Baptism and New Testament Patterns


In what follows, I want to (a) offer some reflections on what I believe is the New Testament (NT) pattern of believer’s baptism and (b) ask questions in light of the NT pattern that emerges.

Of course, there are theological arguments for believer’s baptism (see Thomas R. Schreiner, ed., Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ, NAC Studies in Bible & Theology (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2006). Here, however, I’m mainly interested in establishing the pattern of believer’s baptism.

The NT Pattern of Believer’s Baptism

The NT assumes those who were part of the church were baptized. Several pieces of evidence support this assertion.

First, after the resurrection and before the ascension, Jesus leaves a final command with his disciples. He says, “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 obey all that I have commanded you …” (Matt 28:19–20).[1] Jesus calls his disciples to make disciples. Part and parcel of this call is baptizing new believers into the name of the triune God of the Bible. That is, the ideas of making disciples, baptizing them, and teaching them are not easily separated. As D. A. Carson writes, “baptizing and teaching are not the means of making disciples … they characterize it.”[2] Discipleship involved identifying with the Father, Son, and Spirit via baptism.

Second, baptism and conversion were linked together in the first Christian sermon after the ascension of Jesus. After Peter’s Pentecostal sermon, many “received his word,” “were baptized,” and were “added” to the believing community (cf. Acts 2:41). At the very beginning of the post-Easter Christian movement, baptism is shown to follow the reception of the good news.

Third, baptism followed repentance and faith so closely that within the NT baptism is often used as a synecdoche (cf. Rom 6:1­–4; Gal 3:26–27; Col 2:11–12; 1 Pet 3:21). That is, baptism is a part that refers to the whole.[3] To speak of baptism was to speak of the entire conversion experience.

Fourth, Paul assumes Christians have been baptized. In 1 Corinthians 1:10–17, Paul is addressing reports of factionalism among the Corinthian believers. One of the ways disunity displayed itself was over the issue of baptism. The doctrine of baptism was not a point of dispute. Instead, the issue surrounded pride and tribalism rooted in who administered someone’s baptism. In 1 Corinthians, Paul addresses the reports of divisiveness by first putting baptism in its proper place in relation to the gospel.[4] Baptism is not the gospel (cf. 1 Cor 1:17), yet Paul certainly assumes all who have embraced Jesus in the gospel have been baptized (cf. 1:15; 12:13).

In addition to Paul’s words to the church at Corinth, Romans 6:3–4 and Colossians 2:11–12 suggest all members of the Roman and Colossian churches had undergone believer’s baptism. Though “baptism” in Rom 6:3–4 and Col 2:11–12 is likely a synecdoche (see above), and the main theme of the context is “the believer’s participation with the death and resurrection of Christ,”[5] the act of physical baptism is certainly in view. In opposition to views that suggest baptism in this text is metaphorical,[6] or a reference to Spirit baptism,[7] Moo notes that Paul normally uses baptizein to denote water baptism.[8] In Colossians 2, the same argument holds. Again, baptism is not the main theme. Instead, the main idea is that Christians have died and been raised with Jesus (cf. 2:12). The reality of death and resurrection is pictured via their baptism. And Paul can reference baptism in order to make his point because, it seems, all had undergone the physical act. Thus, Paul can speak to the Roman and Colossian believers about their conversion by referencing their physical baptism precisely because all of them had this common experience (i.e. had been baptized).

Given the command of Jesus to baptize and the obedience of the early church to obey this command, F. F. Bruce correctly observes, “the idea of an unbaptized believer does not seem to be entertained in the New Testament.”[9] More to the point, the pattern present in the NT shows that baptism followed belief. Baptism and belief were so linked that to speak of baptism was an easy way of referencing the whole of conversion. Simply put, one followed Jesus in faith and subsequently submitted to the baptismal waters.

How Now Shall We Then Live?

I offer the above reflections in an effort to help those in my church and others who might read this to see some of the biblical reasons we baptize professing Christians. Though we love our brothers and sisters who have theological reasons for baptizing infants, we simply do not see the practice of infant baptism as consistent with the evidence in the NT.

Consider the following questions. Does the pattern we find in the NT match what has happened in your own life? Have you been baptized as a believer? If not, what prevents you now from moving forward?

If you’re a convictional Baptist, what other passages might you reference when defending the practice of baptizing believers?




[1] All Scripture quotations are taken from the ESV, unless otherwise noted.

[2] D. A. Carson, Matthew, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 8, ed. Frank Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), 668.

[3] Jamieson, Going Public, 41–44. Doug Moo writes, “In [Rom 6:3–4], then, we can assume that baptism stands for the whole conversion initiation experience, presupposing faith and the gift of the Spirit” (Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 366). Christopher Ash speaks succinctly when he comments on this passage, “Water baptism is short-hand for everything God does when he makes someone a Christian” (Christopher Ash, Teaching Romans. Vol. 1, (London; Fearn: PT Media; Christian Focus, 2009), 227.

[4] David Garland writes, “[Paul] does not disparage baptism as something unimportant but downplays the role of the one who performs the baptism” (David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 169).

[5] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament 6 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998), 305–306.

[6] See James D. G. Dunn et al., Romans 1 – 8, Word Biblical Commentary [General ed.: David A. Hubbard; Glenn W. Barker. Old Testament ed.: John D. W. Watts. New Testament ed.: Ralph P. Martin]; Vol. 38, A (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1988), 311.

[7] David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans—an Exposition of Chapter 6: The New Man (London: Banner of Truth Trust, 1972).

[8] Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, 1996), 376.

[9] F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts, New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), Kindle Loc. 2935. This type of statement is found in much of the literature, particularly from the likes of Baptist expositors. For instance, Shawn D. Wright is typical when he states, “The New Testament never alludes to an instance of a person being a church member without having been baptize…” (Shawn D. Wright, “Baptism in History, Theology, and the Church,” in Mark Dever, Jonathan Leeman, and James Leo Garrett, Baptist Foundations: Church Government for an Anti-Institutional Age (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2015), 125.).

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