Nowhere Does the Bible Teach that Water Baptism Saves

Questions for those who believe water baptism saves

Many passages are often used by those who say water baptism saves, that is, water baptism either regenerates, justifies, or both.  Here we address those passages, and demonstrate that not a single passage in the Bible teaches salvation by water baptism.

Latest update: Another insight on Mark 16:16 in point #6 of
III: Mark 16:16

I. Acts 2:38

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 will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’” ( Acts 2:38 )

Those who believe this text teaches water baptism saves insist “for” here means “in order to,” or “in order to obtain” (Bob L. Ross, Campbellism: Its History and Heresies, page 86).

Why insist that “for” here means that? The word “for” can assume different meanings. In English, when we say someone is arrested for murder, do we mean they are arrested in order to obtain murder? No—they are arrested because of murder! When we laugh for joy, do we laugh in order to obtain joy? No!—we laugh because of joy!

Indeed, Dana and Mantey in “A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament” (p. 103-104) hold that “for the forgiveness of your sins” in Acts 2 should be understood as “because of the forgiveness of your sins.” (Robert L. Reymond, Systematic Theology, 952)

Also, consider the leper in Luke 5:

And he put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will: be thou clean. And immediately the leprosy departed from him. And he charged him to tell no man: but go, and shew thyself to the priest, and offer for thy cleansing, according as Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them.” (Luke 5:13, 14, KJV).

On this passage, Ross writes,

1. He [the leper] was healed before he offered a sacrifice.

2. The offering was “for thy cleansing;” not to obtain it, but a formal declaration in ceremony that it was already enjoyed.

3. The offering was “for a testimony.” So is every formal ordinance, for they have no power to do anything else. … They [formal ordinances] show forth whatever it is that they are ordained to refer to.

“Baptism is just such an ordinance and ceremony, showing forth that it is in the death of Christ that we have the actual, literal remission of sins. Baptism is “for the remission of sins” only in the sense of a “testimony” referring to the death of Christ, just as the leper’s offering was “for thy cleansing” in the sense of a testimony (Ross, 87).”

Moreover, we must consider the following parallel passage to Acts 2:38:

I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Matt. 3:11)

Compare this with Acts 2:38:

And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized … for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’” ( Acts 2:38 )

It would be absurd to argue that Matt. 3:11 means “I baptize you with water in order to obtain repentance.” This would mean that water baptism causes repentance! And yet, if one insists the language of Acts 2:38 demands an interpretation that reads “be baptized in order to obtain the forgiveness of your sins,” logical consistency would demand that person to believe the language of Matt. 3:11 also demands an interpretation that reads, “I baptize you with water in order to obtain repentance.”

Those who believe water baptism saves have no parallel passage about water baptism that line up with their interpretation of Acts 2—but, as we see, we do have a parallel passage that goes against their interpretation of Acts 2.

There is another explanation of Acts 2.

It is also possible to take the clause “and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” as parenthetical. Support for that interpretation comes from that fact that “repent” and “your” are plural, while “be baptized” is singular, thus setting it off from the rest of the sentence. If that interpretation is correct, the verse would read “Repent (and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ) for the forgiveness of your sins.” Forgiveness is thus connected with repentance, not baptism, in keeping with the consistent teaching of the New Testament (cf. Luke 24:47; John 3:18; Acts 5:31; 10:43; 13:38; 26:18; Ephesians 5:26). (John MacArthur, “Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation?” )

Robert Reymond further elaborates on this interpretation of Acts 2:

If baptism were essential to salvation or to the reception of forgiveness and the gift of the Holy Spirit, omission of all reference to it in these contexts on the part of Jesus and Peter respectively [Luke 24:47, Acts 3:19] would be exceedingly strange if not totally irresponsible (see also Paul’s statement in 1 Cor. 1:17, and his insistence upon the need only for heart circumcision, baptism’s Old Testament spiritual counterpart, in Rom. 2:26-29). (Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, page 951)

Whatever the interpretation, the interpretation that says water baptism saves cannot stand in light of the full counsel of God. And, all we need to do is go to the very next chapter to prove the water baptism salvation interpretation wrong:

Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus,” (Acts 3:19, 20).

Salvation here is through repentance and faith, not water baptism.

And then we move on to Acts 10:44-48; 11:15-18, where Gentiles are clearly saved prior to water baptism. Note that they were baptized in water after receiving the Holy Spirit:

“While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.” ( Acts 10:44-48 )

Those who believe water baptism saves often pose imaginative, question-begging arguments to get around the ramifications of this example. For instance, they might use Peter’s linkage of this event with Pentecost (Acts 11:16) to say that this was the exception, not the rule.

But this linkage with Pentecost—coupled with the linkage between belief and Spirit baptism on the part of the Gentiles in the text—actually proves that this example was actually the rule.

That this example is normative of New Covenant conversions is evidenced in John 7:

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” (John 7:37-39)

Note how this passage looks forward to the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost: “Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”

And so this, like Acts 11, links the outpouring of the Spirit with Pentecost. Does this mean then that the Holy Spirit baptism Jesus mentions here is unique to one or two historical events ? No, because it doesn’t stop at Pentecost or Acts 10 and 11; it applies to all New Covenant believers. Note how prior to the sentence just quoted by Jesus, Jesus said:

“If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'” (Compare this passage with Jn. 4:14; Isaiah 58:11, Zechariah 14:8, Ezekiel 47:9, Isa. 33:21; 55:1; Joel 3:18.) (Note that Jesus does not mention water baptism.)

Note the connection between belief and Holy Spirit baptism of all New Covenant believers. And so as far as salvation in the New Covenant era is concerned, Acts 10 and 11 is not unique, but a normative example. Belief, Holy Spirit baptism, and salvation are linked; water baptism plays no role in salvation.

Finally, we turn to a major inconsistency on the part of some who believe water baptism saves. Those of the Stone Campbell movement, for example, insist Acts 2:38 means one must baptized in water in order to receive forgiveness of sins since Acts 2:38 reads:

“Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins …”

And yet, compare this with Matthew 26:28:

for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

Now, the Stone Campbell movement believes that this passage in Matthew is speaking symbolically of the forgiveness of sins. While they are absolutely right in this, considering the sentence structure of both passages (both say “for” the forgiveness of sins), their dogmatic interpretation that Acts 2:38 teaches literal forgiveness of sins is logically inconsistent with their interpretation that Matthew 26:28 is symbolic of forgiveness of sins; if Acts 2:38 must teach literal forgiveness of sins, then so must Matthew 26:38.

This would also be a inconsistent view of religious rites: If one saves, shouldn’t they all (circumcision, animal sacrifices, etc.)? On the other hand, if one religious rite doesn’t save but is symbolic, then shouldn’t they all be symbolic? Here is where the Catholic Church is consistent: they believe both New Covenant-era religious rites (water baptism, Lord’s Supper) effect forgiveness of sins (although the Catholic Church is wrong to hold this; Christ alone saves, not water baptism or the Lord’s Supper).

These inconsistencies on the part of members of the Stone Campbell movement don’t only challenge their “water baptism salvation” interpretation of Acts 2, but every passage they use to say water baptism saves.

John Ankerberg argues from the sentence structure of Acts 2:38 that forgiveness of sins  is linked with repentance, not water baptism.

II. Acts 22:16

“And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.” (Acts 22:16)

“In Acts 22:16, Paul recounts the words of Ananias to him following his experience on the Damascus road: “Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.” It is best to connect the phrase “wash away your sins” with “calling on His name.” If we connect it with “be baptized,” the Greek participle epikalesamenos (“calling”) would have no antecedent. Paul’s sins were washed away not by baptism, but by calling on His name.” (John MacArthur)

In other words,

“I would urge that the participial phrase “calling on his name,” modifies the person designated in the second imperative, “wash away,” as the nearest antecedent. This means that the instrumental cause of Paul’s spiritual ‘washing’ was not his baptism per se but his “calling upon the name” of Jesus that accompanied his baptism, which ordinance was in turn the visible sign of his spiritual “washing.” (Reymond, Systematic Theology, p. 952)

Indeed, in other Scriptures the Bible connects calling upon the Lord’s name for salvation without any reference to water baptism:

“And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Acts 2:21; see also Joel 2:32)

“But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Rom. 10:8-13)

Forward this clip to the 2:36 mark.  Those who argue that Acts 2:38 teaches that water baptism saves cannot make sense of Acts 10, as this video debate demonstrates.

III. Mark 16:16

Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:16)

1. First we should point out that the authenticity of this passage is in dispute. I don’t recall ever being told this when I once attended churches that used this text to “prove” salvation by water baptism.  The “Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible” observes,

“The earliest manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20” (Richard L. Pratt, Jr., ed., p. 1638).

Similarly on this passage, Dr. Robert L. Reymond, in “A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith,” writes,

“It must be noted that this verse appears in the so-called longer ending of the Gospel (16:9-20), which is supported by the Textus Receptus and some other late witnesses but not by the most reliable early manuscripts. It is also called into question by Eusebius and Jerome. Its text-critical precariousness, therefore, makes the verse shaky ground for the advocacy of any form of baptismal salvation” (pp. 950, 951). For a further explanation, Reymond recommends “A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament” by Bruce M. Metzger (New York: United Bible Societies, 1971), pages 122-126.

2. Now, even if Mark 16:16 is inspired text, it does not teach salvation by water baptism. But before proceeding any further on this, we must note that most who say Mark 16:16 teaches salvation by water baptism don’t believe what this text says, since most who hold to salvation by water baptism believe one can lose his salvation. But Mark 16:16 says, Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved”—not “might be saved, depending if one does not fall away before death.”

Therefore, if someone insists Mark 16:16 teaches salvation by water baptism, but then ignores will be saved,” this person from the outset loses all credibility regarding the interpretation of the text.

3. Moreover, to insist that Mk. 16:16 teaches water baptism salvation is to impose a water baptismal salvation  bias onto the text. Nowhere does the passage say that those who believe but are not baptized will be condemned. It only explicitly touches on those who believe and are baptized, and those who do not believe. It is silent on the destiny of believers who are not water baptized.

One could just as well argue that Mk. 16:16 teaches faith only is essential for salvation, since the text does not say “whoever does not believe and is not baptized will be condemned”—it only says “whoever does not believe will be condemned,” with water baptism conspicuously absent. So at best, one who uses this text to say one must be water baptized in order to be saved is committing the logical fallacy of begging the question; he assumes what he has not proven. He is reading his preconceived theology into the text, and arguing from silence. This says more about the person than it does about the text.

4. It’s possible the second phrase, “but whoever does not believe will be condemned,” is meant to qualify the first phrase Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved,” so that the reader understands that belief alone—not water baptism—is associated with salvation.

5. Moreover, Mark 16:16 can actually be understood to teach the opposite of what baptismal regenerationists hold. Instead of saying water baptism saves, it could be understood as saying that water baptism does not save. Charles Spurgeon, who battled the doctrine of baptismal regeneration in his day, said in an 1864 sermon:

We will confront this dogma with the assertion, that BAPTISM WITHOUT FAITH SAVES NO ONE. The text says, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved;” but whether a man be baptized or no, it asserts that “he that believeth not shall be damned:” so that baptism does not save the unbeliever, nay, it does not in any degree exempt him from the common doom of all the ungodly.

He may have baptism, or he may not have baptism, but if he believeth not, he shall be in any case most surely damned. Let him be baptized by immersion or sprinkling, in his infancy, or in his adult age, if he be not led to put his trust in Jesus Christ—if he remaineth an unbeliever, then this terrible doom is pronounced upon him—”He that believeth not shall be damned.”

6. We can actually go to the immediate context to demonstrate conclusively that Mark 16:16 cannot be saying that water baptism saves.  The next two verses read:

And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.” (Mark 16:17, 18)

Notice that the text says those who believe manifest certain signs, such as tongues and healing the sick.  These are signs that accompany Holy Spirit baptism.  (Whether anyone today baptized by the Holy Spirit can do such things is besides the point.)

The text does not say those who believe and are baptized (in water) manifest these  signs that accompany Holy Spirit baptism.  The implication then is that believers in general are baptized with the Holy Spirit, not just believers who receive water baptism.

This renders a salvation by water baptism interpretation of Mark 16:16 impossible.Those who believe water baptism saves deny that one is transformed by the Holy Spirit in any way until after water baptism.  For them, it would be impossible for believers who are not baptized in water to manifest signs of Holy Spirit baptism.

Thus verses 17 and 18 make clear that Mark 16:16—if the baptism mentioned in Mark 16:16 even refers to water baptism instead of Holy Spirit baptism—does not intend to say water baptism saves.

7. And even if verses 17 and 18 are ignored, the full counsel of God refutes the interpretation of  Mark 16:16 that water baptism saves.  We argued in point 3 that at best, the baptismal regenerationalist can only argue from silence regarding Mark 16:16.

But the rule of biblical interpretation says that Scripture interprets Scripture. God—not man—is the best interpreter of his Word. So instead of speculating on areas that an immediate context is silent on, we must be Bereans and see what God’s word says elsewhere.

The way that we would determine whether someone who believes and is not water baptized is saved is by seeing what other passages say. And the answer to whether someone who believes and is not baptized is saved is an overwhelming, “yes”:

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”(John 5:24).

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him.” (1 John 5:1)

“and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith.” (Acts 15:9)

“For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” (Romans 1:17)

“whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.” (Romans 3:25)

See also, for example,

John 1:12-13; John 3:15; John 3:16; John 3:18; John 3:36; John 6:35; John 6:40; John 6:47; John 7:38-39; John 11:25-26; John 20:31; Acts 10:43; Acts 13:38-39; Acts 16:31; Romans 1:16; Romans 3:22-30; Romans 5:1; Romans 10:9; Romans 10:11; Galatians 2:16; Galatians 2:20; Galatians 3:2-9; Galatians 3:14; Galatians 3:24; Galatians 3:26; Ephesians 2:8-9; 2 Thessalonians 2:12; 1 Timothy 4:10; 2 Timothy 3:15; 1 John 5:9-13

8. And, let’s line up Mark 16:16 with two strongly parallel passages:

Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16)

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” (John 3:36)

Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (John 3:18)

A. First, let’s note that water baptism is conspicuously absent from these texts. Thus it is clear that, for whatever reason water baptism is mentioned in Mark 16:16, it is not there to say water baptism saves.

B. Regarding the first clause of Mark 16:16: Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved,” we might ask, “what about whoever believes and is not baptized? Will he be saved?” The answer is in the first clause of John 3:36: Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.”

C. Or, regarding the second clause of Mark 16:16: “but whoever does not believe will be condemned,” we might similarly ask, “what about whoever believes and is not baptized? Will he be condemned?” The answer is in the first clause of John 3:18: Whoever believes in him is not condemned.”

D. In harmony with these parallel passages not teaching that water baptism saves is Luke 24:45-47. This passage parallels Mark 16:16 in that each are Great Commission passages. It reads:

Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.’” (Luke 24:45-47)

Note that Luke’s Gospel teaches repentance and forgiveness of sins, not water baptism and forgiveness of sins. This would contradict Mark’s Gospel if Mark’s Gospel did teach salvation by water baptism. And so over and over again, the principle that Scripture is interpreted in light of the full counsel of God rules out a water baptismal salvation view of Mark 16:16.

9. In light of this mountain of evidence, the Bible clearly rules out the water baptismal salvation interpretation of Mark 16:16. So then why is baptism mentioned here at all? Let me propose three possibilities:

A. To show that water baptism does not save (in light of points #4 and 5 above).
B. To stress water baptism as one of a Christian’s first acts of obedience (unless that Christian was baptized as an infant, a topic for another time).
C. To show water baptism is, generally speaking, evidence of saving faith. Bob L. Ross writes,

Why is baptism here mentioned in connection with faith? Evidently it is to be considered as an evidence of one’s faith; that is, the believer goes on to show his faith in good works. The faith that does not work is a false faith, a dead faith (James 2:24). True faith, faith that is the gift of God (Eph. 2:8, 9), works by love (Gal. 5:6). Works are the fruit of true faith in Christ as Saviour. Hence the believer will declare his faith in water baptism, as well as in other good works. (Ross, Campbellism, p. 96).

On Ross’ point, we must be clear that we are not saying that every Christian has been water baptized; there may be some genuine Christians who for one reason or another have not been water baptized. But, true Christians who are made aware of their duty to be water baptized will unlikely reject such a command.

10. Thus, Mk. 16:16 does not teach “whoever does not believe and is not baptized will be condemned.” And to insist that it does is not a biblical teaching, but a Mormon teaching. The Book of Mormon reads, “And whoso believeth not in me, and is not baptized, shall be damned” (3 Nephi chapter 11, verse 34).

Dr. Alan Cairns discusses the meaning of the word “for” in Acts 2:38

IV. Romans 6:3, 4; Galatians 3:27; and Colossians 2:11-14

1. Many hold that Colossians 2:11-14, Romans 6:3, 4, and Galatians 3:27 teach that water baptism saves. At the very outset, we must note that on the face of it, not one of these passages specify or necessarily imply water baptism. Therefore, those who insist that these teach water baptism commit the logical fallacy of begging the question (assuming what one has yet to prove).

“Baptism” can assume many meanings, and the only way to determine its meaning is via the context. So for the context to teach “water” baptism, the Scriptures must explicitly say so (for example, “John baptized with water,” Acts 1:5b, cf. Acts 10:47), or must be necessarily implied (“be baptized every one of you,” Acts 2:38b; this is obviously necessarily implied since man can only cause himself to be baptized in water, not in, for example, the Holy Spirit, a work only God can do). In short, “water baptism” passages show that baptism is a work performed by man, either by the baptizer (“John baptized”), or the one being baptized (“be baptized”).

None of these conditions fits the passages at hand. Consider their context:

A. Colossians 2:11-14 mentions “buried with him [Christ] in baptism”

B. Romans 6:3, 4 mentions “baptized into Christ Jesus,” “baptized into his death,” and “buried therefore with him by baptism into death.”

C. Galatians 3:27 mentions “baptized into Christ.”

In all of these, the object of the baptism is not physical water, but Christ and Christ’s death. From this alone there is no reason to assume that these passages teach water baptism, but every reason to assume these speak of an internal, spiritual reality.

2. We now explore these passages in light of Romans 2:

For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.” (Romans 2:28, 29)

According to this passage, “circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit.” Being a Jew is inwardly,” and therefore true circumcision is not caused by something “outward and physical,” which excludes water baptism.

Thus the circumcision of spiritual and saving significance—the circumcision that counts—is the circumcision by the Holy Spirit. With this in mind, let us move to Colossians 2:11-12a, which says,

In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in
baptism …”

The context clearly speaks of a circumcision that saves. A few words later the passage goes on to say, “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses …” (Col. 2:13).

So, this passage speaks of the same circumcision as Romans 2:28, 29—the circumcision that counts.  Remember, Romans 2 says that this circumcision is by the Holy Spirit.  And so, the circumcision spoken of in Colossians 2, called “the circumcision of Christ,” must also be by the Holy Spirit.   Thus, when Colossians 2 links “the circumcision of Christ” with being “buried with him [Christ] in baptism,” it speaks of the baptism of the Holy Spirit—not water baptism.

Moreover, Colossians 2, like Romans 2,  directly rules out water baptism. It does not discuss something physical, but “a circumcision made without hands”—just as Romans 2 says, “nor is circumcision outward and physical.”

Since Colossians 2 speaks of baptism of the Holy Spirit, so do Romans 6 and Galatians 3. Note how they are all parallel passages:

A. Colossians 2 mentions “buried with him [Christ] in baptism”; Romans 6 similarly mentions “buried therefore with him by baptism into death.”

B. Romans 6 mentions “baptized into Christ Jesus”; Galatians 3 mentions “baptized into Christ.”

3. We must also note that Colossians 2:11, 12 speaks of a circumcision done by Christ, a circumcision the text equates with baptism. And so the circumcision done by Christ is also a baptism done by Christ.

Now we must ask ourselves what kind of baptism does Christ perform—water or Spirit baptism? In Mark 1:8, John the Baptist contrasts the water baptism he administers with the Holy Spirit baptism that Christ administers:  “I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (And in fact, John 4:2 says of Jesus during Jesus’ earthly ministry: (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), …”

Thus, given that water baptisms are done by man (see also Acts 8:38, 10:47; 1 Corinthians 1:14), and that the Holy Spirit baptism is done by Christ, Colossians 2:11, 12 must refer to Holy Spirit baptism.

4. Compare the Colossians, Romans, and Galatians passages with
1 Corinthians 12:13.

Jay E. Adams writes,

“1 Corinthians 12 teaches that Holy Spirit baptism places Christians into the body of Christ. The baptism is not into water, but into the body of Christ. This is in perfect agreement with Romans 6:3” (Adams, The Meaning and Mode of Baptism, p. 35).

Let us line up Romans 6:3 and 1 Corinthians 12:13 side-by side:

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Romans 6:3)

“For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:13)

On these two passages, Adams writes, “In both cases Christ is the object” (Adams, The Meaning and Mode of Baptism, p. 35).

Thus, even though the baptism in Romans 6:3 isn’t specified as Holy Spirit baptism, Rom. 6:3 does parallel 1 Cor. 12 because it mentions Christ as the object of baptism.  And, since 1 Cor. 12 does mention Holy Spirit baptism, we can reasonably conclude the baptism mentioned in Romans 6:3 is Holy Spirit baptism, since, again, the two passages are parallel passages.

Consequently, the baptism mentioned in Colossians 2:11-14 and
Galatians 3:27 is also Spirit baptism instead of water baptism, since these passages parallel Romans 6:3.

5. Let’s also consider Galatians 3:26, 27:

for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”

On this Robert Reymond writes,

“I believe that Paul has in mind by his statement here Christ’s baptismal work of baptizing the elect by his Spirit (for surely not all who have been baptized by water have actually “put on Christ”), by which work they are brought into union with him through faith, their union with him being described here metaphorically as their having “put on Christ” in the sense that one would enrobe oneself in a garment.”

Moreover, an ongoing theme in Galatians is Paul’s opposition to heretics teaching a “different gospel” (Gal. 1:6) who denied that salvation is received solely by faith in Jesus Christ (Gal. 2:15-16), which is to deny “the truth of the gospel” (2:5, 14). Those who deny this truth cannot expect to be saved (Gal. 1:8; 5:4) (Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible, page 1890). The heretics taught one had to be circumcised in order to be saved (2:3-5; 5:2, 6, 11; 6:12-13, 15).

Thus it would be absurd for Paul in Galatians 3:27 to teach water baptism saves when he goes to such pains to teach 1) that salvation is received by faith alone, and that 2) one teaches a damnable false gospel when one  teaches circumcision or any other works save.

Moreover, to insist on a baptismal regeneration or justification interpretation of Gal. 3:27 would contradict the very sentence before it, which reads: for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith” (Gal. 3:26).

Also, when baptismal regenerationists say Gal. 3:27 speaks of water baptism, which they say in turn results in receiving the Spirit, they contradict several instances in that very same chapter that connect receiving the Spirit with faith (Gal. 3:2, 5, 14).

Finally, note the New American Standard Bible’s (NASB) rendering of Galatians 3:27:

For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”

Note how the NASB also mentions “clothed” in Luke 24:49:

And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

This verse points to Pentecost (cf. Acts 1:4, 5); being clothed with power obviously refers to the baptism with the Holy Spirit that would inaugurate at Pentecost. So we have in Luke 24:49 a Scriptural precedent where the word “clothed” clearly refers not to water baptism, but to Holy Spirit baptism.

In light of this, why shouldn’t the word “clothed” in Galatians 3:27 be understood as Holy Spirit baptism as well? Hence the baptismal regenerationist has a hard time insisting Gal. 3:27 must mean water baptism when Luke 24:49 does not.

And, as with our other points, since Galatians 3:26, 27 refers to Holy Spirit baptism, so too does its parallel passages, Romans 6:3, 4, and
Colossians 2: 11-14.

V. John 3:5 and Titus 3:5

Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.’” (John 3:5)

he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,” (Titus 3:5)

1. Right off the bat, we most note that neither of these passages mention baptism in connection with “water” (in John 3:5) or “washing” (in Titus 3:5). Thus right away we must question the insistence of baptismal regenerationists that these texts are even about water baptism.

To insist that “water,” “washing,” and any related words must refer to physical water is arbitrary and absurd. Can we honestly say that the following texts refer to physical water?:

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.”
(1 Corinthians 3:6)

“These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved.”
(2 Peter 2:17)

“and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith.” (Acts 15:9)

“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (James 4:8)

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7)

Regarding John 3:5 in particular, when one insists “water” self-evidently must refer to physical water, one faces a serious problem in the very next chapter:

“but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:14)

Also consider another nearby chapter:

“On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”’” (John 7:37-38)

Now, to consistently maintain his argument that the word “water” self-evidently refers to physical water, will one who holds to baptismal regeneration really argue that Jesus is saying salvation depends on drinking physical water, which will literally become a physical spring within one’s insides “welling up to eternal life,” or will literally become physical rivers flowing from one’s heart?

No, to avoid appearing foolish a baptismal regenerationist must equivocate and say, “well, the meaning of water must depend on the context.” Once he does this, he surrenders any hope that the context of John 3:5 demands a baptismal regeneration reading.

2. Let us focus specifically on Titus 3:5. Again, it reads:

he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,” (Titus 3:5)

Again, the only hope for a baptismal regenerationist reading is that “washing” refers to physical water—but nothing in the context demands this to be the case. Now here are two reasons within the text itself why a baptismal regeneration reading is impossible:

A. It says, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness ….”

The Bible considers water baptism a work, since:

(1) Romans 4:1-12 considers circumcision a work. If circumcision is a work, so is water baptism, since both are external marks of the church, with water baptism replacing circumcision in the New Covenant era.

(2) Consider also Matt. 3:14, 15:

John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he consented.”

Jesus considered His water baptism as part of fulfilling all righteousness. Is not fulfilling all righteousness works? Compare “fulfill all righteousness” with he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness,” in
Titus 3:5.

Thus, Titus 3:5 denies water baptism’s role in salvation even before the verse gets to “the washing of regeneration.”

B. Now, as far as “the washing of regeneration” is concerned, consider the following from Gordon Clark:

“if [water] baptism caused, or was, regeneration, the phrase would have been ‘the regeneration of washing.’ The actual phrase ‘the washing of regeneration’ indicates that regeneration washes, not that washing regenerates.” (Gordon Clark, Commentary on Titus, )

In short, Titus 3:5 does not teach that external washing (from water baptism) causes regeneration, but that regeneration causes an internal washing: One is saved by “the [spiritual] washing of regeneration”—not by “the regeneration of washing [by water baptism].”  Gordon Clark writes, “The washing effected by regeneration is the renewal, that is, the renewing the Spirit does to us” (Ibid.).

3. Now we move on to John 3:5, which reads:

“Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.’”

We have already demonstrated the absurdity of insisting this passage must speak of water baptism simply because it mentions “water.” We only need to go to the very next chapter (John 4:14) to show this.

There are several proposed interpretations of this text, and since the Bible uses the word “water” with more than one meaning, we have already cast in doubt the interpretation that says water baptism saves.

Moreover, it should be enough that from front to back the Bible teaches salvation by grace through faith and not by works (cf. Romans 4:1-12 and Ephesians 2:8, 9), so unless we want to say the Bible contradicts itself, we must rule out immediately any salvation by water baptism interpretation.

But beyond this, all we need to do is examine the surrounding context of John 3:5 to rule out such an interpretation.

A. Just three verses after John 3:5, we read:

“The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (Jn. 3:8).

On this passage Robert L. Reymond writes:

From the analogy which he drew between the wind’s natural operation and the Spirit’s regenerating work (John 3:8), Jesus taught, in addition to the facticity (“The wind blows”) and the efficacy (“and you hear the sound of it”) of the latter, both the sovereignty (“The wind blows wherever it pleases”) and the inscrutable mysteriousness (“you cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes”) of the Spirit’s regenerating work. (Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, p. 720).

This makes clear man cannot be born again because of his water baptism. He cannot have water sprinkled or poured upon himself, or immerse himself into water, and expect the Holy Spirit to save him as a consequence. The new birth is a sovereign act of God, on God’s timetable; the new birth cannot be programmed by water baptism.

Otherwise, instead of saying “The wind blows where it wishes,” it would say, “The wind blows where man wishes” (i.e., the Holy Spirit must save man out of compliance with man’s wish to be water-baptized). And, instead of saying “but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes,” it would say, “but you do know where it comes from or where it goes” (since in this scenario man would know exactly when he is regenerated: right after his water baptism).

B. Verses 6-8 rule out water baptism by emphasizing only the Holy Spirit. Sam Storms writes (this is not an endorsement of Storms himself, as we disagree with some of his theology).

Just as v. 5 is explanatory of v. 3, vv. 6-8 further develop the idea set forth in v. 5. But note: in vv. 6-8 “water” is conspicuously absent; there is mention only of the Spirit. Note again in v. 6 and v. 8b – why just “born of the Spirit” and not “born of water and the Spirit”? The answer is that “Spirit” is fundamental and “water”, whatever it means, must be subsumed under or defined as an elemental part of the operative work of the Spirit in regeneration. Had our Lord regarded “water” as an independent agency in regeneration and important in itself (i.e., as distinct from the agency of the Spirit), he surely would have mentioned it again and given it more prominence. Instead, he describes the birth “from above” as effected by the Spirit alone and wholly outside the sphere of the “flesh” (v. 6).

This is consistent with John 1, which likewise describes regeneration as an act solely by God, outside the realm of man and man’s works:

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12, 13)

Here we have it: there is nothing man can do to cause the new birth. Hence he can neither “will” himself to be born again by getting water baptized, nor “will” himself to cause others to be born again by baptizing them in water.  Contrast the denial of man’s will in causing the new birth in John 1: 12, 13, with the affirmation of the Holy Spirit’s will in causing the new birth in John 3:8.

Moreover, John (the author) regularly describes the new birth as an act solely of God. Storms writes,

“John typically describes regeneration not in terms of repetition but as a divine birth, something that finds its source or origin in God. It is of God, being heavenly; not of man, who is earthly (cf. John 1:13; 1 John 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1,4,18).”

C. One cannot make an inseparable relationship between water baptism and Holy Spirit baptism in John 3:5. Consider this: The only two possible water baptisms John 3:5 can refer to (if it does at all) are Christian baptism or John’s baptism. However,

1. It cannot refer to Christian baptism, since it wasn’t instituted until the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19). Sam Storms writes, “Would Jesus have rebuked Nicodemus for ignorance of an ordinance about which nothing had yet been said?” (John 3:10).

2. It cannot refer to John’s baptism, since, as Sam Storms writes, “the text clearly coordinates water and Spirit whereas John uniformly contrasts his baptism, which is in water, with the baptism of the Messiah, which is in Spirit (cf. Mt. 3:11)” (Storms, Ibid.)

On the unitary nature of “water and Spirit” in John 3:5, Storms also writes:

The “begetting” or regeneration of which Jesus speaks is unitary, that is to say, there are not two births experienced, each with its respective agency, one by water and another by the Spirit, but one birth “by water and Spirit” in which the Spirit is the dominant factor. The text does not say “born of water and of Spirit” but “born of water and Spirit.” One preposition (ek) governs both nouns. It is a single “water and Spirit” birth.[2] Hence “water” is to be understood as coordinate with the “Spirit” rather than independent of or contrasted with it. (Storms, Ibid.)

And one cannot argue that those who received John’s baptism would in time inevitably receive Holy Spirit baptism. Prior to Holy Spirit baptism which commenced at Pentecost, it was believers—not those baptized by John—who were promised Holy Spirit baptism:

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” (John 7:37-39)

D. The Jesus in John 3:5 is the same Jesus who saved people without requiring them to be baptized in water. Consider the following:

“And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.’”(Matthew 9:2)

‘Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.’ And he said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, ‘Who is this, who even forgives sins?’ And he said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’” (Luke 7:47-50)

“And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, ‘Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.’” (Luke 19:8-10)

And so the question is, if Jesus teaches salvation by water baptism in John 3:5, is this a different Jesus in the passages above, since he saves these people without water baptism? Of course not. Jesus saves without water baptism, as the passages clearly indicate. And by implication, the passages rule out the view that John 3:5 teaches salvation by water baptism.

We must note how the Luke 19 passage above mentions, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Jesus did not baptize Zacchaeus in water. And yet Jesus saved him.

In light of this consider that John 4:2 says, (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), …” One would think that if water baptism is necessary for salvation, then Jesus would have baptized those He saved during His earthly ministry.

But the way Jesus sought and saved men during his earthly ministry (as well as today) is through the internal cleansing of the word, not external cleansing of water baptism. Jesus says in John 15:3: Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you”—He does not say, “Already you are clean because of water baptism.”

When we miss this important distinction between internal and external cleansing, we are no better than blind Pharisees. As Jesus scolded the Pharisees of His day:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.” (Matthew 23:25, 26)

This post is a work in progress



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