The Thief on the Cross and Baptism

Q: If, as Jesus says, we must be baptized in order to enter the kingdom of God (John 3:5) then how could the thief on the cross (Luke 23:40-43) be saved?

A: Several reasons:

  1. The thief on the cross may have been baptized for all we know. A lot of people received baptism at the hands of the apostles (John 3:22-4:3 — note how this comes right on the heels of the conversation in which Jesus stressed the need for baptism).
  2. The Christian age had not yet begun, thus Christian baptism was not yet required.
  3. In any event the thief clearly had baptism of desire. He was willing to do whatever it took to align himself with Jesus and be saved; it was simply physical impossibility that prevented him from doing anything while on the cross.

Any one of these reasons, and especially the last two, are sufficient to show how the thief could have been saved.

It is somewhat amazing that people ever throw his up as an objection to Jesus’ teaching on the necessity of baptism. The Catholic Church has never considered this a problem since the answers are so obvious. Those anti-Catholics who try to use this to undermine Christ’s teachings on baptism reveal by citing this example that they have not thought through the issue sufficiently.

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