IS IT NECESSARY, i.e., Scripturally required, for one who is baptizing another to say a certain verbal formula just prior to the baptism itself? Must he actually utter the words, “I now baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit” in order to certify the immersion? Let’s consider these questions together in the light of Scripture (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:3). Please note:
. What if the immerser says nothing just prior to the candidate’s immersion? Is the immerser guilty of sin? How might he go about repenting of this omission? Would a second immersion be necessary because he was silent just before the baptism took place?
. When a candidate is immersed for the remission of sins is he still in sin because the one doing the immersing did not articulate a specific verbal formula?
. Is any candidate’s salvation in any way dependent upon the verbiage of the individual performing the baptism?
. Is there a specific passage of Scripture which instructs the one doing the baptizing to say a certain verbal formula?
. Is there an approved example in the New Testament which illustrates where the individual doing the baptizing actually said, “I now baptize you in the name of…?”
It essential that we differentiate between what the candidate MUST DO (Acts 16:30), and what the one doing the baptizing COULD SAY. Every candidate MUST believe on the Lord Jesus and be baptized (1 Pet. 3:21), but every individual doing the immersing is free to speak or remain silent at the event.
Years ago I (Mike) brought one particular man to the building for baptism. He knew the gospel (1 Cor. 15:1-4), he knew that he lost (Rom. 3:23), as well as what he needed to do in order to be saved (Mark 16:15-16). He was an especially large and overweight man. I expressed concern as to how I might get him back into the water and then safely bring him out of the water. He chose to kneel down, neck deep, in the baptistery and then suggested that I merely push his head forward under the water to complete his obedience to the Lord. I agreed to do so in keeping with Scriptural precedent (Acts 8:38; Rom. 6:3-4). I then started to say, “I now baptize you in the name of the Father…” when the man suddenly took a deep breath and pulled himself under the water. My hand was touching his head, but my words were incomplete. Was it necessary for me to baptize him again because I hadn’t finished the sentence? Was he any less saved because of what I did or did not say? Was his salvation in any way contingent upon my verbiage? Were his sins not remitted by the blood of Christ because I wasn’t able to finish my sentence? To ask these questions is to answer them.
The emphasis in Scripture has to do with the AUTHORITY for baptism and not the exact terminology employed at that time. As Wayne Jackson states, “No passage in the New Testament, which mentions baptizing ‘into’ the ‘name’ of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (or ‘into’ Christ, or ‘in’ his name), has reference to what is being said at the time of the immersion. …There is no allusion whatsoever to a formalized ‘language code’ that is required in order to validate the immersion.”1 Watch:
. “Baptizing them IN (Greek—eis, into) THE NAME OF the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mat. 28:19b).
. “Be baptized IN (Greek—epi, upon) THE NAME OF Jesus Christ” (Acts 2:38).
. “Baptized IN (Greek—eis, into) THE NAME OF the Lord Jesus” (Acts 8:16).
. “Baptized IN (Greek—en, in) THE NAME OF the Lord” (Acts 10:48).
. “Baptized IN (Greek—eis, into) THE NAME OF the Lord Jesus” (Acts 19:5).
“To be baptized ‘upon the name’ or ‘in the name,’ of Jesus suggests the ground or occasion for the baptism. “The name” in the Sacred Writings often denotes the sum of the divine attributes of the Person named; all that is involved in the Being whose name is thus designated. ‘Into the name’ denotes union or communion with. Thayer says that ‘by a usage chiefly Hebraistic the name is used for everything a name covers…to do a thing in the name of another, i.e., by one’s command and authority, acting on his behalf, promoting his cause.’ Thus acting by the authority of Christ from the relationship we sustain to him our Redeemer and Lord, we are baptized into a state of union and communion with God the Father, Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit”’ (emphasis mine—mb).2
Sometimes one performing a baptism will hold his free hand high in the air as he says, “I now baptize you in the name of …” Hopefully we all recognize and agree that having his hand in the air is neither required nor commanded. It is simply a customary activity employed to add (it is argued) solemnity to the occasion. The person who is being baptized is not in any way impacted by this token gesture. Well, the same is true of what is said at immersion. Verbal statements are merely customs which preachers and others have employed down through the years as they carry out their work. The key word in that sentence is customs—and customs are not commands (cf. Mat. 15:8).
Brethren, let’s be very cautious about speaking where the Bible does not speak and legislating where the Bible has not bound (1 Pet. 4:11; Col. 3:17). The Word of God does not specify what one doing the immersing must say; 3 it does mandate what he must do—immerse!
1 Wayne Jackson, “Is a ‘Word Formula’ Required in Administering Baptism,” Christian Courier.
2 Guy N. Woods, Questions and Answers—Open Forum, 165-66.
3 To be baptized upon the name is to be baptized on the confession of that which the name implies: on the ground of the name; so that the name Jesus, as the contents of the faith and confession, is the ground upon which the becoming baptized rests. In the name (ἐν) has reference to the sphere within which alone true baptism is accomplished. The name is not the mere designation, a sense which would give to the baptismal formula merely the force of a charm. The name, as in the Lord’s Prayer (“Hallowed be thy name”), is the expression of the sum total of the divine Being: not his designation as God or Lord, but the formula in which all his attributes and characteristics are summed up. It is equivalent to his person. The finite mind can deal with him only through his name; but his name is of no avail detached from his nature. When one is baptized into the name of the Trinity, he professes to acknowledge and appropriate God in all that he is and in all that he does for man. He recognizes and depends upon God the Father as his Creator and Preserver; receives Jesus Christ as his only Mediator and Redeemer, and his pattern of life; and confesses the Holy Spirit as his Sanctifier and Comforter. Marvin Richardson Vincent, Matthew 28:19, Word Studies in the New Testament, Vol. 1, 150.
–By Mike Benson and Jason Campbell