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  • Writer's pictureJan Weihl

Who should be baptized (Acts 8:37)

The question, "who should be baptized," is answered differently depending on your church. Some churches baptize infants and tie baptism to salvation. Other churches only baptize those who choose to believe in Jesus. But what does the Bible teach us?

In Acts 8, Philip is called by God to get up and take the less traveled road from Jerusalem to Gaza. He immediately obeys and comes upon an Ethiopian eunuch court official reading Isaiah 53 in his chariot. Philip asks the eunuch if he understands what he is reading. The eunuch doesn't understand. So Philip joins him in his chariot and explains that Isaiah 53 is talking about Jesus and His sacrifice for our sins.

After hearing Philip explain the gospel message of salvation from Isaiah 53, the eunuch confesses his faith in Jesus by saying:

Acts 8:36 "Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?"

And then in Acts 8:37, the implied answer is stated, "If you believe with all your heart, you may." And then we are told in Acts 8:38 that the eunuch commanded the chariot to stop and Philip baptized him.

However, we must note that Acts 8:37, was not in the earliest manuscripts of the book of Acts. It was added around 500 AD, which is why there is [ ] around it in the picture above.

So then who should be baptized? Is Acts 8:37 the correct interpretation? Should infants be baptized? Or should only those who have repented of their sins and trusted in Jesus with all their heart be baptized?

Keep in mind, all baptisms in the first 300 years of the church were done only by immersion. It wasn't until later, when there were droughts, that other forms of baptism were introduced to continue to obey Jesus' command in Matthew 28:19-20.

But is it really that important? Yes, I believe it's very important because as later forms of baptism were introduced, people gravitated to thinking that an infant must be baptized to be saved, even though that's not what Scripture says.

Jesus gave specific instructions as to who should be baptized:

Matthew 28:19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them ..

A disciple is someone who has "believed in Jesus with all their heart" and chosen to submit their lives to Him as His follower. The first step of that obedience is baptism.

But here's the additional question we need to ask. Why were those ancient scholars in 500 AD, confident that they could add Acts 8:37 to the manuscript without changing the meaning of the text?

I think the answer is that unlike most of us, they understood what "baptism" meant to a Jew. In Judaism, when you became a Jew, identifying with the Jewish teachings, you were baptized (immersed) under water in a mikva as a purification rite called tvilah. That's where our Christian baptism rite comes from. That's why when John the Baptist started baptizing, no one questioned what baptism was or why he was doing it. Notice in the gospels not even the Jewish leaders asked, "what is this new thing you are doing?"

So after Philip explained the meaning of Isaiah 53 and the eunuch believed in Jesus with all of his heart, he chose to identify with Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection through baptism.

The Apostle Paul explained the symbolism of baptism in Romans 6:

Romans 6:3-4 3 Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

When we are immersed under the baptism water, we identify with Jesus' death and burial. When we are raised up out of the baptism water, we identify with Jesus' resurrection.

Knowing the Jewish tvilah rite and then reading the eunuch's question, "what prevents me from being baptized?" after hearing the gospel explained to him, it is clear that Acts 8:37 "if you believe with all your heart, you may," is the intent of the passage, even without it being added.

Baptism does not save anyone. It is an outward sign of an inward commitment, like a wedding ring is to a marriage. My wedding ring does not make me married to my husband. It is a sign that I have committed my life to be my husband's wife.

So if you have believed in Jesus with all your heart, have you obeyed His command in Matthew 28:19 to be immersed under water, identifying with His death and burial and raised up out of the water, identifying with His resurrection?

Each of us has to decide for ourselves on doctrinal topics like baptism. We have to decide what we believe it means and how we are to obey it. Your decision might be different than mine. You may decide to follow the teachings of the church you attend. For me, the teachings of the church must line up with Jesus' example in Scripture. Since Jesus was baptized by immersion and said to baptize disciples, that is what I will follow.

Dear Lord, Thank you for commanding your followers to be baptized to identify with your death, burial, and resurrection. Thank you for commanding us to go and share your gospel message with others, teaching them to obey everything You have commanded us, including to be baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, marking the beginning of our new life, dedicated to following You. In Jesus' name, amen.

Jan Weihl

Living Word Ministries

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