Baptism by Fire
Reviewed by
ERIC ESTEVEZ Updated May 16, 2021
What Does Baptism by Fire Mean?
"Baptism by fire" is a phrase commonly used to describe a person or employee who is learning something the hard way through a challenge or difficulty.
In many cases, someone who starts a new job must undergo a baptism by fire, meaning they must immediately deal with one or more difficult situations. No one is immune to a baptism of fire, which means new and old employees, members of a company's management team, and others can experience one. The phrase, which has its roots in the Bible, originated in Europe.
Understanding Baptism by Fire
As mentioned above, the phrase baptism by fire is rooted in the Bible's Matthew 3:11. The following passage is 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."
The phrase was originally synonymous with a personal ordeal that someone went through. In Biblical and Christian references, a baptism by fire is also used to describe the martyrdom of an individual. As time progressed, the phrase was used to describe a soldier's first time at war, with the battle representing the soldier's baptism. In most cases, baptism by fire is still used as a wartime reference.
Baptism by fire has also been adopted by the modern work world—primarily in Europe. A baptism by fire may refer to an employee's strength, wit, and quick thinking to come out on top of a situation—whether it's deliberate or by chance. It is sometimes considered a good way to quickly train a new employee. The rationale being that they will have to deal with complicated, real-life situations sooner rather than later.
For instance, those in uniform—police officers, firefighters, and military personnel—may be thrown into the fire to quickly acclimate to the tough demands of their jobs. Once this baptism or test is complete, these workers should be able to perform their duties effectively because they've already demonstrated their mental, physical, and emotional strength to survive the initial challenge.
If an employee passes their baptism by fire, they should be able to handle any other situation that arises on the job.
Examples of Baptism by Fire
The phrase baptism by fire can be used to describe any number of situations. For instance, a new trader may find the market is moving violently and often against them. They survive their baptism by fire if they can successfully execute their trades with minimal or no losses regardless of which way the market moves.
Similarly, the chief executive officer (CEO) of a big company may suddenly face their own baptism by fire when a public relations (PR) crisis hits. This may be because the company physically abused a customer on video or because of a problem with the company's product line.
For example, in 2009, Michael McCain, CEO of Canadian meat company Maple Leaf Foods, faced a series of issues after the company's cold cuts were linked to a national listeriosis outbreak that caused 22 deaths. McCain issued an apology and an expanded product recall.1
Here are a few other situations in which someone may have to undergo a baptism by fire:
Related Terms
Stump the Chump
Stump the chump is a term for when one person challenges another person in public to make them appear foolish. more
The Vetting Process Defined
Vetted and vetting refers to the process of investigating an individual, company, or entity before deciding to go forward with a joint project. more
White Collar
The term "white collar" refers to the working class that commonly works in offices and earns high average salaries. more
Reading Into Culture Shock
Culture shock is the feeling of uncertainty, confusion, or anxiety experienced when visiting, doing business in, or living in a foreign country or society. more
Technical Job Skills
Technical job skills refer to the talent and expertise a person possesses to perform a certain job or task.more
What Is a White Shoe Firm?
White shoe firm is an old-fashioned slang term for the most prestigious professional employers. It once referred only to law practices, but now includes other industries. more
Related Articles
How to Become a Managing Director at an Investment Bank
5 Signs You're Being Overworked at Your Job
Follow Your Passions, and Success Will Follow
How to Cope With 10 Coworker Personality Types
How to Improve Your Leadership Skills
A Day In The Life Of An Economist
About Us
Terms of Use
Editorial Policy
Privacy Policy
Contact Us
California Privacy Notice
Investopedia is part of the Dotdash publishing family.