Do You Have To Be Baptized To Go To Heaven?

Baptism is one of the most important practices in Christianity. Whether baptism occurs through full immersion underwater, pouring, or sprinkling, it’s a pivotal moment in a person’s life. But do people have to be baptized to go to heaven?

According to the Bible, being baptized isn’t necessary to go to heaven, though some Christian traditions, like Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, teach that it animates a person’s new life in Jesus Christ. Most Protestant traditions emphasize that baptism isn’t necessary for salvation.

Does the New Testament teach that baptism cleanses people from sin and enables them to go to heaven when they die? Aren’t there verses in the book of Acts, Titus, and 1 Peter that teach that baptism saves people? If baptism isn’t necessary to go to heaven, what is?

Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.

Also, see Can People With Tattoos Go To Heaven? to learn more.

infant baptism
What is “baptismal regeneration”? See below

What Does the Bible Say about Baptism?

Baptism is frequently referenced in the Bible as an essential act of faith. While some interpretations vary among denominations, like whether a person should be sprinkled with water or immersed in it, baptism is generally seen as a public declaration of faith and commitment to following Jesus.

This table compares paedobaptism and credobaptism, two different approaches to baptism within the Christian faith. Each has its own scriptural support and significance.

DefinitionBaptism of infants or young children.Baptism of individuals who are able to express a personal faith in Jesus Christ.
Age of RecipientInfants or young children.Older children, adolescents, or adults who can articulate their faith.
BasisBased on the belief that baptism incorporates a person into the covenant community, even if they are too young to profess faith.Based on the belief that baptism should follow a personal confession of faith in Jesus Christ.
Scriptural SupportCited passages include Acts 16:15, 33, where entire households were baptized, possibly including children.Cited passages include Acts 8:12, where only those who believed were baptized.
DenominationsCommon in Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and some Protestant denominations, such as Presbyterians and Lutherans.Common in Baptist, Anabaptist, and some non-denominational churches.
SignificanceSeen as a sign of God’s covenant with the child, and a promise by the parents and congregation to raise the child in the faith.Seen as a public declaration of an individual’s personal faith and commitment to following Jesus Christ.

Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation?

The belief that baptism is necessary to go to heaven is often referred to as “baptismal regeneration.” In this context, the word “regeneration” means that a sinner is born again through the act of baptism. The contrary view is often referred to as the symbolic view of baptism.

DefinitionThe belief that baptism is necessary for salvation and that it confers spiritual rebirth.The belief that baptism is not necessary for salvation and that it does not confer spiritual rebirth.
Role of BaptismBaptism is seen as a means of grace that imparts spiritual regeneration and forgiveness of sins.Baptism is seen as a symbolic act of obedience and public profession of faith, but not as a means of grace.
Scriptural SupportCited passages include John 3:5 and Acts 2:38, which emphasize the importance of baptism for salvation and forgiveness of sins.Cited passages include Romans 10:9 and Ephesians 2:8-9, which emphasize faith and grace as the basis for salvation.
DenominationsCommon in Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and some Protestant denominations, such as Lutherans and Anglicans.Common in Baptist, Evangelical, and some non-denominational churches.
Significance of FaithFaith is important, but baptism is seen as the means through which God’s grace is received and regeneration occurs.Faith is central to salvation, and baptism is seen as an outward expression of an inward faith.
View of Unbaptized BelieversGenerally, unbaptized believers are seen as not having received the full benefits of salvation and spiritual rebirth.Unbaptized believers are still considered saved if they have genuine faith in Jesus Christ.

What is the basis for baptismal regeneration according to its advocates?

One of the fundamental disagreements Christians have about the necessity of baptism for entry into heaven concerns the interpretation of certain New Testament passages, like Acts 22:16 and Titus 3:5.

Some believe that these verses teach that the waters of baptism cleanse people from sin.

  • Acts 22:16, “And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.” (ESV, emphasis added)
  • Titus 3:5, “[Christ] saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit…” (ESV, emphasis added)

How do Christians who hold the symbolic view interpret these verses?

Christians that don’t believe that baptism is necessary to go to heaven argue that these verses don’t teach that the waters of baptism cleanse a person from sin but symbolically describe God’s forgiveness.

1 John 1:9 is an example, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (ESV, emphasis added).

Does Acts 22:16 teach baptismal regeneration?

Bible scholars generally agree that the phrase that refers to salvation in this verse is “calling on his name.”

In one of the best-reviewed Bible commentaries on Acts, Darrell Bock writes, “Such a faith invocation of God washes away sin with the cleansing symbolized in water baptism (Rom. 6:3-11; 1 Cor. 6:11; Gal. 3:27).” [1]

Acts scholar Eckhard Schnabel adds, Paul “must ‘wash away’ his sins, i.e., he is in need of God’s forgiveness… The metaphor of ‘washing away’ connects with the reference to immersion, for in Jewish culture, immersion in water symbolized the cleansing from sins.” [2]

Does Titus 3:5 teach baptismal regeneration?

The preferred reading of the Greek among most scholars is that regeneration and renewal describe the same event.

In one of the best-reviewed commentaries on Titus, New Testament scholar, William Mounce, writes, “Regeneration and renewal describe the same event (conversion) from two different points of view (or the two halves of the one event).” He adds,

He adds that the Greek “does not teach justification by baptism (assuming washing refers to baptism), despite arguments to the contrary. The creed is meant to be read as a whole, and the context does not allow a magical understanding of washing.” [3]

Also, see Do Short People Go To Heaven? Learn why so many people even ask the question.

Christian being baptized in water
How can a person go to heaven when they die? See below

Does 1 Peter 3:21 teach that baptism is necessary to go to heaven?

Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox theologians, among others, teach that baptism and salvation are inseparably connected, more so than most Protestant traditions believe.

1 Peter 3:21 is at the heart of their belief, “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (ESV).

How do people who hold the symbolic view interpret this verse?

Though the verse states that baptism “now saves you,” it explains that it’s not the physical act itself, i.e., “not as a removal of dirt from the body.” According to the last half of the verse, what the act of baptism signifies to God is truly significant.

Craig S. Keener, one of the most reputable Bible scholars alive today, explains, “Yet the act of washing, which people with water could undergo even apart from ritual considerations, did not effect conversion without intention. Putting off dirt from the flesh (1 Pet. 3:21) is thus not sufficient; what is needed is putting off (2:1) fleshly desire (2:11).” [4]

Also, see Did Moses Go To Heaven? to learn more.

What is the Baptism of Desire and the Baptism of Blood?

Two concepts that are rooted in the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church are the Baptism of Desire and the Baptism of Blood. Both address the question of salvation for those who have not undergone water baptism.

Baptism of Desire refers to the belief that individuals who sincerely desire baptism, but die before receiving it, can still achieve salvation.

Baptism of Blood refers to the belief that martyrs who die for their faith but have not been baptized, can also attain salvation.

These concepts are particularly important in traditions that emphasize the significance of baptism. They highlight the belief that God’s grace can extend beyond the formal act of baptism.

How Can a Person Go to Heaven When They Die?

The Bible teaches that physical death isn’t the end of a person’s existence. When people die, they go to one of two possible places: heaven or hell.

According to the Bible, how a person responds to the gospel of Jesus Christ determines whether a person goes to heaven or hell.

What is the gospel of Jesus Christ?

The word “gospel” means “good news.” The gospel of Jesus Christ is the proclamation of the good news that God sent his only son into the world to save sinners through dying in their place on the cross as a punishment for their sin and rising from the dead three days later, victorious over death.

How exactly does a person respond to the gospel?

A person responds to the good news by confessing and repenting of sin (Rom. 3:23; Mark 1:15) and putting their faith and trust in Christ alone for salvation (John 3:16).

People must believe that Christ died for their sins and rose from the dead three days later (Rom. 6:23). A person confesses their sin through prayer and expresses their belief in the gospel to God and other people.

Responding to the gospel, however, isn’t simply a decision made in one moment and abandoned in the next. It’s a new way of life.

Also, see Is Heaven Capitalized? What’s the debate?

[1] Luke by Darrell Bock. BECNT. p. 662-663.
[2] Acts by Eckhard Schnabel. ZECNT. p. 905-906.
[3] The Pastoral Epistles by William Mounce. WBC. P. 442-443.
[4] 1 Peter by Craig S. Keener. Baker Academic. P. 279-281.
[5] Patheo – Proofs for Baptism Regeneration?
[6] Bible Study Tools – What Does Baptismal Regeneration Mean?
[7] Bible Hub

Daniel Isaiah Joseph

Daniel's seminary degree is in Exegetical Theology. He was a pastor for 10 years. As a professor, he has taught Bible and theology courses at two Christian universities. Please see his About page for details.

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