ (submersion under water) and being raised to new life with Christ (emergence from water). This symbolizes the person’s union with, and incorporation into, Christ by the action of the Holy Spirit. Hence, they now have the power to live in newness of life.

5. Colossians 2:9–13

For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses . . . Read More

In him also you were circumcised. Paul here uses circumcision metaphorically for a spiritual (made without hands) action, which he describes as putting off the body of the flesh. Believers no longer live in the sphere of the flesh and its influence (Gal. 5:24) but have been transferred to the kingdom of Christ and live through and in him, under his lordship (Col. 1:13). In this “circumcision” performed by Christ, Christians have been removed from their solidarity with Adam and his sin (see Rom. 6:6) and are now in solidarity with Christ and his righteousness and can live for him, as they before could not.

buried with him in baptism . . . also raised with him . . . made alive together with him. In a second metaphor drawn from Christ’s work on the cross, Paul says that the Christian rite of baptism represents an identification with Christ in his death (cf. Rom. 6:4–6) along with an identification with Christ in his resurrection (cf. Eph. 2:6). Dying and rising with Christ signifies death to the power of sin and Satan plus empowerment to live the new life that Jesus calls believers to live in imitation of him (see Rom. 6:3–11).

6. Acts 1:4–5

And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” Read More

The promise of the Father refers to the gift that was promised by the Father, namely, the new and greater empowering of the Holy Spirit that the disciples were to await in Jerusalem (see Luke 3:15–17; 24:49).

Baptized with the Holy Spirit looks forward to Pentecost (see ch. 2). John had contrasted his “repentance” baptism with Jesus’ “Holy Spirit” baptism (Mark 1:8). Throughout Acts, baptism and the gift of the Spirit are closely related. Repentance, forgiveness, water baptism, and reception of the Spirit comprise the basic pattern of conversion.

7. 1 Corinthians 12:12–13

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. Read More

Since the Spirit is one, he unites peoples across lines of ethnicity and social class that would otherwise divide them. (See Rom. 10:12; Gal. 3:27–28; Col. 3:11.) in one Spirit we were all baptized. The same Greek construction (the verb baptizō plus en [“in”] plus the dative of pneuma, “Spirit”) is used here as in the other six “baptism in the Holy Spirit” passages in the NT (Matt. 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33; Acts 1:5; 11:16), and here it seems clearly to refer to the cleansing and empowering work that the Holy Spirit does in a new convert at the point of conversion. Baptism is used metaphorically here to refer to the Spirit’s work within the believer to unite him or her to the body of Christ, which is also the corporate body of believers. Water baptism is an outward symbol of this reality (cf. Rom. 6:4; Gal. 3:27). made to drink. Probably not a reference to the cup of the Lord’s Supper but to the outpouring of God’s Spirit on his people (cf. John 7:37–39; Rom. 5:5).

8. 1 Peter 3:18–22

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him. Read More

A key statement on the substitutionary atonement of Christ. He suffered and died as the righteous one in place of the unrighteous, in order to bring us to God. One interpretation of being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit is that “in the flesh” means in the visible, physical realm in which Jesus was crucified and “in the spirit” (1 Pet. 4:6) means in the invisible, spiritual realm where Christ now lives. Another view is that Jesus died physically but was raised from the dead by the Holy Spirit.

spirits in prison. There is much debate about the identity of these spirits. The Greek term pneuma (“spirit”), in either singular or plural, can mean either human spirits or angels, depending on the context (cf. Num. 16:22; 27:16; Acts 7:59; Heb. 12:23; etc.).

A comparison is drawn between salvation in the ark and baptism. In both instances, believers are saved through the waters of judgment, since baptism portrays salvation through judgment. The mere mechanical act of baptism does not save, for Peter explicitly says, “not as a removal of dirt from the body,” meaning that the passing of water over the body does not cleanse anyone. Baptism saves you because it represents inward faith, as evidenced by one’s appeal to God for the forgiveness of one’s sins (for a good conscience). Furthermore, baptism “saves” only insofar as it is grounded in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Baptism is a visual representation of the fact that Christians are clothed with Christ (cf. Gal. 3:27), and in union with Christ they share his victory over sin. Though Christians have disagreed about the proper mode of water baptism beginning in the early history of the church, Christians have generally agreed (irrespective of denominational differences) that water baptism is an outward sign of the inward reality of regeneration, which is the result of the work of the Holy Spirit (cf. John 3:5, 8; Titus 3:5), and which may be received only by grace through faith (see Eph. 2:8).

The central truth of 1 Pet. 3:18–22 is that Christ has triumphed over his enemies. He is now ascended to the right hand of God, and all angels and demonic powers are subjected to him since he is Lord and Christ. Christians can therefore rejoice in their sufferings, knowing that Christ has triumphed.

9. Matthew 28:19–20

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Read More

The imperative (make disciples, that is, call individuals to commit to Jesus as Master and Lord) explains the central focus of the Great Commission, while the Greek participles (translated go, baptizing, and “teaching” [Matt. 8:20]) describe aspects of the process. all nations. Jesus’ ministry in Israel was to be the beginning point of what would later be a proclamation of the gospel to all the peoples of the earth, including not only Jews but also Gentiles. The name (singular, not plural) of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is an early indication of the Trinitarian Godhead and an overt proclamation of Jesus’ deity.

Teaching is a means by which disciples of Jesus are continually transformed in order to become more like Christ (cf. 10:24–25; Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18). observe. Obey. I am with you always. Jesus concludes the commission, and Matthew his Gospel, with the crucial element of discipleship: the presence of the Master, who is “God with us” (cf. Matt. 1:23).

10. Acts 22:16

And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name. Read More

Be baptized and wash away your sins does not imply that the physical act of baptism itself cleanses people spiritually from sin, for Ananias gives Paul two distinct commands. Thus baptism should be viewed as an outward symbol of the cleansing from sin that occurs when someone trusts in Jesus (cf. 1 Pet. 3:21). Belief leads to cleansing, but baptism pictures this. Because baptism pictures the reality, the two are often discussed as if they belong to the same act. As Heb. 10:19–22 shows, the believer’s sins are “washed away” through faith in “the blood of Jesus,” with the result that the believer is “sprinkled clean” and “washed with pure water.”

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