Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation?
1. The Bible repeatedly states that faith is the sole means whereby
we appropriate God's grace in Salvation (Romans 3:22, 24, 25, 26, 28,
30; 4:5; Philippians 3:9; Galations 2:16). This is made very clear in
Ephesians 2:8, "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and
that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God." Note that faith alone
is made the channel through which God's saving grace reaches us. If
we add baptism as an additional channel for God's grace, why not the
sacraments of the Roman Catholic church? The sacraments are also
viewed as a means for receiving God's grace by Roman Catholics.
2. The order invariably given in the New Testament is repentance
(turning from sin), faith (turning to God's salvation provided in
Jesus Christ), then baptism (the public identification of the new
believer with Christ, and outward symbol of the inner transaction of
salvation). This is the pattern throughout the book of Acts (2:38;
8:12,34-39; 10:34-48; 16:31-33).
3. Baptism may not legitimately be viewed as an element of faith in
the same sense as repentance and obedience to Christ as Lord, since
these are spiritual acts and baptism is a physical act. Further,
while both obedience (Romans 1:5) and repentance (Acts 11:18) are used
as synonyms for saving faith, baptism is never so used.
4. In 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, Paul summarizes the Gospel that he
preached to the Corinthians, and whereby they were saved. There is no
mention of baptism.
5. In 1 Corinthians 1:17, Paul states that, "Christ did not send me
to baptize, but to preach the Gospel"; thus clearly differentiating
the Gospel from baptism. This is difficult to explain if baptism is
an integral part of salvation.
6. The Bible speaks of the Word of God (1 Peter 1:23; James 1:18,21;
Romans 10:17) as the instrument used by God in regeneration, not
7. There are examples given in scripture of individuals who were
saved without being baptized:
a. The penitent woman (Luke 7:37-50)
b. The paralytic man (Matthew 9:2)
c. The publican (Luke 18:13-14)
Note: All three of the above mentioned persons had ample opportunity
to be baptized (unlike the thief on the cross).
d. Cornelius (Acts 10:44-48)
Note: That Cornelius and the others were saved PRIOR to their baptism
is evident from their reception of the of the Holy Spirit prior to
being baptized (since the Holy Spirit does not give the gifts of the
Spirit to unregenerate men). Indeed, it is the fact that they had
received the Holy Spirit (and hence were saved) that led Peter to
baptize them (cf. vs 47).
Let us close by looking briefly at some of the passages used to
attempt to teach that baptism is necessary for salvation.
1. John 3:6
a. Nicodemus, a Jew, would not have understood the phrase "born
of water" to refer to Christian baptism, which had not yet been
b. Since Christ obviously intended that Nicodemus understood His
words (since He was speaking to him what was necessary for his
salvation), we must search for a meaning to the phrase "born of water"
that Nicodemus would have understood.
c. It is most likely that our Lord is referring to the cleansing
of the soul that occurs at Salvation. Water was a commonly used
symbol for this in the Old Testament (Psalm 51:7; Isaiah 12:3;
Jeremiah 2:13; Ezekiel 36:25), and would therefore be a concept with
which Nicodemus would have been familiar.
2. Mark 16:16
a. It is extremely doubtful that verses, 9-20 of Mark are an
authentic part of Mark's Gospel (for a discussion of the textual
problems with this passage cf. et. al., A Textual Commentary on the
Greek New Testament, pp. 122-128; Hendriksen, The Gospel of Mark, pp.
b. Even if the passage is accepted as authentic, it still does
not teach the necessity of baptism for Salvation. The emphasis of vs.
16 is clearly on believing, not baptism, since it is the one who has
disbelieved (not failed to be baptized) who is condemned. Baptism is
mentioned in connection with faith since, "the idea of an unbaptized
Christian is simply not entertained in the New Testament" (F.F. Bruce,
The Book of Acts, p. 77). Though baptism plays no part on the
salvation process, the New Testament does not envision a true believer
in Christ who is not at some point in their life baptized in obedience
to the commands of the New Testament.
3. Titus 3:5
a. It is not certain that the phrase "washing of regeneration" is
a reference to water baptism.
(1) The genitive palingenesias (regeneration) may be simply
be a genitive of apposition. If taken as such, the phrase would read,
"the washing which is regeneration". The phrase "renewing by the Holy
Spirit" would then be an epexegetical phrase defining what is meant by
"washing of regeneration". If "renewing by the Holy Spirit" is not
epexegetical but adds new information, it becomes redundant. The
thought expressed would then be that we are saved by the washing of
regeneration and also by the renewing of the Holy Spirit (which equals
regeneration). Or, we are saved by regeneration and by regeneration.
b. It seems most likely that here, as in John 3:5, the "washing
of regeneration" is a figure of speech denoting the cleansing of our
hearts from sin by the Holy Spirit at the moment of salvation.
4. Acts 2:38
a. This verse demonstrates a metonymy of effect for cause. The
effect of forgiveness of sins (baptism) is spoken of as the cause of
forgiveness. This figure of speech is found elsewhere in Scripture.
For example, in Luke 16:29, Moses and the Prophets are used for the
writings of which they were the authors. Baptism is the outer symbol
of the inner reality of regeneration, and in this verse, the symbol
stands for the reality.
b. It is also possible that the preposition "eis" may be
translated "because of". It is so translated in Matthew 12:41; Luke
5. Acts 22:16
a. The phrase "wash away your sins" is to be connected with
"calling on His name", and not with "be baptized", since to connect it
with "be baptized" would leave the participle "epikalesamenos"
(calling) without an antecedent.
6. 1 Peter 3:21
a. Baptism is said to be an antitype (antitupos). The reality it
points to is the inward spiritual reality of salvation referred to in
the next phrase; the "appeal to God for a good conscience" that takes
place at Salvation.
b. Peter makes it clear that it is the resurrection of Christ
that saves us, not baptism (cf. 1 Peter 1:3).
c. Peter does not say that baptism places us into the
resurrection of Christ, but rather that we are saved through the
resurrection of Christ.
We hope that this clarifies why baptism does not save, but rather
reflects an inward change. Baptism is important, and ALL believers
are commanded to be baptized, although baptism plays no part in
Salvation. Jesus Christ is like He said "I am the way, the truth, and
S.O.N. (the Salvation Online Network)
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