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What Does the Bible Say About...Baptism and the Thief on the Cross?

I just read your insightful page about baptism on the site, but I have one question that I ask myself all the time. If baptism is necessary for salvation, why is the thief on the cross told by Jesus that he was saved because of his belief? And why doesn't it mention Jesus performing baptisms as he met people and led them to believe? He said that John's baptism was a baptism of repentance but Jesus' was that of the Holy Spirit.

I know that Jesus also told us to go and baptize all nations...but don't we say we are immersing ourselves in something when we are digging in and learning about something, spending all of our time in it? Could it be that Jesus didn't want the disciples to go and just say "Repent! Jesus is Lord!" and run between towns, but to sit with the people and immerse them in the teachings? And once we believe, isn't there a natural pull for us to be immersed in the Word?

I am a relatively new believer, and am just curious what your thoughts are on this. It is obviously a set of questions that many have asked for a long time.


I appreciate your questions. They show an interest in the truth of God's word.

The first question was "what about the thief on the cross?" Actually, he was a robber, not a thief, but that doesn't relate to the question. The answer is all a matter of timing. The apostles first preached the gospel of the risen Christ at Pentecost, fifty days after Jesus was crucified. By that time, in fact by the time of Jesus' resurrection, the robber was already dead, and so was liable under the Law of Moses and not under the dispensation of Christ. He doesn't even figure in any question of baptism. Additionally, nowhere in scripture does it say he was saved. Jesus tells him, "this day you will be with me in the garden." (Lk 23:43) (The word "paradise" means garden.) Most burials took place in gardens. Jesus could have been saying, in essence, "Why are you mocking me? You and I will both be in the grave today." Taken that way, no mention is made of salvation at all in the passage.

You also asked why Jesus didn't baptize? Read John 3:22-4:2 and you will find that he did baptize people with water, just as John did. At least, according to 4:2, it was done by his authority. Matthew 4:17 says that Jesus' message was the same as John's. So Jesus also baptized in water unto repentance.

Your other questions related to whether the baptism that we are to undergo might not be simply immersing oneself in the Word rather than in water. There are some scriptures that indicate that the baptism which the apostles preached in Jesus' name was water baptism. Jesus himself said in John 3:5 that we must be born again "of water and the Spirit." After Peter told the Jews at Pentecost to repent and be baptized, Acts 2:41 indicates that they were baptized that day. This indicates a one time occurrence, not a continual action of being immersed in the word. In Acts 8:36-39 it is very clear that Philip baptized the Ethiopian by immersing him in water. Peter tells his readers in 1 Peter 3:20-21 that baptism corresponds to the water of the flood in Noah's day. Even ignoring other passages that show it to be a one time act and a burial, these alone should be sufficient to show that it is a burial in water that was practiced by Jesus, the apostles, and those they taught.

I thank you for your questions. It is only by asking and studying that you can grow into the mature Christian that God would have you be.