Is water baptism required for salvation Part 3

Those who believe that water baptism is required for salvation appeal to several New Testament verses to support their belief. In Part 2 I discussed John 3:5 which is one of the main verses used to support the doctrine of baptismal regeneration.

Another passage commonly used to support the doctrine of baptismal regeneration is Acts 2:38,

Act 2:36  Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.
Act 2:37  Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?
Act 2:38  Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.

This passage is often considered by those who teach the doctrine of baptismal regeneration as being an unanswerable prooftext in support of this doctrine.

When Acts 2:38 is examined carefully it is very evident that it does not teach the doctrine of baptismal regeneration at all.

I attended an interesting debate between Albert Garner and a local Church of Christ pastor in Gainesville, Florida. The Church of Christ pastor had posted a large sign about Acts 2:38 which listed fifty scholars which he claimed agreed with his interpretation of the word “for” in the phrase “for the remission of sins.”

I do not recall whether Dr. Garner addressed this issue. But if I were in a debate, I would address this claim by asserting (1) fifty scholars may appear to agree with you but that is likely because they were not addressing the doctrine you promote when they discussed this verse in their commentaries or other writings. (2) Truth is not determined by a majority vote! (3) Your mistaken assertion that “for” in Acts 2:38 means “in order to” is not supported by a careful comparison of related Bible passages. (4) That rendition of Acts 2:38 so as to make it read “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ ‘in order to’ the remission of sins” does not even make good English sense and certainly in this context is not a good translation of the underlying Greek preposition “eis” which most often is translated by the word “into.” Now translating Acts 2:38 by reading “into” instead of “for” may not at first seem to provide any added clarity until we trace the usage of “eis” in four other  passages about baptism or repentance which use this same Greek preposition:

(1) Matthew 3:11,

Mat 3:11  I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:

We are certainly not baptized with water “in order to” repent, but as a sign or symbol of repentance which has already taken place.

(2) Matthew 28:19

Mat 28:19  Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:

The expression “in the name” or “into the name” does not mean “in order to the name” but “as a sign or profession of faith in and obedience to” the triune God.

(3) 1 Corinthians 10:2

1Co 10:2  And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea;

The expression, “were all baptized unto Moses” can be translated “were all baptized into Moses.” How can a person or a whole crowd of people be “baptized into (eis) Moses”? The meaning is that when the Israelites crossed the Red Sea on dry land and escaped the Egyptian army who were in hot pursuit, they finally realized they had a firm basis for faith in Moses as their leader. They came under the controlling influence of Moses. You will recall that the Egyptians, attempting to follow the Israelites across that sea on dry land were overwhelmed and drowned in the returning waters:

Exo 14:31  And Israel saw that great work which the LORD did upon the Egyptians: and the people feared the LORD, and believed the LORD, and his servant Moses.

It ought to be very clear that “eis” in 1 Corinthians 10:2, “baptized unto Moses,” cannot mean “baptized ‘in order to’ Moses,” but “baptized as a sign or profession of faith in” Moses as their leader.

(4) 1 Corinthians 1:13

1Co 1:13  Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?

The questions Paul poses to the Corinthians here all have an expected answer “No.” The Corinthians were not baptized in (eis) the name of Paul. Most certainly the rendering “baptized ‘in order to’ the name of Paul” would be incorrect here also. In the very next verse Paul says:

1Co 1:14  I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius;

Now consider: if ritual water baptism is essential for salvation, how could Paul possibly have said “I thank God that I baptized none of you”?

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8 Responses to Is water baptism required for salvation Part 3

  1. Acts 2:38 (RSV) reads: And Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

    According to you (correct me if I’m wrong), this would be an instance of the baptism with the Holy Spirit, which alone brings about forgiveness of sins and salvation. But if we substitute what you think “baptism” means here, the verse is redundant and rather silly:

    . . . “Repent, and be baptized with the Holy Spirit every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

  2. “Now consider: if ritual water baptism is essential for salvation, how could Paul possibly have said ‘I thank God that I baptized none of you'”?

    The answer is right in the context that you didn’t include:

    1 Corinthians 1:10-15 (RSV) I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. [11] For it has been reported to me by Chlo’e’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brethren. [12] What I mean is that each one of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apol’los,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” [13] Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? [14] I am thankful that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Ga’ius; [15] lest any one should say that you were baptized in my name.

    He says nothing against water baptism per se. Rather — quite obviously — he is glad he didn’t baptize these people precisely because they were starting to form factions and following human beings in an undue manner; over against Christ (Paul, Peter, Apollos): saying that they “belonged” to those leaders rather than to our Lord Jesus Christ, as His disciple.

  3. Here is Acts 2:38 in several versions, where the meaning is clearly according to what I am arguing (baptism brings about the forgiveness, or remission of sins; i.e., a key aspect of baptismal regeneration):

    AMPC . . . Repent (change your views and purpose to accept the will of God in your inner selves instead of rejecting it) and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of and release from your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

    CEV Peter said, “Turn back to God! Be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, so that your sins will be forgiven. Then you will be given the Holy Spirit.

    ERV “Change your hearts and lives and be baptized, each one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ. Then God will forgive your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

    GW “All of you must turn to God and change the way you think and act, and each of you must be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins will be forgiven. Then you will receive the Holy Spirit as a gift.

    GNT “Each one of you must turn away from your sins and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, so that your sins will be forgiven; and you will receive God’s gift, the Holy Spirit.

    Phillips “You must repent and every one of you must be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ, so that you may have your sins forgiven and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

    MSG “Change your life. Turn to God and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, so your sins are forgiven. Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

    NOG “All of you must turn to God and change the way you think and act, and each of you must be baptized in the name of Yeshua Christ so that your sins will be forgiven.

    NCB “Repent, and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

    NIRV “All of you must turn away from your sins and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then your sins will be forgiven. You will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

    NLV “Be sorry for your sins and turn from them and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, and your sins will be forgiven. You will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

    NRSV “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

    NTE ‘Be baptized – every single one of you – in the name of Jesus the Messiah, so that your sins can be forgiven, and you will receive the gift of the holy spirit.

    https://www.biblegateway.com/verse/en/Acts%202:38

    And a few more from my own Bible collection:

    REB . . . then your sins will be forgiven . . .

    Barclay . . . then your sins will be forgiven . . .

    Williams . . . that you may have your sins forgiven . . .

    Beck . . . so that your sins will be forgiven . . .

    Goodspeed . . . in order to have your sins forgiven

    So if you agree that the passage is about water baptism, these translations help with the interpretation of what the baptism does in relation to forgiveness / remission of sins (it brings it about).

    That seems to be your argument: water baptism but no remission of sins. This would mean that the passage can’t be used as an example of baptism with the Holy Spirit.

    In fact, the passage illustrates exactly what I argued in my article: (1) “forgiveness of sins;” (2) the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, which no unregenerate person could possess; (3) salvation (“save yourselves”); and (4) inclusion in the rank of saved “souls” (cf. Galatians 3:27).

    Baptismal regeneration . . .

    If you claim that other passages are about baptism with the Holy Spirit rather than water baptism, then I’ll go to the linguistic scholars and see what they think the passage is referring to.

  4. Jerry says:

    Dear Dave,

    As for Acts 2:38, you may have missed the significance of my comment about the local Church of Christ pastor who had a large placard posted during his debate with Dr. Albert Garner in Gainesville, Florida, which listed 50 scholars he claimed supported his position regarding Acts 2:38.

    My answer to that argument is that the claim is of little merit until you can verify that these scholars were addressing the doctrinal error you espouse and agreed with it.

    You comment:

    “If you claim that other passages are about baptism with the Holy Spirit rather than water baptism, then I’ll go to the linguistic scholars and see what they think the passage is referring to.”

    That was the whole point of starting with Matthew 3:11,

    Mat 3:11  I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire: 

    Notice carefully that John practiced baptism with water, which may equate to ritual water baptism.

    But John emphasized that Jesus would baptise with the Holy Spirit, which surely equates to real baptism.

    It is real baptism with or by the Holy Spirit that saves, not ritual water baptism.

    It is therefore the case that it is not water baptism that is required for salvation but real baptism by the Holy Spirit that is required for salvation.

    This is plainly taught in the Bible, starting with this passage in Matthew, which is why I began this little series with this verse.

  5. I don’t deny that there is a baptism with the Holy Spirit. I experienced it myself back in 1980. The question is whether it is “real” and salvific baptism, over against mere “ritual water baptism”: which is somehow not “real.”

    Almost Christians (of many stripes), I think, would simply say that it is two different kinds of baptism.

    I’ve been around the block a few times, as regards Christian theology and controversies about same, and I have never heard this position until now. Do any denominations espouse this thinking, or any well-known Christian figure? What’s it even called?

  6. Jerome Smith says:

    Dear Dave,

    I have not invented this doctrine regarding baptism out of whole cloth, you may be sure!

    You comment and ask:

    “I’ve been around the block a few times, as regards Christian theology and controversies about same, and I have never heard this position until now. Do any denominations espouse this thinking, or any well-known Christian figure? What’s it even called?”

    As for any well-known figure, J. Vernon McGee has a video on this matter which I most providentially encountered in my Facebook newsfeed (without my searching or even knowing that he held this position) just as our renewed discussions began.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rq5VuTml_Sk

    I was personally introduced to this subject by my elderly friend, Uncle Frank (Frank Burrell), who unknown to me lived in the hotel next door to my apartment building on Fort Street. He challenged me about the mode of Christian baptism. At the time I believed the Bible taught immersion. Frank asked me if I would read a book he had and would loan me. I agreed. The book rather permanently removed all the water out of my baptistry! The book he loaned me was by Rev. G. W. Hughey, titled The Scriptural Mode of Christian Baptism. Hughey wrote another smaller book which I am thankful to have titled Baptismal Remission, which demonstrates the error of the doctrine held by some regarding baptismal regeneration. I just finished reading that book this month.

    Uncle Frank introduced me to another author, James W. Dale, who wrote a series of scholarly volumes, five volumes bound in four, on the Greek word ‘baptizo.’ I was able to purchase the first three volumes at Alec R. Allenson, library booksellers, in Napierville, Illinois, for myself. Uncle Frank willed whatever books I might want to have from his library to me, so when he went home to be with the Lord, I inherited the final bound volume titled Christic and Patristic Baptism.

    When my good friend and Greek scholar, Dr. Robert Countess, learned I was aware of these volumes and actually had them, he asked to borrow some of them so new plates could be created for their reprinting by Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers (Chicago) and Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company. The first volume, Classic Baptism: An Inquiry into the meaning of the word in classical Greek writers, was published in 1989. The original volume was published in 1867.

    Well, that should inform you that there are some Presbyterians who have an interest in this subject. Jay E. Adams wrote the new forward. Dr. Robert H. Countess wrote the New Introduction. I wrote one of the “blurbs” featured on the back cover, together with blurbs by Luder G. Whitlock, Jr., President, Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson, Mississippi; James W. Alexander, Ph.D., Franklin Professor of Classics Emeritus, University of Georgia, and Robert H. Countess, Ph.D., Director, Loewe Belfort Projects, Inc. You may recall that Dr. Countess is the author of The Jehovah’s Witnesses’ New Testament: A Critical Analysis of the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures (P&R, 1982).

  7. So you can’t name a single denomination that holds to this view? If you do, please direct me to the passage in their creed or confession where they deal with this. Thanks!

  8. Jerry says:

    Dear Dave,

    I have not made the claim that there is even a single denomination that holds this view.

    Of the creeds and statements of faith of the several churches and denominations I have been associated with over many years, I have never seen a statement of faith which goes into such minute and specific detail of Bible interpretation, not even the Westminster Confession of Faith or the Thirty-nine Articles.

    But their Bible scholars have certainly discerned these truths in Scripture.

    I have already cited scholars, including James W. Dale and G. E. Hughey, of Presbyterian and Methodist denominations, respectively, in my comments here.

    I shared with you the names of various scholars who contributed blurbs to the first volume by James W. Dale, Classic Baptism. The following scholars furnished blurbs for the fourth bound volume, Christic Baptism and Patristic Baptism: (1) Herman Otten, M.A., C.T.M., M.Div.; Editor, Christian News, New Haven, Missouri. (2) William S. Barker, Ph.D., Professor of Church History, Academic Dean, Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia. (3) Richard A. Taylor, Ph.D., Professor of Old Testament Studies, Dallas Theological Seminary. (4) Cleon Rogers, Th.D., Director Freie Theologische Akademie, Germany. (5) Paul D. Feinberg, Th.D., Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois.

    I do not place ultimate teaching authority in any church or denomination or religious organization.

    I have no doubt that every church or denomination might well be mistaken in some point of their interpretation of the Bible and/or Bible doctrine.

    Therefore, genuine scholarship is based upon the careful exegesis of Scripture itself, not upon congruity with creeds and statements of faith, which often do not address many issues of Bible interpretation of specific passages. Where creeds and statements of faith are congruent to what the Bible teaches, I agree with them. When they are not, I take the Bible, carefully interpreted in accordance with the 24 rules of interpretation which I list here in the October 2010 archives, as the final authority.

    Whenever we read and study the Bible, we ought to be open to learning something new that we had not noticed before. Sometimes we will learn something new which requires us to modify our prior understanding of what the Bible teaches. The Bible is a vast Book which contains far more than any one scholar or even group of scholars can hope to fully master. Fortunately, the main things, the most important things, can be understood by anyone who will read the Bible with care and attention (Psalm 119:105). I have been studying the Bible carefully since 1953 and am still learning more even now! I trust you are too.

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