Who Should Baptize?

I recently heard of a conservative Anabaptist father who asked if he could be involved in the baptism of his son. Even without knowing the details, anyone of a conservative Anabaptist background knows that he was, of course, turned away. He was told that in our tradition, only the ministry can do the baptizing.

This is the tradition of our people, and in most of our congregations, we limit it even further to saying that it should be only the bishop who can do the actual baptizing. It brought some questions to my mind. What is our tradition based on? Is there Scriptural reasoning behind it? What does Scripture say about those that baptize? Are there Biblical qualifications that must be met before one can be involved in a baptism?

What does the Bible say?

Jesus never baptized anyone, but He Himself was baptized and He spoke of baptizing. Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist and by that account we can draw two conclusions. First, the One being baptized approached the other and asked to be baptized by him. Second, the one doing the baptizing did not need to be greater than the one he was baptizing– although John initially protested about that.

The book of Acts gives the most accounts of people getting baptized, but who is doing the baptizing is not usually emphasized as much as the name of the One they are being baptized in.

– Acts 2:38-41

Peter preached and the people asked, “What shall we do?” Peter answered, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ…”

In verse 41, it says that “they that gladly received his word were baptized…about three thousand souls.” No mention is given of who did the baptizing.

– Acts 8:12

Philip preached in Samaria, and when the people believed Philip “concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized”. Again, no mention of who was doing the baptizing.

– Acts 8:30-39

The account of Philip baptizing the eunuch is the only time in Acts that it says specifically who did the baptizing.

– Acts 9:17-18

Even when the Apostle Paul got baptized, it never says specifically who it was that did the baptizing. Only that Ananias laid hands on him, he received his sight, and was baptized.

– Acts 10

In this account of Peter taking the Gospel to the Gentiles, the “Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word”. Peter then commanded them to be “baptized in the name of the Lord”.

– Acts 16:30-36

When Paul and Silas were in prison, the jailor got saved and “was baptized, he and all his, straightway”. There is no mention of who did the baptizing.

– Acts 19:1-8

Those who had been baptized by John in Ephesus were re-baptized in the name of Jesus. There is no mention of who did the baptizing.

It is safe to assume, however, that those involved in presenting the Gospel were then also involved in the baptism.

However, it is also safe to assume that the writer of Acts thought who was getting baptized and why they were getting baptized was more important than who did the baptizing.

We know that Paul did baptize people because he talks about it in 1Cor. 1:11-17. However, he makes it clear that who did the baptizing was of no importance and says that he’s glad that he didn’t baptize very many “lest any should say that I baptized in mine own name.”great commission

Why do we baptize people? 

Jesus spoke of baptizing when He gave the great commission to the eleven disciples. He said, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you:” (Mat. 28:19-20a)

This is understood to apply to all followers of Christ, not just the apostles. This is evidenced by Philip the Evangelist and deacon– not to be confused with the apostle Philip– who baptized the eunuch and others in Acts 8.

If we believe that the Great Commission applies to all Christians, is it wrong to apply only part of it to all Christians and assign the rest to only the bishop or ministry team? Jesus simply said “Go”, “Teach”, and “Baptize”.

Could I be so bold to say that either all of it applies to all believers, or all of it applies to only specific believers that hold a ministry position?


6 thoughts on “Who Should Baptize?

  1. Another excellent post. It seems to me that the “clergy only” baptism position is just assumed in much of the church. “Of course only pastors can baptize” without looking at the evidence in the New Testament. One can ask a similar question around the Lord’s Supper, can the Supper be properly celebrated apart from an organized church gathering under the authority of a pastor?

    Liked by 1 person

    • It seems it is always easier to just hold to tradition and assume we do it Scripturally because it’s “the way we’ve always done it”. I think you brought up another good subject as well that we would do good to take another look at. Jesus said of communion, “as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me”. No where are we told WHO should break the bread or offer the elements–only that we are to remember Him as we do it.

      This is a topic I would like to study more of our history on. Did the early Anabaptists always have only the ministry offer communion or did that start later? I believe a small group of believers doing a Bible study together could celebrate the Supper together in assurance that they are completely within what Jesus said to do.

      Thanks for commenting.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. My impression is that your concern is that we could relegate parts of the Great Commission to “trained individuals.” That is a very real danger and we must guard against it. However if we interpret the Great Commission in the context of the Body of Christ and baptism as induction into the Church (local and universal), then it seems appropriate that the undershepherds at last oversee the baptism. I haven’t thought through the implications on communion (per your comment to Arthur), so I won’t comment on that. But, I see a tendency in our culture and mirrored in myself to forget the Body of Christ in my interpretation of Scripture. Thanks for posting, I enjoy your thoughts


    • Thanks for commenting, Kenneth. I think I understand the direction you are going with baptism being the “induction into the church”. It is the last part of the great commission of “Go, teach, and baptize”. It is the part that adds a sheep to the fold.

      But yet baptism is part of the great commission.

      I would see the role of the undershepherd as the being the one that looks out for the guidance and safety of the sheep. And it is the Great Shepherd who adds in the new sheep to the fold. Is baptism not just a public declaration that “I am now His sheep”?

      If baptism only represents that we have become one of His sheep, should it matter if the undershepherd oversees the baptism? It certainly isn’t wrong for them to be involved, but my question would be, should it be a requirement?

      On the other hand, I can also see how an undershepherd would desire to be part of that induction into the fold, especially if that sheep is going to be part of the fold he is responsible for.

      But putting aside the shepherd analogy, from the examples that we see in Scripture, we can assume the one doing the evangelizing was most likely either involved in the baptism or at least overseeing it. If God is able to use a member of the body to portray the Gospel to another person in a clear enough way (and I don’t want to deduct from the work that the Holy Spirit does in bringing conviction here), would He not be able to also use this same person to do the baptizing?

      …Just kind of thinking aloud here as I type. Paul addressed a problem of people wanting to identify with the one who baptized them, rather than recognizing that we are all baptized into Christ (1 Cor. 1:10-17). Maybe we have this same problem–only reversed. We want to be able to claim converts as belonging to OUR fold and forget that we are all baptized into Christ.

      The question Paul says, “Is Christ divided?” could apply here as well.


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