Note: Many people have emailed asking what my motives were in writing this article about water baptism. For those interested, I’ve given a brief explanation in my blog.
Recently I’ve met a few people who have become convinced that water baptism is necessary for salvation. This page responds to that issue specifically.
First, I’m not a biblical scholar but I do attempt to discover truth through the Word of God. So, I’ve looked up every verse in the Bible that has the word “baptize” (including its other forms) and attempted to categorize them. I’ve discovered that there are a number of different baptisms (Hebrews 6:1,2), such as the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Luke 3:16, Acts 11:16 I Corinthians 12:13 & others), the baptism of Moses (I Corinthians 10:2), the baptism of John (Luke 20:4, Acts 18:25, 19:3 & others) and the baptism of Jesus (Luke 12:50, Mark 10:38-40, Acts 2:38, 19:5 & others). However, I want to focus on the subject of water baptism. Among the categories listed above, John’s and Jesus’ refer to water baptism. So we’ll go over these two categories.
Let’s show how Scripture differentiates between the baptism of John and the baptism of Jesus. We’ll look at Acts 19:3-5. Here are these verses:
And he said to them, “Into what then were you baptized?” So they said, “Into John’s baptism.” Then Paul said, “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.” When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
Acts 19:3-5 (NKJ)
If John’s baptism was the same as Jesus’ baptism, then why did these people need to be re-baptized? The answer is obvious. John’s baptism was not the same as Jesus’ baptism.
Now, let’s talk about some Scriptures that people might use to defend their position that water baptism is indeed necessary for salvation and respond to those verses. Let’s look at Mark 1:4. It says:
John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.
Mark 1:4 (NKJ)
This verse seems to say that the baptism of repentance was for the remission of sins. Who am I to argue with Scripture? But as we’ve discussed already, John’s baptism IS NOT THE SAME as the baptism of Jesus. So we can discount the baptism of John for our purposes, because we are baptized in the name of Jesus, not in the name of John. It is Jesus’ baptism that is for us today, not John’s. If we’re supposed to be baptized into John’s baptism, then why were the people in Acts 19:3-5 re-baptized? The answer is plain. Because once Jesus had come on the scene, it was HIS baptism that is relevant. So for us to decide what we need to do, in this present age, we need to focus on the baptism of Jesus.
Here’s a set of verses that people use to defend the idea that water baptism is necessary for salvation. They are John 3:1-8. Let’s look at these verses.
1)There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2)This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” 3)Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4)Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5)Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6)That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7)Do not marvel that I said to you, “You must be born again.’ 8)The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
John 3:1-8 (NKJ)
People taking the stance that baptism is necessary for salvation will say, “See, look here! This verse says that ‘unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.'” And I must agree that is does say that. But what does “born of water” mean? It this phrase referring to water baptism? Upon first glance, it may seem so, but let’s take a closer look at the surrounding context. Read the entire passage again, starting from verse 1. Nicodemus is asking Jesus how he can possibly enter his mother’s womb again and be re-born. So he’s talking about physical birth. He can’t understand the concept of physically being re-born. Obviously that’s an impossibility. But Jesus isn’t talking about physical rebirth, He’s talking about spiritual rebirth. Look at what He says in verses 5 and 6. I’ll repeat it.
“Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”
John 3:5,6 (NKJ)
You see? So “born of water” in this context looks to mean “physically born” not “baptized.” Let me re-phrase it. “I’m telling you that unless you’re physically born and then spiritually reborn, you can’t enter into heaven. If you’re physically born, you’re just a lost human. If you’re spiritually reborn, you’ve entered into a relationship with Jesus Christ.” (Eric’s version)
Let’s look at yet another common verse used to defend the idea that the salvation of our souls requires water baptism. Here it is:
Then Peter said to them, “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 (NKJ)
Obviously, the controversial phrase here is after the word “repent.” We all agree that repentance is necessary for salvation. Let’s look at the Greek word εις translated “for.” In the original Greek, in the New Testament, this word has several different meanings. One is “aim or purpose.” An example of εις being used in this manner is I Corinthians 2:7, which says
No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for (the aim or purpose of) our glory before time began.
I Corinthians 2:7 (NKJ)
In another usage, the Greek word εις means “at,” or “because of” as in Matthew 12:41. Let’s look at it:
The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here.
Matthew 12:41 (NKJ)
Both of these uses are good Greek, and so the next logical question would be “what drives your choice of translation?” For me, it is the larger context of Scripture. For instance, in Acts 10, we see that people had already been saved before being baptized. Let’s look:
46)For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God. Then Peter answered, 47)”Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48)And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then they asked him to stay a few days.
Acts 10:46-48 (NKJ)
These people were speaking in tongues and had received the Holy Spirit yet they had not been baptized. Another example is the thief on the cross who went to Paradise without baptism. Let’s read about that.
39)Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.” 40)But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? 41)And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” 42)Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” 43)And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”
Luke 23:39-42 (NKJ)
Clearly this man was never baptized. Yet he was saved because he believed. What did Paul tell the Philippian jailor? Let’s find out.
25)But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. 26)Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were loosed. 27)And the keeper of the prison, awaking from sleep and seeing the prison doors open, supposing the prisoners had fled, drew his sword and was about to kill himself. 28)But Paul called with a loud voice, saying, “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.” 29)Then he called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30)And he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31)So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.”
Acts 16:25-31 (NKJ)
Although the jailor’s family was baptized, they were saved when they believed. Paul plainly set forth only belief as a prerequisite for salvation.Further, in establishing the greater context of Scripture, we can look at numerous other passages where belief is the only requirement for salvation.
Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved.
Luke 8:12 (NKJ)
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.
John 1:12 (NKJ)
15). . .that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. 16)For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17)For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. 18)”He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
John 3:15-18 (NKJ)
He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”
John 3:36 (NKJ)
“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.”
John 5:24 (NKJ)
And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.”
John 6:35 (NKJ)
. . . “And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”
John 6:40 (NKJ)
”Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life.”
John 6:47 (NKJ)
”Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.”
John 8:24 (NKJ)
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
John 11:25,26 (NKJ)
Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?”
John 11:40 (NKJ)
. . . but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.
John 20:31 (NKJ)
”To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.”
Acts 10:43 (NKJ)
This is Peter speaking. After he spoke these words, many people believed and they were baptized with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in tongues. After that, they were then baptized. This shows that the belief saved the people (would unsaved people have the Holy Spirit and be speaking in tongues?) and then afterward, they were baptized.
. . .and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses.
Acts 13:39 (NKJ)
Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.
Acts 13:48 (NKJ)
”But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.”
Acts 15:11 (NKJ)
So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.”
Acts 16:31 (NKJ)
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.
Romans 1:16 (NKJ)
9) . . .that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10)For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. 11)For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” 12)For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. 13)For “whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.”
Romans 10:9-13 (NKJ)
For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.
I Corinthians 1:21 (NKJ)
. . . knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.
Galatians 2:16 (NKJ)
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.
Ephesians 2:8 (NKJ)
For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.
I Thessalonians 4:14 (NKJ)
. . . that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
II Thessalonians 2:12 (NKJ)
However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.
I Timothy 1:16 (NKJ)
For we who have believed do enter that rest, as He has said: “So I swore in My wrath, “They shall not enter My rest,”‘ although the works were finished from the foundation of the world.
Hebrews 4:3 (NKJ)
But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul.
Hebrews 10:39 (NKJ)
Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, “Behold, I lay in Zion A chief cornerstone, elect, precious, And he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.”
I Peter 2:6 (NKJ)
Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him.
I John 5:1 (NKJ)
These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.
I John 5:13 (NKJ)
These verses would be grossly misleading if baptism were a prerequisite for salvation! I’ve just listed a plethora of verses that tell us that we are saved if we believe, and are condemned if we don’t. This should help the questioner get a better idea of the context of Scripture regarding baptism, and, for that matter, what one needs to do for salvation (hint: believe). For more on this subject, check out I Corinithians 15:1-11, and read the whole book of John.
So, if you remember, we were discussing Acts 2:38, and I think the better translation of the Greek word εις is “because of” in this verse due to the greater context of Scripture. Scripture teaches baptism on the basis of repentance, and belief as the requirement for salvation.In addition, this verse presents us with a logic problem. Let me explain. If I were to say, “Eat and put gold under your bed, and you can live,” that would be a true statement. But the part that really allows you to live is the “eat” part. Putting gold under your bed may help you in your finances, but it doesn’t actually cause you to continue living. Eating does! The same logical argument can be used for this verse. Peter 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.” Now, we know that if we repent and are baptized, we will be saved, according to this verse. But it doesn’t logically follow that both repentance and baptism are requirements for salvation, following the logic outlined above. And in the larger context of Scripture, we see that baptism is NOT a prerequisite for eternal life.
Another verse used to defend the position that water baptism is necessary for salvation is I Peter 3:21. Here is the verse (in its context).
18)For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, 19)by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, 20)who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. 21)There is also an antitype which now saves us–baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22)who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him.
I Peter 3:18-22 (NKJ)
Granted, this is a very difficult passage, and I make no claim to thoroughly understand it. However, I want to focus in on verses 20 and 21. We see here that Peter is comparing baptism to the time when Noah and his family were saved on the ark. And then Peter tells us that baptism saves us. But he’s quick to point out, in the very next phrase, that this baptism saves us symbolically, not actually. He’s saying that baptism doesn’t cleanse us physically in a literal sense, or if you want to take it metaphorically, it doesn’t cleanse our souls in a literal sense. But what saves us is the “answer (or inquiry) of a good conscience toward God.” This is the baptism which saves us. Peter tells us that baptism saves us, and then he goes on to define baptism as an inquiry of a good conscience toward God, or in other words, an open, honest inquiry and trust in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It’s not the act of immersion which saves our souls, it’s our trust in Jesus.
Yet another verse that often seems to promote baptism as a requirement for salvation is Mark 16:16. Here it is:
He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.
Mark 16:16 (NKJ)
This verse also presents a logical question. It’s the same logic problem discussed above for Acts 2:38. Simply put, this verse in no way says that both belief and baptism are requirements for salvation. In addition, the second portion of this verse makes this quite clear without any external argument. It says, “he who does not believe will be condemned.” It does NOT say, “he who does not believe and is not baptized will be condemned.” It plainly sets forth the “believing” aspect of the statement as the requirement for avoiding condemnation.
In summation, I’d like to make some additional points. First, baptism is never given in Scripture as a COMMAND to Christians except in Acts 2:38 when Peter tells the Jews to “repent and be baptized.” This is the ONLY place where we are commanded to be baptized. So since we are told to, we should be. Yet this should never be construed as a command to all new Christians as a requirement for salvation. The New Testament makes this blatantly clear. What would happen if I were on the battlefield and I accepted Jesus and then was shot through the heart before I was baptized? As Scripture so plainly states, I would be saved, just as the people were in Acts 10 who received the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues before they were baptized, and just as the thief on the cross was before he died (he was never baptized).
In addition, why did Paul tell his readers in such certain terms that he wasn’t called to baptize, but to preach? Look at this verse:
I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, lest anone should say that I had baptized in my own name. Yes I also baptized the household of Stephanus. Besides, I do not know whether I baptized any other. For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom and words, lest the cross of Christ be made of no effect.
I Corinthians 1:13-17
Paul tells us that Jesus didn’t call him to baptize (is Paul negating the Great Commission here? I think not!) but to preach. And Paul says he only baptized a few people. And thank goodness for that, he says, because otherwise people might be saying they were baptized in the name of Paul. The Great Commission is in Matthew 28:19,20 records Jesus’ words to his disciples to “go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit . . .” This certainly doesn’t say we need to be baptized to be saved. And why did Paul say he wasn’t called to baptize? It must be because the church as a whole is called to baptize, not us as individuals. How could a wheelchair-bound person baptize someone? Yet we have many Christians who are in wheelchairs. And we have many Christians who are invalids as well. Are they disobeying Jesus’ command to baptize? I don’t think so. Jesus Himself baptized none. And then the kicker . . . why would Paul leave 99% of his converts half-saved, or, according to some, not saved at all? If baptism were a requirement for salvation, then the majority of people Paul preached to never entered the kingdom of heaven, because, as Paul says himself, he only baptized Crispus, Gaius, and the household of Stephanus. Paul, in his zealousnous for preaching the gospel, and in his obsession for detail, would not leave so many people unsaved.
My hope is that this study has given you a glimpse of the truth of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He lives today and He loves you. Believe in Him, and in His words, and you will receive eternal life. That’s a promise we can all bank on.