8. Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation?Related Media
Whether baptism is necessary for salvation is an important question to ask, since there are some verses that at least seem to indicate that it is. For example, Acts 2:38 says, “Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’” Also, Mark 16:16 says, “The one who believes and is baptized will be saved, but the one who does not believe will be condemned.” The belief that baptism is necessary for salvation is called baptismal regeneration.
With both verses, after closer inspection, it is clear that neither teaches baptismal regeneration. In the case of Acts 2:38, when it says, “be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins,” the word “for” would be better translated “because of.”1 Believers should be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ because their sins have been forgiven. Also, in Mark 16:16, it says, “the one who believes and is baptized will be saved,” but then says, “the one who does not believe will be condemned.” A person is condemned for not believing. It says nothing about being condemned because of not being baptized. This text should not be pressed to say what it does not say. The New Testament knows nothing of an unbaptized Christian, and therefore the text speaks generally about a baptized believer. It is not meant to deal with an unusual situation in which one believes and is not baptized.
With all that said, as with any verse, we must compare it to what the rest of Scripture teaches on the subject. In the case of baptism and salvation, the Bible is clear that salvation is by grace through faith alone in Jesus Christ—not by works (Eph 2:8-9, John 3:16, Rom 10:9-10). So, any interpretation which comes to the conclusion that baptism, or any other act, is necessary for salvation, is a faulty interpretation.
Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so that no one can boast.” If baptism was a work necessary for salvation, then people would have something to boast about. But because salvation is of faith, and even our faith is a gift according to this passage (cf. Phil 1:29), all praise and glory go to God.
What are other evidences that baptism is not salvific?
The Argument of the Thief on the Cross & Cornelius the Centurion
One of the stronger arguments is the salvation of the thief on the cross who was never baptized and the story of Cornelius the centurion who received the Holy Spirit before baptism. Luke 23:42 describes the conversation between the thief and Christ: “Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingdom.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.’” Jesus declared that the thief would be in paradise, and obviously, he would not have a chance to be baptized before it. His salvation was based on faith alone. Similarly, we see that Cornelius in Acts 10 received the Holy Spirit before baptism, which means that he was saved. Acts 10:44-48 says,
While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell on all those who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had accompanied Peter were greatly astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said, “No one can withhold the water for these people to be baptized, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?” So he gave orders to have them baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.
The Argument of Paul and Jesus
In addition, if baptism is necessary for salvation, then it would seem strange for Paul to boast about not baptizing people and to declare Christ “did not send” him to “baptize.” In 1 Corinthians 1:14-17, he said:
I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name! (I also baptized the household of Stephanus. Otherwise, I do not remember whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—and not with clever speech, so that the cross of Christ would not become useless.
These comments would not make any sense if baptism was necessary for salvation.
Furthermore, according to the Gospels, Christ never baptized people. John 4:1-2 says, “Now when Jesus knew that the Pharisees had heard that he was winning and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself was not baptizing, but his disciples were).” If salvation came through baptism, it would make sense to see Christ baptizing people. However, he didn’t.
Baptism is an important step of obedience after salvation; but, it is not salvific. Salvation is a gift of God, not based on our works. It happens by grace through faith (cf. Eph 2:8-9, Rom 10:13).
- What stood out most in the reading and why?
- What verses are commonly used to support the necessity of baptism for salvation?
- What are arguments against baptismal regeneration?
- What other questions or applications did you take from the reading?
Copyright © 2020 Gregory Brown
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1 MacArthur, J., & Mayhue, R. (Eds.). (2017). Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Bible Truth (p. 786). Wheaton, IL: Crossway.
Related Topics: Ecclesiology (The Church)