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Is Baptism Required for Salvation?

Part One    Part Two    Part Three    Part Four    Part Five    Part Six


Introduction

In Part One of this series we defined what "proper faith" in Jesus means, and we saw that the outward actions of confessing our sins, saying a "sinner's prayer," calling on the Name of the Lord, confessing with our mouth that Jesus is Lord, making Jesus the Lord of our life, obeying all of Jesus' commands, and speaking in tongues, are not necessary for salvation. This leaves us with two possibilities. Either salvation is based on proper faith alone (the "faith-alone" view), or else salvation is based on proper faith followed by water baptism (the "faith-plus-baptism" view). One of these views is right, and the other view is wrong. One of these views harmonizes with the rest of the New Testament, and the other view does not. This makes it very easy to see which view is right. We saw that only one view harmonizes perfectly with Scripture using every approach that we examined. The faith-alone view is the right view of salvation.

In Part Two we examined dozens of passages which say that faith is the only requirement for salvation. We also saw that a number of people in the New Testament were baptized after they received salvation, and therefore baptism cannot be required for salvation.

In this article we will look at Mark 16:16a and Acts 2:38a, two of the main passages which are used as proof that baptism is necessary for salvation.


Mark 16:16a

On the surface, Mark 16:16 appears to say that baptism is a requirement for salvation:
"Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned." (Mark 16:16)
Those who hold the faith-alone view of salvation, and those who hold the faith-plus-baptism view, all agree that whoever does not believe in Jesus will be condemned (see the last part of Mark 16:16, above). The area of disagreement is in the first part of the verse, which is usually referred to as Mark 16:16a.

Here are several reasons why Mark 16:16a does not prove that baptism is necessary for salvation:


1. Mark 16:16a - The Problem of the Scriptural Contradiction

According to the faith-alone group, there is only one requirement for salvation. According to the faith-plus-baptism group, there are two requirements for salvation. Both groups agree that these two views cannot both be right because they contradict each other. Either there is one requirement for salvation or there are two requirements, we can't have it both ways.

To make this point a different way, consider the following illustration. A young girl wants to join the book club at her local library, and the advertisement says that whoever brings a book donation is allowed to join the book club. When her father takes her to the library, he is told that whoever brings a book donation and pays a $25 entrance fee will be allowed to join the book club. The father says, "Wait a minute, you have changed the requirements from what your advertisement says."

Notice that the father was given two different sets of entrance requirements, and they can't both be right because they contradict each other. Either there is one requirement (a book donation) or there are two requirements (a book donation plus an entrance fee), we can't have it both ways.

With that in mind, take a look at two statements that Jesus made:
"Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life" (John 3:36a)

"Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved" (Mark 16:16a)
If we claim that baptism is necessary for salvation then once again we have two different sets of requirements which can't both be right because they contradict each other, just like in the examples above. Either there is one requirement (believe) or there are two requirements (believe and be baptized), we can't have it both ways.

As we saw in Part One, the only way that Jesus' statements (above) harmonize with each other and with all of Scripture is if baptism is not necessary for salvation. We also saw in Part Two that "eternal life" refers to salvation. Notice that if faith is the only requirement for salvation then whoever has proper faith will be saved (John 3:36a, above), and whoever has proper faith and is baptized will be saved (Mark 16:16a, above).

The faith-plus-baptism view creates a contradiction in Scripture, and therefore it is the wrong view. The faith-alone view is the right view because it perfectly harmonizes all of the New Testament passages on baptism and salvation.


2. Mark 16:16a - The Problem of the Logical Fallacy

Here is Mark 16:16a again:
"Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved" (Mark 16:16a)
Based on this verse, the faith-plus-baptism view assumes the following:
Whoever believes and is not baptized will not be saved.
However, this assumption is based on a logical fallacy. In other words, this assumption contains an error in logic. To see why, first look closely at these statements and notice that these statements are all true:
  • Whoever breathes and has a pulse is alive.
  • Whoever breathes and is baptized is alive.
  • Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved. (Mark 16:16a)
These statements are all true, but watch what happens when we use the above assumption:
  • Whoever breathes and does not have a pulse is not alive.
  • Whoever breathes and is not baptized is not alive.
  • Whoever believes and is not baptized will not be saved.
It's easy to see that this is a false way to form a negative statement.

For more on common logical fallacies, see:
So when people use Mark 16:16a as evidence that baptism is necessary for salvation, they are making a wrong assumption based on a logical fallacy (i.e. a false negative).


3. Mark 16:16a - The Problem of the Dual Support

Let's assume for a moment that in order to receive salvation we must believe in Jesus and be baptized in water. In this case, Mark 16:16a is a true statement:
"Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved" (Mark 16:16a)
Now let's assume for a moment that in order to receive salvation we only need to believe in Jesus. In this case, Mark 16:16a is a true statement:
"Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved" (Mark 16:16a)
Mark 16:16a supports both the faith-plus-baptism view and the faith-alone view. Therefore, it cannot be used to prove that either view is right.


4. Mark 16:16a - The Problem of the Multiple Elements

Notice that this is a true statement:
Whoever breathes and is baptized is alive.
If you look closely, you'll see that even though the above statement is true, it does not mean that a person is required to be baptized in order to be alive. Now apply the same reasoning to Mark 16:16a:
"Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved" (Mark 16:16a)
Again, even though the above statement is true, it does not mean that a person is required to be baptized in order to be saved. To make this clearer, notice that we can keep adding more elements and still have a true statement:
Whoever believes and is baptized and lives in Texas and has brown hair and owns a pet and wears glasses will be saved.
Again, even though the above statement is true, it does not mean that a person is required to live in Texas or have brown hair or own a pet or wear glasses in order to be saved.

What we are seeing is that if a statement has multiple elements in it (two or more), then we don't have enough information in that statement to determine if any of those elements are requirements.

So how do we know if living in Texas (above), for example, is a requirement for salvation? One way is if there are any New Testament passages which specifically say that living in Texas (and nothing else) is a requirement, such as a statement like this:
Whoever lives in Texas will be saved.
The only other way is if there are any New Testament passages which specifically give us the "negative" of living in Texas, such as a statement like this:
Whoever does not live in Texas will not be saved.
These are the only ways to prove that something is required for salvation. In Part Two we saw that there are dozens of New Testament passages which specifically say that faith (and nothing else) is required for salvation. In addition, several New Testament passages specifically say that those who do not believe in Jesus are not saved (e.g. Mark 16:16b, John 3:18). Therefore, having "proper faith" in Jesus (which is defined in Part One) is required for salvation.

On the other hand, there are no New Testament passages which specifically say that baptism (and nothing else) is required for salvation. This makes sense, because we have already seen that faith is a requirement. In addition, there are no New Testament passages which specifically say that those who are not baptized are not saved. Therefore, baptism is not required for salvation.


Summary of Mark 16:16a

What it boils down to is that the faith-plus-baptism interpretation of Mark 16:16a creates a contradiction in Scripture, and it makes a wrong assumption based on a logical fallacy, and it misses the fact that Mark 16:16a supports both the faith-plus-baptism view and the faith-alone view, and it wrongly assumes that each individual element in Mark 16:16a is necessary for salvation.


Acts 2:38a

On the surface, Acts 2:38a appears to say that baptism is a requirement for salvation:
"Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins."" (Acts 2:38a)
Here are several reasons why Acts 2:38a does not prove that baptism is necessary for salvation:


1. Acts 2:38a - The Problem of the Scriptural Contradiction

According to the faith-alone group, there is only one requirement for salvation. According to the faith-plus-baptism group, there are two requirements for salvation. Both groups agree that these two views cannot both be right because they contradict each other. Either there is one requirement for salvation or there are two requirements, we can't have it both ways.

To make this point a different way, consider the following illustration. A young girl wants to join the book club at her local library, and the advertisement says that whoever brings a book donation is allowed to join the book club. When her father takes her to the library, he is told that whoever brings a book donation and pays a $25 entrance fee will be allowed to join the book club. The father says, "Wait a minute, you have changed the requirements from what your advertisement says."

Notice that the father was given two different sets of entrance requirements, and they can't both be right because they contradict each other. Either there is one requirement (a book donation) or there are two requirements (a book donation plus an entrance fee), we can't have it both ways.

With that in mind, take a look at two statements that Peter made:
"Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord" (Acts 3:19)

"Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins." (Acts 2:38a)
As we saw in Part One, "proper faith" involves repenting and turning to Jesus, because it's impossible to turn to Jesus as our Savior without repenting (i.e. without changing our mind). Since turning to God involves repentance, these are two parts of the same action in Acts 3:19 (above).

So if we claim that baptism is necessary for salvation then once again we have two different sets of requirements which can't both be right because they contradict each other, just like in the examples above. Either there is one requirement (repent and turn to God) or there are two requirements (repent and turn to God plus be baptized), we can't have it both ways.

We saw in Part One that the only way that Peter's statements (above) harmonize with each other and with all of Scripture is if baptism is not necessary for salvation. We also saw in Part Two that "forgiveness of sins" refers to salvation. Notice that if faith is the only requirement for salvation then whoever has proper faith will be saved (Acts 3:19, above), and whoever has proper faith and is baptized will be saved (Acts 2:38a, above). This is explained in more detail below.

The faith-plus-baptism view creates a contradiction in Scripture, and therefore it is the wrong view. The faith-alone view is the right view because it perfectly harmonizes all of the New Testament passages on baptism and salvation.


2. Acts 2:38a - The Problem of the Logical Fallacy

Here is Acts 2:38a again:
"Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins."" (Acts 2:38a)
Based on this verse, the faith-plus-baptism view assumes the following:
Whoever repents and is not baptized will not be saved.
However, this assumption is based on a logical fallacy. In other words, this assumption contains an error in logic. To see why, first look closely at these statements and notice that these statements are all true:
  • Whoever breathes and has a pulse is alive.
  • Whoever breathes and is baptized is alive.
  • Whoever repents and is baptized will be saved. (Acts 2:38a)
These statements are all true, but watch what happens when we use the above assumption:
  • Whoever breathes and does not have a pulse is not alive.
  • Whoever breathes and is not baptized is not alive.
  • Whoever repents and is not baptized will not be saved.
It's easy to see that this is a false way to form a negative statement.

For more on common logical fallacies, see:
So when people use Acts 2:38a as evidence that baptism is necessary for salvation, they are making a wrong assumption based on a logical fallacy (i.e. a false negative).


3. Acts 2:38a - The Problem of the Greek Word eis

The Greek word eis is often translated as "for," as in these examples:
"I baptize you with water for [eis] repentance." (Matthew 3:11a)

"This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for [eis] the forgiveness of sins." (Matthew 26:28)

"Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for [eis] the forgiveness of your sins."" (Acts 2:38a)
In Matthew 3:11a (above), the Greek word eis essentially means "on account of." People were baptized on account of the fact that they had already repented. In Matthew 26:28 (above), the Greek word eis essentially means "causing." Jesus poured out His blood in order to cause (or enable) people's sins to be forgiven. But which of these meanings applies to eis in Acts 2:38a (above)?

Bible commentaries point out that throughout the New Testament, eis is most often used in the "causing" sense. Therefore, when we encounter eis in a verse (such as Acts 2:38a), there's a good chance that it's being used in the "causing" sense. However, notice that Matthew 3:11a (above) is not using eis in the "causing" sense. So we can't automatically assume that eis is being used in the "causing" sense in a particular verse (such as Acts 2:38a).

Now, consider the following statement:
The famous cat burglar was wanted for a robbery.
What does this statement mean? The answer is that there is no way for us to know what it means unless we are given some context. If we're told that the cat burglar is wanted by the police, then he is probably wanted on account of the fact that he had already committed a robbery. But if we're told that the cat burglar is wanted by a collector of stolen artwork, then he is probably wanted in order to cause (i.e. commit) a robbery.

Therefore, it's the context which enables us to determine the proper meaning of the word "for."

In Matthew 3:11a (above), how do we know that the word "for" (eis) essentially means "on account of"? Because in the context of the entire New Testament there is no such thing as water baptism "causing" people to repent, but instead the New Testament shows people being baptized after they had repented (see Part Two). So they were baptized "on account of" their repentance.

In Matthew 26:28 (above), how do we know that the word "for" (eis) essentially means "causing"? Because in the context of the entire New Testament, the forgiveness of sins is "caused" (enabled) by the shedding of Jesus' blood (e.g. Ephesians 1:7, Hebrews 9:22).

In Acts 2:38a (above), how do we know what the word "for" (eis) means? Again, we can only determine the proper meaning by examining the context of the entire New Testament concerning baptism and salvation. As we have seen throughout this series, the context of the entire New Testament shows that "proper faith" is the only requirement for salvation. Therefore, if Peter's intended meaning was, "be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins," then we must interpret this as, "be baptized on account of the fact that you have already received the forgiveness of your sins" (which is the same meaning as in Matthew 3:11a, above). Or if Peter's intended meaning was, "Repent for the forgiveness of your sins," then we must interpret this as, "Repent in order to cause the forgiveness of your sins" (which is the same meaning as in Matthew 26:28, above).

The point here is that our interpretation of the word "for" (eis) in Acts 2:38a must be driven by the context of the entire New Testament, not by our own preconceived views concerning baptism. Therefore, the Greek word eis ("for") in Acts 2:38a cannot be used to prove anything about baptism.


4. Acts 2:38a - The Problem of the Singulars and Plurals

Here's a puzzle for you. It shouldn't be too difficult...take a moment and see if you can solve it. All you need to do is put parentheses in the appropriate places in the following sentence:
Two girls and one is my daughter were lifting their voices in song.
To solve the puzzle, it's clear that the various parts of the sentence simply need to be grouped according to their number (i.e. singular versus plural):
Two girls (and one is my daughter) were lifting their voices in song.
It's easy to indicate that a phrase should be in parentheses, simply by using singular and plural terms. This is because the rules of grammar tell us that singular terms need to be associated with singular terms, and plural terms need to be associated with plural terms. For example, intuitively we know that something is wrong when we mix singular terms with plural terms:
Two girls (and one is my daughter) was lifting her voices in song.
We can see that it's important for singular and plural terms to correspond properly, otherwise the sentence makes no sense.

In the following statements, notice that the terms in red italics are singular, and the terms underlined in blue are plural:

  1. The women repented (and each woman was baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of her sins).
  2. The women repented (and each woman was baptized in the name of Jesus Christ) for the forgiveness of their sins.
In statement #1, "each woman was baptized" [singular] corresponds with "for the forgiveness of her [singular] sins." Therefore, baptism is associated with forgiveness in statement #1, which fits with the faith-plus-baptism view.

In statement #2, "The women repented" [plural] corresponds with "for the forgiveness of their [plural] sins." Therefore, repentance is associated with forgiveness in statement #2, which fits with the faith-alone view.

So if the singular and plural terms in Acts 2:38a match the singular and plural terms in statement #1, then Acts 2:38a fits with the faith-plus-baptism view. If the singular and plural terms in Acts 2:38a match the singular and plural terms in statement #2, then Acts 2:38a fits with the faith-alone view.

In the ancient Greek manuscripts which contain the word "your" in Acts 2:38a, it's in the plural. Therefore, this is how Acts 2:38a looks in the Greek:
"Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins."
According to the rules of proper grammar, here are the correct places to put the parentheses around the singular terms:
"Repent (and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ) for the forgiveness of your sins."
It's clear that the singular and plural terms in Acts 2:38a in the Greek match the singular and plural terms in statement #2 (above). Therefore, Acts 2:38a supports the faith-alone view of salvation, not the faith-plus-baptism view.

In the ancient Greek manuscripts which don't contain the word "your" in Acts 2:38a, the verse looks like this:
"Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins." (KJV)
According to the rules of proper grammar, there are two possible ways to put parentheses around the singular terms in this verse. Here's one way:
"Repent (and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins)."
If we place the parentheses in this way, then Acts 2:38a is similar to statement #1 (above). This appears to support the faith-plus-baptism view, but there's a problem here. Baptism is a parenthetical comment in this verse (because of the change from plural to singular), but the remission of sins is not intended to be a parenthetical comment because it was Peter's main point in this verse! Therefore, "for the remission of sins" belongs outside of the parentheses.

The only other way to place parentheses around the singular terms is like this:
"Repent (and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ) for the remission of sins."
The remission of sins now has a main emphasis, as it should. So once again we can see that Acts 2:38a supports the faith-alone view of salvation, not the faith-plus-baptism view.

Here are some things that Bible scholars say about the singular and plural terms in Acts 2:38a:
"And be baptized every one of you (kai baptisqhtw ekastoß –mwn). Rather, "And let each one of you be baptized." Change of number from plural to singular and of person from second to third. This change marks a break in the thought here that the English translation does not preserve." (Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament Offsite Link)

"An example of the importance of various aspects of syntax is seen in Acts 2:38, a verse that is interpreted in various ways, and which may seem to suggest that water baptism is required for salvation. An important observation, which can be seen only in Greek, is that the verb repent is in the plural, as is the word your which precedes the word sins. Interestingly, however, the words baptized and the first occurrence of you in the verse are in the singular. This seems to suggest that the words "and be baptized, every one of you [sing.], in the name of Jesus Christ," should be set apart as a parenthetical statement. The main thought then is, "Repent [pl.] so that your [pl.] sins may be forgiven." This is a command that corresponds with many similar commands in the New Testament. Then the instruction to be baptized is directed to individuals, suggesting that any individual who does repent should then submit to water baptism. Seen in this way, the verse then does not conflict with other passages of Scripture." (Basic Bible Interpretation, Roy B. Zuck, p.120-121)

"The verb "repent" is plural and so is the pronoun "your" in the clause so that your sins may be forgiven (lit., "unto the remission of your sins," eis aphesin ton hamartion hymon). Therefore the verb "repent" must go with the purpose of forgiveness of sins. On the other hand the imperative "be baptized" is singular, setting it off from the rest of the sentence." (The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Stanley D. Toussaint, Dallas Theological Seminary, p.359)

Summary of Acts 2:38a

What it boils down to is that the faith-plus-baptism interpretation of Acts 2:38a creates a contradiction in Scripture, and it makes a wrong assumption based on a logical fallacy, and it misses the fact that the Greek word eis ("for") cannot be used to prove anything about baptism, and it misses the fact that the singular and plural terms in the Greek support the faith-alone view of salvation, not the faith-plus-baptism view.


Conclusion

Mark 16:16a and Acts 2:38a are sometimes considered to be the strongest proof of the faith-plus-baptism view. However, we saw that the faith-plus-baptism interpretation of these two verses causes a contradiction with dozens of New Testament passages. Therefore, the faith-plus-baptism view is not the correct view of salvation.

We also saw that the faith-plus-baptism view makes a wrong assumption in these two verses based on a logical fallacy (a false negative).

Another problem we saw is that Mark 16:16a supports both the faith-plus-baptism view and the faith-alone view. Therefore, it cannot be used to show that either view is right.

We also saw that when a statement contains two or more elements, we don't have enough information in that statement to determine if any of those elements are requirements. For this reason, Mark 16:16a does not prove that baptism is a requirement for salvation.

When we looked at the Greek word eis ("for") in Acts 2:38a, we saw that our interpretation of this word must be driven by the context of the entire New Testament, not by our own preconceived views concerning baptism. Therefore, this word does not prove anything about baptism.

Finally, we saw that because of the singular and plural terms in Acts 2:38a, this verse supports the faith-alone view, not the faith-plus-baptism view.


All for Your glory, Lord Jesus!


Part One    Part Two    Part Three    Part Four    Part Five    Part Six
 
 
 
  Modification History  
 
 

  • 11/04/2008 - Re-wrote this article again, adding sub-headings and new illustrations. Renamed this article from "Part Two" to "Part Three."
  • 12/26/2005 - Re-wrote most of the article in order to simplify the explanations and illustrations, and enhanced the Conclusion section.
  • 07/31/2003 - Modified some of the wording.
  • 03/20/2003 - Modified some of the wording.
  • 02/08/2003 - New article.