What Must Be Confessed Prior to Baptism?

From Issue: R&R – July 2023


Must a preacher say something before he baptizes a person and, if so, what must he say?


The New Testament does not prescribe any words for the preacher to oralize before he baptizes an individual. The New Testament accounts of conversion give no indication that words must be spoken prior to immersion—even as it gives no qualifications for the one doing the baptizing.1 Acts 2:38 (“in the name of Jesus Christ”) and Matthew 28:19-20 (“in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”) are not prescriptive, but strictly explanatory—not intended to be indications of any oral formula to be expressed. Each of the two passages provides explanation as to the design of baptism, i.e., water immersion has as its purpose to mark the point at which an individual receives “remission of sins” (Acts 2:38) and submits himself to the “name,” i.e., authority, of the Godhead, thus entering “into” (eis) that condition (Matthew 28:19).2

Preachers are certainly authorized to give explanation and/or teaching prior to the immersion—usually to make certain that the one being baptized clearly understands the significance of what is happening. Such clarifications can also benefit observers. Since this instruction is permissible any time prior to the baptism—whether a week, a day, or a minute before the actual immersion—anything said is simply further instruction that God approves. To summarize, the New Testament gives no instruction regarding what the preacher may or must say prior to baptizing an individual.

Observe, on the other hand, that the New Testament is very specific regarding the oral confession that a person must make prior to his or her baptism. The oral confession uttered by the Ethiopian Eunuch in some older translations (Acts 8:37) is a textual variant. Textual critics note that its historicity is undoubtedly accurate, even if not a part of the original text.3 However, two additional passages clarify the same thing: First, Paul stated that the “good confession” was made by Jesus Himself when He was arraigned before Pilate (1 Timothy 6:12-13). Mark’s account reads: “Again the high priest asked Him, saying to Him, ‘Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?’ And Jesus said, ‘I am’” (Mark 14:61-62). This claim to be the Son of God was, in fact, the legal grounds upon which the Jews accused Him before Pilate: “The Jews answered him, ‘We have a law, and according to our law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God’” (John 19:7). Other verses stress the necessity of this central acknowledgement: Matthew 16:16; 27:54; Mark 5:7; Luke 2:11; John 1:49; 20:28; Philippians 2:11. Second, Paul explicitly stated in Romans 10:9-10 the fact that a person must make an oral confession (“with the mouth”) prior to baptism: “because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (ESV).

In each of these cases, what is being orally confessed is that the one being baptized believes in the deity of Christ. This admission is, in fact, the very heart of Christianity. Everything connected to Christ and Christianity (including the cross and atonement) rely upon and are dependent upon Christ’s person, i.e., His divinity. God took on the likeness of a human being in the flesh (Philippians 2:5-11). This explains why the Holy Spirit inspired John to write an entire Gospel account pressing that very fact. He enumerated seven “signs” by which a person could know “that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31). That is the confession God requires. It lies at the heart of what it means to be a Christian (Matthew 16:18-20). “Christians” who actually dismiss the deity of Christ are antithetical to the entire notion of being a Christian.

Hence, the oral confession prior to baptism is not confessing one’s sins, or “confessing Jesus as my Savior,” or “confessing that I’m going to make Jesus the Lord of my life.” These are certainly things that ought to be a part of one’s conversion to Christ. They would surely be included in the confession of Matthew 10:32. Should I make Jesus the Lord of my life when I become a Christian? Certainly. Should my obedience to Him be a recognition of Him as the only One who can save me? Absolutely. But these realizations are not equivalent to the oral confession that must precede baptism that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.”


1 Kyle Butt (2011), “Who Can Baptize Another Person?” Apologetics Press,

2 Dave Miller (2019), Baptism & the Greek Made Simple (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press), pp. 14-20.

3 Bruce Metzger (1971), A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (New York: United Bible Societies), p. 360.

Baptism and the Greek Made Simple


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