Baptism and Salvation

Question from a Site Viewer
I have approached this issue from the other side for many years and took exactly the same approach you have. I looked up every form of the word baptism and water to see if it may mean baptism and exegeted every single passage. I did my self a huge favor after 10 years of messing with this subject, literally writing hundreds of pages and read Jack Cottrell’s book on this subject. The categories you are dividing baptism into are wrong. You need to settle one question before you begin. Is there such a thing as Christian Baptism? If so that is what we are concerned about. We are not going to run into anyone who had the baptism of John, or in a cloud etc. Jack identifies 12 verses pertaining to Christian baptism.

The other question is what is at stake? Is it salvation by faith? If so then we are balancing sola scriptura on the other side. Think about the fact that the people in full possession of saving faith in Acts 2:40 were (according to Peter) lost and dying in their sin. Then they were baptized (verse 41) and made part of the family of God. Only baptism intervened. Luke was very careful to let us know they were “cut to the heart” (saving faith) in verses 36, 37. That is the reason I approached the subject from the other side.

The point is this — salvation happens in time. There is a time before and after one is part of the family of God. Did God tell us that the moment of transition is when we are buried with Christ and rise in newness of life?

If to believe so you have to give up salvation by faith then that is a real problem. If baptism is a “work” (Romans 3:27,28 & Ephesians 2:8,9) then we have a problem. But if believing in Jesus is a “work” (John 6:29) we have the same problem, unless we are ready to relieve believers from the obligation to believe. In spite of the fact that both belief and baptism can be described as “works” there must be something more.

This is it. Romans 3:27 we see the “law of faith” (see the KJV or your interlinear Greek New Testament). In verse 28 it is contrasted with the “law of works.” A law creates an obligation positive, negative or both. God relates to men in at least two ways and sometimes three. He is everyone’s Creator and sovereign Ruler. We belong to him as our Creator and we are ruled by him as our Sovereign. But for some he is also Redeemer. This Redeemer relationship is a matter of choice not necessity. We still have an obligation under the law of faith but it is not a necessary one. No implication of merit accrues to it.

The proof of this is several places where the idea of obedience is a dividing line between the saved and the lost (Acts 6:7, Romans 10:16, 2 Thessalonians 1:8, 1 Peter 4:17). Either this is obedience as the Catholics have it, or obedience as I am suggesting to the law of faith. You can take your pick.

How could you ever look at an act and say for sure that it belongs to the law of works or the law of faith? More easily than you might think. If this is not a matter of morals proper, just the good sense to claim redemption, it is obedience to the law of faith. So in spite of the fact that Jesus tells us in so many words that believing in him is a “work” we are free to declare that it is required for salvation. Baptism also called a “work” (Colossians 2:12) is no different.

Forget about exegeting Acts 2:38. That argument was definitively lost in the 19th century. But without looking at the tense or number agreement or considering the meaning of the word “eis” any layman with a Bible can read Acts 2:37 and see they had saving faith, (verse 40) and see that Peter tells the sinners to “save themselves” and verse 41 to see that after baptism they were “added to their number.” Acts 2:38, in spite of its colloquialism on the lips of a rugged fisherman, can’t be torn from its context. It is the way we “call on the name of the Lord” for salvation (1 Peter 3:21, Acts 22:16).

God bless you for your site and your dedication. I love it the forgoing items not withstanding.

Tim’s Answer
Thank you for your note. I fully recognize that I do not have the last or final word on the issue of baptism. And I appreciate your focus on Scripture as the authority. Ultimately, we all want to represent Christ and His word well on this earth. We seek to hold the Scriptures, not as a sort of lure to trap people, or a bludgeon to drive people, but as the treasure of heaven given to us by which we can read, know, and come to love our God with all of our hearts.

There will always be differences in views on how Scripture passages should be read, or what they mean. I have explained my reasons for why I so interpret the passages that are mainly in contention on this issue. I do not find them to support a position that baptism is necessary for salvation. To the contrary, I think they are consistent in advocating a position that baptism is only for those who truly believe and have been saved by that belief. But I do not see a value of restating what I have previously stated on this subject. You have already read my views, and affirm that you once held them as well.

However, I will note that if the position you presently hold is correct, then it is a mystery to me why the many references in Scripture to salvation have so few references to baptism. The focus is over and over again on faith as the basis for salvation without so much as a hint of baptism in so many of the passages that address salvation. Why would this be if baptism was necessary? Certainly, for many of the early readers of Scripture, they only had the letter or gospel that was sent to them. They did not have the New Testament Scriptures as we know them. How would they have known that the passages on salvation by faith must be understood as also requiring baptism?

Jesus repeatedly talks about salvation and only twice ever mentions baptism as being needed, if one interprets John 3 and the end of Mark as teaching that baptism is needed for salvation. (You understand that I believe the water in John 3 is referencing the first birth and the end of Mark is linking condemnation solely to unbelief, not to a lack of baptism.) I do not believe that Jesus was leaving something essential out of His message when He taught that faith in God saves (Matthew 9:22; Mark 2:5; Luke 7:50; 8:12, 50; 18:42; John 3:15, 16, 18; 5:24; 6:29, 35, 40, 47; 7:38; 11:25-26; 12:36; 44-46; 17:20). It seems to me that when he tells Nicodemus to believe in Him and be saved, that He did not mean that one must also do anything else that Jesus omits, whether that anything else is keeping the law, being circumcised, observing the Sabbath, keeping the Lord’s Table, fasting, praying, being baptized, or any number of other things that Jesus does not mention. Jesus was not leaving out something essential when he spoke to Nicodemus, or to the Jews in John 6, or to Martha in John 11. Belief, according to the teaching of Jesus, brought salvation and eternal life. If baptism was essential, why do we not have baptism emphasized equally with faith?

And what is true of Jesus’ teachings is true also of His followers. Over and over again in the pages of Scripture we are given what the Scripture authors told others about salvation. And over and over again, baptism is not mentioned within the context of these salvation passages. Are these passages conveying only partial truth? Paul argues strongly in Romans 4 that we are saved solely by faith even as Abraham was. But if one looks at the Abraham story in Genesis 15, God gave a promise to Abraham that Abraham’s seed would be as the stars of heaven and Abraham believed God. This simple belief was counted for righteousness, as Paul forces us to observe in Romans 4. There was no baptism, no circumcision, no sacrifice of His son, no death or burial. It was a simple heart belief that what God said was true. Abraham is our example according to Paul of what saving faith looks like. Are we to believe that Paul, in giving Abraham as our example of saving faith, is leaving out something essential? We know that when Paul wrote the book of Romans, Mark and Acts had not even been written and whether Matthew had been written or circulated to the Romans is less than clear. It is unlikely that the believers at Rome had any other New Testament Scriptures at the time Paul wrote to them.

Paul tells the Corinthians that they were saved by believing in the gospel that he preached to them, even though he expresses gratitude that he did not baptize them (1 Corinthians 15:1-2; 1:14-16). It is difficult for me to read these and similar passages and believe that Paul thought that baptism was necessary for salvation. And what about Hebrews 4 or 11? Again, there is no instruction on baptism but a great deal of instruction on faith as being the necessary entrance to salvation.

And I respectfully disagree that being cut to their hearts indicates that the hearers on the day of Pentecost had saving faith. I have seen many people under conviction who refuse to have faith in Christ Jesus. It seems to me that King Agrippa may have been under conviction in Acts 26:24-29, but there is no indication that he had faith. The devils believe and tremble, but they have no saving faith. A head knowledge about God, even one that grips one’s soul, is not sufficient for salvation. We must believe with our hearts. Being convicted is simply not the same as believing with one’s heart that Jesus is Lord (Romans 10:9-13).

In the Romans 10 passage, Paul expressly states that those who believe will be saved. He does not mention baptism. I do not find any hint that Paul’s words here were meant to be understood as also requiring baptism for salvation, or his words in 1 Corinthians 1:21; 15:1-11; Galatians 3:2; Ephesians 1:13; Ephesians 2:8-9; 1 Thessalonians 1:8-10; 1 Timothy 1:16; 3:16; 2 Timothy 1:12; or Titus 3:8. Salvation, at least as set forth over and over in Scripture, is by faith.

The relative paucity of passages that could even be read as indicating that baptism is necessary for salvation stands in stark contrast to the many passages that link salvation as coming from faith. If one looks at the emphasis of Scripture, it is not on baptism, but faith. If faith and baptism were both required, then it would seem to me that baptism would be given equal, or near equal importance in Scripture. And if baptism is required, then I wonder what else is required. Will we say that we must sell all that we have before we can be saved because Jesus said that we cannot be His disciple unless we do so? I could argue that this has an even better argument as a requirement for salvation than does baptism, because of Jesus’ statement. Yet, we know that if we took Jesus’ statement to mean that one cannot be saved without first selling everything they owned, we would be misinterpreting Scripture. Jesus Himself said that Zacchaeus was saved even though he offered to give only half of what he had to the poor.

I remain convinced that when Jesus said in John 5:24 that the one who hears His words and believes in the sending Father has eternal life, He meant exactly that. He did not leave anything essential out. This emphasis on the word and believing is what I find throughout Scripture. It is what Paul argues in Romans 10. Receiving the word is what James argues saves us (James 1:21). When James wrote, it is likely that the only word he had in mind were the Old Testament Scriptures.

However, I am old enough to know that what seems clear to me does not seem so clear to others. May the Lord Jesus guide your way and increase your love for Him and for others. May you serve Him well.


Related Articles:
Water Baptism – Is it Necessary for Salvation?
The Translation of “eis” in Acts 2:38
Water Baptism – A Scriptural Description
Faith Saves; Baptism Doesn’t

5 thoughts on “Baptism and Salvation”

  1. Greetings.
    Tim, let me clear up the “mystery” you mention on the first sentence of the third paragraph of you answer. You, like many others of the faith only sect are trying to built a theology based on general statements. Look at all the verses that you use to support “faith only”, do you notice that none of them use “only”? If simple belief was all that is needed, then it should be quite easy to point to many verses to back this idea up and verses like Acts 2:38, 1st Peter 3:21 etc. should not exist. You can not base a theology on general statements alone, you must use the whole Bible. All language, both written and spoken is mostly expressed in general terms, this is not wrong, just useful, we all do this and so does the Bible. It is up to the reader/listener to then absorb the more detailed statements that come later, even you made a number of general statements in you answer. Jesus in Luke 5:27 told Matthew to “follow Him” but it was much later that Matthew knew the details.

    1. I agree that there are no verses that state the words “faith only,” but likewise there are no verses that state “faith plus works.” What does this prove? Absolutely nothing. Scripture says: “But to the one who does not work, but believes upon the One who declares the ungodly righteous, his faith is reckoned for righteousness” (Romans 4:5). The verse does not use the words “faith only,” but it removes works from the discussion.

      Any reliance on Acts 2:38 or 1 Peter 3:21, if we are to take the “whole Bible,” as you urge and with which I agree, must not ignore Romans 4:5. The inherent ambiguity in the Greek word “eis” (English “for”) in Acts 2:38 makes that verse not a strong verse to use in arguing that faith must include the work of baptism. I encourage you to do a study of the way “eis” is used in Scripture, or the way Luke uses the word. As for 1 Peter 3:21, we have already addressed our view of this passage elsewhere on the site. We only note that if baptism is similar to the flood, Noah was not saved by the flood. The flood did not save him or his family. Rather, God saved him from the flood, just as the children of Israel were not saved by the Red Sea in 1 Corinthians 10:1-2, but were saved from the sea by the passage through the sea on dry ground. Water baptism is a picture of us being saved from death. But it is not what saves us any more than the flood saved Noah. Rather, as Peter says, what saves us is the request of a good conscience toward God. Interestingly, the word “toward” is again the word “eis,” but surely you would not argue that it means to “bring about” here, as you seem to argue in Acts 2:38. We simply think that your case for “faith plus baptism” lacks support in Scripture and is contrary to the statements of Christ and Paul, as we have previously stated in other discussions.

  2. Greetings.
    Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sinned will be forgiven – who ever believes and is baptized will be saved – Get up, be baptized and have your sins washed away as you call on His name – baptism is a request to God for a clear conscience, etc etc. Jesus, Peter and Paul all saying the same thing and your response is a bunch of general statements of belief? I should study “eis” in Acts 2:38? Why? You have a long discourse on the subject already, read the comments. All the above verses are as clear as can be. Because you filter the Bible through your “belief only” mind set you refuse to see the forest for the trees. If the general statements of belief are to be taken as definitive the above verses SHOULD NOT EXIST. If “eis” should be translated “because of”, Luke would have used “dia” and be done with it. You seem to find “works” under every rock. Confessing Jesus as Lord is not a work but a command, baptism is a command not a work.

    1. dia is not a better word. Look at all the translations of Isaiah 53:5 where the word dia is used in the Septuagint. They translate dia as for.

      Isaiah 53:5Young’s Literal Translation (YLT)

      5 And he is pierced for our transgressions, Bruised for our iniquities, The chastisement of our peace [is] on him, And by his bruise there is healing to us.

      1. Greetings Joel.
        I am not saying that “dia” should have been used by Luke, I am saying that IF Luke wanted to imply that baptism was BECAUSE we already have the “remission of sins” he could have used the Greek word “dia” and not “eis”. The author of this article believes that Luke meant “because” yet not one Bible translation uses “because”, why not? The answer is their is a much better Greek word that means “because” and that word is “dia”. No word in any language is prefect but it is very clear that the “eis” in Acts 2:38 does not mean “because”. Also, with all the uses of “dia” in the Greek New Testament, why would you pick a verse originally written in Hebrew. Isn’t translation tricky enough without adding a third language to the mix.

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