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Is the story of the good thief in Luke 23:39–43 proof that baptism isn’t necessary?

Full Question

Is the story of the good thief in Luke 23:39–43 proof that baptism isn’t necessary?


First, it isn’t clear that baptism had yet been mandated by Jesus before he met the thief. If it had been, we do not know for certain that the thief hadn’t already been baptized. In any case, the thief clearly underwent a conversion at some point during his crucifixion, and it seems evident that he would have desired baptism before his death had he known of its necessity. That would have been sufficient, because the Church recognizes that, in such a case, the desire for baptism brings about the fruits of baptism (CCC 1258).

1 comment

  1. Edward A. Hara Reply

    Most of the answers you give are great, however, you do from time to time post something that is just awful. This is one of those times.

    The reason that the thief on the cross did not need baptism has to do with the covenant of God. The thief was already a child of the covenant and had made covenant with God by circumcision. We know this because he was able to recognize in Jesus the One who was the promised Messiah of the Jewish people. To the Romans and pagans gathered around the Cross, there was no such recognition. By his recognition, the thief was obviously a Jewish male who was in the Kingdom already by dint of circumcision.

    The charge that baptism is not necessary for salvation is usually made by Fundamentalists who consider baptism to be “works salvation” and reject the salvific nature of baptism. One MUST answer this charge, including the question posed here, by reminding them that in order to be in relationship with God, one MUST “cut covenant” with God and enter into His congregation. In the Old Covenant, this was done by circumcision. In the New Covenant, this is done by baptism, baptism having replaced circumcision as the ritual of covenant cutting by which we are entered into the covenant community.

    Moreover, since the Crucifixion took place in the Old Covenant, baptism was not yet the covenant ceremony in place for believers in Christ. The New Covenant didn’t begin until Christ died and the veil covering the Holy of Holies was torn in two, exposing the Ark of the Covenant and profaning the Holy of Holies, making it desecrated and unfit to use ever again. Therefore, since the thief died in the Old Covenant administration, he was not in need of baptism to enter covenant with Christ, since he was circumcised. His act of faith was an act of repentance and renewal of his covenant relationship to God, thus making him fit for Paradise

    Finally, you didn’t tell the questioner how to answer this person. Ask him if we are in the New Covenant. If he says no, then begin an instructive discourse on how Jesus said at the Last Supper “This is my Blood…the Blood of the NEW COVENANT.” (You better know how a covenant works if you are going to go here). Then instruct him that all covenants are made with a covenant cutting ceremony. There is no such thing as a covenant being made without a corresponding ceremony. Point to marriage, which is a covenant between a man and a woman. That is one example. No such thing as a marriage without a ceremony.

    Then ask him what covenant cutting ceremony replaced circumcision if it is not baptism. If he says “Accepting Jesus,” you need to point out that such an answer is Gnosticism because it omits the body as being part of the ritual. We are tripartite beings — body, soul, and spirit. Fundamentalism is modern day Gnosticism because it despises the idea that the body should be involved in any part of Christian ritual. Our bodies are so important and so much a part of our whole being that God is going to raise them on the Last Day. Remind him of them — then go back and ask the question again.

    If you need to better understand how to answer non-Catholics and dismantle their arguments (shameless plug here) get my book


    I was 25 years a non-Catholic (and an anti-Catholic bigot to boot!) and this book comes from my intense study of the covenant which led me Home to the Church.

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