Evangelicals Interpret the Bible Incorrectly When It Comes to Baptism

Question from a Site Viewer

I ask you to consider these points:

When God said that he would preserve his Word, what did he mean?

Did he mean that he would preserve the original papyrus and parchment upon which his Word was written? If so, then his Word has disappeared as none of the original manuscripts remain.

Did he mean that he would preserve his Word in the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek only and not preserve his Word when it was translated into all the other languages of the world?

Or did God mean that he would preserve his Word (the message, the Gospel, the free gift of salvation, and the true doctrines of the Christian faith) in all languages?

Would God allow his message to mankind to be so polluted by translation errors that no translation into any other language apart from the three original languages would continue to convey his true words?

There is no translation of the Bible from the original ancient languages into any language, anywhere on earth, that translates the Bible as the Baptists/evangelicals believe it should be translated.

No Bible translation on earth translates Acts 2:38 as,

Repent and believe in Jesus Christ, every one of you, and you will receive the Holy Ghost. Then be baptized as a public profession of your faith.

There is no translation that translates, into any language, Acts 22:16 as,

And now why tarriest thou? Arise, believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord. Then be baptized.

Not a single translation in the entire world translates that verse in any way remotely resembling the manner in which Baptists believe it should be translated.

Isn’t that a problem?

And no translation translates this verse, I Peter 3:21, as,

Asking Christ into your heart in a spiritual baptism, which water Baptism symbolizes, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Nor is Mark 16:16 translated as,

He that believes will be saved, and then baptized, but he that does not believe will be condemned.

Why would God allow every English translation of the Bible throughout history to be mistranslated or use such confusing language as to suggest that God forgives sins in baptism? And not only all English translations, all translations of the Bible have retained these “poor translations” or confusing wording.

Do you honestly believe that God would allow his Word to be so polluted with translation errors that every Bible in the world, if read in its simple, plain interpretation, would tell all the people of the world that God forgives sins in water baptism?

Why is there not one single piece of evidence from the early Christians that indicates that anyone in the 800-1,000 years after Christ believed that water baptism is simply a public profession of faith/act of obedience and that sins are not forgiven in water baptism?

Yes, you will find statements by these early Christians that salvation is by faith, but do Baptists and evangelicals really understand how a sinner obtains saving faith? That is the multi-million dollar question, my friends!

Does the sinner produce faith by his own free will or does God provide faith and belief as a gift, and if God does provide faith and belief as a free gift, with no strings attached, when exactly does God give it?

Is it possible that Baptist-like believers, at some point near or after 1,000 AD, were reading the Bible and came across verses that read, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” and “Call upon the name of the Lord and you will be saved” and established their doctrine of salvation/justification first, based on these and similar verses alone and then looked at the issue of water baptism, and since the idea that God forgives sins in water baptism doesn’t seem to fit with the verses just mentioned, re-interpreted these verses to fit with their already established doctrine, instead of believing the baptism verses literally?

Is it possible that both groups of verses are literally correct? If we believe God’s Word literally, he says that he saves/forgives sins when sinners believe/call and when they are baptized? Why not believe that God can give the free gift of salvation in both situations: when a sinner hears the Gospel and believes and when a sinner is baptized?

Should we re-interpret God’s plain, simple words just because they don’t seem to make sense to us?

Dear Baptist/evangelical brothers and sisters, your doctrine is very well thought out and very reasonable—but it is wrong. Do you really believe that God would require an education in ancient Greek or a Greek lexicon to understand what he really wants to say to you? And do you really believe that Baptist Greek scholars understand Greek better than the Greeks themselves? If the Greek language, correctly translated, states in the Bible that baptism is only a public profession of faith as Baptists say, then why do the Greek Orthodox believe that the Greek Bible plainly says, in Greek, that God forgives sins in water baptism? Somebody doesn’t know their Greek!

Please investigate this critical doctrine further. Do you really want to appear before our Lord in heaven one day and find out that you have been following a false doctrine invented in the sixteenth century by Swiss Anabaptists?

Tim’s Answer

We agree with you that God has preserved His word.  We believe that ultimately the Word is preserved in heaven.  We also believe that the copies of Scriptures we have today are highly reliable copies of God’s Word and convey God’s message to us.  If you have read the articles we have written on the subject, you must understand that we take a very high view of Scriptures as they have been handed down to us.

You seem to take some issue with our interpretation of four Bible verses.  In your mind, if we understand what you are saying, you read the verses as teaching that God forgives sins in baptism.  You believe that Baptists/evangelicals must rewrite these Scriptures or at least read into the Scriptures something they do not say to believe that forgiveness of sins comes solely by faith and not by baptism.  Then you suggest that perhaps forgiveness of sins can come both by faith and by baptism.  You suggest that those who believe that forgiveness of sins comes by faith and not by baptism are following a false doctrine invented by 16th century Swiss Anabaptists. 

But you must admit that the verses you cite do not state what you assert.  Your assertion is an interpretation of the verses.  None of the verses state directly that God forgives sins in baptism.  First, there is Acts 2:38.  We have written extensively on this verse and will not repeat that here.  We only note that in the standard translations of this verse, it says:

Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Acts 2:38 (NKJV)

You read the word “for” as being a “result” word.  “For” can have this meaning.  We might say: “I am going to the DMV for a license.”  “For” means that the result we anticipate is a license.  But the English “for” has a broad field of meanings.  If I say to you: “Go to the church for Easter,” the word “for” is not a result word, but is a “because of” word.  We use “for” with this meaning all of the time. 

We might say: “I am going to my parents for the holidays,” or “I am writing the paper for my teacher.”  The holidays are not the result of us going, nor is the teacher the result of our paper.  Since “for” has different potential meanings, what is the rule of interpretation that should be applied to determine which meaning best conveys the meaning intended by the author in Acts 2:38?  Why do you take the meaning to be a “resultant” meaning; i.e., the result of baptism is the remission of sins?  What drives you to accept that meaning rather than “because”?  We have explained in some depth why we believe the “because of” is the meaning that Luke wanted us to read.  We also understand that if this were the only Scriptural passage on the topic, we would have no basis for deciding which meaning is correct.  Fortunately, there are hundreds of other Scriptures that address forgiveness of sins.  We have explained in some detail why we believe those passages lead us to accept “because” as being what Peter, Luke, and the Holy Spirit wanted us to understand. 

Even if we were to accept the “resultant” meaning for “for,” we still are not driven to a conclusion that God forgives sins in baptism.  The next interpretative issue is where the prepositional phrase “for the remission of your sins” attaches in the verse.  Should we attach the phrase to “be baptized” or to “repent and be baptized”?  And if it is to be attached to both, is God saying the both repentance and baptism are needed for the remission of sins?  Again, these are matters of interpretation.  The verse itself does not demand either interpretation.  Thus, we must look to the greater Scripture to determine how Peter and Luke likely would have intended us to understand the phrase, and ultimately how the rest of the Scripture reveals God’s thinking on the issue.  We note that if the phrase attaches to both, then at a minimum we would find the verse opposing rather than supporting infant baptism.  Infants cannot carry out the command to repent, and this is a command for us to do in both Greek and in English.

Accordingly, we do not think that Baptist/evangelicals are rewriting Scripture when they read a “because” meaning in “for.”  Nor do we think Lutherans are rewriting Scripture when the read a resultant meaning in “for.”  Both are very standard usages of the English term.  Both meanings are also present for the Greek term used in this passage.  See Matthew 12:41 where the men of Nineveh repented “at” the preaching of Jonah.  They repented because of the preaching of Jonah. 

Second, you mention Acts 22:16.  That verse has a broader field of interpretations into English than Acts 2:38.  But none of the various translations even suggest that baptism leads to the washing away of sins.  The reason for this is that in the Greek text, the two infinitives “to be baptized” and “to wash away” are connected by the Greek word “kai,” which we translate into English as “and.”  “And” is not causative.  There is no sense in this verse that one is baptized (or if one takes the Greek literally one baptizes oneself) for the washing away of sins.  Rather, there are two separate things that one should do (1) be baptized and (2) wash away one’s sins.  The verse does not tell us how one is baptized or how one washes away one’s sins, nor does the verse link these two concepts, except in the most general way.  Perhaps one can read the “and” in the same way as we might say “I will wash and clean myself,” understanding that we clean ourselves by our washing.  But this reading of “and” is hardly compelled from the text.  We might more naturally say, “I will clean myself by washing.”  Usually when we use “and,” we are connecting two matters without telling the connection.  We might say, “I will sew and clean.”  Sewing does not cause us to clean.  It is not caused by cleaning.  These are simply two things we will do.  I am not sure how one can conclude that baptism causes the washing away of sins from this text. 

Third, you mention 1 Peter 3:21.  Again, we have written extensively about this passage.  The interpretative question in this passage is whether the baptism that saves is water baptism or the baptism by the Holy Spirit.  Again, in our reading of the passage, the clauses “not the putting away the dirt of the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience” help drive us to a conclusion that the baptism that saves is not water, but the baptism by the Spirit of God.  As you know from reading Scripture, there are several baptisms mentioned, as Hebrew 6:2 notes.  There was the baptism of John which was tied to repentance, there was the baptism of Christ which was to fulfill all righteousness, there was the baptism of Christ’s suffering and death, which Christ predicted, there was the baptism of the Father which came upon the believers at Pentecost, there was the baptism of Christ with the Holy Spirit (I personally see the Pentecost baptism and Christ baptizing with the Holy Spirit as being the one and the same), there was the Spirit baptizing the saints into Christ, and there was the water baptism of new believers as taught and demonstrated through the book of Acts and in I Corinthians.  If we fall into the trap of thinking every time Scripture mentions “baptism,” it is speaking of water, then we will end up straining to understand the various passages.  Our water baptism is not the Spirit’s baptism.  Many people who are water baptized evidence no sign of true repentance or of faith towards God.  And without fruit, Jesus’ words in Matthew 7 are very compelling. 

Fourth, you mention Mark 16:16.  Again, we have written about this passage.  And again, it is an interpretive issue.  The verse reads in most English versions: “whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.”  The verse does not add “and baptism saves you.”  The interpretative issue is what is the role of baptism in the verse’s salvation.  We already know from many other passages that belief is essential for salvation.  I have sometimes challenged people to look up every time Jesus mentions baptism and every time Jesus mentions faith or believe.  The priority with Jesus is faith.  Whoever believes is not condemned.  Jesus repeatedly ties faith to salvation.  If we read Mark 16:16 as being a passage where Jesus ties baptism to salvation, it would stand alone among all of the statements of Christ.  I am reluctant based on one verse to conclude that Jesus was giving an equal priority to baptism and to belief, given the vast priority Christ gives to belief through the gospels.  Jesus marveled at the faith of those who believed.  Jesus said that their faith had saved them.  We read these passages.  Jesus never says that someone’s baptism saved them.  I believe the verse should be read just as it is written.  If one believes and is baptized they are saved.  The verse never addresses what happens if one believes but is not baptized, but other verses do.  But the verse does address the situation where one is baptized but does not believe.  That person is condemned. 

Accordingly, I do not accept the premise that baptists and evangelicals are rewriting Scripture.  I suspect that most Lutheran scholars would not believe this either.  None of the four passages you note state that God forgives sins at baptism.  There are strong reasons not to accept salvation by water baptism, not the least of which is Paul’s statements in 1 Corinthians 1:13-17 and 15:1-2 where Paul first states that he did not baptize the Corinthians and was not sent to do so and then states that they were saved by the gospel he preached.  He then tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 what that gospel was.  In Paul’s words, it did not include baptism. 

We understand that Lutherans have a different take on these verses.  We do not at all feel comfortable with Lutheran theology on this point.  While there is much we appreciate about Lutheran theology, we think on this point they have failed to follow sola Scripture and sola faith that they were so instrumental in championing.  For instance how is the baptism of infants compatible with Acts 2:38, 1 Peter 3:21, or Mark 16:16?  Are we to read these passages as saying that everyone but infants need to repent, that everyone but infants need to cry out for a good conscience, that everyone but infants need to believe?  We read no such exception in these passages.  We read Scripture as teaching that faith is the response of man to the promises of God that opens up salvation for that individual.  If we believe, we are saved. 

This, of course is not to say that we believe infants have no hope.  We have addressed this issue elsewhere on the site as well.  We simply do not find a teaching in Scripture that the path to salvation for infants is baptism. 

We trust that this will help explain why we believe that the Lutheran position is not driven by Biblical language, but by an interpretation of that language and a theological system based on that interpretation.  This does not mean that the Lutheran interpretation is wrong, because the position we hold is also driven by an interpretation of the language.  But given the multiple statements of Christ on this subject, as well as the apostles’ teachings, we believe that it is not baptism, but faith that saves.  Nor do we see it as faith in baptism.  We see baptism as being an act of obedience to fulfill all righteousness, even as it was with Jesus.  It is the symbol of our death and resurrection, even as it was of Christ. 

May the Lord Jesus and His Spirit guide you into true love, peace, and understanding.

In His service,

knowing vs doing

2 thoughts on “Evangelicals Interpret the Bible Incorrectly When It Comes to Baptism”

  1. My only comment is that the title “Evangelicals Interpret the Bible Incorrectly When It Comes to Baptism” seems like it is TruthSave’s or Tim’s statement at first. I was surprised, but when I continued reading realized it was a viewer’s conclusion which Tim seemed to gently refute. Perhaps it might help to change the title to “Viewer wonders if evangelicals interpret the Bible incorrectly…”?

Leave a Reply

You have to agree to the comment policy.