The Bible provides no verbal formula for to what to say at someone’s baptism. That may surprise you, but if you pay attention to the four points in this article, you’ll see that revering the name of Jesus and baptism in Jesus’ name is so much more than simply pronouncing the name of Jesus over someone when they’re placed in the water.
Over and over in the book of Acts, we see people being baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. To obey Jesus, we must do the same! But are you sure that means what you think it means? Videos, blogs, and sermons are filled with people explaining how and why they baptize in the name of Jesus. It’s often either stated or implied that this has to do with what the baptizer says at baptism.
Teachers and preachers do well when they emphasize the name of Jesus. If a disciple of Jesus doesn’t revere the name of Christ, there’s a disconnect between Savior and student. Salvation is found in Jesus alone. And Peter makes it clear:
Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.Acts 4:12
Are you sure you are currently saved by the name of Jesus? How do you know you’ve been baptized in the name of Jesus? Is it because someone pronounced Jesus’ name over you when you were dunked?
When you baptize someone, what words must you say? One option is, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” (see Matthew 28:19). Or how about, “I now baptize you in the name of Jesus Christ”? What verbal formula is to be used for a baptism to be valid?
So far, in all of my study, I have not come across a single place in Scripture where whatever was said during a baptism was recorded or commanded. The two closest records of the baptizer saying anything that I found in the Bible were:
- Matthew 3:14–15, when John tries to prevent Jesus’ baptism.
- Acts 8:37, when Philip tells the man from Ethiopia that if He believes, he may be baptized.
One thing that is conspicuously missing from the account of Scripture is a verbal formula uttered at baptism. Although baptism throughout the book of Acts surely was performed in the name of Jesus, not once do we have a record of someone saying, “I baptize you in the name of Jesus Christ.” Pay attention: This next part will challenge all of us to be better listeners of the Scriptures and better students of the Bible.
Perhaps you’ve never heard the word eisegesis before, but it’s likely something we have all done. Exegesis is the process of properly bringing out the message of a given Scripture. Eisegesis, on the other hand, is the process of reading our own experiences and interpretations into the Scriptures. Here’s what many of us have done. Perhaps every baptism we have ever witnessed involved someone invoking the name of Jesus somehow, likely with the baptizer saying something like, “I now baptize you in the name of Jesus,” or “in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” Then, equipped with that experience reinforced several times in our minds, we come across a passage like Acts 19:5, which says, “When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus,” and we assume that what that means is Paul baptized them while verbally invoking the name of Jesus.
But look closer. That’s not what the Bible says. That’s what our experience, interpretation, and assumption might say. And for the rest of this article, we will see four Scriptural points that provide conclusive proof that there is no verbal formula required for baptism.
1. All is to be in the name of Jesus.
And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.Colossians 3:17
Here, we see the same phraseology as before, but this time it not only applies to baptism, but everything we do. It’s similar to what the same apostle said elsewhere:
Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.1 Corinthians 10:31
There is an assurance found in Christ, and it should be our goal to honor God and His name with all that we do. In other words, we do all in the name of the Lord Jesus. When you feed the poor, when you walk your dog, when you teach your neighbor, when you eat your dinner, it is all to be done in the name of Jesus. Of course, that would be true whether or not we verbally announce Jesus’ name before taking every action.
Here’s the thing: Baptism is also in the name of Jesus. Many people have concluded that doing so requires verbally invoking the name of Jesus or Yeshua at someone’s baptism, but that cannot be the case if we are going to be consistent with our understanding. For example, does it invalidate a good work in the name of Jesus if you don’t say “Jesus” out loud while doing it? Of course not. Now, to be clear, there is certainly nothing wrong with saying, “I now baptize you in the name of Jesus Christ,” or “in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” That’s actually my preference and how I do things. However, the Bible never tells us what to say at baptism.
2. There’s so much more going on at baptism than a verbal call.
Notice the different words used in different passages. In English, Acts 2:38 says, “be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.” In Greek, the word for “in” is ἐπί, which can mean a few different things, but basically means “on” or “upon.” Metaphorically, it can mean “on the basis of.” So, Peter was commanding these people to be baptized under the charge of the name or authority of Jesus.
In Acts 8:16, Luke explains that the Samaritans had been “baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” The word for “in” here is different. It is εἰς, which means, “into” or “for.” These people were compelled to be baptized for Jesus’ sake. Afterward, they were in Jesus’ name.
In Acts 10:48, Peter commanded Cornelius and his household “to be baptized in the name of the Lord.” Again, “in” is a different word. This one is ἐν, and is our typical preposition “in.” By being baptized, they entered into the name of Jesus.
When someone says, “I baptize you in the name of Jesus,” they are describing what is happening, not verbally causing what is happening. There’s a big difference. For example, when the Christians in Rome were reminded of their baptism, Paul explained that they had been baptized into Christ and into His death (see Romans 6:3–4). This didn’t have to do with the baptizer’s words, but with the submission of the sinner to the death and authority of Jesus. Similarly, Paul explained to the Galatians that when they were baptized into Christ, they put on Christ (Galatians 3:27). The NASB says they were clothed with Christ when they were baptized into Jesus’ name.
Let’s assume a person understands the gospel, believes on the Lord, and has repented. He arrives at the water, as Peter says, appealing “to God for a good conscience” (1 Peter 3:21 NASB). When he is immersed in the water, he is submitting to the power and authority of Jesus Christ, truly believing that God gave His Son the name Jesus “for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). He is full of faith and being baptized into Christ, being buried with Him in baptism. All of this would be happening whether or not the baptizer declares it verbally in the moment. This article is not an attempt to convince you to stay silent while baptizing someone. Far from it. It’s to remind you that just as the saving power is not in the water or the baptizee; it’s also not in the words or the baptizer, as if he were some magician giving an incantation. The power is in the Lord, His death, His resurrection, and His authority.
Although it’s common practice to announce a physical birth, it happens whether or not it is verbally announced. Similarly, being born of water and Spirit causes someone to be born in the name of Jesus, to be called by a new name (see James 2:7). The announcement may come, but it’s not the announcement that’s doing the work. What is doing the work?
…buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.Colossians 2:12
3. Prayer is in the name of Jesus.
If you ask anything in My name, I [Jesus] will do it.John 14:14
There are a couple of ways to look at this. First, someone may believe, All I have to do is end my prayers verbally with the words, “In Jesus’ name, Amen,” and God will then be compelled to do what I ask. Or we can realize Jesus isn’t giving us power to force God to do our will. He’s not giving us a blank check just by praying with the right words. (To study this concept more, check out this article.)
Here are a few things that will help us understand what Jesus means when He says, “If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.” In that moment, Jesus was speaking directly to the remaining eleven apostles after Judas had left the room to betray Jesus. He was preparing them for the work ahead to preach the gospel of the kingdom without their rabbi on earth, at least in the flesh. He was going to send the Holy Spirit to teach them all things and to guide them into all truth. He tells them they would be equipped with His authority. He says, “If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.” Earlier, He had told them, “whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18:18 NASB).
Turn a few pages, and we see the apostles doing mighty deeds and miracles in Jesus’ name. We see them pray in the name of Jesus. However, not every time they perform a miracle or pray in Jesus’ name do they announce verbally that it is in Jesus’ name. The first example is Acts 1, when they request the Lord to help them appoint Judas’ replacement apostle (you can study apostolic appointment more here). When they pray to the Lord on this occasion, they simply end their prayer with the end of the request, not with some verbal formula (see Acts 1:24–25). Yet, Jesus confirmed that they prayer was truly in His name.
Although it’s common practice and completely suitable for believers to end their prayers with the words, “in Jesus’ name,” there is nowhere in Scripture that tells us to do this. Instead, a prayer is truly in the name of Jesus if it is asked according to His will (see 1 John 5:14–15).
4. “In the name of” does not mean “say the name out loud.”
Consider any other context someone might do something “in the name of” someone else. The most popular illustration is when a police officer might command something “in the name of the law.” Imagine a criminal trying to pull a technicality by asking, “Tell me, officer, what is the actual name of the law?” In the 1960s, when the Supremes sang, “Stop! In the Name of Love!” they were not claiming love has an actual name. In times past, when a royal herald came into town, unrolled his scroll, and decreed something, “In the name of the king,” he often didn’t even mention the given name of the king at all. That wasn’t the point. The point is to emphasize the power the police officer, the herald, or …the lover… to command the higher law’s orders. It was the exact same in Bible times, and the Bible says as much.
In Acts 3, the apostles heal a man who was lame from birth. When the Council questioned them, they asked, “By what power or by what name have you done this?” (Acts 4:7). These men were arrested for preaching publicly about Jesus and His kingdom. By doing so, they revered and honored the name of Christ. The Council wasn’t asking what Jesus’ name was. They were asking who gave them this power and authority to preach and heal. And it’s in this trial when Peter says, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (v. 12). Surely this is associated with the given name of Jesus as we saw in Matthew 1:21, for Him to “save His people from their sins,” but it has more to do with His power to save.
And it’s still true today. If you want to be saved, die to self. Don’t believe in your own name or power. Submit yourself to the authority of Jesus. In 1 Corinthians 1:10, Paul pled with the Christians “by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” to not divide. It’s not that Paul expected everything to change because He spoke or wrote down the name of the Savior. He was expecting those who already respected the authority of Jesus to submit to the authority of this commandment.
A couple of verses later, he wrote:
Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius.1 Corinthians 1:12–14
Why was Paul concerned some might think he baptized in his own name? Certainly he never uttered the words, “I now baptize you in the name of Paul.” Yet, he still refrained from baptizing people personally while in Corinth because he didn’t want anyone to think he baptized in his own name (see v. 15). If speaking certain words over someone’s baptism was part of the process, the easiest way to prevent Paul’s concern was to utter the right words. But no, you’re not baptized into Jesus’ name—or Paul’s name, for that matter—because that person’s name is uttered when you contact the water. You’re baptized into the person’s name when you are baptized into the possession and authority of that person. And, as Paul emphatically states, Paul wasn’t crucified for anyone.
The power isn’t in the words spoken at baptism. The power is in God. As he or she approaches the waters of baptism, if he or she is submitting under the name—under the power—of the Lord, that’s when they are truly being baptized into Jesus’ name. All that being said, however, say whatever you think is helpful at someone’s baptism to remind them whose they are becoming, the commandments they are obeying, and the things God is doing for them in that moment.
Indeed, Peter says that Christians are “elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:2). The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are involved in someone’s conversion, whether or not we say it out loud.
Is it acceptable to verbally mention the name of Jesus at baptism? Of course. Perhaps it’s even wise. Is it necessary to invoke the name of Jesus for a baptism to be valid? If you believe so, here’s your challenge: Please show us anywhere in Scripture where God gives a specific verbal formula for anything done in His name. Do you put your faith in the baptizer to say the right words? This would lead to many new questions like, “What if the baptizer has a speech impediment?” Or “What if he slips up in the wrong moment?” I’d rather not trust my obedience to the words of someone else. My faith is in Jesus, and I hope yours is too.
Therefore, we ask, what does it mean to truly baptize someone in the name of Jesus Christ? To study that question, you can start with this article.