Baptism Basics: The Method

Baptism Defined

The verb “baptize,” from a verb meaning “dip,” lengthens in Greek to mean “immersion, submersion and emergence.”[1] Other grammarians add synonyms like “dip, immerse … plunge, sink, drench, overwhelm.”[2] The word “baptize” was used to describe dyeing a garment, drawing wine by dipping a cup into a bowl, or being overwhelmed by questions.[3] Baptism requires an element in which to baptize, one doing the baptizing, one being baptized and a certain purpose. Believers’ baptism is done in water by a faithful fellow believer to a saved individual desiring to obey God. Further examples of baptism correspond to this definition.

Biblical Examples Matter

In our current Christian climate, we’ll take a moment to defend the importance of observing and following biblical examples. Some modern scholars attempt to divide Scripture, most notably the NT, into descriptions and prescriptions. This is done, in the author’s opinion, to allow believers to ease their consciences about following practices and traditions unsupported by Scripture.

Ignoring biblical descriptions, including Christian living, evangelistic practices, baptism or local assembly gatherings, undermines godliness. It also allows individuals to create their own practices for their convenience or culture instead of observing and continuing in the practices of early NT believers. In the context of baptism, it opens the door for the notion that “sprinkling” could be “baptism” if examples don’t matter. Instead, one could consult writings like the Didache that instruct about when sprinkling or pouring is permitted or baptism water temperature.

Yet a foundational text of Scripture condemns the idea that biblical descriptions don’t matter. Paul reinforced to Timothy at the end of his life that “every scripture is inspired by God” (2Ti 3:16 NET, italics mine). God has not left us to self-determine best practices, but rather “the mind of Christ” is learned as the “Holy Spirit teaches” based on the inspired Scripture; biblical examples are God-breathed examples (1Co 2:13,16). With the knowledge that we can know God’s thoughts on any matter by listening to the Spirit of God through His Word, let us glean some key points from examples given to us about baptism in the NT.

First Believers Baptized

Acts 2 chronicles the baptism in the Spirit, the formation of the Church which is the body of Christ, and the first local church. Peter preached a message centered on this truth: “God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ” (v36).[4] Some of the same crowd who consented to the Lord’s death some 50 days earlier were deeply convicted and sought forgiveness from God. Peter told them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (v38). Repentance in this case was not only of all their sins but of their sin of crucifying Christ. In the anti-Christ climate of Judaism, subsequent individual baptism demonstrated that their faith was already in Jesus as Christ and Lord. Verse 41 gives clarity to verse 38: “They that gladly received his word were baptized.” Saved believers were baptized. These baptized believers were then also added to the first local assembly fellowship.

Baptism Beyond Jerusalem

Luke, through the Spirit in Scripture, is particular about when baptisms are mentioned. Each mention is expressly linked with the geographical locations outlining the book of the Acts: “Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (1:8). We don’t read more examples of baptism until the great persecution and scattering of the saints in Acts 8. When the gospel went into Samaria and Judaea, those that believed Philip concerning his preaching, both men and women, were baptized (v12). Then Simon professed faith and was baptized (v13). A divinely appointed encounter between Philip and an Ethiopian eunuch resulted in a baptism since he believed Philip’s preaching about Jesus as the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53. As the gospel entered Asia in Acts 16, Lydia, “whose heart the Lord opened,” her household, and the Philippian jailor, “believing God with all his house,” were individually baptized.

The baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:26-40 is a vignette giving strong support to the definition and proper mode of baptism. The eunuch raised the question about baptism upon arrival to a significant body of water (v36). If sprinkling were suitable, surely water would have been available from their drinking water. Now that full submersion was possible and faith in Jesus Christ as Son of God was evident, Philip and the eunuch both went into the water, the eunuch was baptized, and they both came out of the water (vv38-39).

What Baptism Cannot Do

When we examine the examples the Spirit of God left us, we learn that baptism cannot save. Acts 8 tells us about a man named Simon. Scripture says, “Then Simon himself believed also: and … he was baptized” (v13). His belief was merely a desire to be associated with Christ because of visible power, much like those in Jerusalem in John 2:23-25. It was evident to Peter that Simon was not truly a believer when he commented, “Thy money perish with thee …. Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter [the gift of God]: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God” (vv20-21). Baptism could not save Simon.

Similarly, Paul infers that baptism does not save in 1 Corinthians 1:14 when he says, “I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius.” Paul knew the importance of baptism, yet divisions and parties had permeated the whole local assembly in Corinth and Paul wanted no one to associate themselves with him – only Christ. We might ask, If baptism had any merit for salvation or bestowed any grace upon us, would Paul be thankful to not have baptized? If baptism carried these abilities, he would have been happy to mention all he baptized.


We have observed various examples of baptism in Scripture. Following the formation of the Church at Pentecost through the baptism of the Spirit, believers in Jesus as Lord and Christ subsequently began to be baptized. A believer conducted a baptism by baptizing another believer, through immersion, submersion and their emergence from water. Baptisms occurred upon request by those who knew they needed to be baptized since they had believed in Christ. Why be baptized? We will examine that question in the next article.

[1] W.E. Vine, The Collected Writings of W.E. Vine, Vol 5, Baptism (Glasgow: Gospel Tract Publications, 1986), 93.

[2] Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, ed. William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, 4th ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1952), 151-2.

[3] Many examples are observed by consulting the works of Thayer, Moulton and Milligan, Bauer and others.

[4] All Scripture quotations in this article are from the KJV unless otherwise noted.