What exact words are used to baptize someone?
What a great question! The answer comes from the governing documents of the Church (the Doctrine and Covenants) – specifically, in section 20 (known as the Articles and Covenants).
“The person who is called of God and has authority from Jesus Christ to baptize, shall go down into the water with the person who has presented himself or herself for baptism, and shall say, calling him or her by name:
‘Having been commissioned of Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.‘
“Then shall he immerse him or her in the water, and come forth again out of the water” (D&C 20:73-74).
What’s so interesting about this is that you can see the guidance Joseph Smith received from the Spirit and from translating The Book of Mormon. Just take a look at the qualifications for baptism (D&C 20:37) and compare that with the standards Moroni recorded (Moroni 6:2-3). They both go down the following checklist:
- Broken heart and contrite spirit
- Witness of true repentance
- Taking the name of Christ
- Determination to serve Christ to the end
And it’s not just here either. The same prayer is recorded for our sacrament (D&C 20:76-79) and theirs (Moroni 4 & 5). So it’s natural that we find a very similar baptismal prayer in the Book of Mormon as well.
“[O]n this wise shall ye baptize them—Behold, ye shall go down and stand in the water, and in my name shall ye baptize them. And now behold, these are the words which ye shall say, calling them by name, saying:
‘Having authority given me of Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.‘
“And then shall ye immerse them in the water, and come forth again out of the water” (3 Nephi 11:23-26).
And now, just to muddy the waters a bit, The Book of Mormon records different words from the baptismal prayer than the ones we’re so familiar with. These were uttered by Alma the elder as he baptized in the waters of Mormon.
“Helam, I baptize thee, having authority from the Almighty God, as a testimony that ye have entered into a covenant to serve him until you are dead as to the mortal body; and may the Spirit of the Lord be poured out upon you; and may he grant unto you eternal life, through the redemption of Christ, whom he has prepared from the foundation of the world” (Mosiah 18:13).
I don’t know why this prayer is different. Perhaps this was the way to administer it in Old Testament times, or perhaps Alma was not baptizing Helam in the way we think of it (for instance, if Helam was already baptized, then this could have been an ordinance of renewal). What is worth noting is the essentials are still there:
- The proper order of immersion is kept
- The authority is stated
- The ordinance is tied to death as a type
- The ordinance witnesses a willingness to follow Christ
To learn more about the proper procedures for this and other ordinances, consult the Church Handbook of Instructions, vol. 2, chapter 20.