Re-Baptism?

Question

Should a person who professes Christ and has been baptized once ever consider being be re-baptized? Didn't Paul allow Timothy to be circumcised even though Timothy didn't need to do that?

Answer

At IIIM we embrace baptism as a sign and seal of the covenant. We embrace the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF), which outlines what we believe biblically. The WCF states in chapter XXVII, "The sacrament of baptism is but once to be administered unto any person," and gives the Scripture reference of Romans 6:3-11 as its authority to make such an assertion. The Larger Catechism does not speak of being re-baptized, but the question regarding baptism reads:
Q167: How is our baptism to be improved by us?

A167: The needful but much neglected duty of improving our baptism, is to be performed by us all our life long, especially in the time of temptation, and when we are present at the administration of it to others;[1] by serious and thankful consideration of the nature of it, and of the ends for which Christ instituted it, the privileges and benefits conferred and sealed thereby, and our solemn vow made therein;[2] by being humbled for our sinful defilement, our falling short of, and walking contrary to, the grace of baptism, and our engagements;[3] by growing up to assurance of pardon of sin, and of all other blessings sealed to us in that sacrament;[4] by drawing strength from the death and resurrection of Christ, into whom we are baptized, for the mortifying of sin, and quickening of grace;[5] and by endeavoring to live by faith,[6] to have our conversation in holiness and righteousness,[7] as those that have therein given up their names to Christ;[8] and to walk in brotherly love, as being baptized by the same Spirit into one body.[9]

1. Col. 2:11-12; Rom. 6:4, 6, 11
2. Rom. 6:3-5
3. I Cor. 1:11-13; Rom. 6:2-3
4. Rom. 4:11-12; I Peter 3:21
5. Rom. 6:3-5
6. Gal. 3:26-27
7. Rom. 6:22
8. Acts 2:38
9. I Cor. 12:13, 25-27
As one can see even here, we do not speak of re-baptizing because once a person is in the New Covenant they are "in it." Circumcision under the Old Covenant and baptism in the New Covenant alike testify to one being "in the covenant" and not of one actually having been saved. No one on this earth can prove they are saved and thus, if baptism is only for the saved, no one would ever be baptized because no one could ever "fully" prove it as a definite fact! The Holy Spirit gives us an understanding of the Scripture that once baptized one is "already in the covenant" and thus there is no need to be re-baptized.

There are no scriptural examples of people being baptized twice. What may be thought to apply here is Acts 19:1-5 where Paul talks of being baptized in John's name and then in Christ's name, but that is a different issue. There are, however, some other passages, which have bearing on this issue:

1. Unsaved covenant members: Although Esau was a circumcised member of the visible church (Gen. 17 and 25), he was never united to Christ. Instead, he was a vessel of wrath prepared for destruction (Rom. 9:22). Though Esau was "in the covenant," he was never regenerated and given the gift of saving faith. As Paul says, "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation" (Gal. 6:15). This proves that one may have the sign and the seal of the covenant and still not be saved.

2. Unsaved Covenant members: Some argue that Simon Magus was not saved at first. If this is true, then we have an explicit case where an unsaved baptized covenant member is not told to be re-baptized after he was really saved. In Acts 8:9-25, we read that Simon Magus professed faith in Christ and was baptized (Acts 8:13). Later, Peter uncovered Simon's true spiritual condition and warned him that his heart was not right before God (cf. Acts 8:21). It is important to understand that Peter's counsel to him was not that he needed to be re-baptized, but rather told him, "Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin" (Acts 8:22-23). In other words, as some argue he was unconverted (Rom. 6:16; 2 Tim. 2:24-26). Then Simon then answered, "Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me" (Acts 8:24). Was he then saved? The text doesn't tell us. This stated and as I explaining another note, Simon Magus was probably saved at the very first. Please see, "Was Simon Magus Saved."

While it's true that Paul told Timothy to be circumcised (Acts 16:3), I do not think the parallel with Timothy is close enough to be helpful. Baptism is a Christian sacrament, whereas circumcision was not a Christian sacrament in Timothy's day. I would not, on the basis of Timothy's willingness to be all things to all people for the sake of evangelism, conclude that we have the freedom to be all things to all people in worship and sacrament within the church. Rather, I appeal to the regulative principle. I don't think rebaptism is a terrible sin, but I personally think it is a sin. I would be tempted to put it on the level of a bad sermon that misinterprets Scripture. If we do it unknowingly, it's not a big deal (but it is still a sin). But if we purposely determine to misrepresent God's Word for the sake of pleasing our audience, that's a bigger problem. If we would not want to misrepresent the gospel in the preaching of the Word for the sake of being accepted as a minister in a particular church, we should also not want to misrepresent the visible presentation of the gospel in the sacrament of baptism.

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).