Nothing — 18 July 2017
Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation?

Ban Dihydrogen Monoxide!: The Invisible Killer
Dihydrogen monoxide is colorless, odorless, tasteless, and kills uncounted thousands of people every year. Most of these deaths are caused by accidental inhalation of DHMO, but the dangers of dihydrogen monoxide do not end there. Prolonged exposure to its solid form causes severe tissue damage. Symptoms of DHMO ingestion can include excessive sweating and urination, and possibly a bloated feeling, nausea, vomiting and body electrolyte imbalance. For those who have become dependent, DHMO withdrawal means certain death.

Contamination Is Reaching Epidemic Proportions!

Quantities of dihydrogen monoxide have been found in almost every stream, lake, and reservoir in America today. But the pollution is global, and the contaminant has even been found in Antarctic ice. DHMO has caused millions of dollars of property damage in the Midwest, and recently California.

The above alarming petition to ban the deadly chemical dihydrogen monoxide appears on the website of the Coalition to Ban DHMO in Santa Cruz, California (bandhmo.org). Though the above warning sounds horrible, dihydrogen monoxide has its positive uses. It is found world-wide and, in fact, covers 71% of earth’s surface. It is present in all life forms. It is the best cleaning agent ever known. It is used to fight fires. In its gas form it powers great engines.

Its power turns giant turbines to generate electricity. It keeps people cool in summer and warm in winter. It is probably mankind’s greatest source of recreation. Nothing tastes better when someone is really thirsty. It even makes up 60% of the human body and 70% of the brain!

So, have you ever heard of dihydrogen monoxide? Well, whether or not you have ever heard of it by that name, you ingest it, bathe in it, brush your teeth with it, cook with it, give it to your pets, and do many other things with it every single day! What is this amazing chemical? Well, if you haven’t figured it out by now, I don’t know what to say. Dihydrogen monoxide is, of course, WATER, good ol’ H2O. It is the most important chemical that exists on earth. Life could not exist without it. So it is no wonder that God uses it as a primary symbol for new life in Christian baptism.

Nearly all Christian churches, denominations, sects, and even most cults, practice baptism with water in some form or other. Obviously they don’t all agree on the mode of baptism; some churches sprinkle, some pour, and some totally immerse. They also don’t all agree on who should be the proper candidate for baptism. Some baptize infants, some older children, and some adults. Those that baptize older children and adults usually restrict it only to those who have confessed their faith in Jesus as their personal Savior and Lord. Some churches see baptism as a sacrament and others regard it as merely a symbolic ordinance.

It is not the purpose of this article to discuss all those variations in how Christians understand or perform baptism. In this study, however, we will address what is probably the most important question about baptism: Does the Bible teach that water baptism is a necessary and essential constituent for any person for the receiving of salvation from his or her sins, and to qualify him or her to go to heaven? It is a fact that some groups assert that water baptism (by whatever mode they practice) is an essential component of the Gospel message, is necessary for salvation, and without it a person is not saved (some say not in the fullest sense). They say that faith in Christ, though necessary, is not sufficient for full regeneration and salvation. In fact, their position is sometimes referred to as “baptismal regeneration.”

Major religious movements that traditionally and historically have held that doctrine include the Christian Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS/ Mormons), the Churches of Christ, Eastern Orthodox churches, the Episcopal/Anglican Church, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Roman Catholic Church, and the United Pentecostal Church International (and other Oneness Pentecostal groups). (Note: Some of those movements, or people associated with them, have moderated their views and no longer still dogmatically assert the doctrine.) One major group (LDS) believes so strongly that baptism in their church is essential that they even baptize people by proxy who have died.

Before we analyze the key passages of Scripture that are often used to defend that position, we must first address just what the word “baptize” actually means? The word in English is a transliteration of the Greek term baptidzo. That Greek term has several meanings: (1) to dip repeatedly, to immerse, or to submerge; (2) to cleanse by dipping or submerging; (3) to wash, to make clean with water, to wash one’s self, bathe; and (4) to overwhelm. The early translators of the Bible in English and other languages decided to transliterate the word instead of translating it. Thus, all English versions, for good or bad, use the word “baptism” for that rite.

So the above named religious bodies, and others, dogmatically believe that the Bible, particularly the New Testament, clearly teaches the need for water baptism for salvation (some add other steps and requirements as well). We will now highlight and analyze some of the key biblical passages often cited to buttress this view.

John 3:5
Jesus answered, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and [of] the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” (KJV)

Jesus answered, “Truly I tell you, unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (Christian Standard Bible [CSB])

One of the primary verses quoted to support baptismal salvation is when Jesus interacted with Nicodemus in John 3. Advocates maintain that Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3:5 that a person has to be born of water (meaning water baptism) and born of the Spirit to be saved. However, those groups that use this verse, John 3:5, as a proof-text for baptism violate one of the most important principles of sound biblical hermeneutics (interpretation). That principle says that every verse must be read in its biblical context, both general and specific. Baptismal salvation proponents take this verse out of its context. In fact it does not and cannot be used to prove the necessity of baptism for salvation. This is true mainly because there is no reason in the text or its context to assume that baptism is what Jesus was talking about. He never mentions it! So what then was He referring to? There are two possible answers.

One is that Jesus was using “water” as a synonym for the Holy Spirit. This can make sense because the conjunction, “of water and Spirit” ties both of them inextricably together in the phrase as mutually necessary to “enter the kingdom of God.” Also, in other contexts, Jesus refers to the “Living Water” as a metaphor for new life in the Spirit.

Jesus answered, “If you knew the gift of God, and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would ask him, and he would give you living water.” “Sir,” said the woman, “you don’t even have a bucket, and the well is deep. So where do you get this ‘living water’?” (John 4:10-11 CSB)
The one who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, will have streams of living water flow from deep within him.” (John 7:38 CSB)

The other possible meaning is that Jesus was contrasting physical birth (“water”) to rebirth by the spirit. This is a possible solution because it best fits the context. In verse 4 Nicodemus asks, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb (physical birth), and be born?” Jesus answers with verse 5 (“unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”). He then follows immediately, and in the same breath, with verse 6… “That which is born of the flesh is flesh (physical birth); and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit (rebirth).”

Neither above interpretation of “water and the Spirit” proves the necessity for water baptism. Both interpretations have no indication Jesus was talking about water baptism. As I said, He never mentions it and it is unlikely Nicodemus would have understood it that way. John 3:5 simply does not support the contention that water baptism is necessary for salvation.

Mark 16:16
“He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” (KJV)

“Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (CSB)

Many baptism advocates argue that these words of Jesus plainly assert that only a person “who believes and is baptized shall be saved.” If not, they say, he or she “will be condemned (damned- KJV).”

We will address this passage on two levels. First, Mark 16:9-20, as published in the King James Version and others, is not found in any of the oldest Greek manuscripts of that Gospel. Thus, most New Testament textual scholars deem this section as probably not an authentic part of Mark’s Gospel but was a later addition by some other writer. Most modern Bible versions, such as the Christian Standard Bible (CSB) quoted above, denote this textual issue in the margins or footnotes or put these verses in brackets. Some versions also mention that some texts have an entirely different and shorter ending after verse eight.

Most baptismal proponents probably reject the premise that verses 9-20 are not from Jesus and Mark. Nonetheless, even if the words of the verse are the authentic words of Jesus, if read logically, they still do not teach the necessity of baptism for salvation. Look carefully at what the verse says. The first clause, “He that believes (pisteusas – i.e.: faith) and is baptized will be saved,” simply tells us that anyone who believes and is baptized is saved. Yes, that is a fact. But that clause does not tell us who is not saved. The second clause tells who is not saved: “…whoever does not believe (apistusas) will be condemned.” Note, it does not say that if he is not baptized he is not saved. Thus, the verse does not necessarily teach the requirement of baptism for salvation. The only necessity mentioned is belief.

Acts 2:38
Then Peter said unto them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” (KJV)

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (CSB)

Another passage often quoted in support for the need for water baptism is Peter’s sermon as recorded by Luke in Acts 2:38. The Oneness Pentecostal groups, for instance, not only use this one verse to argue that baptism is necessary for salvation, but that it must be performed only “in the name of Jesus.” Jesus, however, commanded, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19 CSB).

Acts 2:38 simply cannot be used to prove the need for water baptism for regeneration and salvation by whatever mode or formula used. By the way, I have no real objection to baptizing “in the name of Jesus” as an alternative to the traditional Trinitarian formula if it is understood not to endorse a non-trinitarian theology. In any case, Acts 2:38 does not teach the necessity for water baptism for salvation, regardless of in whose name it is performed.

The key to understanding the Acts 2:38 passage is to recognize that Luke, quoting Peter, in Greek uses two different verb tenses in the verse. The Greek text reads (literal translation in parentheses):

Metanohsate (Everyone of you [plural] repent) kai (and) baptistheto ekastos humon (each individual one of you [singular] be baptized) (in) to (the) onomati (name) Ihsou Christou (of Jesus Christ) eis (for) afesin ([the] forgiveness [remission]) ton ([of] the) hamartion (sins) humon (of everyone of you [plural]).

Let’s unpack that a bit. This grammatical structure makes it clear that “forgiveness (remission) of your (plural) sins” is the result of you (plural) repenting, not of each one (singular) being baptized. The command to repent is given in the plural number and second person; the command to be baptized is given in the singular number and third person: the sins forgiven (remitted) belong to “you” (‘ye” – KJV) in the plural number and second person. It is therefore grammatically incorrect to apply “forgiveness (remission) of sins” to “baptism” as its cause, for this would mean that each individual had to be baptized for the forgiveness (remission) of the sins of everyone else present.

In other words, to take “baptism” here as causing the forgiveness or remission of sins would be to make the text say, “Let each individual be baptized for the forgiveness of the sins of everyone of you,” and “Let each individual (another) be baptized for the forgiveness of the sins of everyone of you,” and on and on. Each individual person would have to be baptized for the forgiveness of the sins of all the other people in the crowd. This, of course, makes no sense. But the grammar actually is quite clear. Forgiveness or remission of sins is the result of repentance, not of baptism. All of you repent and the sins of all of you will be forgiven.

Another point to know is that the word translated “for” (Greek eis) does not necessarily mean “in order to do” or “to cause” something. But it may be used to mean “as a result of” something. For example, we say, “He was hanged for murder.” That does not mean he was hanged in order for him to go commit a murder, but as a consequence of him having already committed the crime.

Our conclusion is that Acts 2:38 cannot be used to prove the necessity of baptism for salvation.
(See Cal Beisner: http://ecalvinbeisner.com/freearticles/Baptismbooklet.pdf )

1 Peter 3:21
The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. (KJV)

Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you (not as the removal of dirt from the body, but the pledge [lit.: the appeal] of a good conscience toward God) through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. (CSB)

1 Peter 3:21 is a prize verse for those groups who teach the need for baptism for salvation. They argue that Peter unequivocally states that “baptism…now saves you.” However, like always, this verse must be read in context.

We first need to read verses 18-20:
18 “For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, 19 in which he also went and made proclamation to the spirits in prison 20 who in the past were disobedient, when God patiently waited in the days of Noah while the ark was being prepared. In it a few-that is, eight people-were saved through water.”

To begin with, we must acknowledge that this is one of the most difficult passages in the New Testament to interpret. Biblical scholars have historically interpreted it various ways. Particular uncertainty concerns the identity of those to whom, and exactly when, Jesus… “went and made proclamation to the spirits in prison (vs. 19).” We will not attempt to resolve that issue here.

Our concern revolves around verse 20 in relationship to verse 21. Peter says that in the ark…”a few – that is, eight people (Noah and his family) – were saved through water.” He then, in verse 21, says it is a figure for baptism (“Baptism, which corresponds to this” – CSB). The first problem is that Noah and his family were not saved by the water, they were saved through (or from) the water in the ark (ca. New American Standard Bible rendering: “brought safely through the water”). So obviously Peter did not intend for the comparison to be taken literally.

Second, it is clear in verse 21 that Peter is not asserting that it is the water of baptism that results in salvation. Why else would he have included the parenthetical and explanatory clause: “…(not as the removal of dirt from the body, but the pledge [lit.: the appeal] of a good conscience toward God)” (CSB)? Peter says that baptism is a picture of what happens when one is saved, our sins are figuratively washed away. But he wants his readers to understand that it is not the act or the water of baptism that saves, rather it is the “pledge of a good conscience toward God.” Faith and belief in Christ, because of his death and resurrection, as verse 18 states, is what actually saves us: “For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit” (CSB).

So then, 1 Peter 3:21 cannot be used to prove that baptism is necessary for salvation. In context, however, it does teach the need to put our faith in the person and saving work of Jesus Christ as Lord.

Conclusion
Water is the basis of all life. Without it human life, or any other, could not exist. Many religious movements identifying themselves as Christian assert that water baptism is a necessary ingredient in the process of acquiring and maintaining salvation. As we indicated they do not all agree on the correct mode or qualifications for candidates for baptism. Those questions were not our concern in this article. Our concern is to show that the use of select New Testament passages to proof-text for baptismal regeneration cannot be sustained.

That is not to say that baptism is not an important aspect of Christian discipleship. Indeed it is. Every Christian should be baptized in accord with the example and command of Jesus (Matt. 3:13-17; 28:19; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22). Numerous other Scriptures also direct believers to follow Him in this rite (Rom. 6:4; 1 Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:27; Eph. 4:5; Col. 2:12).

However, those who press young believers to question or doubt their salvation because they have not been baptized by a specific mode, by certain ordained persons, or in a specific place or organization are in grave error. Moreover, and conversely, some people who have not experienced a genuine regeneration (rebirth) in Christ may fallaciously assume they are saved simply because they are baptized.

The truth is, as important as baptism may be in the early process of sanctification, it in no way determines the salvation status of any person. That is entirely by grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Rom. 10:9-10; Eph. 2:8-9). Everyone, whether baptized in water or not, who has sincerely repented of their sins and placed their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, is undeniably saved! Dihydrogen monoxide, in this case, is not necessary.

© 2017 Tal Davis

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