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What Is Baptism?

The Bible’s answer

 Baptism refers to a person’s being submerged in water and coming up out of it. a That explains why Jesus was baptized in a sizable river. (Matthew 3:​13, 16) Likewise, an Ethiopian man asked to be baptized when coming to “a body of water.”​—Acts 8:​36-​40.

The meaning of baptism

 The Bible compares baptism to burial. (Romans 6:4; Colossians 2:​12) Water baptism symbolizes a person’s dying to his past course of life and beginning a new one as a Christian dedicated to God. Baptism and the steps that lead up to it are God’s arrangement for a person to gain a clean conscience based on his faith in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 3:​21) Thus, Jesus taught that his disciples must get baptized.​—Matthew 28:19, 20.

Does water baptism wash away sin?

 No. The Bible teaches that we can be cleansed from sin only through Jesus’ shed blood. (Romans 5:​8, 9; 1 John 1:7) To benefit from Jesus’ sacrifice, however, a person must exercise faith in Jesus, change his course of life to live in harmony with Jesus’ teachings, and get baptized.​—Acts 2:​38; 3:​19.

What is christening?

 The terms “christen” and “christening” do not appear in the Bible. They refer to a ceremony performed by some churches in which an infant is “baptized” (by having water sprinkled or poured on his head) and named.

Does the Bible teach infant baptism?

 No, it does not. Christian baptism is for those old enough to understand and believe in “the good news of the Kingdom of God.” (Acts 8:​12) It is linked with hearing God’s word, accepting it, and repenting​—actions that an infant cannot take.​—Acts 2:​22, 38, 41.

 In addition, the Bible shows that God views the young children of Christians as being holy, or clean in his sight, because of the parents’ faithful course. (1 Corinthians 7:​14) If infant baptism were valid, those children would not need to have the merit of someone else extended to them. b

Misconceptions about Christian baptism

 Misconception: Sprinkling or pouring water on a person is an acceptable substitute for complete immersion.

 Fact: The baptisms mentioned in the Bible all involved immersion. For example, when the disciple Philip baptized the Ethiopian man, they “went down into the water” for the baptism. Afterward, “they came up out of the water.”​—Acts 8:​36-​39. c

 Misconception: The Bible implies that infants were included when entire households were baptized. For example, it says of a jailer in Philippi: “He and his entire household were baptized.”​—Acts 16:31-​34.

 Fact: The account of the jailer’s conversion indicates that those who were baptized understood “the word of Jehovah” and that they “rejoiced greatly.” (Acts 16:32, 34) Those facts lead to the conclusion that any infants in the jailer’s household would not have been included in the baptism, because they could not understand the word of Jehovah.

 Misconception: Jesus taught infant baptism by saying that the Kingdom belongs to young children.​—Matthew 19:13-​15; Mark 10:13-​16.

 Fact: Jesus was not discussing baptism when he said those words. Instead, he was showing that those who would qualify for the Kingdom of God must be childlike​—meek and teachable.​—Matthew 18:4; Luke 18:16, 17.

a The Greek word translated “baptism” comes from a root that means “to dip in.” See the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Volume I, page 529.

b According to The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, “no room is found in the N[ew] T[estament] for infant baptism.” It also states that the practice grew out of “a mistaken and exaggerated estimate put upon the value of baptism,” that is, that baptism itself washes away sins.​—Volume 1, pages 416-​417.

c Under the heading “Baptism (in the Bible),” the New Catholic Encyclopedia states: “It is evident that baptism in the early Church was by immersion.”—Volume 2, page 59.