Theif on the Cross



Often, we hear that the Thief on the Cross is proof that Baptism is needed. This is because it is commonly believed that this is the first time the Thief met Christ, accepted him and believed. Because of this, the Thief is saved, without the need for Baptism.

However, as a thought experiment, I want to argue that maybe this is not entirely accurate.

Is it actually more likely that the Thief WAS a follower of Christ prior to the Cross?


  1. The Thief knew who Jesus was. There was no hesitation. Unlike today, Pictures of Jesus would not have been well known. How could He had known that this was the Jesus talked about be everyone if he hadn’t already seen or heard him at some prior date. Remember, Jesus is really a mistype for the name Joshua, a VERY common name of the time.
  2. There were generally two groups of people, those that followed Jesus, and those that ridiculed him. His being the very son of God was not a common title among lay followers, he was the messiah. Those that did call him Son of God were more often using it to ridicule him.
  3. He knew enough about Jesus to repent. This meant he knew what he taught, probably heard it in a sermon by either him or one of his disciples. How do we know that the Thief didn’t accept Christ and be Baptized earlier. Followed Jesus for a time, and then fell away? (please don’t make this a OSAS thread on how this is impossible per OSAS)
  4. There is very little in scripture about the Thief, how can we honestly say that this is the first time he met Jesus.

Point is, there is so much ambiguity to the Thief’s past that for all we know, he was one of the disciples that turned away in John 6. We DON’T know whether or not he was baptized. There is simply not enough evidence either way.

So, how can this be used as proof that Baptism is NOT required…

Again… Just a thought experiment

In Christ


I have the strong suspicion that both of the “thieves” knew Jesus.
See, Romans do not went around cruxifiying people for nothing. That was mostly a political form of execution, the cruxifiction.
So the “thieves” were probably jewish zealots.
Probaly they were not close disciples (or the Bible would have said it) but they were aware who Jesus was. And maybe knew some other people like John the Baptist too.


You are just speculating. There is absolutely nothing to suggest the criminals on the cross were followers of Jesus before that day, even though they may have known or heard about him.

Secondly, why do you see what happened on the cross as a case for no need for baptism. The criminal’s repentance was the first case of baptism of desire.


Regardless of what he was, the thief on the cross was the ONLY person that I know who Jesus looked at in the eyes and promised Paradise.

What would you give to have that happen to you? Now THAT must be quite an experience - to look God himself in the eyes and have his promise. Wow.


It may have been, and for the record, I too believe it was, but the point of the OP, is that saying such is “assuming facts not in evidence” (your honour;) )

Baptsim of desire presupposes that a valid water baptism has not already taken place. This passage in the bible does not make it clear whether this is the case or not.

Regards Doc


I agree with what you say but the general consensus is that this is viewed as a baptism of desire. I don’t think there is anyone who believes the criminal on the cross was a water baptised follower of Jesus.


Baptism as a sacrament was not needed until the New Covenant took effect. Jesus was still alive when He spoke to the thief on the cross. Sure, this would have been a baptism of desire, if sacramental baptism had taken effect yet. But it hadn’t.


As mentioned, this is just a thought experiment…

Personally, I believe that it is very likely a case of Baptism by Desire. That being said, many that are opposed to the requirement of baptism point to the Thief and say “see, he didn’t need it” What I am saying is that this cannot be used as ‘evidence’ against baptism because there simply isn’t enough evidence either way. There is just as much scriptural evidence to say he knew and possibly followed Jesus earlier in life as there is to say this is his conversion…

Read the passages… you will see what I am talking about.

As a note, this is not some willy nilly idea i had… it is a thought experiment in the truest since. I looked at it from a logical point of view based on the evidence in scripture and concluded, you can’t conclude anything about the Thief’s past.

He may have been a follower…
He may not…

Point is just that it can’t be assumed he wasn’t a follower and use that to attack baptism because there is not enough biblical evidence. This is especially true if you hold to scripture alone.

So, relax, it’s just a thought experiment. Not meant as dogma, and not meant to question the Church’s teachings

In Christ


The thief did not go to Heaven with Jesus that day. Christ did not go to heaven until after He soent about 40 days on this earth post resurrection. “I have not yet ascended to my Father”(in heaven).

he stated this post resurrection.

So we know that he was not bodily there.

Maybe because Jesus Christ, the second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, is not seperate from the Father and the Holy Spirit, but is still distinct from them, that He was trying to show once again that the Trinity is true?

But as far as the thief goes, he did not ascend to heaven that day with Jesus.

His baptism was by desire, and possibly by blood after he came to believe he still suffered and probably offered his suffering to Christ.




Thanks Whatisthetruth,

I find this one of THE most powerful stories in the Gospels. And I don’t know why. But it always hits me, especially when watching The Passion of the Christ. Imagine hanging on your cross, in terrible pain, knowing what was coming, and having your Saviour’s piercing eyes look into your eyes, right into your very soul.

Imagine, for one instant, having Jesus’s total and undivided attention.

I’m not sure I could handle that. I hope that I could. I don’t know, it just gives me pause just to think about that.


Your welcome Sodak,

I agree with you that this is “one of THE most powerful stories in the Gospels”.

How powerful is it?

I was so moved in my spirit to post the following thread,

Thanks again Sodak and

God bless you



Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved… :thumbsup: Salvation comes to whoever submits to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and receives him as being the Way, the Truth and the Life. We get the privilege of being born again, with his Spirit incorruptible in our hearts. The great thing is that is just the beginning. He calls us friends and we are adopted as sons and daughters of God, coheirs with Christ…That should be getting us all pumped up:D And yes, it’s all in there…:wink:


So, my first post here (and forgive if I didn’t use a good search function). However, my wife (who is a presbyterian) and I got into a “discussion” at dinner about the requirement for works plus faith. She cited the thief on the cross as evidence of one who had faith but no words but yet entered into heaven. Admittedly one or two glasses of wine into the evening, I couldn’t find a good argument other than that the baptism (or conversion?) was under exigent circumstances.

Are there any other thoughts from the faithful here that I am missing?



Must’ve been awesome, yes, but Jesus DID promise James and John to be at His side in the Kingdom - and that all the Apostles would be there judging the twelve tribes of Israel (hardly a task for someone who was hellbound, no?)


Before Jesus died, all of the people were under the old covenant. Therefore, baptism was not yet required (See Acts 2:38)


Lk 23

38There was a written notice above him, which read:|sc THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.
39One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: "Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!"
40But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, "since you are under the same sentence? 41We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong."
42Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom"
43Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Here’s what you can say to your wife about what the “good” thief did on the cross.

· The “good” thief rebuked the other criminal’s insults of Jesus in front of everyone present, while suffering death by crucifixion himself.
·He witnesses to the thief and all who are present to the crucifixion as well as to all humanity who reads in scripture that he acknowledged Jesus is God
·He admits he has done wrong and deserves punishment, and Jesus is innocent
·He Asks Jesus for mercy and to take him to His kingdom, and Jesus honors that.

the thief had faith but did nothing???. :doh2:

I hope this helps.


Sometimes I think a large part of the ‘faith’ v ‘works’ issue is that Catholics and non-Cs not infrequently have different meanings for the word ‘works’. Most Catholics, as you have done, would call the thief’s confession and rebuke of the taunters, and his request for mercy and forgiveness, ‘works’, whereas most non-Cs wouldn’t :shrug:

Difficult to have a rational discussion about anything if you can’t agree on a definition of your core terms.



Why did the reading for Palm Sunday say that the theives ridiculed Jesus, when only one of them did?

The good thief did rebuke the other one for his insults, and asked Jesus to remember him when He came into His kingdom. Yet the reading said nothing of this.

If it helps, the short version of the reading was used during the Mass.


I think you refer to onlookers, those who passed by. THOSE were the ones who cast the insults…along with the one thief.

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