What Does Baptism by Fire Mean?

Baptism by fire is a phrase originating from Europe that describes an employee that is learning something the hard way through a challenge or difficulty. Baptism by fire has its roots in a biblical verse (Matthew 3:11) and, before the civilized workplace was set up, in war terminology, described a soldier's first time in battle.

Baptism by Fire Explained

The phrase "baptism by fire" is from Matthew 3:11 from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible:

"I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire."

In modern work environments, baptisms by fire could be happenstance or they could be deliberate. One never knows when a daunting obstacle or severe challenge will present itself at work. A new trader may find a market moving violently against them; a CEO may suddenly face a public relations crisis because the company physically abused a customer on video; a fresh intern at a city hospital has been scheduled to work a 48-hour shift in ER; a writer reassigned to the Washington D.C. desk is asked to cover a breaking White House scandal and deliver an article to the managing editor by the next day at 5 a.m.

Training with Baptism By Fire

Baptism by fire is sometimes considered a good way to quickly train a person who will have to deal with real-life situations sooner rather than later. Those in uniform — police officers, firefighters, military personnel — could be thrown into the fire to quickly acclimate to the tough demands of their work. Once "baptized", it is expected that these workers of all different stripes will be able to perform their duties effectively, having demonstrated their mental, physical, and emotional strength to survive the initial challenge.