There is no record in scripture of a baptizer speaking any words over the person being baptized at the time of baptism, i.e. “I now baptize you in the name of…”
The closest we see is an instance were the baptizee called on the name of the Lord at the time of baptism (Paul’s baptism-Acts 22:16), but there is no clear example of “in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit”, “in the name of Jesus” or “into Christ” being spoken by the baptizer as a formula at the time of baptism.
This study will attempt to find if there was a formula given in scripture and what is best for the church to say at baptisms today.
The study will attempt to find a baptismal formula in:
- Ceremonial Washings : Formula?
- Proselyte Baptism ” Formula?
- John’s Baptism : Formula?
- Jesus’ Baptism : Formula?
- The Great Commission and New Testament (post-resurrection) Baptism : Formula?
*In this study, when the word formula is used it is referring to the words spoken at the time of baptism.
*Scripture is from the NKJV unless otherwise noted.
This is not a study on if baptism is necessary for salvation, or if it should be full immersion, or anything like that. It is strictly examining the formula (if there even was a formula).
We can look at various creeds, history books, encyclopedias or old church writings like the Didachi to find accounts of baptismal formulas. This study will attempt to answer the question using only scripture, although some other sources will be referenced in regards to proselyte baptism. It will seek to find if there was a specific set of words or a phrase that was always uttered before or during a baptism at the time of Christ and the apostles.
To find the answer, it is important to look at baptism leading up to today, including John’s baptism, Jesus and his disciples’ baptism, and Jewish Ceremonial washings prior to the New Covenant.
Was anything said before or during Jewish Cleansing Rituals?
Water was used in the Old Testament for ceremonial washings.
Num 19:19 The clean [person] shall sprinkle the unclean on the third day and on the seventh day; and on the seventh day he shall purify himself, wash his clothes, and bathe in water; and at evening he shall be clean.
There are many other ritual washings found in Old Testament scripture: Exod 40:12; Lev 11:32; 15:11, 13; 16:4.
Hebrews mentions “various washings”
Hebrews 9:8-10 the Holy Spirit indicating this, that the way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest while the first tabernacle was still standing. It [was] symbolic for the present time in which both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make him who performed the service perfect in regard to the conscience– [concerned] only with foods and drinks, various washings, and fleshly ordinances imposed until the time of reformation.
These washings hint at the baptism of the New Testament, but are different in purpose and administration.
During these washings there is no commandment or record of something that had to be said before or during the washings.
To find out more about the subject of baptism in the Old Testament, one has to look at non-biblical writings. The fact that the Bible does not go into detail on Jewish baptisms should indicate we don’t need to fully understand the practice to do what God would have us to do. Nevertheless, here is what non-biblical sources tell us about proselyte baptism.
“Gentiles who converted to Judaism from paganism partook of baptism as entry into the Jewish community, and Jews sometimes used immersions as acts of repentance. The purpose of this entry requirement, known as proselyte baptism, was to remove any hint of ceremonial uncleanness from the Gentile (b. Yebam 46a–48b; b. Gerim 60a–61b). Gentiles were considered spiritually and ritually unclean and needed purification in order to enter Israel and the temple (Josephus, Wars, 2:150; Philo, Legat., 212; Acts 10:28). Ritual cleansing for Jews was symbolic of inward cleansing, as “one who has become a proselyte is like a child newly born” (b. Yebam, 48b).
Apart from proselyte baptism, Jews used immersions as acts of repentance (T. Levi 2:3 B1–2). The group at Qumran participated frequently in water purification rituals. They considered immersions spiritually ineffective if not accompanied by sincere repentance and “humble submission … to all the precepts of God” (1QS 3:3–9).” 
 Espinoza, B. (2012). Baptism. In J. D. Barry & L. Wentz (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary (J. D. Barry & L. Wentz, Ed.). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
“But what was the Jewish initiatory rite called proselyte baptism? Lightfoot (Horae Hebraicae , Matthew 3:7 ) gives the law for the baptism of proselytes: “As soon as he grows whole of the wound of circumcision, they bring him to Baptism, and being placed in the water they again instruct him in some weightier and in some lighter commands of the Law. Which being heard, he plunges himself and comes up, and, behold, he is an Israelite in all things.” To this quotation Marcus Dods (Presbyterian) HDB adds: “To use Pauline language, his old man is dead and buried in the water, and he rises from this cleansing grave a new man. The full significance of the rite would have been lost had immersion not been practiced.” Lightfoot says further: “Every person baptized must dip his whole body, now stripped and made naked, at one dipping. And wheresoever in the Law washing of the body or garments is mentioned, it means nothing else than the washing of the whole body.” Edersheim (op. cit.) says: “Women were attended by those of their own sex, the rabbis standing at the door outside.” Jewish proselyte baptism, an initiatory ceremonial rite, harmonizes exactly with the current meaning of baptiz? already seen.” 
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for ‘Baptism (the Baptist Interpretation)’. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia.
Keep in mind, none of the above is in the Bible. So even though it is reliable and almost certainly true based on historical sources, we should remember that our laws and ordinances in such matters come from the word of God. The things God wanted us to know in regards to how to live righteously are found in His word.
So were there full submersion baptisms in the Old Testament? Even if we take extra-biblical writings out of the equation, we can assume there was based on John the Baptist’s ministry. When one looks at the response from the Jewish community to John’s baptism, it is evident that water baptism by submersion was not a foreign concept to them.
In all this, we see no clear baptismal formula. The closest thing to a formula was that apparently certain laws were read to the Gentile while he was in the water. He then baptized himself.
John came baptizing. We have no record of anything being said by him during the baptism. In Acts 19 disciples were found in Ephesus and Paul asked them unto what had they been baptized. They replied, “with John’s baptism”. This helps us by letting us know that there was a specific baptism that was associated with John and another with Christ, but it does not mention any type of baptismal formula used by John. John’s message was to prepare the way for the messiah by repentance. Scripture says that the people came to John “confessing their sins”.
Mat 3:6 And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.
It is evident by this that the person being baptized most likely spoke something before or during the baptism. Did John say anything? Was there some type of formula he used? Perhaps John asked the person being baptized if they truly were ready to repent of their sins and if there were ready for the new kingdom. Perhaps John baptized them “in the name of the coming Messiah”, we don’t know. God did not see it necessary to give us that information in His word.
Jesus and his disciples also baptized. We have no record of anything being said by the baptizer or baptizee before, during, or after the baptism. Again, God did not see it necessary to give us that in his word.
New Testament Baptism and the Great Commission
After Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection He commanded baptism shortly before His ascension:
Matt 28:18-20 NKJV And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, [even] to the end of the age.” Amen.
Matt 28:18-20 NASB And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Jesus commanded to make disciples, teach, and baptize in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Is “in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” a specific phrase that needs to be spoken at baptism? If so, it would be the first evidence scripture gives us of a phrase. And if it is a phrase, who should speak it, the baptizer of the person being baptized? Given the fact that Jesus told the apostles to baptize, it would make sense for it to be them. Yet still we find no evidence or command for the baptizer or baptizee to speak anything verbally regarding a baptismal formula.
Here is another account of the great commission:
Mark 16:15-16 NKJV And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.
Mark 16:15-16 NASB And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.
and in Luke:
Luke 24:46-47 NKJV Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.
Once again, there is no record of a commandment of the baptizer to speak anything at the time of baptism. Luke mentions that repentance should be preached “in his name”.
This excerpt from Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words shows how the word is used in scripture.
(I) in general of the “name” by which a person or thing is called, e.g., Mar 3:16, 17, “(He) surnamed,” lit., “(He added) the name;” Mar 14:32, lit., “(of which) the name (was);” Luk 1:63; Jhn 18:10; sometimes translated “named,” e.g., Luk 1:5, “named (Zacharias),” lit., “by name;” in the same verse, “named (Elizabeth),” lit., “the name of her,” an elliptical phrase, with “was” understood; Act 8:9, RV, “by name,” Act 10:1; the “name” is put for the reality in Rev 3:1; in Phl 2:9, the “Name” represents “the title and dignity” of the Lord, as in Eph 1:21; Hbr 1:4;
(II) for all that a “name” implies, of authority, character, rank, majesty, power, excellence, etc., of everything that the “name” covers:
(a) of the “Name” of God as expressing His attributes, etc., e.g., Mat 6:9; Luk 1:49; Jhn 12:28; 17:6, 26; Rom 15:9; 1Ti 6:1; Hbr 13:15; Rev 13:6;
(b) of the “Name” of Christ, e.g., Mat 10:22; 19:29; Jhn 1:12; 2:23; 3:18; Act 26:9; Rom 1:5; Jam 2:7; 1Jo 3:23; 3Jo 1:7; Rev 2:13; 3:8; also the phrases rendered “in the name;” these may be analyzed as follows:
(1) representing the authority of Christ, e.g., Mat 18:5 (with epi, “on the ground of My authority”); so Mat 24:5 (falsely) and parallel passages; as substantiated by the Father, Jhn 14:26; 16:23 (last clause), RV;
(2) in the power of (with en, “in”), e.g., Mar 16:17; Luk 10:17; Act 3:6; 4:10; 16:18; Jam 5:14;
(3) in acknowledgement or confession of, e.g., Act 4:12; 8:16; 9:27, 28;
(4) in recognition of the authority of (sometimes combined with the thought of relying or resting on), Mat 18:20; cp. 28:19; Act 8:16; 9:2 (eis, “into”); Jhn 14:13; 15:16; Eph 5:20; Col 3:17;
(5) owing to the fact that one is called by Christ’s “Name” or is identified with Him, e.g. 1Pe 4:14 (with en, “in”); with heneken, “for the sake of,” e.g., Mat 19:29; with dia, “on account of,” Mat 10:22; 24:9; Mar 13:13; Luk 21:17; Jhn 15:21; 1Jo 2:12; Rev 2:3 (for 1Pe 4:16, see Note below);
(III) as standing, by metonymy, for “persons,” Act 1:15; Rev 3:4; 11:13 (RV, “persons”).
Note: In Mar 9:41, the use of the phrase en with the dative case of onoma (as in the best mss.) suggests the idea of “by reason of” or “on the ground of” (i.e., “because ye are My disciples”); 1Pe 4:16, RV, “in this Name” (AV, “on this behalf”), may be taken in the same way.
“In the name of” can mean “on behalf of”, or “in the authority of”.
— in the name of
1: by authority of <open in the name of the law>
2: for the reason of : using the excuse of <called for reforms in the name of progress>
— in the name of
representing someone or something:
In old movies the police shouted “Open up in the name of the law” before they broke the door down.
They were arrested in the name of the king.
As members of the union, we have the right to know what action the union is taking in our name.
Cambridge Dictionaries Online
“In the name” can also mean that this is what was to be spoken.Many who advocate for the “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” formula suggest that baptism “in the name of Jesus” meant only in the authority of Jesus. When pressed, most would admit that this is a forced assumption in order to make Matt 28:19 harmonize better with the rest of scripture. When it says to baptize “in the name of”, name is a noun. It is recorded that Peter and John verbally spoke the phrase “in the name of Jesus” when Peter and John heal the lame man.
Two Baptism Formulas, One Formula, Or No Formula?
Assuming words must be uttered by the baptizer, one could look at Matthew 28:19 and say that the baptizer must speak the words, “… in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
Or, one could look at Acts and take the formula from there. In that case, the baptizer would speak the words, “In the Name of Jesus Christ”.
Acts 2:38 Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins…
Or, perhaps they would speak, “In the Name of the Lord Jesus”
Acts 8:16 For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.…
Almost every account of baptism in Acts is recorded as being done in Jesus’ Name. The text never states that someone was baptized “In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit”. Any time someone was baptized in Acts and details were given on what they were baptized into, it is always the name of Jesus (Acts 2:38, Acts 8:16, Acts 10:48, Acts 19:5) Galatians 3:27 and Romans 6:3 also mentions being “baptized into Christ”.
But must certain words be spoken over the person being baptized for it to be “in the name of Jesus”? Do we find such a claim in scripture?
Is it written that anything should be uttered at all during baptism?
The closest thing we find for scriptures regarding utterances and salvation is actually in Romans 10:9. Baptism was always done at the time of one believing and confessing faith in the Lord Jesus. There was no waiting period or special service; it was done on the spot. Was confessing Jesus important?
Rom 8:6-10 But the righteousness of faith speaks in this way, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down from above) or, “ ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
The word of faith that was preached, meaning taught to all the people, was that “if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”
Does this scripture mean that baptism was not involved in the salvation process? No, clearly established and practiced doctrine cannot be made null by other another scripture. They must be taken in light of one another. This was “the word of faith that they preached”. Therefore, as baptism is evoked at the time of salvation, so is confession in Jesus Christ as Lord and belief that God raised Him from the dead. There is simply no way around this. Therefore we should see it in the accounts of the Acts of The Apostles, and indeed we do. The two come together in Paul’s conversion.
Paul was baptized, and called out on the name of the Lord (Jesus is Lord, Acts 10:36). Who evoked the name of Jesus? Was it the baptizer or the baptizee? In this particular instance it was the person being baptized. The Bible makes it clear that it is the saving faith of the individual, not another that secures their salvation.
Being Baptized into Names
A strong case can be made for a name being spoken or at least associated with baptism due to Paul’s statement to the Corinthians.
1 Corinthians 1:12-13 Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?
This shows that a name was associated with baptism. And if a name was associated with baptism, there is a good chance that name was spoken at the time of the baptism.
In Acts 19, the disciples of Jesus met certain disciples. It does not necessarily say disciples of John, but it says disciples who had been baptized with John’s baptism.
Acts 19:1-6 And it happened, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus. And finding some disciples he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” So they said to him, “We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said to them, “Into what then were you baptized?” So they said, “Into John’s baptism.” Then Paul said, “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.” When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied. Now the men were about twelve in all.
Paul had to inform them that John had taught that all should believe on Jesus. It then says that “when they heard this”, they were baptized in the name of Jesus. An argument could be made that this was the first time they had heard about Jesus in proper context. They didn’t know Jesus was the one who John preached, He who was to come. Paul made sure they “believed” the gospel and were baptized because of that belief (Mark 16:16)
These disciples hadn’t heard Jesus teach about the Holy Spirit to come (John 14, John 16), and they hadn’t heard about the outpouring of the Holy Spirit On the day of Pentecost. It would seem Jesus considered the Holy Spirit very important in the gospel message and baptism because he referenced the Holy Spirit in Matt 28:19.
Only One Baptism. Ephesians 4:5
Ephesians 4:5 states,
One Lord, one faith, one baptism,
There is only one baptism in the New Testament. Jesus died once and rose for our justification. There is no longer a need for constant ceremonial washings or sacrifices. This “one baptism” is the New Covenant baptism. It is the baptism Jesus commanded.
If one person gets baptized and the baptizer says “in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit”, while another gets baptized and the baptizer says “in the name of Jesus Christ”, is that two baptisms or one? Some would argue one, some would argue two. The Apostle Paul verifies in Ephesians that there is only one. Or is Ephesians 4:5 talking about Spirit baptism? It says another place that we are all “baptized into one Spirit”. Most of the time in scripture however, when the word baptism or baptize is used, it is referring to water unless is specifies otherwise.
Reconciling it all
There are a few common beliefs that many people side with:
- Baptism in “In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit” and “In the name of Jesus” are both valid and represent the same thing.
- Only Baptism where the person dunking the others says “In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit” is valid. This is the formula that Jesus gave. Any reference to baptism “in the name of Jesus” is referring to baptizing on behalf of or in the authority of Jesus. Jesus would have given the baptismal formula to those who would be the baptizers. Jesus was not speaking in a riddle. We must look at what appear to be differences and reconcile them based on what Jesus said, not the other way around
- Only baptism where the person dunking the other says “In the name of Jesus” is valid. When Jesus said to baptize “In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit”, he was referring to his own name. The singular use of the word name allows for this. This is verified by the Apostles always baptizing in Jesus’ name. Even if the person being baptized confesses, calls out on the name of Jesus and receives the Holy Spirit, the baptism is not valid unless the baptizer evokes the name verbally.
- The formula should harmonize scripture by combining both, so the formula would read something like, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, and into the name of Jesus Christ”, or “In the name of the Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit. I baptize you into the Lord Jesus Christ for remission of sins.”