The Ongoing Dialogue About Baptism

Question from a Site Viewer

I would like to correct you in a statement that you made in the article you wrote called Baptism Saves in which you state “Never once did he even hint that baptism saves.” If you read I Peter 3:20, the apostle Peter does not just hint at it but in fact adamantly states that “Baptism also doth now save us.” He compares how by water Noah and his family (8 souls) were saved and that in similar manner baptism also saves us not by washing of the flesh but by the answer of a good conscious to God (just as Noah’s obedience was, so too is our obedience to God’s command – Acts 2:38).

When you were born as a baby you came out of a sac of amniotic fluid (water) which sustained your life while you lived in your mother’s womb. In John chapter three Nicodemus asks how can a man be born again—it is thru the watery grave of baptism that we put to death our old man of sin and arise a new creature. Christ was baptized to fulfill all righteousness not because of any sins but to establish an example for us to follow. Please search the scriptures with an open heart and mind and don’t read into them and thus lead others astray.

Tim’s Answer

Thank you for your note. I think you must have read the article in a hurry. Otherwise, you would have noted that the “he” in the sentence refers to Christ and the statement was made with respect to all of the statements of Christ on baptism prior to Mark 16:16. I think you will concede that my statement was correct in the context in which it was provided. If you think it is incorrect, I challenge you to find a single statement by Christ prior to Mark 16:16 that links baptism with salvation. I know that you read baptism into John 3, but I only note that Christ does not. Our interpretations of ambiguous passages should not be grounds for absolutist statements of truth.

But to your bigger issue, whether the Bible as a whole argues that baptism saves, we have addressed this issue many times in our articles. The verse in 1 Peter 3:21 certainly argues that baptism saves, and we fully agree with this statement. See our short commentary on this passage:  I Peter 3:21—A Short Commentary. We agree that baptism saves.

But the question is “what is the baptism that saves”? John the Baptist baptized with water. He told us that Christ would baptize us with the Holy Spirit and with fire, at least strongly implying that John’s water baptism was the lessor baptism and that Jesus’ baptism with the Holy Spirit would be a far more important baptism. We certainly do not want to make a major issue out of a minor matter and ignore what Scripture teaches is the far bigger issue. I find it interesting that those who argue for water baptism being a salvation issue seem to ignore the greater baptism that both John the Baptist and Christ spoke about. Why do we make such a big deal out of what is clearly the lesser baptism and largely ignore the greater baptism?

I continue to believe that for Peter the picture of Noah is a compelling one to compare with baptism. Noah was saved from one world to the next by the ark, not by the water. The water destroyed, but the ark saved. It is this image that Peter then likens to baptism. As Peter says, the baptism that saves is not the washing away of the filth of the flesh (that is what water does), but the request of a good conscience to God. What request is Peter addressing? There is no request in water baptism. The request comes when we cry out to God from a heart that seeks Him. That is the baptism that saves, which I link to the baptism by Christ with the Holy Spirit. As Paul says in Romans 8, if we do not have the Spirit, we are none of His. With the coming of Christ, John the Baptist and Christ taught us to focus on the baptism that Christ would baptize us with, that is, with the Holy Spirit. That is where I want to focus.

Water baptism is a command, but as shown throughout Scripture, it follows the request of a good conscience in faith towards God. It is that request that brings salvation and the Holy Spirit to one’s life. How many times did Jesus say that if a person would believe, the person would be saved? Faith, and faith alone is the only human activity that leads to God’s salvation. Works do not save, whether circumcision, baptism, keeping the law, being moral, giving, or anything else that may be good and right and commanded by God. Only faith saves (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5). Peter is not saying something different, but finds in our faith (our request to God from a good conscience) a picture of baptism as we are saved out of the destruction and brought out to life.

This is both our reading of the issue and the reading of many other like-minded believers. We understand that many others disagree. But for those who disagree, they must know that their interpretations of the various passages are not as compelling to the rest of us as they may at first think. Any reading of these passages suggesting that baptism saves creates significant internal tension in the grammar of the passages, in the contexts of the passages, and in the greater context of Scripture, as we have addressed in other articles. The more important baptism in Scripture is not water baptism, but the baptism that Christ would bring, which was expressly stated to be in contrast to water baptism.

I hope this helps you understand a little more about our beliefs in this area. We want to be true to what Scripture says, but we do not want to read into Scripture some doctrine that is not driven by the language Scripture employs, is contrary to other direct teaching of Scripture, and places the emphasis where Scripture does not. As we see it, any teaching that water baptism saves has problems in each of these three interpretative areas.


In His service,
check out Tim's Christian poems on this page

2 thoughts on “The Ongoing Dialogue About Baptism”

  1. There are Pentecostal churches that teach, that if you accept Jesus as your Saviour it is not good enough. They teach you must be filled with the Holy Ghost, and the evidence of this is speaking in tongues. What are your thoughts, please?

  2. Awe.. bless him. He had such good understanding & knowledge of scripture. I can’t imagine how much you must miss him. He seemed like a wonderful man & with wise counsel. Even the way he responded to this question, you hear it was done in love and a genuine desire to bring truth in a clear but humble way. Your doing a good job, keeping this website open, it’s such a blessing to read testimonies and to go over some of the responses to people’s questions and find answers. Thank you & God bless you.

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