“If baptism is so important, then why isn’t baptism mentioned in every single passage about conversion?”



There is a simple principle of language that many of us constantly use, but overlook in scripture. It is called synecdoche. It means: the part represents the whole. We use synecdoche all the time in English. The following are examples:

1.       "Bless your heart" = We don't mean bless the organ that pumps your blood. We mean "Bless all of you." The part represents the whole. The heart represents the whole person.

2.      "It's good to see your face" = "It's good to see YOU, all of you"

3.      "Bless the hands that prepared this food" = "Bless ALL of you"

4.      "I like your wheels" = "I like your whole car"

5.      "Let's do a head count" = "Let's count all the people" to include their bodies

6.      "I have 100 head of cattle" = "I have 100 whole cows"

We use synecdoche all the time. It's like second nature.

It is also used in the Bible like this. When the New Testament writers speak of being saved by believing, they are using "believe" synecdocally. The term "believe" represents the whole response to the gospel. The emphasis he is trying to make in the context decides which term he uses. Sometimes he speaks of being saved by repentance (2 Pet. 3:9) but repentance is representative of the WHOLE response to the gospel to include faith, baptism, and being faithful. Baptism is used synecdocally in 1 Pet. 3:21 and "believe" in places like Acts 16:31. But it is apparent that "believe" is used in a representative way in this verse because the jailer was baptized the same hour of the night. Confessing is used in Romans 10:9-10 along with belief.

It is utterly absurd to expect the New Testament writers to write down every single faith-response to the gospel every time they talk about it. But WHATEVER they wrote, whether believe, repent, baptism, works, confess - - ALL were representative of the WHOLE response to the gospel. The hearers understood this.

The above section was contributed by the Linary Church of Christ



Baptism is, in fact, mentioned in every single detailed conversion story in the book of Acts.


It must be remembered that faith, repentance and baptism, all combined, are what make up the three facets of conversion. Some passages of scripture emphasize baptism. Other passages emphasize belief, and still others emphasize repentance. Some emphasize two out of the three. And yet in still others, all three facets can be seen.


In the book of Acts, when the question was asked, "What must I do to be saved?" some were told they needed to believe because they had not yet done so. Others were told to repent because they had not yet done that. And still others were told to be baptized because that still needed to be done. If the New Testament and its teachings are taken as a whole, then it is certainly reasonable to conclude that God requires faith, repentance, and baptism for a person to be saved.


For example, just because one particular passage does not emphasize repentance, it does not mean we do not need to repent. Jesus very clearly stated in Luke 13:3 that unless we repent, we too, will all perish. Does that mean then that the passages that emphasize faith, that repentance is not required? Of course not! What about passages that don’t mention faith, repentance or baptism? Take a look at Acts 14. Here, large numbers of people were being converted, yet nothing is mentioned specifically as to how people responded, not even faith! The fact that they believed must be inferred.


Acts 14:21

They preached the good news in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch


Next, we find where people were converted, but it only mentions repentance, nothing of faith:


Acts 26 :20

First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.


So we see that some passages speak of repentance. Does that mean they didn’t believe? Of course not. Other passages speak of faith or belief. Does that mean they did not repent? No. But we know for conversion to occur, even opponents of baptism will grant at least faith and repentance is required. This tells us we cannot isolate one single passage from the rest of the other scriptures in trying to derive its meaning. We must look at what the Bible says in all places regarding a particular subject and combine all these passages to see them together as a whole.


Someone will point out that the fact they repented implies they also believed. This is true. And by the same token, passages that speak only about faith imply, likewise, that they not only repented, but that they were baptized as well.


Again, every detailed conversion story in the book of Acts mentions baptism and that it is for the purpose of washing away sin. The vague, passing references to conversion mention only belief specifically, but when the scriptures become more specific and detailed, baptism is always there. Furthermore,  “to believe” implies believing the gospel message, and the gospel message includes not only faith, but repentance and baptism as well. It’s a funny thing, but sometimes non-Christians understand baptism better than those who profess faith in Christ. Ask a Hindu what baptism means and they will tell you it is something one does when they want to become a Christian.


Jesus said to Peter in Matthew 16:19 , “I give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven…” Jesus mentioned keys in the plural, not one key. So this means there is more than just one single “key.” Take the example of a bank vault that has two or more locks on it. One key is given to one officer of the bank, and a second officer holds a second, different key. It takes both keys to open the vault. Either one by itself will not accomplish the task. It is the combination of both keys being used simultaneously that will successfully open the vault. And so it is with conversion and the keys to the kingdom of heaven. These keys are: faith, repentance, baptism. It is when baptism is combined with faith and repentance, simultaneously that conversion occurs.


Let’s look at some specific passages and objections that often arise.




Acts 3:19-20

Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you--even Jesus. (NIV)


Curiously, the phrase, “and turn to God” in several versions (KJV, NKJV, Darby’s, KJ21, Webster’s, etc) render this as, “be converted”. If one wishes to stick with the NIV, then look at Acts 15:3:


The church sent them on their way, and as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told

how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the brothers very glad. (NIV)


The Greek text that the NIV is taken from uses the same root word in both of these passages, only the tense is different (epistrepho/epistrophe).


So now the question must be asked, what did Peter mean by saying, “Be converted?”

He told them to “repent and be converted”. So it is highly unlikely  “be converted” means just to repent. Otherwise, Peter would then be saying, “Repent and repent.” No, he must have been saying to repent and something else in addition to repentance.  To a Jew in the first century, to “convert” meant something they all understood. A Jew was born into their religion so there was no need to convert. Conversion was for those outside of Israel, that is, the Gentiles. And for Gentiles to convert to being a Jew they had to adopt the Jewish set of beliefs (i.e. repent) and then, to complete this conversion and have their status changed, they were to undergo tevillah, which is where they immerse themselves in a water bath called a mikveh.


“Mikveh” or “mikvah” is defined as follows:

"Mikvah" - (f., pl. "Mikvaot"); a ritual pool of water, used for the purpose of attaining ritual purity. Immersion in a Mikvah is performed for the following main purposes:

It is used in connection with Repentance, to remove the impurity of sin.

It is also used in connection with Conversion, because the convert has taken upon himself or herself to adopt the lifestyle of the Jew, that is based on the recognition of G-d as King of the Universe and on the obligation to perform the commandments of the Torah.

Regarding the practice of baptizing proselytes, Lightfoot, in Horae Hebraicae explains: "As soon as he grows whole of the wound of circumcision, they bring him to Baptism, and being placed in the water they again instruct him in some weightier and in some lighter commands of the Law. Which being heard, he plunges himself and comes up, and, behold, he is an Israelite in all things."

In Acts 2:38 Peter says, “Repent and be baptized…” A short while later, he says, “Repent and be converted…” Did Peter change his story so soon? Or is he saying the same thing? Jews understood that the conversion process involved tevillah—which is the Jewish term for what Christians call baptism. (See explanation of John 3:1-5) So although Peter did not use the word “baptism” in Acts 3:19 he was speaking of it! The phrase, “Repent and be baptized…” is synonymous with “Repent and be converted…”





John 3:16

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.


This is perhaps the most often quoted verse in the New Testament. It is often isolated and set apart from the rest of the dialogue in which it took place. To “believe in Jesus” means to believe the gospel message, and baptism is a part of that gospel message. It must also be remembered this verse is only one small part of a much larger conversation that Jesus had with Nicodemus. Verse 16 (of chapter 3) deals with faith in the Son. Repentance is talked about in regards to the snake that was lifted up and then again in verses 19-21. 

Verses 3 and 5 deal with baptism. This shows the importance of looking at the overall picture and not focusing in on any single verse or passage.


Furthermore, the NIV is the only translation that uses the word “shall” in John 3:16. All other translations render this verse, “…whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” The NIV erroneously takes a “maybe” and turns it into a “will be”. God gave us His Son so that we shouldn’t have to perish.



According to James, faith alone, by itself, will not save us:


James 2:19-20

You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that--and shudder. You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?


Faith must have actions to back it up with.




Acts 16:30-31

He then brought them out and asked, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" They replied, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved--you and your household."


This verse is often quoted but then the questioner stops short right in the middle of the story. People like to quote verses 30 and 31 but they don’t quote verses 32 and 33. Those very next two verses state that the Word of the Lord was preached to them and then they were immediately baptized. We know from James 2:19-20 that the jailer did not stop once he had a belief in Jesus. Indeed, there was more as verses 32-33 illustrate so clearly. See Acts 16:16-33 for more detail. It does no good to tell someone about baptism unless they are first told the message of Jesus Christ. The first step is to believe, then baptism will be effectual. Faith in Christ is what gives baptism its significance. Obviously, it does no good to tell someone to get baptized unless they have first heard the message of the cross and the story of Jesus.





Romans 10:9-10

That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.


Remember first, Paul just finished explaining in chapter 6, and in great detail, the role of baptism. This verse does not nullify that chapter. But it is of significance, however, to note the commentary on this verse in the NIV study Bible that states, --“”Jesus is Lord”, the earliest confession of Christian faith, probably used at baptism.” The verbal confession of faith that Jesus is the Christ is made at baptism, and is what is seen in the case of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8. Notice the eunuch asks to be baptized and Philip tells him “if you believe with all your heart, you may.” And then the Ethiopian eunuch confesses faith in Christ with his mouth, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” He is then baptized. This model is also referred to in the first letter of Paul to Timothy:


1Timothy 6:12 -14

Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ,


The reference to “eternal life” and the “good confession” makes perfect sense in the light of the correct understanding of baptism. It makes even more sense when one understands also, since the first century, it has always been the practice to make a verbal confession of faith in Christ at baptism. This passage is a reference to that very practice. The confession Jesus made before Pilate was, of course, that He was indeed the Christ.


There are several verses that speak of belief and what is tied with that belief and being saved:


Confess with mouth and believe will be saved (Romans 10:9-10)

Believe and is baptized will be saved (Mark 16:16)

Believe will be saved….and are then baptized (Acts 16:16-33)


Notice belief never stands alone, by itself. There is always some other action associated with it.  Jesus started preaching by telling us to “repent and believe the Good News.” Jesus also said in Luke 13:3 that unless we repent we will all perish. So we can add one more to the above list:

Repent and believe (Mark 1:15)


Remembering we cannot isolate one verse from another, but putting all these scriptures together, let’s see what kind of a picture we get:


Confess with mouth and believe will be saved

Believe and is baptized will be saved

Believe will be saved….and are then baptized

Repent and believe


What is tied to believing?





Looking at it from another angle, notice also that baptism always has something else tied to it:

Believing (Acts 8:37; Mark 16:16)

Repentance (Acts 2:38) { Luke 13:3,5}

Confession of faith in Jesus Christ (Acts 8:36-37)

Which all leads to:

Being baptized (in water) for the forgiveness of sins.


This is where we get:


1.)   Hear the Word

2.)   Believe

3.)   Repent of our sins

4.)   Confess faith in Christ

5.)   Be baptized for the forgiveness of sins


It’s that simple.





This page last updated: July 28, 2004