Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation?

It still comes up today—the question of whether baptism is a necessary part of being saved.

Those who champion the argument for the necessity of baptism for salvation often bring up these verses and others:

Mark 16:15 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.

Acts 22:16 And now, why delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins by calling on His name.’

John 3:5 Jesus answered, “I assure you: Unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God”

is_baptism_necessary

Nevertheless as the adage goes, “Two can play at that game.” There are many verses that mention salvation without implying that baptism is necessary for being saved.

But doing that dance back and forth doesn’t seem to help us gain any ground in figuring out what’s correct. This can happen when we lift Bible verses out of their complete contexts. To help us I’m going to call on Norman Geisler and Ralph E. MacKenzie who address this topic (also known as Baptismal Regeneration) in a book titled, Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences.

While space is limited here to present an entire case expounding on the contexts of the scripture in dispute, I believe they make some very clear and concise points on the issues. These come from pages 480-483 (These are not all direct quotes. For exact phrasing go to the book):

1) People are “born again” by receiving God’s word (cf. 1 Pet. 1:23), and Peter’s audience “accepted” his word before they were baptized (Acts 2:41).

2) In Acts those who believed Peter’s message clearly received the Holy Spirit before they were baptized. Peter said, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the holy Spirit even as we have?” (Acts 10:47).

3) Acts 2:41 speaks of “those who accepted his message” (i.e., believed) as having been baptized later on. Receiving (believing) the message is the means by which one is saved (John 1:12; 12:48; Rom. 1:16). And verse 44 speaks of “those who believed” as being constituents of the early church, not all of whom were baptized. Likewise, Mark says “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16), because baptism should follow belief. Nowhere does it say, “whoever is not baptized will be condemned.” Yet Jesus said emphatically that “whoever does not believe has already been condemned” (John 3:18, emphasis added). If belief is the means of the condemnation, belief is the issue at hand not baptism.

4) Paul separates baptism from the gospel, saying, “Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel” (1 Cor. 1:17). But it is the gospel that saves us (Rom. 1:16). Therefore, baptism is not part of what saves us. If baptism is so important why wasn’t Paul more concerned about it?

5) Jesus referred to baptism as a work of “righteousness” (Matt. 3:15), but the Bible declares clearly that it is “not because of any righteous deeds we had done but because of his mercy, he saved us” (Titus 3:5). Hence, we are not saved by baptism.

6) The Gospel of John, written explicitly so that people could believe and be saved (John 20:31), cites only belief as the condition of salvation. It simply states over and over that people need to “believe” and they will be saved (cf. John 3:16, 18, 36). If more were necessary, then the entire Gospel of John misleads on the central purpose for which it was written.

7) The word “for” (Gk: eis) can also mean “with a view to” or even “because of.” In this case, water baptism would be called for because they had been saved, not in order to be saved. Even in the broader sense of “with a view to” the view could be backwards to the fact that they had been saved, baptism being a later outward manifestation of it.

8) Even if “for” is taken in the sense of “in order to” this text does not prove baptismal regeneration for two reasons: first, the apostles were already believers by this time (cf. Matt. 16:16–18; John 20:30–31). It was not a question of their getting saved; they already were saved. What they were promised here after water baptism as Christians was “the gift of the Holy Spirit,” not the gift of salvation or eternal life (cf. Rom. 6:23) which is received only by faith (Eph. 2:8–9; Titus 3:5–7).

SUMMARY: The doctrine of baptismal regeneration is at odds with the true nature of salvation. It’s clear that, “people have to ‘repent’ or ‘accept the message’ in order to be saved. Baptism is merely an outward sign of an inward reality that came ‘by grace through faith’ and not by any ‘works of righteousness,’ including baptism” (RCE:AD, 483).

 

 

 

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16 replies
  1. Adrian Urias says:

    How likely is it that baptismal regeneration is at odds with the “true” nature of salvation given that this version of “salvation” was simultaneously held with baptismal regeneration by reformers like Luther and Calvin? Not likely, I don’t think.

    Reply
  2. Raúl says:

    I understand that baptism wasn’t the way to get saved but if it was an outward expression that occurred after being saved and doesn’t actually have anything to do with the actual salvation then where does that leave the act of baptism? If we push it to the ultimate definition of what was described then is it safe to say something along the lines of ‘we won’t baptize at this church and people will be saved if they believe’ and that statement being what God called everyone (or church) for? I’m sincerely asking because baptism has always been highly significant and/or important in how I have been taught but I want to know if it isn’t necessary in life.

    Reply
    • Mark Leech says:

      Raul,

      Thank you for your comment. See my reply to the post and referral to the book below. “Down to the River to Pray: revisioning Baptism as God’s Transforming Work” by John M Hicks and Greg Taylor.

      You may find it refreshing and an new perspective to a very important issue.

      What do you think about baptism?
      Mark

      Reply
  3. Mark Leech says:

    I would refer you to a great scholarly work that addresses the above points directly and really may offer a fresh perspective on the issue:

    Down to the River to Pray: Revisioning Baptism as God’s Transforming Work by John M. Hicks and Gregory Taylor
    http://www.amazon.com/Down-River-Pray-Revised-Ed-ebook/dp/B00EKYGW5E/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1433818713&sr=8-4&keywords=john+marks+hicks+baptism

    Briefly, the authors suggest that baptism is a means of grace through which we encounter the saving act of God in Christ through is death and resurrection. Baptism–like the Lord’s Supper– is a time when we encounter God, not just a simple ordinance. “Baptism are not substitutes for discipleship or transformation, but rather moments of divine-human encounter through which we are moved along the path of discipleship toward entire sactification.” The authors also argue AGAINST baptism regeneration.

    ANyways. Great work. If anyone wants to talk, especially about the points above. please contact me

    In christ,
    Mark

    Reply
  4. Jim Strohl says:

    I have read many verses on baptism. When Christ was talking to Nicodemus he said that no man would see the Kingdom of Heaven unless they are born of the Water and the Spirit. Why did he add water if it wasn’t necessary? Because it was necessary.
    Man is born into sin from a woman. The womb basically is water. So in order to have a rebirth, it is necessary to show the world by baptism that you are a Disciple of Christ. By being Born again. Baptism is a cleansing ritual. It symbolizes that the old man is gone and you emerge from the water as a new man. Acts 2: 38 Peter said this was needed, when the 3000 asked what must be done.
    When people quote Romans and other Epistles about being saved by faith. That is true, but why would he say that you are saved by hearing believing, confessing, repenting, and then baptizing? These were established Churches. They should not be on milk, but eating meat.
    Baptism is absolutely necessary part for your salvation. Christ said so!

    Reply
  5. Luke Hartman says:

    Frank, it’s not that clear-cut. I was hoping for something a little more substantive than a numbered list. Some counter bullet points:

    1) People aren’t led to baptism without the Word. They must receive it or accept it before baptism would even be an option. Otherwise they accept the word after baptism? I don’t understand this point.

    2) The fact that Acts 10-11 makes a huge deal of the acceptance of Gentiles suggests Peter and the others needed something outstanding for them to get the point. It’s been about 10 years since Pentecost and he’s still not sure about Gentiles.

    3) Acts 2:41 suggests nothing about ‘later on’ as though baptism came a week later or such. Where then is the idea of “later on”? The verse ends with ‘that day’. Peter gives a command in 2:38 with no temporal qualifiers.

    4) Paul’s confronting believers who are appealing — with pride — to those who baptized them. Baptism is the response to the gospel, and Paul wants to distance himself from those who claim allegiance to him. This is the point of the chapter. It does not denigrate baptism in any way.

    5) Baptism as a work of righteousness and baptism “fulfilling all righteousness” are not the same thing.

    6) The verses for John where belief is mentioned “over and over again” are all in the same discourse that begins with baptism (3:3-5)

    7) This is an secondary use of eis and not even highlighted in standard lexicons. How would one translate eis in Matthew 26:28?

    Volumes have been written on this. Not sure a blog post (or my comments !) would change anyone’s mind.

    Reply
  6. Tony Jesse says:

    I notice a few issues that come up.
    1) People are “born again” by receiving God’s word (cf. 1 Pet. 1:23), and Peter’s audience “accepted” his word before they were baptized (Acts 2:41). Problem here is that 1Pet 1:23 referencing Jesus point in John 3:3,7 that one must be “born anew”. Some translators reference the greek word “from above” or “again” regardless Jesus is referring to baptism in John 3 as he references water and spirit (John 3:5). Just in case we still don’t understand what Jesus is referring to, John shows it must be baptizing as this is what Jesus and His disciples do (John 3:22-23) immediately after Jesus preached about being born again of water and spirit. So, to say that Peter means “born again” outside of the context of ho we get being “born again” is a poor approach. In a sense you are putting words into Peter’s mouth.
    Also, I noticed the author’s title is: Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation? And the author’s conclusion is no (or at least not by itself) due to several passages that both the author and Dr. Geisler reference. In another response I might have time to go into a response to these responses to show that these passages do not mean what you want them to mean. Being that aside, let’s see what Scripture says about the question if baptism is necessary for salvation. 1 Peter 3:21 “baptism now saves you also.” There you go! I’ll take Peter’s words for it over the words of men that are 2,000 years removed from revelation any day of the week. Also, one will notice that Peter is comparing the saving act of water in the days of Noah in the Old Covenant to the water in baptism that now saves in the New Covenant.

    Reply
  7. Dustin Gaskins says:

    Jn. 3:16- Belief in God saves
    Rom. 10:10- Confession saves
    Acts 3:19- Repentance saves
    Mk. 16:16- Baptism saves and is not a mere work, but is faith (Col. 2:12).

    You seek to limit to salvation to one single sufficient and necessary cause when the Bible gives four necessary causes. These necessary causes: belief, confession, repentance, and baptism constitute what is really sufficient and necessary to accept God’s gift of grace: complete faith (James 2:19-23; Eph. 2:8-9).

    Reply
  8. Devin says:

    Some verses to consider, Ephesians 2:8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.11 Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands;
    Col 2:11 In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh[a] was put off when you were circumcised by[b] Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.

    Both of these emphasize faith while also alluding to baptism, especially in Col: 2:11. The OT covenant sign was physical Circumcision and the NT Paul says the sign is spiritual Circumcision through Baptism. Circumcision was quite important to God in OT, ask Moses. He almost lost his son because of it. Absolutely, faith is necessary and real faith brings action. People like to call baptism a “work” but if baptism is a work wouldn’t “confessing” Christ with your mouth be a work as well? Both are done with the physical body. Furthermore, water baptism is not only explicitly cited throughout the new testament but also overtly alluded to in the old testament. I.e, the Israel was baptized by the cloud, the earth was washed with water in Noah’s time because of sin, the priest had to wash in the laver of water before entering the Holy of Holies and the list goes on. I think our problem is a 21st century definition of faith.

    Reply
  9. Jason says:

    Taking Scripture out of context to try to prove that Scripture was taken out of context doesn’t work. The words of Peter in Acts 2:38 were clearly a command: “REPENT, and BE BAPTIZED… in the name of Jesus Christ.” This statement was in response to the conviction of the Jewish crowd when they realized they were responsible for rejecting their Messiah & Savior. They asked in Acts 2:37, “What shall we do?” They felt the weight of their sins, and they realized they needed salvation. Peter answered with the means to enter into that salvation. What this article outlines is a false, man-made interpretation of salvation which will only lead to confusion.

    Reply
  10. Patrick. says:

    It is hard to believe that this debate is still going on when the NT is so clear about baptism being necessary for salvation. This is especially so given the fact that verses are listed at the top of this article that support baptism crucial role.. Let me briefly address some of the writer’s points:

    1.It is amazing that the verse Acts 2:38 is not mentioned anywhere in the article. It would shut the entire argument down if simply accepted. Why isn’t it? Why is this teaching so rejected by most “believers”? One reason could be that the “praying Jesus into your heart” people find it much easier to use this approach when witnessing to people. It’s easier to get people to jump at the “Sinner’s Prayer” than to take the time to think through what baptism means. It also provides greater satisfaction for the witness because people will often jump at the totally unbiblical “Pray Jesus into your Heart”.

    When the Apostles, who would have already been baptized–since they would have obeyed God’s command–first, led by Peter, spoke to the people the people are said to be cut to the heart and ask Brothers, what must we do (to be saved)? And Peter said,” pray Jesus into your heart and you will be saved”; whoops, Peter didn’t say that. He said “I will teach you the sinner’s prayer and….”, no, not that either. He said “learn the four spiritual laws”…nope, got it wrong again. What did he then say:

    REPENT and be BAPTIZED, every one of you for…”(for what?)” the FORGIVENESS OF SINS you will receive the GIFT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.

    “Peter’s audience “accepted” his word before they were baptized (Acts 2:41).” They also accepted it before they repented. All three steps are necessary.

    2. They received gifts of the Holy Spirit; they didn’t receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit until they were baptized.

    I could go on but let me close with this:

    a) Baptism is involved in forgiveness of sins. (Acts 2:38).
    b) Baptism is involved in washing away sins. (Acts 22:16).
    c) Baptism is part of the new birth.(John 3:5.)
    d) Baptism puts us into Christ. (Galatians 3:27)
    e) Baptism initiates one into the new life. (Romans 6:3-4)
    f) Baptism saves (1Peter 3:21).

    We must conclude therefore, that if one is saved BEFORE baptism, he is saved 1) without forgiveness of sins, 2) without having his sins washed away, 3) without being born again, 4)without being ion Christ, 5) without experiencing the new life, and 6) without being saved!

    Preposterous? Of course. But so is the fact that millions of people have been indoctrinated with this teaching–and promulgate it around the world.

    Let’s not play around with what the NT clearly teaches about baptism.

    Reply
    • Raymond says:

      Let’s not forget that you become part of the body of Christ after baptism.1Corinthians12:12. Just to add more proof of baptism.Thanks

      Reply
  11. Final Fantasy XIV Gil says:

    First of all I would like to say fantastic blog! I had a quick question which I’d like to ask if you don’t
    mind. I was curious to know how you center yourself and clear your thoughts prior to writing.
    I have had a hard time clearing my thoughts in getting my thoughts
    out. I truly do enjoy writing but it just seems like the
    first 10 to 15 minutes are usually wasted just trying to
    figure out how to begin. Any suggestions or hints? Thank you!

    Reply
  12. Chris says:

    ARGUMENT FOR BEING BORN AGAIN THROUGH BAPTISM

    Premise 1: Christians become born again through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
    (1 Peter 1:3)

    Premise 2: Baptism saves Christians through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
    (1 Peter 3:21)

    Conclusion: Christians become born again through baptism.

    Reply
  13. Philip says:

    So, anyone that was not baptized goes to hell? Were the disciples baptized? Is Jesus Christ the living water? Didn’t the Pharisees make it a point to make rules and laws of the most importance. I thought that Jesus hated the rules that men put on others in the name of God. Didn’t Jesus heal on the Sabbath? This whole argument sounds like Pharisee rule pushing to me. I am not a scholar or pastor, but I believe that you can go to heaven without being baptized. Many in the Bible did (the prophets, disciples, Mary and Joseph (Earthly parents of Jesus) to name a few. Isn’t believing, accepting the Lord into your heart and repenting enough??????????? What if you do not have the opportunity to be baptized, but you accepted Jesus Christ into your heart? To Hell with that person ?????? I don’t think so…..

    Reply
  14. Mike says:

    Hello, everyone. I just wanted to contribute this verse which may add context to what it means to be baptized today.

    “And while staying with them he charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, ‘You heard from me, for John baptized with water, but before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’” (Acts 1:4–5)

    Reply

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