Historical Condemnations of Baptismal Regeneration

The church has had to contend with the doctrine of baptismal regeneration throughout most of its post-Apostolic history.  But God, in His providence, has raised up men throughout the ages to combat and condemn this dangerous doctrine, which is nowhere taught in the Bible.  We include some of those condemnations below.

If only pastors today would likewise boldly condemn baptismal regeneration, perhaps the church would be in better shape.

1.  John Calvin (Protestant Reformer)

We must at the same time beware of another evil, such as prevails among the Papists; for as they distinguish not as they ought between the thing and the sign, they stop at the outward element, and on that fix their hope of salvation. Therefore the sight of the water takes away their thoughts from the blood of Christ and the power of the Spirit. They do not regard Christ as the only author of all the blessings therein offered to us; they transfer the glory of his death to the water, they tie the secret power of the Spirit to the visible sign.

John Calvin, Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles, Chapter 3, Section 21.

2. Charles Spurgeon (Historic Baptist Preacher)

I say, with every ground of probability, that there is no marvel that Popery should increase when you have two things to make it grow: first of all, the falsehood of those who profess a faith which they do not believe, which is quite contrary to the honesty of the Romanist, who does through evil report and good report hold his faith; and then you have, secondly, this form of error known as baptismal regeneration, and commonly called Puseyism, …

The velvet has got into our ministers’ mouths of late, but we must unrobe ourselves of soft raiment, and truth must be spoken, and nothing but truth; for of all lies which have dragged millions down to hell, I look upon this as being one of the most atrocious—that in a Protestant Church there should be found those who swear that baptism saves the soul. Call a man a Baptist, or a Presbyterian, or a Dissenter, or a Churchman, that is nothing to me—if he says that baptism saves the soul, out upon him, out upon him, he states what God never taught, what the Bible never laid down, and what ought never to be maintained by men who profess that the Bible, and the whole Bible, is the religion of Protestants. ….

To lift it [water baptism] up in the other way, and say men are saved by it—ah! my friends, how much of mischief that one falsehood has done and may do, eternity alone will disclose.

Baptismal Regeneration, A Sermon (No. 573) Delivered on Sunday Morning, June 5th, 1864, by the Rev. C. H. SPURGEON, At the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington.

3.  John Thomas Waller (19th century writer)

And now, if any one shall say that this is an argument without profit, let him reflect how dangerous this doctrine of baptismal regeneration is to the soul—how much calculated it is to lull men into a state of false security, when they are given the idea that being baptized is synonymous with being enrolled in God’s Book of Life; how apt to make men careless of returning constantly to the blood of Christ for pardon and renewed strength, when they are taught that the “priest” can do all for them by the application of the sacraments.  May the good Lord long deliver our Church from being enthralled by these soul-destroying Popish errors!

John Thomas Waller, “Baptismal Regeneration a Blasphemous Fable,” 1883, Digitized Apr 23, 2007, page 37.

4. George Whitefield (Great Awakening Evangelist)

If there be such a thing—as a sudden, instantaneous change. … If there be, does he not lay an axe to the very root of the baptismal office? If the child be actually regenerated, when the minister sprinkles it, the change must be instantaneous and sudden. If there be such thing! Do your Lordships assent thereto?An instantaneous change is the very essence of baptismal regeneration,–that DIANA of the present clergy.”

If the whole bench of bishops command us to speak no more of this doctrine, we take it to be an ungodly admonition. Whether it be right in the sight of God, to obey man rather than God, — judge ye!

Whitefield quoted in Robert Philip, “The life and times of … George Whitefield, M.A.,” page 290.

5. Bishop George David Cummins (Founder of the Reformed Episcopal Church)

“I am more deeply convinced than ever that the root of all our evils lies in the sanction which our Prayer Book gives to the Sacerdotal system. Whether the Reformers and the compilers of our Prayer Book did, or did not, intend to uphold the system, there is enough in the language of our offices to give it countenance. I am, therefore, a most earnest advocate for a thorough revision of the Prayer Book, to take from it all that can be perverted to the use and maintenance of this false Gospel. Baptismal regeneration, the real presence of our Lord in the elements, the Sacerdotal idea of the Ministry—there are the dangerous errors to be removed by a revision.

“If it be possible to cleanse the Church from Ritualism, as a doctrinal system, we can abide in our lot, and work on zealously. If there be no hope of this, we will never be content to pass our lives in upholding an organization that proves itself unfaithful to the ‘first principles of the doctrines of Christ.’”

Cummins, in a letter to Bishop Chas. Edwd. Cheney in regards to revising the Prayer Book of the Protestant Episcopal Church, Jan. 29, 1872. Cited in
A History of the Formation and Growth of the Reformed Episcopal Church, 1873-1902, by Annie Darling Price, 1902, digitized Jan. 10, 2008.

6. John Gill (Historic Baptist Theologian), who also quotes John Owen (Historic Puritan Theologian)

“Once more, the baneful influence spread by Antichrist over the nations by infant-baptism, is that poisonous notion infused by him, that sacraments, particularly baptism, confer grace ex opere operate, by the work done; that it takes away sin, regenerates men, and saves their souls; …

“And this pernicious notion still continues, this old leaven yet remains, even in some Protestant churches, who have retained it from Rome; hence a child when baptized is declared to be regenerate; and it is taught, when capable of being catechized to say, that in its baptism it was made a child of God, a member of Christ, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven, which has a tendency to take off all concern, in persons when grown up, about an inward work of grace, in regeneration and sanctification, as a meetness for heaven, and to encourage a presumption in them, notwithstanding their apparent want of grace, that they are members of Christ, and shall never perish; are children and heirs of God, and shall certainly inherit eternal life. Wherefore Dr. [John] Owen rightly observes “That the father of lies himself could not easily have devised a doctrine more pernicious, or what proposes a more present and effectual poison to the minds of sinners to be drank in by them.”

John Gill, “Infant Baptism: a Part and Pillar of Popery,” Providence Baptist Ministries (Disclaimer: We disagree with Gill that infant baptism is itself an error, so long as it is understood that infant baptism plays absolutely no role in salvation.  As such, we join Gill in condemning the Catholic view of infant baptism, which does hold that infant baptism saves.)

7. John Owen (Historic Puritan Theologian)

This truth, in general, of an implantation into Christ, and the ensuing confirmation in grace, is universally assented unto; none can deny it without denying the whole doctrine of the gospel.  But the sense and experience of it was lost amongst them of whom we treat; yet would they not forego the profession of the principle itself,—which would have proclaimed them apostates from the grace of Christ.  Wherefore they formed an image of it, or images of both its distinct parts, which they could manage unto their own ends, and such as the carnal minds of men could readily comply with and rest in.  As in the other sacrament they turned the outward signs into the things signified, so in this of baptism, they make it to stand in the stead of the thing itself; which is to make it, if not an idol, yet an image of it.  The outward participation of that ordinance with them is regeneration and implantation into Christ, without any regard unto the internal grace that is signified thereby; so that which in itself is a sacred figure, is made an image to delude the souls of men.

… It may be some will say, there is no great matter, one way or other, in things of this sort; they may be suffered to pass at what rate they will in this world.  I confess I am not so minded.  If there be any thing in them but mere formality and custom,—if they are trusted unto as the things whose names they bear,—they are pernicious unto the souls of men.  For if all that are outwardly baptized should thereon judge themselves implanted into Christ, without regard unto the internal washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost; … they are in the ready way to eternal ruin.

John Owen, “The Chamber of Imagery in the Church of Rome Laid Open; An Antidote Against Popery,” in The Works of John Owen: Volume VIII, edited by the Rev. William H. Goold (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1860, Digitized Oct. 10, 2008), 586, 587.

8. The Waldenses (pre-Reformation sect opposed to Catholicism)

the third work of Antichrist consists in this, that he attributes the regeneration of the Holy Spirit unto the dead, outward work, baptizing children in that faith, and teaching that thereby baptism and regeneration must be had; and therein he confers and bestows orders and other sacraments, and groundeth therein all his Christianity, which is against the Holy Spirit.”

In a tract written in 1120.  Cited in John Gill, “Infant Baptism: a Part and Pillar of Popery,” Providence Baptist Ministries.

9. Robert Smith (16th-century martyr) in a conversation with Catholic Bishop Bonner

Bishop Bonner:— “I believe (I tell thee) that if they [infants] die before they be baptized, they be damned.”

Smith:— “Ye shall never be saved by that belief. But I pray you, my lord, show me, are we saved by water, or by Christ ?”

Bonner:— “By both.”

Smith:— “Then the water died for our sins ; and so must ye say, that the water hath life; and it being our servant, and created for us, is our Saviour. This, my lord, is a good doctrine, is it not?”

… “Whereas ye allege St. John, ‘ Except a man,’ etc., and will thereby prove the water to save, and so the deed or work to save and put away sins, I will send you to St. Paul, which asketh of the Galatians, ‘Whether they received the Spirit by the deeds of the law, or by the preaching of faith ?’

… Yea, and although your generation have set at nought the word of God, and like swine turned his words upside down, yet must his church keep the same in that order which he left them, which his church dare not break; and, to judge children damned that be not baptized, it is wicked.” (For more on this conversation, click here)

Stephen Reed Cattley, ed., The Acts and Monuments of John Foxe: Volume VII (London: R. B. Seeley and W. Burnside, 1838, Digitized Oct. 11, 2008), 352.

10. Ulrich Zwingli (Protestant Reformer)

In this matter of baptism—if I may be pardoned for saying it—I can only conclude that all the doctors have been in error from the time of the apostles. (4) Thjs is a serious and weighty assertion, and I make it with such reluctance that had I not been compelled to do so by contentious spirits I would have preferred to keep silence and simply to teach the truth.  But it will be seen that the assertion is a true one: for all the doctors have ascribed to the water a power which it does not have and the holy apostles did not teach. …

When he took upon himself the curse of the Law, Jesus Christ, the very Son of God, deprived us of all external justification.  Therefore no external thing can make us pure or righteous.

That means that everything ceremonial, all outward pomp and circumstance, is now abolished, as Paul says in Hebrews 9: “This figure was for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices that could not make him that did the service perfect as pertaining to the conscience; which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washing, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation” etc. [Hebrews 9:9, 10]

… These verses tell us, however, that Christ abolished external things, so that we are not to hope in them or to look to them for justification.  Certainly we are not to ascribe cleansing to the external things which are still left.

For if in the Old Testament they were only carnal and outward, not being able to cleanse us or to give us peace or to assure the conscience, how much less are they able to accomplish anything in Christ, in whom it is the Spirit alone that quickeneth.

… Before treating of baptism we must first indicate the meaning of the word sacrament.  In our native tongue the word suggests something that has power to take away sin and to make us holy. (7) But this is a serious perversion.  For only Jesus Christ and no external thing can take away the sins of us Christians and make us holy.

And as a result of this misunderstanding there are some who cry out: “They are depriving us of the holy sacraments whereby our poor souls are comforted.”  But we have no desire to take away the sacraments but simply to use them rightly and not to pervert them.  And they are perverted by those who ascribe to them a virtue which they do not posses.

… Of those who complain I ask only this: that they let the sacraments be real sacraments and do not describe them as signs which actually are the things which they signify.  For if they are the things which they signify they are no longer signs:  for sign and the thing signified cannot be the same thing.

(10) Sacramenta—as even the papists maintain—are simply the signs of holy things.  Baptism is a sign which pledges us to the Lord Jesus Christ.  The remembrance shows us that Christ suffered for our sake.  Of these holy things they are the signs and pledges.  You will find ample proof of this if you consider the pledge of circumcision and the thanksgiving of the paschal lamb.

Ulrich Zwingli, “Of Baptism,” in Zwingli and Bullinger, edited by G. W. Bromiley (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster John Knox Press, 1953), 130, 131.

This post is a work in progress



  1. To the first:

    Unless a man is born from above by water and Spirit…

    To the second:

    from Peter’s epistle, “baptism now saves you”

    To the third:

    ..all of us who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were (enrolled in the Lamb’s book of life)…
    ..but as many of you were baptised have put on Christ..

    I won’t make the other points yet, this is a work in progress…

  2. To the 4th:

    “But arise, Paul, be baptised and wash away your sins”
    No change there.

    All others can be answered over again by the above as well. No need to repeat oneself.

  3. Travis,
    You are citing texts you don’t understand. The problem with baptismal regenerationists is that they simply cite prooftexts without exegeting them, nor can they reconcile them with passages that clearly teach justification by faith alone.


    Nowhere does the Bible teach that water baptism saves

    The Danger of Believing Water Baptism Saves

  4. Travis,
    Again, see the links I recommend. I noticed too, you left out what is mentioned right after “wash away your sins.” I’m not saying you did it on purpose, but it affects the interpretation of that passage.

    I argue this in one of my links:

    “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) http://www.biblebb.com/files/MAC/GCCBAP.HTM

    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)

    Actually, I find it hard not believe Paul was actually saved on the road to Damascus.

    Galatians 1:12 reads: “For I did not receive it [the Gospel]from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.”

    And even if Acts 22 actually connects forgiveness of sins with water baptism [personally, I agree with MacArthur that “wash away your sins,” is connected with “calling on his name,” not “be baptized”], it can only be speaking figuratively, since water baptism is a sacrament. Again, see the links I recommended.

  5. No, I understand them perfectly. To wit, John 3 actually links up the Spirit, the water, and the “born from above.” The difference is I do no believe the two times “regeneration” happens in the Bible (Matt 19 and Ts 3) it is not talking about the renewal of the heart; rather it is talking about entering into that sphere which the son of man creates by his work: taking people from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light.
    This is not a done deal–as mere translation from one to the next–it then requires faith and endurance. This is all we are calling little children to: persevere in the discipleship of Christ.

    Here is what Augustine says about this:
    “Nothing more execrable and detestable can be said or thought than that when the form of baptism is imparted to infants it is unreal or fallacious, in that remission of sins is ‘spoken’ of and appears’ to be given, and yet is not at all effected” (air quotes mine)
    As to McArthur, while I do admire his zeal, will only use his exegesis against wine as an example (not infallible proof) that his presuppositions might be driving his exegesis. Wine in the NT is not wine? Puhlease!
    As to your last statement above I can tell you why he links the washing away of sins to calling on the name: his presuppositions against the efficacy of the Spirit’s work in baptism. But I will tell you why I link the WASHING of baptism to the WASHING away of sins. See that? Water washes away sins! Now, here is where you need to consult all of the greatest Reformed documents on the issue where this is spelled out.
    Lest you still think I am errant: I believe that had Paul been struck by a flying rock before he was baptised, he would have been saved as calling on the name of Christ is what saves an adult. If someone was not a Christian, heard the Gospel, believed and then died without baptism he would have the blood of Christ to wash away his sins which is what the water would have effected covenantally had he lived long enough. Baptism is a covenantal rite that physically represents what the Spirit promises to do by water through faith.
    Here is where your ordo salutis gets challenged. You have absolutely no basis for hope in the salvation of infants dying in infancy whatever. None. You cannot justify your belief that God will have mercy on that child as a Baptist. You have to borrow from my theology and take everything I affirm but leave the water out. Talk about throwing the water out with the baby!!

  6. It’s interesting, too, that Ananias did not say, “Ok, Saul. You already believe and so have washed away your sins. Now, be baptised for…for…uh, in the Name of….”

    No. All three are linked. Paul as an adult has more to do with his baptism: he must believe. Whatever baptism means for Paul however, means the same for an infant at baptism. It’s just for an infant we can’t see faith till later in life when she begins to sing, “Jesus loves me this I know, for my baptism tells me so.” or “Jesus loves the little children–all the children of the covenant!”

  7. Friend,

    Look through the text, Acts 22.16 with me. Here is my translation since I don’t know how to post in Greek.

    “Now, why remain [where you are]? Rise up: be baptised and washed from your sins, calling upon his name.”

    I’d seriously like to entertain the idea that Luke uses the same word here for “rise up” as he did for Paul’s resurrection in Acts 14. We have here a full-orbed redemptive historical event: resur-rection, baptism, and regeneration. So that all of the verbs are sacramentally associated. In baptism, calling upon the name, one is washed and resurrected to regeneration.

    Let’s parse, shall we?

    “Rise up!” Interestingly, this is the same verb used of Paul’s restoration after his stoning from avastas. It’s an aorist ptc used as an imperative.

    “Be baptised”
    “baptisai”. It, too, is an aorist/ middle/ 2nd person. There is no coordinating conjunction in the originals to warrant its insertion bewteen this and “rise up” in the NKJ or NAS.

    “wash away” It, too, is an aor/ midd/ 2nd person

    lastly, the aor/ ptc/ imperative you mentioned:

    Here is how I would interpret this passage. Since all verbs are aorist, they are all linked as antecedent to predicate. Which is which? Which is ante and predicate? The last verb I would not say is antecedent. The antecedent it “avastas”. Ananias is calling upon Saul to make a transition from the Old Creation to the New and so he links them all by the aorist so that they are all the same act.
    Paul is calling upon the name of his Saviour in the act of baptism and washing. To say anything less is to do eisegesis. Ananias calls on Saul to call upon Jesus, being regenerated by the washing of rebirth. Using Acts as one’s litmus test is tricky because the Gospel presented is not in monolithic fashion but rather theological fashion. Simply b/c not everything is said that one would like an evangelist to say, doesn’t mean that the one thing we would like included wasn’t. But here, I think you are the one with the burden of proof: denying what is said for what must be inserted, much like Baptists who deny household baptisms to include infants. I do not need to prove my case (the whole OT); he needs to prove his.

  8. I knew I shouldn’t have hit “send.” I retract what I said about epikaleo being the antecedent. It very well could operate that way with all other aorists following its lead as I said in my fuller exegesis–the act of calling upon includes all the following: rising up, purifying[baptism], and washing.

    So, if you could be so kind as to replace my second to last paragraph from this Here is how I would interpret this passage. Since all verbs are aorist, they are all linked as antecedent to predicate. Which is which? Which is ante and predicate? The last verb I would not say is antecedent. The antecedent it “avastas”. Ananias is calling upon Saul to make a transition from the Old Creation to the New and so he links them all by the aorist so that they are all the same act.
    with this:

    Here is how I would interpret this passage. Since all verbs are aorist, they are all linked as antecedent to predicate. Which is which? Which is ante and predicate? Whether epikaleo is the antecedent or not (and it very well might), Ananias is calling upon Saul to make a transition from the Old Creation to the New and so he links them all by the aorist so that they are all the same act.

  9. Sheesh, I need an editor. Limiting “epikaleo?” only to one antecedent (apolousai) misses the exegetical links. Both baptisai and apolousai are the antecedents of epikaleo as aorists. To ignore this reality is to ignore the facts and let one’s presuppositions to run one’s exegesis.

  10. Usually when one’s comments are not posted, it means one of two things: either my communicae was vitriolic or my points made actually had substance to them but were not posted for that particular reason.

    I will only make my previous points again in brief.

    I believe the exegetical work done by Johnny M and your endorsement of it is biased. Limiting “calling upon his name” only to the immediate antecedent is faulty. Both “be baptised” and “wash away” are in the aorist tense and thereby are linked as the antecedent to “calling upon.” This really should pose no threat to orthodoxy as the act of baptism is in and of itself a “calling upon.” They are united and the only ones to divide them do so without warrant.

    Secondly, to the first point above citing Calvin against baptismal regeneration, I quoth the man himself:
    1) The charge of absurdity with which they attempt to stigmatise it, we thus dispose of. If those on whom the Lord has bestowed his election, after receiving the sign of regeneration, depart this life before they become adults, he, by the incomprehensible energy of his Spirit, renews them in the way which he alone sees to be expedient.
    2) They object, that baptism is given for the remission of sins. When this is conceded, it strongly supports our view; for, seeing we are born sinners, we stand in need of forgiveness and pardon from the very womb. Moreover, since God does not preclude this age from the hope of mercy, but rather gives assurance of it, why should we deprive it of the sign, which is much inferior to the reality? The arrow, therefore, which they aim at us, we throw back upon themselves. Infants receive forgiveness of sins; therefore, they are not to be deprived of the sign.
    3) But how, they ask, are infants regenerated, when not possessing a knowledge of either good or evil? We answer, that the work of God, though beyond the reach of our capacity, is not therefore null. Moreover, infants who are to be saved (and that some are saved at this age is certain) must, without question, be previously regenerated by the Lord. For if they bring innate corruption with them from their mother’s womb, they must be purified before they can be admitted into the kingdom of God, into which shall not enter any thing that defileth, (Rev. 21: 27.) If they are born sinners, as David and Paul affirm, they must either remain unaccepted and hated by God, or be JUSTFIED [is this less shocking than saying “regenerated”!!??]. And why do we ask more, when the Judge himself publicly declares, that “except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God?” (John 3: 3.)
    …but we deny the inference that, therefore, the power of God cannot regenerate infants. This is as possible and easy for him as it is wondrous and incomprehensible to us. It were dangerous to deny that the Lord is able to furnish them with the knowledge of himself in any way he pleases.

    Calvin clearly taught “baptismal regeneration.”

  11. Travis,
    I took some time to get to your post because I’m busy. I will now answer your questions; forgive the lack of diplomacy, I’m pressed for time, so I’ll get to the point.
    1) I’m only Baptist in regards to sacramental efficacy–I believe in infant baptism. However, it should be notice that today’s Presbyterians (who are not part of the Federal Vision–deny water baptism saves, unlike yourself.

    2) You expect me to simply take your word for it regarding the exegesis of Acts 22.

    Moreover, I did not only quote John MacArthur, but Robert Reymond, the Presbyterian and author of the theological masterpiece “A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith.” That’s 2 godly, able theologians–one Baptist and one Presbyterian–against you on this.

    3) I don’t see any serious exegesis in your postings, more assertions and speculations.

    4) Moreover, you have not refuted my original arguments about Acts 22, and that tells me you can’t.

    5) I recommend reading Galatians, where Paul anathemizes those who argue sacraments play a role in salvation. Moreover, like Wilson and other Federal Vision proponents, you reduce saving faith to works. You argued:

    “taking people from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light.
    This is not a done deal–as mere translation from one to the next–it then requires faith and endurance. This is all we are calling little children to: persevere in the discipleship of Christ.”

    Please consider this gospel tract:

    I am praying for your soul.

  12. Again, I have recommended these links:
    “Nowhere does the Bible teach that water baptism saves”

    “The Danger of Believing Water Baptism Saves”

    these refute baptismal regeneration, and your interpretation of John 3:5. Since you have ignored the links, I have copied and pasted info below in regards to it.

    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, http://www.trinityfoundation.org/PDF/192a-FalseShepherd.pdf )

    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,

    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). http://www.enjoyinggodministries.com/article/john-35-part-i/

    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)

  13. One more thought about your statement
    “taking people from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light.
    This is not a done deal–as mere translation from one to the next–it then requires faith and endurance. This is all we are calling little children to: persevere in the discipleship of Christ.”
    But Paul says the opposite in Galations:

    “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?” (Gal. 3:1-6)

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: