The following five verses seem to imply that a person has to be water baptized in order to be saved (that is, to have his/her sins forgiven and eternal life in heaven). But do these verses really teach this? Let’s see!
Mark 16:16 Who will be saved? Who will be condemned?
The omission of the word baptized with disbelieved would seem to show that Jesus does not make baptism essential for salvation. Being condemned is due to one’s disbelief, not one’s failure to be baptized. So salvation rests on belief alone – Romans 3:27-28.
The statement is a true one: “He who has believed and has been baptized will be saved,” but the statement is just as true that he who has believed will be saved (see Acts 11:14-17 with Acts 10:43-44). Just as the statement in John 6:40 is true: “everyone who beholds the Son, and believes in Him, may have eternal life…”, so it’s equally true that everyone who believes in Him but does not behold the Son will have eternal life.
Baptism is merely the picture of the new life, not the means of securing it. So serious a doctrine/teaching would need stronger support other than this and a few other verses used to try to support water baptism as being essential for salvation. When there are scores of verses that say salvation is obtained by faith/belief alone, and only a couple of verses that seem to say that it is by faith/repentance/belief plus baptism, then it is rather obvious to the unbiased reader that salvation (i.e., forgiveness of sins and eternal life in heaven) is by faith alone in Jesus Christ.
Another point against using Mark 16:16 to try to say that water baptism is a requirement for salvation is that Mark 16:9-20 are seriously in question as to whether or not they were even written by Mark and, therefore, even belong in the Bible as the inspired Word of God. Textual evidence fails to support these verses being a part of the Bible, as they are not included in the two earliest/ancient manuscripts (the Vatincanus and Sinaiticus); nor in the codex K (the best exemplar of the earliest African Old Latin text); nor the Sinaitic Syriac, and other early manuscripts. Early church fathers/leaders, such as Clement of Alexandria and Origen seem not to have known these verses, as do Eusebius and Jerome after them.
Internal evidence also fails to support Mark 16:9-20 as being written by Mark. Arguments based on diction, style, and content also indicate the position that Mark did not write these verses.
For further analysis, see The New Testament Commentary – The Gospel of Mark, pp. 682-687 by Dr. William Hendricksen.
John 3:5 Who can’t enter into the kingdom of God?
That Jesus is not referring to water baptism when He says, “born of water” can be seen for the following reasons:
1) To understand what “born of water” means, one needs to read the context carefully. In John 3:3, Jesus states that “unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus thought Jesus was saying that a person had to be physically born a second time out of his mother’s womb (i.e., the fluid water sac, which contains and nourishes the young during development prior to birth) in order to see God’s kingdom – John 3:4. In John 3:5, Jesus corrects Nicodemus’ wrong interpretation and states that “unless one is born of water (physically first) and the Spirit (then spiritually the next time), he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” That this is what Jesus meant is confirmed in John 3:6, where He contrasts what physical birth produces (“that which is born of the flesh is flesh”) with what a spiritual birth produces (“that which is born of Spirit is spirit”). Being born “of” (the Greek word “ek,” means “out of” – indicating the source) the water sac of your mother’s womb only produces a physical birth, but being born “of ” (“out of”) God, the Holy Spirit (the direct source of this second birth) produces a spiritual birth (a child of God), and that is what is required to see/enter God’s kingdom. And this spiritual birth is what is meant by being “born again” in John 3:7. So, God is the source of the spiritual birth, not baptism, man, or physical sources as seen in John 1:13 and 1 Peter 1:3, 23. But the means or instrumentality of acquiring this spiritual or second birth is by or through (Greek word “dia”) believing God’s word, the gospel (Eph. 1:13-14) that Jesus is the Christ/Messiah (the Savior whose death-blood paid for all the believer’s sins and, thereby, gains him total forgiveness – 1 Pet. 1:18-19; Rev. 1:5; Eph. 1:7), as seen in John 1:12; 1 Peter 1:23, and 1 John 5:1.
Let’s take a closer look at 1 Peter 1:23, where the word “seed” refers to the “incorruptible” God who is the source of the new birth in contrast to the“corruptible seed” which is the “flesh” (1 Pet. 1:24). Of course, “seed” often refers to the word of God, as in Luke 8:11, but that is not the case in 1 Peter 1:23. See Galatians 3:16.
The preposition “of” (ek) is indicative of source, not means or instrumentality. We are born “of God” as the source (compare Jn. 1:13; 1 Jn. 4:7; 5:1, 4, 18).
The preposition “by” (dia) is indicative of means, or the instrumentality. We are born “by the Word of God” or “through the Gospel” (1 Cor. 4:15 with Jas. 1:18).
Thus, we are born OF (“ek,” out of) God, and it is BY (“dia,” by means of), WITH, or THROUGH the Word, the gospel. In 1 Peter 1:23, the source (God) and the means (Word) are both in the text “We are born again … of incorruptible,” that is, God as contrasted to the corruptible flesh.”
Some wrongly regard ‘the Word of God’ as the incorruptible seed. But they were begotten of God, ‘of’ indicating the source of their new life, but were begotten by (by means of) the Word of God (Jas. 1:18), the truths of the Bible, the Gospel (1 Cor. 4:15)” (An American Commentary on the New Testament: First Peter, by N. Williams, vol. VI, page 22 in the First Peter section).
Stephen Charnock (Works, vol. III, page 309) and John Gill (commentary, vol. 6, page 815) expound 1 Peter 1:23 similarly. Here is Charnock’s comment: “The Scripture does distinguish the efficient and instrumental cause by the prepositions ek or ex and dia. When we are said to be ‘born of Spirit,’ it is John 3:5, ek pneumatos (out of Spirit); 1 John 3:9, ek theu (out of God); never dia pneumatos (through/by Spirit), or dia theu (through/by God), but we are nowhere said to be born of the word, or begotten of the word, but dia loguou, by or with the word, 1 Peter 1:23; and dia euangelion, 1 Corinthians 4:15, I have begotten you ‘through the gospel.’ The preposition ek or ex usually notes the efficient or material cause; dia, the instrumental or means by which a thing is wrought (Works, vol. III, page 309, “A Discourse of the Word the Instrument of Regeneration”).
Notice the following passages in which this distinction is seen: “that which is born OF the Spirit” – John 3:6. “…to become children OF God” – John 1:12.“…everyone who practices righteousness is born OF Him.” – 1 John 2:29. “Who is born OF God” – 1 John 3:9. “…everyone who loves is born OF God” – 1 John 4:7. “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born OF God” – 1 John 5:1. “For whatever is born OF God overcomes the world” – 1 John 5:4. “…because he is born OF God” – 1 John 3:9. “…renewing OF the Holy Spirit” – Titus 3:5 (KJV).
Notice that it is not referring to being born “by” God, but “of ” God. Being born “of ” God means that He is the efficient cause or author of the birth; to be born “by” the Word or Gospel means that it is through these mediums of revelation that God performs the work of uniting men to Himself.
Notice the Scriptures which refer to this latter sense: “Being born again BY the Word of God” – 1 Peter 1:23. “Of His own will begat he us WITH the Word of truth…” – James 1:18. “…for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you THROUGH the gospel” – 1 Corinthians 4:15. “He called you BY our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” – 2 Thessalonians 2:14. “Now ye are clean THROUGH the word…” – John 15:3. “Sanctify them THROUGH thy truth: thy word is truth” – John 17:17.
In conclusion then, to be born “of” water is to be born physically (i.e., out of the womb or water sac). It is not referring to water baptism.
2) Other statements that Jesus makes in the same conversation with Nicodemus say that all that is necessary for eternal life (i.e., being born again; saved) is to believe in Christ (Jn. 3:15-16, 18) and not water baptism.
3) Other statements by the apostle John also mention that it’s only faith, not faith plus baptism, that is necessary for eternal life/salvation (Jn. 3:36; 6:47; 8:24; 10:9; 11:25-26; 1 Jn. 3:23).
4) No one in the Old Testament was saved/justified/made righteous/forgiven of their sins because of baptism or faith plus baptism, but rather by faith alone (Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:2-5; Heb. 11:4-7).
5) The thief on the cross was not baptized, yet was promised that he’d be with Christ in paradise (Lk. 23:40-43).
6) If baptism is essential for salvation, then why is it never recorded in the Bible that Jesus baptized anyone?
7) Even the great evangelist Paul rarely baptized anyone (e.g., 1 Cor. 1:14-17). And “baptism” is not part of the gospel message (1 Cor. 1:17; 15:1-4).Paul even emphasizes the fact that Christ did not send him to baptize, but to preach the gospel. So a distinction is made between baptism and the gospel. And we’ve already seen that it’s faith in the gospel of salvation (Eph. 1:13-14; 1 Pet. 1:3-4) that guarantees the believer an inheritance in heaven, not water baptism.
Acts 2:38 What did Peter say in answer to these people’s question as to what to do?”
Bible scholars in New Testament Greek, Drs. Dana and Mantey, state that the English translation “for” of the Greek word “eis” can and does have the meaning “because of”. Context is what determines the exact meaning of the Greek word “eis”. And Dr. Kenneth Wuest, former professor of Greek New Testament at Moody Bible Institute, agrees, citing Matthew 12:41 as an example, where the men of Nineveh repented “because of” the preaching of Jonah. The same Greek word “eis” is used here, and is translated as “at” in the NIV, the King James, and the New American Standard Version of the Bible. The men of Nineveh didn’t repent“for” (i.e., as a requirement for) the preaching, but “because of”.
Wuest states that “forgiveness of sins is part of the salvation which God gives the believing sinner when he places his faith in the Lord Jesus. Therefore, forgiveness of sins cannot be the result of baptism, but rather its occasion.” In other words, the believer is baptized because he’s already been forgiven of his sins when he repented (i.e., changed his thinking and thus turned to Jesus Christ as his Messiah) – Wuest’s Word Studies in the Greek New Testament, vol. 1, p.18.
Dr. A. T. Robertson, another Greek scholar and former seminary professor of New Testament Interpretation, concurs with the above and further goes on to say that “eis” means “on the basis of” (“because of”) in Matthew 10:41. The NIV so translates “eis” as “because” in Matthew 10:41, while the KJV and NASB translate it as “in”. Dr. Robertson states that he is against the idea that baptism is essential for the forgiveness of sins or the means of securing such forgiveness. Rather, Dr. Robertson states, baptism was commanded in Acts 2:38 on the basis (i.e., because) of the fact that forgiveness of sins had already occurred once they repented (i.e., changed their mind from disbelief to belief in Jesus Christ as Messiah/Savior –Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament, vol. 3, pp. 35, 36).
In Matthew 3:11 it says that John the Baptist baptized the people in water “unto” (KJV) or “for” (NASB and NIV) repentance.
Were unrepentant people baptized in order to obtain repentance?
This would be against the biblical order of repent and be baptized as found in Acts 2:38 and elsewhere. Thus baptism cannot be the basis of repentance.
The Greek word “eis” (translated “unto”, “for”, or “because of”) when used with baptism must mean “with a view to the fact that they had already repented.” Thus their repentance was the basis of their baptism.
Many modern translations have interpreted the Greek word “eis” as meaning that repentance was the basis of people’s baptism.
- Amplified Bible: “because of repentance”
- Renaissance Bible: “because of repentance”
- Phillips Bible: “as a sign of your repentance”
- Goodspeed Bible: “in token of your repentance”
- Williams Bible: “to picture your repentance”
- Twentieth Century Bible: “to teach repentance”
- Living Bible: “baptize those who repent of their sins”
Also, several Greek lexicons indicate that “eis” can be or is used with the meaning of “because of” or “in regard to.”Thayer’s Greek Lexicon (p. 184). “Eis” can be used “of reference or relation; with regard to, in reference to; as regards”.
An Intermediate Greek-English New Testament (Liddell & Scott), p. 231.“in regard to.”
A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Green), p. 54.“in accordance with, ” (i.e., Matt. 12:41).
A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Arndt & Gingrich), p. 229.
Under the heading “other uses of eis” we find, “the causal use, ‘because of’, Matthew 12:41; Luke 11:32; cf. Romans 4:20 and perhaps Matthew 3:11”.
Also, many Greek scholars support the meaning of “eis” in passages such as Matthew 10:41; 12:41; and Acts 2:38 as “on the basis of”, “because of”, or “with a view to”.
In Dr. A. T. Robertson’s Word Studies in the New Testament, it states that in Acts 2:38, Peter is “urging baptism on each of them who had already turned (i.e., repented, changed their thinking) and for it to be done in the name of Jesus Christ on the basis of the forgiveness of sins which they had already received.”
In A. T. Robertson’s Grammar, page 592, it states that both uses of “eis” (purpose/aim and because of/on the basis of) are numerous in the New Testament and the Koine Greek generally.
Then in Dr. Yeager’s Renaissance New Testament, it states, “Just as ‘eis’ with the accusative can be telic (i.e., tending toward an end) when the context demands, it can also be causal, as we have translated in Acts 2:38. Another example is found in Matt. 12:41, where the men of Nineveh repented – ‘because of the preaching of Jonah’. Such true believers, made thus by the supernatural ministry of the Holy Spirit, who have truly repented and who have definitely made the leap of faith to Christ, are immersed because their sins are forgiven, not in order that their sins may be forgiven.”
In Greek scholars Drs. Dana and Manty’s A Manual of Greek New Testament, it states that “eis” can be used in the sense of: “because of” as it does in Romans 4:20; Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:4; Titus 3:14.
Dr. Kenneth Wuest’s translation of the Greek New Testament for Acts 2:38 states, “…baptized in relation to the fact that your sins have been put away”.
So what’s the connection between Matthew 3:11 and Acts 2:38?
Since there is an exact parallel between Matthew 3:11 “baptize unto/for (eis) repentance” and Acts 2:38 “baptize for (eis) the remission/forgiveness of sins” AND since “eis” is used in connection with baptism in Matthew 3:11 meaning that these people were baptized with a view to the fact that they had already repented, THEN “eis” in Acts 2:38 means that these people were baptized with a view to the fact that their sins had already been forgiven.
If a person insists that a believer has to be water baptized in order to be forgiven of his sins, then to be consistent with “his interpretation” of Acts 2:38, he would also have to say that baptism is a requirement to receive the Holy Spirit as Acts 2:38 goes on to say. But in Acts 10:42-48 with Acts 11:15-18, God’s word states that these repenting/believing people received the Holy Spirit before they were water baptized. Therefore, water baptism cannot be a requirement for receiving the Holy Spirit, since God cannot contradict Himself. And if baptism is not a requirement for receiving the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:38, then it cannot be one for the forgiveness of sins either, because the two (i.e., forgiveness and receiving the Holy Spirit) go hand in hand. Note also, that Peter is the same spokesman in both passages (Acts 2 and 10), so he would be giving the same requirement for the forgiveness of sins and receiving the Holy Spirit in both passages. And that requirement is repentance (Acts 2:38; 11:18), which is a change of mind regarding who Jesus Christ is or how one is saved – and that is by faith in Jesus Christ as Savior, whether Jew or Gentile (Rom. 3:30).
Again, the fact that repentance (i.e., faith in Christ) and not water baptism is the means of having one’s sins forgiven is seen in yet another of Peter’s sermons in Acts 3:19, where Peter says, “Repent and return that your sins may be wiped away…” And as stated earlier in Acts 11:18, it’s repentance that leads to (eternal) life, not baptism or repentance plus baptism.
After leaving the first part of Acts in which Peter’s preaching to the Jews is prominent, we find the word “repentance” no longer in the foreground, but rather the word “believe” for the forgiveness of sins (see Acts 10:42-43; 13:38-39; Eph. 1:7, 13).
In Acts 16:30, a clear straight question is asked of Paul and Silas, “What must I do to be saved?” And a clear straight answer is given by them, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved…” Notice, it says believe, not believe plus be baptized to be saved. And to be saved is to have your sins forgiven (see Lk. 7:48, 50; 1:77). To obtain eternal life is to be able to enter the kingdom of heaven is to be saved (see Matt. 19:16, 23, 26; Mk. 10:17, 24, 26).
1 Peter 3:21 How is baptism described?
Just as Noah and his family were saved (from God’s judgment on sin) by the flood waters through their being on the ark, so believers are saved (from God’s judgment on their sin) by baptism (not the physical purification, ceremony or ritual, but what baptism stands for/represents/symbolizes – an expression/appeal/pledge/answer of a good conscience to God because the believer knows his sins are already forgiven) through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (proof of the fact that God had already accepted Jesus’ death payment as sufficient for all of the believer’s sins, 1 Pet. 3:18).
Just as the flood waters did not actually (but only in symbol) save Noah’s family from God’s judgment on sin, but the ark actually did (for if Noah’s family weren’t in the ark, the flood waters wouldn’t have saved them but killed them), so Christian water baptism doesn’t actually (but only in symbol) save a believer from God’s judgment on his sins, but Christ’s death and resurrection actually does (1 Pet. 3:18, 21; Heb. 9:14; Rom. 4:25) – Wuest’s Word Studies in the Greek New Testament, vol. 2, “1 Peter,” p. 108; Unger’s Bible Handbook, p. 804; Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, p. 1478.
The “you” in 1 Pet. 3:21 refers to his readers who are already believers (1 Pet. 1:1-4, 8-9, 18-23; 2:2, 7-10, 25; 3:15-16).
Acts 22:16 “And now why do you delay? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.”
This passage seems to say that baptism washed away Paul’s sins. However, when the verse is diagrammed, it clearly does not say that. There are two imperatives/commands (be baptized and wash) and two participles (arising and calling) in the verse, and they pair off like this: arising, get yourself baptized; calling on the name of the Lord, wash away your sins. In other words, the washing away of sins and the baptism are not connected as cause and effect. The washing away of sin is due to calling on the Lord’s name (for salvation, Rom. 10:13). The Greek aorist participle, epikalesamenos, translated “calling on His name” refers either to action simultaneous with or before that of the main verb. Here, Paul’s calling on Christ’s name (for salvation) preceded his water baptism. The participle may be translated, “having called on His name”. Those who call on the Lord Jesus Christ – His name – are saints/believers (Acts 9:13-14), and believers are forgiven of their sins by faith (Acts 15:9) – Drs. John Walvoord and R. Zuck’s The Bible Knowledge Commentary, New Testament, p. 418; Dr. Charles Ryrie’s A Survey of Bible Doctrine, p. 138. To “call on His name” is to pray in faith for salvation – Drs. Walvoord and Zuck, p. 481. It’s to acknowledge the nature of (Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, Vol. 1, p. 120), that Jesus is the Lord/God and Christ/Messiah/Savior.