Baptism is perhaps the most debated
matter pertaining to salvation. We regret that there are so many misunderstandings
about baptism. Why are there objections to baptism? To us, the scriptures
are clear on this subject. We believe in taking the whole of scripture,
not just selected passages, in understanding God's will, especially the
response He has instructed us to give in accepting His free gift of salvation.
We whole-heartedly believe that we are saved
by the grace of God through accepting Jesus as our Savior and recognizing
Him as our Lord. Is baptism involved in our acceptance of His grace? We
believe that's what the scriptures say.
It could be that some do not distinguish between
our initial, first response to the gospel and our ongoing,
continual response as Christians. Belief, confession, and repentance are
both initial responses to God's grace and ongoing responses for all
Christians. Baptism, however, is only an initial response, being done to
the believer when they first come to Christ. All are necessary for salvation,
despite certain passages that mention only one or two of these.
Whenever we see in scripture a reference to
baptism, we should ask, "Is this the same word or meaning that Jesus
had in mind in Matt. 20:19 when he instructed his disciples to baptize those
in all nations?" And, if not, why not? And if not, then what is the
Here we present several objections to baptism
as being essential to receive salvation, and responses to them. (We invite
your comments via e-mail.)
OBJECTION #1: Baptism is a work,
and we are not saved by works.
Baptism is NOT a work. The believer is passive, not active, in
baptism. Another person dips them under water and lifts them back up. Furthermore,
nowhere in the New Testament is baptism called or described as a "work"
of any kind, yet Jesus himself characterized belief as a work in John 6:28-29.
Belief is not a meritorious work (that is, to earn something), but
a response to God. The same is true of baptism. Both are works insofar as
they are "something done." Confession with the mouth is a physical
activity on the part of a believer -- why then is this not regarded as a
work, yet the passive involvement of a believer in baptism often is?
Whose idea was Christian
baptism in the first place? The water baptism of the New Testament for the
remission of sins (along with repentance, belief, and confession) was given
a special meaning by God (Mk. 16:16, Acts 2:38, Col. 2:9-15. I Pet. 3:21,
etc.). No one can say that baptism is a "work" of man, since it
is by God's design, "not of our own righteousness." In baptism,
God, does all the work, and man does nothing but trust God.
OBJECTION #2: There are several passages that
clearly teach we are justified by faith, so baptism is not essential.
How do you define "faith?" Is it limited to intellectual belief?
Emotional conviction? James says such faiths are dead, and no one is justified
by such faiths alone. Indeed, intellectual belief and emotional conviction
must be included with other aspects, such as belief, outward confession,
initial and ongoing repentance, baptism, and ongoing obedience. Our understanding
of the biblical definition of faith is inclusive of these things. Study
Hebrews 11 for examples of what faith is. The faith of these people is not
separate and apart from their actions.
OBJECTION #3: People's sins were forgiven without
baptism by Jesus.
Yes, that is correct (see the penitent woman - Luke 7:37-50, the paralytic
man - Matt. 9:2, and the tax collector - Luke 18:13-14). Keep in mind that
(1) Prior to his death, Jesus and all others lived under the old covenant
(the new did not begin until after his death), and (2) it was an entirely
different situation from what we have today. A third consideration is the
report in Matt. 3:5, where Jerusalem and all of Judea were coming to John
the baptist for baptism of repentance. These God-fearing people may likely
have come to Jesus later, similar to us as we pray for forgiveness for sins
since our conversion.
OBJECTION #4: The thief on the cross was saved
There are three things to consider here. First, as mentioned above, the
thief on the cross was forgiven under a different covenant. One cannot be
baptized into the death of Jesus (cf. Rom. 6) when Jesus has not yet died.
is a symbol for crucifixion; yet this thief underwent the "ultimate
baptism" in that he was literally crucified. It could be that the Lord
considered the thief's crucifixion a form of baptism. While the thief did
not go to the cross out of obedience to the Lord, his repentance on the
cross may have change his outlook on his death.
Third, God does not
require of any man that which is not possible.
OBJECTION #5: There is no record of the apostles
Read Acts 9:18 and Acts 22:16 for the record of the baptism of the apostle
Paul. True, we do not have records of the baptisms of the other apostles,
but does this mean they weren't? No. They may have been included in Matt.
3:5. In Matt. 2, Jesus was baptized, and they were to follow his example
in all obedience. To suggest that the apostles, who preached baptism, were
not themselves baptized, is not a sound argument. Why would Paul have been
baptized if the others were not?
OBJECTION #6: Jesus said in the great
commission that baptism was not a condition in judgment (condemnation) (Mk.
Response: While it is questioned whether Mark 16:9-20 was
part of Mark's original writing, it is in harmony with the rest of the New
Testament. Mark 16:16 is a strong argument for the essential nature of baptism,
but far from being the only one. Jesus said "Whoever believes and is
baptized will be saved." Question: If someone said, "Whoever
believes in the tooth fairy and jumps in my pool will get $100,"
what would one have to do for the $100? Answer: Believe in the tooth
fairy and jump in the pool, and nothing less.
"But Jesus did not include the failure to be
baptized as a condition for condemnation."
That's because the
logical statements of our Lord do not require him to do so. Belief must
precede the response of repentance and baptism. Without belief, baptism
is meaningless (as it is with infant baptism).
For example, if someone
"If I fall in love with Jane Doe and legally wed her,
I will be married to her. But if I do not fall in love with Jane Doe, I
will not be married to her."
Would this mean a wedding is not necessary for a marriage? No. The
same logic is present; the wedding follows falling in love, and the wedding
is still necessary for marriage.
Or, follows these
steps: "(1) If you take my car keys and (2) start the engine, (3)you
can drive my car; but if you do not take my car keys (step 1), you cannot
drive my car (step 3)." Starting the engine (step 2) requires the keys
(step 1), and is necessary to drive the car. Jesus gave a progressive order
in our response to God's grace: First, believe; second, be baptized. If
you don't get to the first step, the second step is meaningless. To say
the Jesus negated baptism here is to overlook simple logic and common sense.
OBJECTION #7: In Acts 2:38, "for"
(Greek "eis") could be interpreted as "because of."
Yes, in the Greek, it could. But in no modern translation do we find this
rendering, despite the work of hundreds of Greek scholars. We are left with
"for", and it reads "for the remission of your sins."
Baptism here is associated with repentance, not distinguished from it. That
is, Peter is including almost parenthetically that baptism is integral to
repentance (he expresses this also in 2 Pet 3:21). "Repent" and
"sins" in the Greek are plural, and "baptized" is singular.
This grammatical construction in Greek could be written,
"(All of you) Repent (and let each of you be baptized in
the name of Jesus Christ) for the forgiveness of your sins."
Notice also that you cannot repent because
your sins have been forgiven, but you must repent, and be baptized for (unto)
the remission of your sins. Both repentance and baptism are linked to the
remission of sins (cf: Acts 3:19 and 22:16). If baptism is not linked to
the forgiveness of your sins in this verse, then what is it linked to? The
question posed to Peter was, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?"
(v. 27) Being "pierced to the heart", they wanted to know what
to do to be saved, and obviously were not concerned with what they
must do after they are saved. If baptism is not essential, why would
Peter have instructed it in the first place when these people asked how
they must respond?
OBJECTION #8: ...but Peter did not mention
baptism in Acts 3:19; he said, "Repent, and turn to God..."
Nor did Peter say anywhere in Acts 2 "...turn to God," yet they
obviously did turn to God in Acts 2. The absence of the mention of baptism
does not mean it was not taught. As described above, baptism is associated
with repentance in Acts 2 and 2 Pet. 1, so it was likely taught and done,
though not specifically mentioned here.
Notice also that Peter
did not say in Acts 3:19 to believe in Jesus Christ or to confess
him as the Son of God. Are these unnecessary, too? Using this as an argument
against baptism, one must agree that belief and confession are unnecessary,
Most importanly, however,
is that Paul uses the exact same language as Peter in Acts 26:20:
"I preached that they should repent and turn to God...",
but adds, "...and prove their repentance by their deeds."
Were Paul and Peter preaching different gospels? Of course not. Paul
called for the affirmation of repentance, but Peter (so it appears) did
not. Again, the absence of the mention of baptism in Acts 3 does not mean
it was not taught. Baptism is integral to repentance.
OBJECTION #9: Paul doesn't preach baptism in
his gospel presentations.
Read Acts 22, where Paul gives his testimony to his conversion. Read Romans
6, where he is teaching the Roman churches the significance of grace, justification
by faith, and the importance of baptism. Read Eph. 4, Col. 2 - 3, Gal. 3:26-29,
and I Cor. 12:13. Paul taught baptism in these instances. The absence of
the specific mention of baptism (or repentance, confession, or belief for
that matter) at any time does not make it unnecessary. These elements of
faith are clearly substantiated elsewhere in the New Testament, and the
New Testament must be taken as a whole.
Keep in mind that most
of Paul's writings were to people who were already Christians, and he obviously
did not find it necessary to dwell on the subject of baptism since they
had already been baptized.
OBJECTION #10: In Acts 22:16, remission of
sins is linked with "calling on the name of the Lord," and not
First of all, the language "wash" is associated with being cleaned,
either by the blood of Christ or by water. "Wash" is not associated
with speaking. "Wash your sins away" refers to baptism
(cf. 1 Pet. 3:21).
Second, no known translation
has worded this passage similar to this: "Get up, be baptized and wash
away your sins by calling on his name." If that
is what the Greek suggests, certainly, Greek scholars throughout the ages
would have translated it accordingly. In fact, such a translation would
not be out of harmony with scripture (cf. Romans 10:9), so why was this
not "translated correctly?" Answer: it already is translated correctly:
baptism is "when" and "where" God washes away our sins.
OBJECTION #11: Paul doesn't mention baptism
in I Cor. 15:1-4.
Response: Nor does he mention repentance here (as he did
in Acts 26) or confession of Jesus as Lord (as he did in Romans 10). He
does discuss baptism in other passages. Here, he does refer to believers
(Christians) as having "taken your stand," calling them to "hold
firm." Since Paul is not recounting the gospel for the sake of non-believers,
he apparently did not see fit to recount what was necessary as an initial
response. Therefore, his mention of belief is not a call to an initial
belief in Jesus Christ, but an ongoing belief. The lost have not
yet "taken their stand" and cannot "hold firm" to anything
outside of Christ for hope. The bottom line is that this is not a gospel
presentation to the lost, but to the saved; a message Christians
need to hear over and over again for encouragement and for strengthening
OBJECTION #12: But Paul said he did not "come
to baptize" (I Cor. 1:14-17).
If Paul was intending for us to understand that baptism was not essential,
why does he list people he baptized in the same passage? (Notice also Cornelius
in Acts 10, Lydia in Acts 16, and the jailer in Acts 16).
What Paul is doing
here is stating that his primary purpose was to preach the gospel. The Corinthians
were dividing themselves, each faction aligning themselves either with who
had taught them, baptized them, or with Jesus (v.12). Paul sought to unify
them in Christ, and show that HE (not baptism) was not important in that
Notice what Paul says
beforehand in vs. 13: "Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized
into the name of Paul?" The answer to these questions is no. But
how would this verse be stated in the positive? "Jesus was crucified
for you! You were baptized into the name of Jesus." Paul's "negative"
statement establishes the basis of being a true follower of Jesus: recognizing
that Jesus died for your sins on the cross, and being baptized in the name
of Jesus. Paul is actually demonstrating the necessity of baptism, and that
it is into Jesus' name, not into Paul's or any other name.
Furthermore, it was
not unusual for preachers to have others do the baptizing for them (ie.
Jesus, John 4:2 and Peter, Acts 10:48). Thus the fact that Paul baptized
few people does not mean it was not done when he preached. On the contrary:
every example of baptism is an immediate event, not something done at a
"convenient time" or special service.
The passage shows that
baptism is important, as he saw to it that (1) he baptized some people,
(2) he confirms that the Corinthians had been baptized by others and (3)
that, if baptism was not necessary, he would have called them away from
engaging in the practice since it became a source of division.
OBJECTION #13: But Cornelius and his house
were saved before being baptized in water as the Holy Spirit came upon them
We cannot determine when (or if) the "moment" of salvation occurs.
Obviously, God would not impart his Holy Spirit on sinful, wicked people.
The baptism of the Holy Spirit is not necessarily the same as being saved.
No one today can baptize another with the Holy Spirit. Apparently, those
who were not yet saved were capable of being vessels of the Holy Spirit.
If indeed these people
were "saved prior to immersion", then this case is the exception,
not the rule; and exceptions do occur in scripture. Consider your conversion:
Did Jesus blind you and speak to you as he did to Saul (Paul) in Acts 9?
No. Did the Holy Spirit come upon you, allowing you to speak foreign languages
you had not been taught as it did here? No. The passage makes two things
clear: this was an unusual circumstance (which never occurred again anywhere
else in scripture), and water baptism was administered in harmony with God's
It was unusual because
God wanted to demonstrate that the Gentiles were to receive salvation as
well as the Jews. The Holy Spirit was imparted so that Peter and the others
(having the tables turned on them, so to speak) would be witnesses to a
miracle by the Holy Spirit that confirmed God's message to them.
But do notice what
Peter said near the end of this account in chapter 11:17 "So if
God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus
Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?" Peter could
not deny baptism (in water) to the Gentiles (10:47, 48). To do so (either
by refusal or by omission) would have been to "oppose God." Notice
that he mentions here that these people, too, "believed in the Lord
Jesus Christ," but it was imperative for Peter to offer them water
OBJECTION #14: "Baptism" does not
always mean water baptism.
There are instances where the Greek word can refer to something other than
the baptism unto the remission of sins. Because "baptism" means
to immerse or dip beneath water, some interpret it in a figurative sense
-- not necessarily Holy Spirit baptism, but in another way.
One preacher on the
radio, for example, once said that Paul, in Romans 6, meant "immersion"
like a student who is "immersed" in his studies. Being "baptized
into his death" then becomes "being intellectually or emotionally
focused on his death." But in verse 4, Paul says we are "buried."
While many students today find themselves buried with studies, the context
does not allow for this approach. The combination of immersion and burial
affirms that he speaks of water baptism.
Also, Paul compares
baptism with the death of Christ in verse 5. This preacher's interpretation
would mean that the death of Christ was not physical, but that Jesus just
thought real hard about it.
Some argue 1 Peter
3:21 does not refer to water baptism, since Peter says "not the removal
of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God."
To some, he distinguishes physical baptism from spiritual baptism. But if
one reads the context, (1) he is clearly talking about water, comparing
our water baptism to the waters of the flood, and (2) the contrast he makes
does not suggest spiritual baptism. Peter is saying in verse 21 that our
water baptism is not for cleaning our bodies (as the flood cleaned the earth
of its evil), but it is where we make a pledge to God out of a good conscience
toward him. The water of baptism does not wash away sin, but it is
symbolic of where we meet God to give him our lives, just as Jesus gave
us his life. Baptism is where we re-enact symbolically what Jesus did on
the cross and in the grave.
To say that one can
be baptized in water and can be figuratively "baptized"
by their intellectual or emotional state CONTRADICTS SCRIPTURE, specifically
Ephesians 4:5, [There is...] "...one Lord, one faith, one baptism."
Apparently, by the time the letter to the Ephesians was written, Holy Spirit
baptism had ceased, just as Paul prophesied that it would (I Cor. 13:8-12),
and only one form of baptism was preached and thus practiced. The only form
of baptism that can be administered today in harmony with biblical teachings
is immersion in water.
As metnioned above,
we need first to let scripture interpret scripture. Whenever we see in scripture
a reference to baptism, we should ask, "Is this the same word or meaning
that Jesus had in mind in Matt. 20:19 when he instructed his disciples to
baptize those in all nations?" And, if not, why not? And if not, then
what is the intended meaning?
Again, we must let
the Bible speak more for itself instead of trying to tell it what to say.
Many scriptures are compromised in order to fit the doctrines of men. When
will we unite and let our personal will be "compromised" by the
authority of Jesus our Lord?
The two responses immediately below are not based on scripture, and
as each states, only God knows. He alone is judge. They are based on the
premise that God will not require anything that is not possible. In both
examples, it was, at some point in their lives, possible for them to be
baptized, and the choices that led them to their unfortunate circumstances
are their responsibility. So long as there is life and there is water, one
should respond to God through baptism to be put into Christ, into His death,
for the remission of their sins.
OBJECTION #15: If someone decided to
become a Christian, and baptism is necessary, what would happen to them
if they died before they could be baptized?
Only God knows. It is likely that they would not be deprived of eternal
life. That being the case, baptism would not be necessary in this kind of
circumstance, only because it is not possible. See I Peter 3:21.
Provided the person was on his or her way to the water, and not waiting
for a special service or more convenient time, it would seem that, based
on God's nature He would allow for that. (One wonders, however, why would
anyone delay in being obedient and eagerly responding to God's free gift
In one sense, this is similar to young infants
and children: it is impossible for them to be truly baptized because they
cannot have believe, repent, or confess. Belief must precede baptism (Mk.
16:16). Note also that, in the New Testament, when people are being converted,
they are baptized as soon as possible. Again, these people were eager to
respond as well as instructed to do so immediately.
OBJECTION #16: What if someone were in the
desert or somewhere where water was not readily available?
Response: Again, only God knows. If one knows to
be baptized, they would do well to find the next best thing to water. Since
baptism is a burial, they may offer to God in light of their circumstances
an alternative means of burial (ie: being covered with sand, cloth, etc.).
God may accept
this only because water baptism is not possible at the time, but
there is no guarantee.
The scriptures are
silent on this, and this is mere speculation offered in an attempt to answer
an objection. Once the person finds sufficient water, they should be formally
baptized in accordance with the scriptures. (Remember, more than 70% of
the earth's surface is water: Seek, and ye shall find.)
Not discussed here is the issue of infant baptism, as the scriptures
are abundantly clear that (1) this was never taught nor practiced, (2) those
who were baptized were able to believe in Jesus and confess him, and (3)
the Greek word for baptism literally means "to dip, immerse."