The scriptural basis for baptism

| Father Michael Van Sloun | April 18, 2017 | 0 Comments


Editor’s note: With this issue, The Catholic Spirit is launching “Faith Fundamentals,” a new monthly column from Father Michael Van Sloun that explores the basics of the Catholic faith. This first column begins a series on baptism.

Baptism is the first of the seven sacraments. It was established by Jesus and has a strong biblical basis. The Gospels report that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River (Mt 3:13-17; Mk 1:9-11; Lk 3:21-22). Jesus modeled the reception of baptism. Jesus saw the spiritual value of baptism for himself and, in doing so, showed that those who believe in him should also be baptized.

It is unclear to what extent Jesus conducted a baptismal ministry. On one hand, it appears that Jesus did baptize people. The Gospel of John explains that, “Jesus and his disciples went into the region of Judea, where he spent some time with them baptizing” (Jn 3:22), and that “Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John” (Jn 4:1). John the Baptist said that Jesus would “baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Mt 3:11). Yet, on the other hand, the fourth Gospel also states that “Jesus himself was not baptizing, just his disciples” (Jn 4:2).

Jesus instituted the sacrament of baptism when he commissioned his disciples before his ascension. He instructed them, “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” (Mt 28:19).

Jesus’ death on the cross saves sinners, and the water that flowed from his side (Jn 19:34) represents his saving grace that is poured out over believers in the waters of baptism.

Baptism held such an important place in the spiritual life of the early Church that John the Evangelist wove baptismal imagery into the encounter between Jesus and Peter at the Sea of Tiberias. When Peter saw Jesus, he “tucked in his garment,” which represents a baptismal garment, and he “jumped into the sea” (Jn 21:7), which represents the waters of baptism. When Peter said, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you” (Jn 21:15), he made a profession of faith, which is equivalent to baptismal promises.

The disciples took Jesus’ commissioning to heart and began a vigorous baptismal ministry. Peter invited his listeners to “repent and be baptized” (Acts 2:38). He explained that those who are baptized would be forgiven of their sins and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, and “those who accepted his message were baptized, and about 3,000 persons were added that day” (Acts 2:41). He also baptized Cornelius and a number of others in Joppa (Acts 10:48).

Likewise, Philip went on a missionary journey to Samaria where he “preached the good news … and the name of Jesus Christ, [and] men and women alike were baptized” (Acts 8:12). He also baptized Simon the magician (Acts 8:13). Another time, as Philip was traveling along the road from Jerusalem to Gaza, he came upon an Ethiopian court official, and after explaining the Scriptures to him, he baptized him (Acts 8:38).

The apostle Paul was baptized by Ananias after his conversion (Acts 9:18). When Paul arrived in Greece, he first preached in Philippi, and a woman named Lydia and her entire household were baptized (Acts 15:13-15). Later, Paul was imprisoned there, and after his miraculous release, he baptized the jailer and his family (Acts 15:33). When Paul went to Corinth, he baptized Crispus and many other Corinthians (Acts 18:8), and then many more in Ephesus (Acts 19:5).

Baptism is prefigured in a number of Old Testament events: the creation of the world when a mighty wind, the Spirit, swept over the waters (Gn 1:2); the great flood that marked the end of sin and the beginning of goodness (Gn 7-8); the crossing of the Red Sea when the Israelites were delivered through water (Ex 14:21-22); and when the Israelites crossed the Jordan River and entered the Promised Land
(Jos 3:14-17).

Father Van Sloun is pastor of St. Bartholomew in Wayzata. Read more of his writing at




Category: Faith Fundamentals