Is Baptism Really Necessary?

November 19, 2013 | 23 comments

According to 1 Peter 3:21:

“Baptism . . . now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

In keeping with this language, the Nicene Creed states:

“I confess one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.”

And the Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms:

“The Lord himself affirms that baptism is necessary for salvation [Jn 3:5]. . . . Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament [Mk 16:16]” (CCC 1257).

The necessity of baptism for salvation is broadly recognized among Christians, including non-Catholic ones. For example, Martin Luther wrote:

“Baptism is no human plaything but is instituted by God himself. Moreover, it is solemnly and strictly commanded that we must be baptized or we shall not be saved. We are not to regard it as an indifferent matter, then, like putting on a new red coat. It is of the greatest importance that we regard baptism as excellent, glorious, and exalted” (Large Catechism 4:6).

But God has not made baptism necessary in an absolute sense, so that anyone who fails to receive it is lost. Down through history Christians have recognized that there are exceptions, and that it is possible to be saved through “baptism of blood” (martyrdom for Christ) or “baptism of desire” (a desire for baptism that has not yet been received).

Even those who do not understand the importance of baptism can be said to have an unconscious desire for it if they would be willing to do what God wants them to do for their salvation. Thus the Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

“Those who die for the faith, those who are catechumens, and all those who, without knowing of the Church but acting under the inspiration of grace, seek God sincerely and strive to fulfill his will, are saved even if they have not been baptized” (CCC 1281; the salvation of unbaptized infants is also possible; see CCC 1260–61, 1283).

Both the necessity of baptism and the exceptional cases have been recognized all the way down through Church history.

For example, it’s easy to show from passages from the Church Fathers illustrate that Christians in the first ages recognized the ordinary necessity of water baptism as well as the legitimacy of baptism by desire or blood.


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Jimmy Akin is an internationally known author and speaker. As the senior apologist at Catholic Answers, he has more than twenty years of experiencing defending and explaining the Faith.

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Comments by Members

#1  David Hunt - Northwich, Michigan

Would you argue that baptism by desire and baptism by blood are essentially different and which of the Fathers support the position? In speaking of the cathechumens the church fathers imply that were they to be martyred before they received baptism this would be a baptism by blood and hence Augustine puts them above baptised heretics. The other Fathers you quote in the separate page all support this position, speak only of martyrs as those who can be saved without baptism. To whom does paragraph 1281 of the Cathechism apply?

November 20, 2013 at 1:39 am PST
#2  Clinton Ufford - Sweet Home, Oregon

I believe that, evangelistically, one of the biggest question for non-Catholic's and just non-Christians in general, is what happens when someone die's without ever being Baptized ... I have family members that have passed away at young ages who were never catechized. I understand and embrace now that God has a greater plan than I will ever comprehend, but wanting to profess the truth and beauty of our beloved Catholic Church, it is hard sometimes to explain things like necessity of Baptism to people. As a Catholic, Purgatory seems to be an awaited blessing in disguise as well. But what do we say to someone who has a loved pass away at a young age who was never catechized, nor Baptized?

November 20, 2013 at 7:00 am PST
#3  Clinton Ufford - Sweet Home, Oregon

Mr David Hunt, it is funny that you bring up CCC 1281 ... I have been pondering this (subject) for some time now and I was thrilled to find this paragraph within the CCC. What I believe it to mean, and I very well could be wrong, is in a broad aspect, all Protestants. I am aware there are a lot of Protestant denominations who do not see, or refuse, the necessity of being Baptized, but there are many who realize this Blessed Sacrements importance. For me its simple, our Lord Christ Jesus said so; period. Then, traditionally, our Church followed His lead and still says so.
Yahweh our God is just not a hateful God who wants His people to be deathly afraid of Him; He wants us to love Him and join in His Eternal Rest and Holy Communion. I believe CCC 1281 is yet another example of this; Him working through His Church, and for a lack of better words, basically giving people the benefit of the doubt with Baptism. Now I could be dead wrong here, but I think this is the jist of it.

"Those who die for the faith, those who are catechumens, and all those who, without knowing of the Church but acting under inspiration of grace, seek God sincerely and strive to fulfill His will, can be saved even if they have not been Baptized."

I know many Protestants who seek God sincerely and strive to fulfill His will, but reject the Catholic Church. They are good Christians, but from a fear of God, polluted by either secularism or false historical accounts (ie; the 16th century), stay away from the Catholic Church.

CCC 1257 explains that "Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and have the possibility of asking for this Sacrament." ... I think this covers the innocently ignorant, dont you?

November 20, 2013 at 7:23 am PST
#4  Mark Jeffords - Ceres, California

Jimmy, I'm a huge fan and love your work. I also appreciate that I can count on Catholic Answers to be unfailingly orthodox.

That's why I'm a little shocked that CCC 1281 was mis-quoted here. I can't figure why that is...

1281 reads:

Those who die for the faith, those who are catechumens, and all those who, without knowing of the Church but acting under the inspiration of grace, seek God sincerely and strive to fulfill his will, can be saved even if they have not been baptized (cf. LG 16).

Your quote for 1281 is:

“Those who die for the faith, those who are catechumens, and all those who, without knowing of the Church but acting under the inspiration of grace, seek God sincerely and strive to fulfill his will, are saved even if they have not been baptized”

You have it saying those who strive to fulfill God's will "ARE" saved instead of "CAN BE" saved. This is a significant difference I believe. I hope and pray you will correct your quotation. Thank You.

November 20, 2013 at 9:40 pm PST
#5  Jimmy Akin - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

Mark Jeffords: Thank you for writing and for your kind words.

I suspect that the issue you raise is because of a translation/edition issue. (I certainly would not change the words of the Catechism on my own initiative! :-)

The edition of the Catechism being quoted here is the one found on the Vatican web site, specifically, at this link:

What edition were you quoting from?

November 21, 2013 at 10:23 am PST
#6  Mark Jeffords - Ceres, California

Thanks responding Jimmy.

I always the use the online version of the Catechism found on the USCCB's

official website ( when I'm wanting to do a search or to

copy and paste form the Catechism. I like their user interface much better

than the one on the Vatican website.

From their home page, go to beliefs and teachings, then click on "what we

believe", then you'll find a link for the CCC on the left.

Here is the direct URL:


On the USSCB's online Catechism of the Catholic Church, which is the 2nd

edition (Big Green Catechism), as well as the paper back CCC 2nd edition

from USCCB publishing on my bookshelf, which I got from my local

Catholic book store, both say in paragraph 1281, "CAN BE" saved instead of

"ARE" saved.

I did take a look at the link you supplied and I saw that the english

translation of CCC 1281 on the Vatican's website says "ARE SAVED". Now,

I'm wondering why the Vatican's translation of 1281 is different than the

USCCB's translation? Whatever the reason, the USCCB version (Big Green

Catechism), is the one found in Catholic parishes, book stores, and homes,

all over the US. So, if it's wrong in it's translation of paragraph 1281, I'm

curious to know what else it may have translated wrong...

I dug a little deeper, and looked ant the offical Latin text of the CCC on the

Vatican's website, URL here:


For CCC 1281, the official Latin text says :

"1281 Qui mortem propter fidem patiuntur, catechumeni et omnes homines

qui, sub gratiae impulsu, quin Ecclesiam cognoscant, Deum sincere quaerunt

et Eius voluntatem implere conantur, salvari possunt, etiamsi Baptismum

non receperint. 232"

Now, I'm not a latin scholar, but I make it a point to be familiar enough

with it, and I'm pretty sure the word "possunt" as in "salvari possunt" found

in CCC 1281, means "to be able to" or "can". So, if that is right, the correct

english translation of the official latin text of CCC 1281 "salavari possunt",

should be "can be saved", not "ARE SAVED". Which is how the United States

Bishop's Conference has it translated in the Big Green Catechism on my


Also, the footnote for CCC 1281 says that is a refernce to Lumen Gentium paragraph 16. Which says in the english on the Vatican's website:

(128) Those also CAN attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience.

And in the Latinon the Vatican's website, Lumen Gentium 16 says:

"Qui enim Evangelium Christi Eiusque Ecclesiam sine culpa ignorantes, Deum tamen sincero corde quaerunt, Eiusque voluntatem per conscientiae dictamen agnitam, operibus adimplere, sub gratiae influxu, conantur, aeternam salutem consequi possunt"

Again the word "possunt" is used.

So, the question now is, given all this, I'm wondering why the Vatican's English translation of CCC 1281 says "ARE SAVED". I really find that odd.

The reason I make a fuss over it, is because I see there being a huge

difference between saying "ARE SAVED" and "CAN BE SAVED" when talking about people outside the One True Faith. We are talking about the eternal destiny of the huge number of people who find themselves in this situation, and the attitudes of faithful Catholics towards these people.

Jimmy, I'd love to know what you think about everything I presented here. I respect and value your opinion enormously.

God Bless.

November 24, 2013 at 12:04 pm PST
#7  Henry Ashley - Alton, Illinois

How do you choose which bits of the bible to take literally, and which to take metaphorically?

December 10, 2013 at 9:54 pm PST
#8  Greg Herwaldt - South Elgin, Illinois

Thanks Dick great words your not saved by baptism and WORKS and purgatory and being a good person. When you think THAT you just took Jesus off the Cross and his Death Means Nothing. HIS BLOOD WAS SHED TO PURIFY OUR SINS. They taught me in the Catholic Church that Purgatory was a place where my Sins will be purged by the WAY it means PURiFiED or PURiFY= Jesus did it on The Cross it's TO Easy to have Works,baptism,purgatory and being Good that's not Faith that's Religion !!!!!!!!!!

March 21, 2014 at 1:21 pm PST
#9  Innertruth chi - ba, Glasgow

Of course its not, its all ******** unless its your truth. This is our dreamworld, the only truth is YOUR truth so death to this ********. Love you all!!!

April 19, 2014 at 4:58 pm PST
#10  Martin Dian - Miami, Florida

Well, why you don't approve of the catechism? It was written by the same church that wrote the bible!
PS: Wether you like it or not your bible was declared to be The Word of God by the Catholic church! Enjoy it!

June 15, 2014 at 6:29 pm PST
#11  Innertruth chi - ba, Glasgow

Its all ********, the church is disgusting and destroys minds and lives

July 9, 2014 at 10:20 pm PST
#12  Gabrielle Renoir - Columbus, Ohio

No, formal baptism is not necessary under certain conditions. There are those who have not been blessed to even know the word of God in the Gospels or know about the life of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit, however, is at work both inside and outside the Church. Those who have received the Spirit, even if they do not recognize it as such, even if they cannot, will be saved. It is those who know about Christ's redemption of humankind and still, of their own free will, turn their back on him, who are (probably) not going to be saved. (The Church has never said with certainty that anyone is in hell.)

April 8, 2015 at 11:41 am PST
#13  Joe Yates - Northfield, Birmingham

Two different births. Water and Spirit.
Look at Acts 8:14-16.

And as for the Bible, well, suffice to say that the Bible was written by the Church because the Apostles and all their followers WERE the Church!

July 14, 2015 at 6:13 am PST
#14  Joe Yates - Northfield, Birmingham

Emperor Theodosius made ZERO (0) changes to the canon of Scripture. A clear indication of this is that when the canon was officially defined and promulgated in 382, with Tobit, Maccabees etc INCLUDED, no one, at all, protested that new books were being added.
Why? Because these books were already there! The Jews only rejected them becuase they thought they contained sentiments that conflicted with Judaism.
Those who sought to REMOVE the deuterocanonical books were considered the innovators, not those who included them.

July 14, 2015 at 6:18 am PST

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