What is Baptism? Is it necessary to be saved, or is it something you do after believing in Jesus? Does baptizing babies overwrite apostasy as an adult?
The bible’s examples all show that personal belief comes first before baptism (Mark 16:16 and Acts 8:36). Lots of people get baptized as children (some even as infants), but don’t believe in God when they grow up. This shows that no person, especially babies, can be saved by a ritual or action. They have to grow up and be aware of their sins first, then if they repent and receive Jesus and the Holy Spirit in response to the Gospel message (Romans 10:5-10), that is when a person gets saved and baptism comes afterward as an outward expression of faith. Faith comes by hearing (Romans 10:17) which is not about audibly hearing sounds but rather understanding and comprehension. Babies cannot comprehend God’s word or sinful nature until they have basic language skills.
Water Baptism is part of salvation and is only available after the resurrection of Christ (1 Peter 3:20-21). People have to be repentant and want to be baptized (Acts 2:38). Acts 2:38 Peter says to everyone gathered, to repent of their sins and turn to God, and then be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, which means the decision to repent and receive Jesus comes first, then Baptism, then receiving the holy spirit. For example, the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8:36-37. Phillip asked if he believes first and then baptizes him. Acts 8:36 (KJV) says “And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? 37 And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”
In Acts 16:29-31, the jailer asked Paul how to be saved, and he said that he must believe in the Lord Jesus, with no mention of baptism until verse 33. In verse 32 he goes to the jailer’s house and ministers to his family and household, and they all believed. Then in verse 33, they all got baptized. Belief comes before baptism, so baptizing children is worthless since they can’t state a belief or repent. A child must be of age to understand right from wrong and recognize that they can choose to do one or the other. The age varies and will depend on how they were raised, and what they were exposed to concerning the bible. Baptism doesn’t save anyone, it’s something that people who already believed and are repentant do as an outward profession of faith.
Some say the thief on the cross accepted Christ while on a cross and there is no way he could have gotten baptized (Luke 23:43). However, that was under the old covenant since Jesus hadn’t died yet. The thief either is dead with the old testament saints in Paradise until the first resurrection, or he may have been one of the ones raised with Jesus in Matthew 27:52-53. If he was resurrected, he could have proclaimed Jesus as Lord, got baptized in water, received the Holy Spirit later on, and went out to serve in the church in the 1st Century. 40 days after Jesus rose, he ascended to heaven and placed his blood on the altar (Hebrews 9:16-17), and that prepared way for the Holy Spirit to come in Acts 2, which is when the new covenant actually starts. The Holy Spirit arrives 10 days after the ascension, (50 days after the crucifixion), on a holiday called Shavuot or Pentecost. This is when Acts 2 happens and the holy spirit comes upon the Jewish believers, and then later to the Samaritans and Acts 8, and the Gentiles in Acts 10. Since he was likely Jewish if resurrected he may have been there in Acts 2. Whether the thief got resurrected and baptized or stayed dead and is awaiting the resurrection in the future, he is saved because he believed not because of baptism. Jesus told him he would see him in paradise so Jesus counted his faith and repentance.
According to Paul in Acts 19:1-7 water baptism is a representation of our decision to follow Christ. It is not as important as the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which is God’s spiritual presence and power inside of us making us new temples (1 Cor 3:16-17, 1 Cor 6:19-20, & 2 Cor 6:15-18), for the purpose of giving us a way to overcome our sin nature (Gal 5:16, Gal 6:7-8).
Acts 8:37 has been removed from some translations but it is in the KJV. Its removal happened because it wasn’t in some of the older Greek manuscripts but based on the rest of Peter and Paul’s teaching on the subject I believe it is true.