Baptism by Fire or Baptism of Fire – Idiom, Origin and Meaning

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

English language idioms tend to create points of confusion, especially when variations of the same phrase come into play. I always think of the idiom baptism of fire and whether or not it’s baptism by fire. So, which one is it? Let’s take a look and see how to say this phrase, as well as how to use it properly in a sentence.

Is It Baptism of Fire or Baptism by Fire?

Baptism of Fire vs Baptism by Fire Ngram
Baptism of fire and baptism by fire usage trend.

Both the phrases baptism of fire and baptism by fire are a hundred percent correct and are used interchangeably in the English language all the time. Even though the prepositions of and by usually have their own specific meanings, they’re pretty much equal in this context.

Baptism by Fire Meaning

Baptism by Fire or Baptism of Fire Idiom Origin Meaning

The common idiom baptism by fire is a phrase that refers to a challenging situation that you encounter for the first time, and it usually tests your abilities or endurance.

This could be from a new job or role that’s relatively new and doesn’t let you ease into it. It’s kind of like getting a crash course in something. But it’s not always negative. An unexpected spiritual awakening could be considered a spiritual baptism by fire and change your life for the better. 

Is the Phrase Baptism of Fire Meaning Different?

Nope! Baptism of fire carries the same meaning as baptism by fire. Both idioms are used in the same contexts to describe learning something quick and hard that tests your skills and abilities to the fullest.

Origin of Baptism by Fire

To no surprise, the phrase comes from the Bible, specifically in the Gospel of Matthew (3:11), where John the Baptist says, “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

Through the years and centuries following that, the phrase found its way into military language when describing a soldier’s first experience in battle. Eventually, it just seeped into everyday English and is now a phrase we use when we experience anything a little too fast, too hard, etc.

Baptism of Fire Synonyms

  • Trial by fire
  • Rite of passage
  • Crash course
  • Initiation
  • Crucible
  • Test of endurance

Examples of Baptism of Fire and Baptism by Fire in a Sentence

Baptism by Fire or Baptism of Fire Idiom Origin Meaning 1
  • Starting her new job at Walmart during the year’s busiest season was a real baptism of fire for working in retail.
  • Jack’s first week in the army was a baptism by fire, testing his physical and mental strength like he never could have imagined.
  • Traveling to Asia and living abroad for six months was a spiritual baptism by fire. 
  • Being thrown into a project management role without any prior experience was my baptism of fire. However, I stuck with it, and now I’m an amazing project lead.
  • My very first author discussion panel was a real baptism by fire, despite how much I’d prepared for it.
  • Getting into indie publishing for the first time is a baptism of fire because you have to do everything yourself, and no one will teach you.

Alex McLeish reckons the baptism of fire for Harry Redknapp at Villa Park on Sunday only serves as an opportunity for the new Birmingham City boss to win over Bluenoses that bit quicker. (The Birmingham Mail)

Don’t Get Burned

Using idioms like this can make you sound smarter and more interesting. Working them into your writing adds color and depth to your characters. So, play around with the phrase baptism by fire and find everyday uses for it! Be sure to read over my other idiom guides, too!