The Subjects of Bible Baptism

By Harry E. Ozment

There is not a single aspect connected with baptism about which there is not some controversy in the religious world. This is true in regard to its essentiality, its form, and its element. There is also controversy in the consideration of the subjects of baptism. Let us investigate the three main ideas that are held concerning this.

Jews Only

There are many people in the religious world who believe in and practice today the baptism of John the Baptist. In so doing, however, those people must accept the position that their baptism is for Jews only; for, John the Baptist preached only to Jews, and John baptized only the Jews. We read that all of John’s ministry was done only in a land that was inhabited by Jews (Matt. 3:5-6). Because John baptized many Jews before Jesus was manifested as the Christ, we may necessarily conclude that subjects of John’s baptism were not required to have faith in Jesus (see Matt. 3:5-12). This is not at all the baptism that Jesus commissioned in Mk. 16:15-16. Notice that the gospel was to be preached to “all the world” and to “every creature”-not just to the Jews alone (cf. Matt. 28:18-20; Lk. 24:47). Notice also that faith in Jesus is a pre-requisite to Bible baptism (Mk. 16:16). The baptism of John was never meant for this Christian dispensation. This can be seen in the events of Acts 18 and 19. Apollos was preaching and practicing the baptism of John until Aquila and Priscilla “expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly” (Acts 18:24-28). The Ephesians had obeyed the baptism of John, but because this was insufficient for the gospel dispensation, Paul re-baptized them scripturally (Acts 19:1-5). We today, therefore, are not subjects of John’s baptism.


Infant “baptism” (it is really sprinkling, not baptism) is practiced by a great many in the religious world-the Roman Catholics as well as many Protestant bodies. This, of course, does not make it right. The scriptures condemn “infant baptism” for infants are not the proper subjects of baptism. This is true for several reasons:

(a) A baby has no sin. As we have seen, baptism’s purpose is to remit sin by and through the blood of Christ. Only a sinner, therefore, is a proper subject for baptism. Babies born into this world commit no sin, and they inherit no sin. Hereditary depravity (or, original sin) is the root of infant baptism. In apostatizing from the original pattern of the gospel, men began to believe that infants inherited the original sin of Adam. If this were true, these men reasoned, it would necessitate the “baptizing” of infants. Thus, infants were sprinkled in the Roman Catholic Church. This doctrine of inherited sin, however, is foreign to the Bible. Sin can only be committed, not inherited (see Ezek. 18:20). John shows this in defining sin: “Sin is the transgression of the law” (1 Jn. 3:4).

(b) A baby cannot meet the pre-requisites of baptism. A mere dipping in water will save no one. There must be meaning and purpose behind such before it can be Bible baptism. Meaning and purpose is given to baptism when a person obeys its pre-requisites. Faith (Heb. 11:6), repentance (Lk. 13:3), and a confession of faith (Rom. 10:9-10) are all commands which-must be obeyed before one can be a proper subject for baptism. Infants cannot believe anything, for they do not have the capacity to understand what they should believe. Infants cannot repent for they have nothing of which to repent. Infants cannot confess, for they do not have the capacity even to speak. Therefore, they are not the proper subjects for baptism.

(c) There is no Bible example of infant baptism.

Many argue that the four examples of “household” baptisms necessarily infer that infants were baptized. Let us look briefly at the four cases:

(i) Household of Cornelius. Those composing this household were able to understand the words of Peter-thus they “heard the word” (Acts 10:44). This excludes infants.

(ii) Household of Lydia. This same household was able to be “comforted” by the words of Paul and Silas after their conversion (Acts 16:40). This excludes infants.

(iii) Household of Philippian a Jailor. When Paul preached the gospel to this house, all were able to believe it (Acts 16:34). This excludes infants.

(iv) Household of Stephanus. Paul baptized this Corinthian household (1 Cor. 1:16), but those of that household “addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints” (1 Cor. 16:15). This excludes infants.

Penitent Believers

These are the proper subjects for Bible baptism. Only penitent believers were baptized in the New. Testament. Before Philip baptized the eunuch, he made very sure that the treasurer was a believer (Acts 8:30-38). The Samaritans believed before they were baptized (Acts 8:12). Cornelius and his household were commanded to believe (Acts 10:43-44). The jailor and his house believed (Acts 16:31). Without exception, every case of conversion places faith before baptism. Therefore, only penitent believers are proper subjects for baptism. I believe that this is God’s simple plan regarding baptism and salvation. If man would take God’s word alone, there would be unity.

Truth Magazine XIX: 27, pp. 419-420
May 15, 1975